Monday, October 09, 2006

The row about the St. Clair ROW continues

The divisive row about the implementation of a streetcar right-of-way on St. Clair West is spilling into this years municipal elections. The Star's Royson James has an excellent right up in today's eddition:

Royson James - Oct 9th 2006

ROW proponent Councillor Joe Mihevc is facing two high profile challengers - former Toronto Mayor John Sewell, and former councillor John Adams.

James does a good job summing up the project:

Given the opportunity to create, almost from scratch, a spectacular street that redefines the boulevard into a pedestrian-friendly, transit-efficient and car-enabling street, the scheme has been compromised almost to the point of not satisfying anyone.

The best that can be said for streetcar travel is it will be reliable — not a small thing. But after tens of millions of dollars, travel along the route will only be marginally faster.

Cyclists and pedestrians don't get the sidewalk space and bike lanes that might have been anticipated. And the car loses a lane in many places.

With a price tag that will be about $100 million - even before the cost of refurbishing the existing streetcars - the average rider will save one minute of travel time. My belief is that the improved reliability will be less that advertised as well. Streetcars will still bunch up - the result of a natural stochastic process.

The poor payback of the project has been well known for a while. Numerous documents and reports have shown a 5-6 minute savings on a complete round trip is all that has been expected. Somehow this has come as a surprise to streetcar advocate Steve Munro. Writes Munro:

Er, didn’t this used to be a one-way saving? Did the writer get it wrong, or has the TTC backed down even further on the benefit of the exclusive lanes? Let’s be generous and say it’s one-way. This represents roughly a 15% improvement in running time. What does this do to the frequency of service (assuming we keep the same number of cars)?

Sorry Steve - check the original documents. [For example - TTC Report "Streetcar Rapid Transit on St. Clair" - December 9th 2002]


Toronto city councillor Ward 21 said...

I think that the right-of-way is a waste of money.

John Sewell though he moved to the area only suddenly got involved in this issue only in the year leading up to the election.

John Adams while not involved in the SOS group has continuously been involved in many community issues in all the past years.

Steve Munro said...

Pointing me to the original report is nice, but misses a basic point.

That report claimed a six minute round trip reduction or ten percent, to quote the report. However, a variety of other savings have been claimed at various public meetings up to and including a five minute saving for a one-way trip.

The point here is that the amount of saving depends on who is speaking at the moment, and this saving has now dropped to zero on the running time side. The improvement in a customer's experience comes from more reliable service and shorter wait times.

More service wouldn't hurt either, and the TTC needs to officially disavow the idea of cutting the number of cars on the route through the now non-existent saving in running time.

J. Albert said...

I hadn't seen the report or story reporting that the running time saving is now expected to be nil.

I expect service reliability to be improved - but there will still be signficant bunching and service adjustment via short turning. The reason is that passengers arrive at the stop in a stochastic fashion.

Arrival of a large group of passengers - which takes a long time to load - slows one streetcar. While loading, a disproportionate number of passengers arrive and also board. Meanwhile there are fewer passengers on the following car - which speeds up. Soon the cars are bunched.

As streetcars run on tracks, there is no possibility of the 2nd car scooting ahead. Any alleviation of the situation must be by turning a car from the other direction so that passengers waiting for the slowed car can be picked up so that the schedule can be made up.

In reality, this type of maneuvre is just as likely to cause further jumbling. Leaving aside the inconvenience to passengers who are dumped off the short turned car, the gap created in the other direction will cause further bunching later on.

In addition, the turning involves:

- stopping
- unloading
- turning in and out of a loop

all of which sap the system of net running time. The vehicle is in service - but not productively.

I'd also note that the TTC has published no claims of how much service reliability will be increased. Will it go from 60% to 90% for example?