St. Clair Right-of-way Initiative for Public Transit
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Answers to common questions and concerns

1. I heard a right-of-way would only save riders a few minutes per trip...

All the calculations of time savings the TTC and the study team have produced have been calculated by averaging together the time that would be saved on trips with long delays with those with little or no delay. Riders have to take into account the likelihood of delays in planning every trip.

The problem on St. Clair is lack of reliable service. During the afternoon rush hour riders frequently wait 10-15 minutes and then 3 or 4 streetcars arrive together. In addition, according to data from the TTC, one in ten streetcars are short-turned because of delays.

The City research team predicts that 70% of the delay to the streetcars can be eliminated by separating the streetcar from traffic with a right-of-way.

The City’s surveys of residents in the area and experience elsewhere indicate that offering reliable service is the best way to attract new riders, thus reducing car-dependency in the long term.

2. I heard a right-of-way would save 1% of TTC service hours...

This figure was generated by opponents of a right-of-way based on the total number of hours of delays the study team predicts will be saved annually. What matters to riders is the chance of their particular streetcar being delayed or short turned, something that happens many times a day.

3. Why don’t we just add more streetcars to the line?

Streetcars on St. Clair are scheduled 2 1/2 to 4 minutes apart during rush hour. The problem is “bunching” that results from streetcars being held up in traffic. Adding more streetcars to the line will not solve this problem – they will all be stuck in traffic.

Based on the traffic modeling the City has done, a right-of-way would ensure very reliable service on St. Clair. That means streetcars would actually show up very close to the scheduled 2 1/2 to 4 minutes apart.

With an exclusive lane on St. Clair, adding streetcars to the line in the future will translate directly into more frequent service. That means that service can be expanded more efficiently as ridership grows.

4. Can we improve service by giving streetcars priority at traffic lights?

Streetcars already have priority at about three quarters of all traffic lights on St. Clair (a green light is extended to let the streetcar through), and the City’s study predicts that additional measures to improve signal priority for streetcars will result in only slight improvements in service.

Experience shows that, over time, any benefit from improved signal priority for streetcars would be offset by increasing car traffic. Within a few years, service will begin to deteriorate once again.

5. What about a streetcar right-of-way at rush hour only?

The only way to accomplish this is with painted lines on the road, and signs. Experience shows that drivers simply ignore a reserved transit lane with no physical separation between transit and car traffic. King Street West is one example.

On Spadina a signed right-of-way was tried initially. When it proved ineffective, the street had to be shut down again to put in the curbs. On St. Clair we can benefit from this experience to avoid the additional cost of creating the right-of-way in two stages and the additional disruption to business and residents of closing the street twice.

In any case, with traffic worsening downtown it won’t be long before the transit delays are much more than a rush-hour problem.

6. I heard the TTC plans to take 2 streetcars off the line if an right-of-way is created!

This idea was floated by the TTC in 2002 (before the current Environmental Assessment study) as a way of covering the cost project. The TTC has now committed the needed funds to the project, and has pledged not to remove streetcars from the line following construction of a right-of-way.

With the same number of streetcars on the line and less delay, we can expect more frequent service after the construction of a right-of-way.

7. I keep hearing that a right-of-way will create a “barrier” down the middle of the street. What’s that about?

A few years ago, the TTC installed temporary metal railings alongside the streetcar tracks. This is what many residents are picturing when they refer to a “barrier.” However, this is not what is being proposed for the right-of-way.

The design recommended by the City staff is similar to the Harbourfront line on Queen’s Quay -- the track bed would be raised about 6 inches. The design does not include any railing or posts.

With a right-of-way, St. Clair will be easier to cross. On both Spadina and Queen’s quay pedestrians routinely use the streetcar lane to stop halfway and make the crossing in two stages.

8. Didn’t the city staff predict that a right-of-way would cause serious traffic congestion, and infiltration onto side streets?

This prediction was made in a 2002 TTC report. It was based on a very limited study without detailed traffic modeling. Most importantly, the report assumed that a right-of-way would be constructed with no other significant changes to the road.

The current project includes extensive changes to traffic signals and turning lanes to keep traffic flowing. The project has involved sophisticated traffic modeling, which indicates that the design can accommodate current traffic on St. Clair. Traffic is expected to increase slightly on some side streets and to decrease on others. The project team has said that they will recommend traffic calming measures to address any increased traffic on side streets.

9. Will on-street parking be eliminated?

The proposed design maintains 93% of current on-street parking on St. Clair. About 60 of the 611 spots would need to be eliminated along the entire length of the route.

On-street parking will be prohibited on one side of the road during rush hour, as on many similar roads across Toronto.

The platforms on St. Clair need to be extended to meet current TTC standards and accommodate current ridership even if no other changes are made. This change alone would mean removing a similar number of parking spots.

The City Parking Authority has committed funds to construct off-street parking, specifically to replace on-street spots lost due to the construction of the right-of-way.

10. Will a right-of-way drive business away from St. Clair?

Experience in cities across Europe and North America has shown that small businesses consistently benefit from high-quality, reliable transit service because it invariably increases pedestrian flow.

The City’s 2003 survey of shoppers on St. Clair reveals that 80% come by foot, bike, or transit, and many stores rely almost exclusively on business from local residents arriving by these means. Access for these customers will be improved by better transit and a calmer, safer street. (Note that the 2004 survey done by the staff was of specialty stores selected by the BIAs, stores that are typically more dependant on customers coming by car.)

According to a City survey, 86% of business owners on Spadina believed the construction of the right-of-way there either had had no effect on their business or had resulted in increased business. Spadina is a vibrant business strip with bustling street life and is a destination for shoppers from outside the neighbourhood.

The city’s study predicts a substantial increase in the number of transit riders with construction of a right-of-way. That means more people coming to St. Clair, and regular transit service means both locals and visitors are more likely to get off to shop. A calmer, less polluted, more attractive street means more people walking and shopping.

Without substantial improvement to public transit on St. Clair, traffic congestion will continue to increase, making the area less and less attractive for pedestrians and shoppers.

11. Will a right-of-way prevent emergency vehicles from getting to homes and businesses?

Exclusive transit lanes offer a wide open lane for emergency vehicles. They currently use the transit lanes on both Spadina and Queen’s Quay to get around traffic and get to calls faster.

The recommended design includes a raised track bed with rounded curbs. Emergency vehicles would be able to access the lane or cross the tracks anywhere along the route.

12. I heard the project would cost $25 or $35 million or more. Where will the money come from?

The figure of $25 million is the cost of track replacement alone. The tracks are worn out and have to be replaced even if no other work is done. This amount has already been designated as part of the TTC’s capital budget. This is not a cost of the right-of-way itself.

Details on the additional funds required for shelters, landscaping, and sidewalk amenities are still being worked out, but the estimates given as of June, 2003 are between $10 and $17 million.

Of these additional costs, modifying intersections and traffic lights, and raising the track bed are costs of the right-of-way itself; the remainder of the expenditures are geared towards improving the attractiveness of the street. These funds represent a significant government investment in the revitalization of the St. Clair streetscape.

The TTC has already set aside $7 million in addition to the cost of the track replacement and is working to increase this amount. Other city departments see the project as a model for transit improvements in Toronto and are working to free up additional funds to put towards it.

Creating a dedicated lane for an existing transit line is the least expensive way to improve transit service. Just compare the cost of a St. Clair right-of-way with $900 million for the Sheppard subway...

13. How much support is there in the community for a right-of-way?

The consultation process for this project has been one of the most extensive ever in transportation planning in Toronto. The staff were flooded with emails, calls, and letters in support of the project. And 75% of community members who submitted comments during the consultation favoured a right-of-way on St. Clair.

The City’s survey of residents in the area shows that 30% do not own a car, and 44% get to work by transit. SCRIPT has found overwhelming enthusiasm among transit riders for a right-of-way on St. Clair. Other residents see the project as a traffic calming measure that will make the neighbourhood safer. And many drivers look forward to a calmer, less chaotic street.

SCRIPT’s local supporters have grown steadily as people have become familiar with the project and the proposed design. Much of the opposition to the project is based on misconceptions about its design and impact, such as those addressed in this fact sheet.