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Old Posted Mar 1, 2018, 7:21 PM
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Toronto transit tour, plus some general urbanism

Last March, nearly a year ago, I visited Toronto. It was a fun time and I liked it a lot. Let's do a few general urbanism photos first, then get into the transit stuff.

Of course we went downtown, but we didn't spend that much time there. It's good but we're just a lot more interested in the more grainy urbanism of the neighborhoods.




We stayed in an Airbnb near Dundas & Ossington. The fact that it had a Star Trek mural on its wall was an important selling point.




We spent most of our time just wandering Queen Street West. We walked its entire length from downtown to Roncesvalles. Loved it.








Oops, streetcar. Forget you see it for now. We'll talk more about these later.




We made the mandatory stop around Kensington Market.








...Drifted down to Chinatown.






...And went up to The Annex to pay homage to Jane Jacobs.








Now let's talk transit

Toronto may be North America's most fascinating transit city. It has virtually every mode in abundance and its per capita ridership is far above any US city except New York. The use+variety is unparalleled in all of Norman America.

The most interesting thing, IMO, is the streetcars. Toronto's 52-mile streetcar network is the largest and most successful in North America. It covers the entire central city south of Bloor, and carries about 300,000 riders per day. Most of the system runs with 1980s-era vehicles in mixed traffic with cars. The older streetcars come in two sizes, a short 50-foot version and an articulated 76-foot version.

The small ones in particular feel a bit out of time. Almost like riding on an old PCC streetcar (which they replaced), and a lot like Philadelphia's trolleys.






The big ones feel more legit as modern transit, even if they're basically identical except longer.






But the best ones are the 99-foot new trams, longer than any other streetcar in North America.




Having long individual trams with multiple articulated sections is a growing trend. It's coming to the US too, but more slowly.




The Spadina line is my #1 favorite streetcar line in the US or Canada. It's got the new vehicles, and (even more importantly), it runs in a dedicated transitway--special streetcar lanes down the center of the street.

This is what all streetcar lines should aspire to be.








Like most--maybe all--North American cities that retained their pre-war streetcar networks, a portion of Toronto's enters a subway.






But of course Toronto also has a large heavy rail subway. It's an interesting & unique vintage, post-war but older than the generation of DC/SF/Atlanta metros that dot the US.








There's old trains...






...And new trains.




The new train are what's called "open gangway," meaning they're one long railcar with an open interior all the way from front to back. In recent years this has become standard for subways all over the world, except in the US where we lag. You get a 10% capacity increase for doing it, basically for free.




Of course there are buses. Lots of people ride them. But there's so much other unique stuff about Toronto transit that this is the only TTC bus picture I'll show you.




But let's go out to the suburbs for a few minutes, to York, the Canadian equivalent of a US suburban county. They've been building BRT along some of their arterial roads, and I've got to say it looks great: Full median transitway, red-colored bus lanes, big beautiful glassy stations.








Nice big stations with iconic blue glass, fare pre-pay, real-time arrival displays, and even an indoor waiting area. These are better than a lot of light rail stations.






While the median busway is the best place to put it in terms of speed and street/bus operations, it is unfortunately intimidating for pedestrians to reach.




While we're in the suburbs, let's talk about Toronto's Go commuter rail. They have a 280-mile system with about 200,000 riders per day. Similar equipment as you see in diesel-locomotive commuter rail all over North America.




Except Toronto's rear-facing cab cars are more visibly different than most others I've seen.




Toronto also has a dedicated airport express train, the Union Pierson Express. It's a DMU, a smaller form of diesel train, and it runs with only a couple of stops from downtown Toronto to the airport. It's new, only opening a couple of years ago.

Ridership is pretty low. Less than 10,000/day, I think. Most cities don't have lines like this because in North America airports just generally aren't enough to sustain an entire rail line on their own. If Toronto can't make it work, I doubt anyone in the US can except maybe New York. Better to build your airport connection as part of a normal line.








Usually when I do a transit thread I cover bikes too. Toronto has a small bikeshare system, as well as its share of bike lanes, but it's not really a leader. Montreal, Vancouver, and plenty of US cities do it better.






I think that's about it. Nice trip, good city.

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  #2  
Old Posted Mar 1, 2018, 8:52 PM
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I like the "everyday life" kind of perspective instead of just a tourist kind of perspective. Transit focus is good from a transit enthuiast. It's too bad you came during the time of LRV shortage.

York Region might not be the best example as the ridership is very poor compared to Mississauga and Brampton, although part of the reason for that is politics (very long boundary with Toronto, lack of service/fare integration between YRT/TTC, legal restrictions on YRT buses operating within the City of Toronto).

I think Montreal has better cycling instraucture and usage than Toronto, but that's just based on my eyes, I'm not sure about the stats.
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Old Posted Mar 1, 2018, 9:00 PM
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Awesome!

The #1 attribute of their streetcars might be the frequency. In my city the wait is even worse than the slowness.

Toronto does a phenomenal job of concentrating retail on high streets.
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Old Posted Mar 1, 2018, 9:11 PM
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Great pics and observations! It's refreshing to see a positive review of the systems as living here (as anywhere) all you ever hear are complaints.

You definitely made it all over the place too. It's too bad you weren't here this year to ride the subway extension all the way out to the burbs and try out the King St streetcar priority pilot.
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Old Posted Mar 1, 2018, 9:26 PM
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Nice pictures!

Interesting about that dedicated train to Pearson airport. I'll have to look into that if I ever need to fly out of there.
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Old Posted Mar 1, 2018, 9:47 PM
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Looks like you had a great time exploring the city and the suburbs, too!

Last August Toronto bike share expanded to 270 stations and 2750 bikes and I just read the other day that the network is due for another expansion this year. New bike lanes are being installed around the city, too, so it's definitely still a work in progress.

You'll have to come back in a few years and ride the new Eglinton crosstown line.
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Old Posted Mar 1, 2018, 10:13 PM
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Great tour. Come back in 2 years when the Crosstown LRT is in operation.
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Old Posted Mar 2, 2018, 1:29 AM
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So can we say Toronto has the best public transit system in North America?

NYC is fine as well but considering the vehicle traffic flow definitely Toronto revails.

But NYC is still the best for walking around on foot.
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Old Posted Mar 2, 2018, 1:35 AM
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Spadina is also my favorite street name.
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Old Posted Mar 2, 2018, 2:54 PM
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This was fun. Thank you!
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Old Posted Mar 2, 2018, 3:58 PM
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Great tour! Wow, the open subway cars looks crazy like someone just put a mirror at the end of the first car.

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  #12  
Old Posted Mar 2, 2018, 7:44 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by samne View Post
Great tour. Come back in 2 years when the Crosstown LRT is in operation.
I think unfortunately it's 2021 completion
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Old Posted Mar 2, 2018, 8:00 PM
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Nice.
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Old Posted Mar 3, 2018, 7:02 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PHL10 View Post
Great tour! Wow, the open subway cars looks crazy like someone just put a mirror at the end of the first car.

it gets interesting when the trains turn, you feel like you are inside large organism like a giant worm
here is a youtube clip of the twisting

Video Link
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Old Posted Mar 3, 2018, 10:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Murphy de la Sucre View Post
So can we say Toronto has the best public transit system in North America?
Really? Toronto's transit system is slightly more varied than NY's, but NY's far-reaching, all-encompassing subway system makes Toronto's look like an absolute joke.
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Old Posted Mar 3, 2018, 11:08 PM
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Yeah, no. New York has the best. Toronto would be above any other US city though.

Except I don't really know where to slot Mexico City.
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Old Posted Mar 4, 2018, 1:14 AM
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Great stuff. I haven't been to Toronto in a few years. I need to go see those new subways, streetcars and commuter cab cars for myself!
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Old Posted Mar 4, 2018, 1:35 AM
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Both New York and Montreal have better transit ridership per capita than Toronto. But Manhattan by itself accounts for almost half of NYC's transit ridership, the ridership in the other boroughs is far less. There isn't such disparity within Toronto. Scarborough has better transit ridership than Brooklyn and Queens. It's Manhattan that makes all the difference.
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Old Posted Mar 4, 2018, 1:57 AM
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By the way, as far as transportation goes, Downtown Toronto may have everything. In addition to the streetcars, subway, bikeshare, buses, heavy commuter rail, and dedicated airport trains, Downtown also has a limited-access highway, an airport, and ferries? Cars, planes, and boats!
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Old Posted Mar 4, 2018, 5:44 AM
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One could say Planes, Trains, and Automobiles.

Torontos frequent transit network is probably the best in US/Canada, the problem is that the travel speeds are very low due to the limited rapid transit options. Spadina, despite the dedicated lanes, is excruciatingly slow. It often takes 40 minutes to travel 3km on it. But frequencies are every 2 minutes, and most of the downtown streetcar network has 4 minute or better frequencies..

Spadina was also the busiest streetcar route in North America pre king street pilot, but the king street pilot has boosted ridership there to 80,000+ A day.. making it the second busiest surface route in NA from my understanding, behind only the 99 broadway in Vancouver.

Also, none of the underground portions of the streetcar network are pre-war. The spadina streetcar didn't open until 1997. When Toronto made the decision to retain its streetcar system in the 1970's, the system was entirely "legacy with no dedicated lanes or underground sections.

Last edited by Innsertnamehere; Mar 4, 2018 at 5:55 AM.
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