Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Why TTC Streetcars in Toronto Are NOT The Better Way...

There's been a lot of debate recently about the value of Streetcars versus Buses in Toronto, and being an anti-streetcar person myself, I felt it would be of use to outline some of the disadvantages of Streetcars, just so Torontonians won't get caught up in the false-hype being raised by the pro-streetcar advocates:

Wikipedia - Streetcars (TRAM)
Disadvantages of Streetcars versus Buses

* Streetcar infrastructure (such as island platforms) occupies urban space at ground-level, sometimes to the exclusion of other users, including cars.

* The capital cost is higher than for buses.

* Streetcars can cause speed reduction for other transport modes (buses, cars) when stops in the middle of the road do not have pedestrian refuges, as in such configurations other traffic cannot pass whilst passengers alight or board the Streetcar.

* When operated in mixed traffic, Streetcars are more likely to be delayed by disruptions in their lane. Buses, by contrast, can sometimes maneuver around obstacles.

* Streetcar tracks can be hazardous for cyclists, as bikes, particularly those with narrow tires, may get their wheels caught in the track grooves.

* Steel wheel Streetcars are noisier than rubber-wheeled buses or trolleybuses when cornering if there are no additional measures taken (e.g. greasing wheel flanges, which is standard in new-built systems). Streetcar wheels are fixed onto axles so they have to rotate together, but going around curves, one wheel or the other has to slip, and that causes loud unpleasant squeals.

* Light rail vehicles are often heavier per passenger carried than heavy rail and monorail cars, as they are designed with higher durability (which means more mass) to survive collisions, since they cannot swerve to avoid oncoming objects in emergencies.

* The opening of new Streetcar and light rail systems has sometimes been accompanied by a marked increase in car accidents, as a result of drivers' unfamiliarity with the physics and geometry of Streetcars.

* Rail transport can expose neighbouring populations to moderate levels of low-frequency noise.

* In the event of a breakdown or accident, or even roadworks and maintenance, a whole section of the Streetcar network can be blocked. Buses and trolleybuses can often get past minor blockages, although trolleybuses are restricted by how far they can go from the wires. Conventional buses can divert around major blockages as well, as can most modern trolleybuses that are fitted with auxiliary engines or traction batteries.

At the end of the day, we would all be better served by having Buses as opposed to streetcars. Sure the streetcars look nice and remind us of the 1800s, but this is reality, and streetcars are causing havoc on our roads. Just take a look at King Street during rush hour, and then tell me that streetcars don't cause traffic gridlock.


PS: Diamond lanes / HOV lanes need to go as well... Definitely one of the most idiotic ideas ever developed... I mean, removing traffic lanes to help ease traffic congestion???? But that's a topic for another post..

(Image: by Commodore Gandalf Cunningham on flickr


Steve Stinson said...

I'm not a fan of street cars either. They add to congestion, and paradoxically pollution and GHGs. I'll never understand why environmentalists support them.

Anonymous said...

So you think that replacing a streetcar carrying 200 ppl with buses makes sense? Squeeze 60 ppl onto a bus and you would need 3 buses running along queen for every streetcar = more vehicles on the road and more congestion. People are also more likely to ride streetcars than buses because they are more comfortable and a higher-order transit service. Therefore, what probably occurs is not 3 buses replaces a streetcar, but 2 buses, 30 cars, and 30 cyclists. Congratulations, you just made transportation worse. By not thinking through the realities of diatribe, you stand to make things worse for transit riders other users of the road. Your ignorance reminds me of someone....oh yes, our new mayor.

Think holistically and critically about the simpliton crap you hear and read.

Anonymous said...


Having lived in the Roncesvalles area for 39 years and having gone through two years of streetcar construction

and seeing the worse end result, I would have to ask Mr. anonymous to stop insulting people.

Your theories on how much better streetcars are, do not work in the real world.

The Roncesvalles project has narrowed streets, widened sidewalks, moved hydrants and poles closer to the

center of the street and in some cases brought the curb right upto the streetcar so there is only one lane

(streetcar only, essentially.)

I can tell you for a fact that catering to the slowest and least flexible forms of traffic (i.e. streetcars

and bicycles) has made traffic far worse over the last few years.

A transit plan must improve traffic for ALL modes of transportation (buses, streetcars, cars, trucks,

bicycles, pedestrians, strollers, wheelchairs etc.)

Favouring the slowest moving vehicle makes no sense and doesn't work!

If you look at Spadina, St. Clair or Roncesvalles, it has made vehicle movement worse and in a lot of cases

killed businesses in the process.

Cars aren't able to turn, or get around obstacles, cyclist become harder to avoid. All because, what was once

an open and FLEXIBLE roadway is now a closed off, restricted and overly controlled system.

If you want to favour streetcars, then put up a sign "streetcars only 7-9 AM, 4-6 PM. Then the rest of the

time leave it open to regular traffic!

Also, having to tear up the road every 20 years? Does that make any sense?

Our new mayor is doing the right thing for the long term success of the city.

Linking and extending the subways will create a better and stronger backbone for our transit system.

Once linked both sides of the Yonge/University line can be used to capacity (instead of everyone coming down

the Yonge side, as is happening today.)

Subways carry 36,000/hour! That's an actual, not theoretical number. There is no conflict with other

vehicles, no reduction in other traffic, so improving the subway is actually improving people movement.

The other systems, buses, streetcars, car, bike and pedestrian traffic should also be improved to allow access

to the subway, but favouring streetcars isn't helping anyone.

Favouring the slowest moving vehicle isn't going to move more people!

Would anyone take a streetcar from one end of the city to the other?

If you made a streetcar only lane, you would save 7 to 9 minutes on an hour long ride? How does that help


We are NOT a European climate country, streetcar and bicycle lanes don't make sense as a long term solution

for our city.

You maght like David Millers plan, but their taxpayer paid trip to Europe to study the wrong solution was a

big waist of time and money.

We have taken a big step back over the last four years and it will be a long time before these mistakes

(including favouring streetcars) will be reverses.
Roads need to be opened back up, and flexibility needs to be returned to the system!

Bruce Ing

Anonymous said...

I see three transit options in Toronto:

1. Subways
2. Streetcars/LRT
3. Buses

I do not see a long line up in the 'tax me more to build subways that may or may not be required' queue. This leads me to think they are not the best solution given the moneys available.

Buses have some nice advantages like dodging traffic and they are cheaper per unit but in practice they get bogged down as much as other traffic and rarely rerouted. You need more buses to handle the same number of people streetcars can potential handle and articulated streetcars seem to be more favourable that articulated buses (since I do not see the buses any more.)

Streetcars/LRT is a compromise between making transit better with the money that is available. Buses are not a winning solution as most people do not like them in reality and would another means of transport if it makes sense (I have a friend who walks from Kennedy Station to West Hill to avoid taking the bus.) Having taken various buses for many years I can say without a doubt rail transit is a much better experience and would be my first choice. The infrastructure costs are higher but they also have a longer life span in terms of both vehicles and trackage when done right (I see road work on the same well used roads much more frequently than redone to better specification streetcar tracks.)

Our climate here is a moot point unless you plan to put everything underground since buses and streetcars have the same issues ultimately. If we are talking about the problems with the current Scarborough RT that is an issue with that particular technology that is neither Streetcar/LRT or subway and it definitely does a lot better in a climate like Vancouver.

As the price of oil will continue to rise and the price of gas at the pumps will undoubtedly continue to go up to make sure those companies continue to have good quarters, cars and buses are going to become a luxury item again. Adding cars and buss to our roads is not the answer if we want to change the emission patterns in the city (I was always amazed of the layer of junk in the air over the 401 while I travelled along Derry road in Milton when I commuted there every day, sadly I am sur I breathed more of it than I care to think about.)

My experience as a widespread transit user in the last 23 years from Scarborough/North York/Downtown to Vaughan/Etobicoke/Milton/Oshawa tells me we need to have better access to all corners of the city. Transit City would have been a very good start to that end with the moneys that were/are talked about. I have lived in Malvern and West Hill and would not live there no matter how cheap it is. I find it off-putting that it takes me over an hour to get to Agincourt from Downtown (Eaton Centre) currently especially since it takes me less time to get to Oshawa from the same location.

Would subways everywhere be awesome? yes. Are we willing to pay for that? I am thinking no since Sheppard only managed to to Don Mills and the Eglinton Subway was filled in because there was no money.

My 2.5 cents, Dennis.

Anonymous said...

87 people on a new double-decker bus, and around double that on the "bendy buses". GPS allows bus-stops to display arrival times, and buses to co-ordinate. I'd like to know the REAL cost of streetcars - the cars themselves, the laying and maintenance of the tracks, and the upkeep of the resulting poor-quality streets. Anyone? Streetcars - loathe the things, but they'll probably stay...

Unknown said...

I can't believe how much noise streetcar supporters make. So many Torontians nostalgic support the cumbersome things, but in reality, when you're moving in them at snail's pace, stuck behind one because of a left-turning vehicle, or driving behind one because you just can't get ahead, the solution is obvious: this mode of transportation is not effecient or safe enough to be mixed in with traffic. And building dedicated lanes in the middle of the road is not realistic. One alternative is to make streets like King and Queen one-way, and at that point have the streetcar at the closest lane to the sidewalk. Then we'd be zooming around!! All the other lanes would be for: 1. parking; 2. bike lane: 3 & 4: driving! Is everyone at City Hall out to lunch?!? Oh, wait, they're too busy being schmoozed by condo developpers to give a damn!!

Unknown said...

I remember the electric buses of my youth in Toronto. They had 2 arms that went up to make contact with 2 overhead wires. They could easily move around a stuck car or some accident and they would go over to the curb to pick up passengers while the other traffic could simply go around them and did not have to stop while the buses were picking up passengers
I think streetcars are great and would be acceptable if there was a way to make it so that when a streetcar was picking up passengers it would be able to go over to the curb and the other traffic would not have to stop for the streetcar. If a streetcar cannot do this then it's just slowing down traffic and Rob Ford is correct, they need to be replaced. However, they should be replaced by HYBRID ELECTRIFIED BUSES. Such a bus would have both a diesel motor AND an electric motor (like a Prius has both). These hybrid buses could run on pure electric power when running down old streetcar routes, and on pure diesel power when running somewhere else, so it would be the best of both worlds.

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