Toronto transit
June 28, 2012 8:19 PM   Subscribe

If you've ever wanted to know the history of each of Toronto's streetcar lines, how to identify different TTC subway trains, the chronology of Toronto's Christmas-painted buses, or really anything else you can think of (and more) about Toronto's transit system: Transit Toronto is an unofficial but fantastically detailed site about the TTC.

The promised streetcar route histories; field guide to ID subway trains; and the chronology of Christmas buses. But do explore: if you're at all a transit/transportation/Toronto enthusiast, you'll find a wealth of reading material. (This Chicagoan is currently learning all he can about the TTC!)
posted by andrewesque (29 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I recently was in Toronto for the first time, and took transit from the airport to downtown and then around the city a bit (not very far). It was entirely a quality experience, and Toronto should be proud to have such a system.
posted by hippybear at 8:21 PM on June 28, 2012

I've lived in Toronto basically all my life. I've been a transit geek for almost as long. Transit Toronto is my kinda site, as one might imagine.

One of the interesting dynamics at play when it comes to the Toronto Transit Commission (which is what TTC stands for) is the city's residents and transit enthusiasts have done more to make the TTC a cultural icon than the TTC itself has. Local urban thinking magazine Spacing has made the strongest mark in this regard with these fabulous buttons that showcase the unique wall tile pattern in each subway station. You see them everywhere in downtown neighbourhoods. Meanwhile the TTC has done little more than licence its logo to a merchandiser that sells hats and golf shirts.

One of the pivotal moments in Toronto's history was the abandonment of a plan to dismantle its streetcar system in 1972. That, combined with stopping the Spadina Expressway, kept Toronto from falling down the same hole that most American cities did in the 70's. Now, those cities fall all over themselves to build streetcars.
posted by dry white toast at 8:49 PM on June 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Greatest comment ever on the TTC: the Shuffle Demons’s Spadina Bus.
posted by LeLiLo at 8:51 PM on June 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Ha - I had "Spadina Bus" in my head just yesterday.
posted by davebush at 9:15 PM on June 28, 2012

The Spadina bus is actually running again until November. Ride the bus, get nostalgic, fall down a lot.
posted by maudlin at 9:21 PM on June 28, 2012

Take The Car
posted by DJ 3000 at 9:28 PM on June 28, 2012

Spadina Bus
Spadina Bus
A-suh-pa-dina Bus
posted by saturday_morning at 9:31 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hands down, my favorite thing about the TTC was the underground routes taken by the Spadina and Queen's Quay streetcars. It's a bit like a ride at Busch Gardens: a creaky car, near-total darkness, and inclines. The only thing missing is a waterfall pouring over the car as you reach your destination.
posted by TropicalWalrus at 10:08 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

This thread's making me nostalgic for the many cumulative hours I spent waiting for trains in the cavernous '70s angular art paradise of St. Clair West Station.

Also, since I moved away from Toronto in 2003, I am hoping that someone pops in here to explain what exactly the "St Clair Disaster" is all about.
posted by gompa at 10:51 PM on June 28, 2012

Oh, and TropicalWalrus, I went to journalism school (Rye High represent!) with a woman who suffered from semi-manageable claustrophobia. One rode the Queen's Quay car with her. She nearly lost her shit completely as it pulled out of Union Station.
posted by gompa at 10:55 PM on June 28, 2012

Someone make a post about Transit City! (It's 2 AM and I'm on my phone, otherwise I'd put something together.)
posted by Phire at 11:16 PM on June 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's a shame Toronto has a troglodyte mayor who would like nothing better than to rip up all the streetcar lines (and remove bike lanes and ban bicyclists from the streets if he could) because they take up space better used by his suburban constituents' SUVs.
posted by Philofacts at 2:50 AM on June 29, 2012

One of my favourite TTC stories is a presentation put together by our own joeclark for ATYPI.

As a TTC user for the past 15 years, nothing made me happier than to start a new job in January that is within walking distance. So much potential, so little consensus and political will to do anything about it. It is easy to blame Rob Ford (the guy is a trainwreck) but it has been this way for far longer than his tenure and, sadly, I suspect it will not change any time soon.
posted by purephase at 5:21 AM on June 29, 2012

gompa: I am hoping that someone pops in here to explain what exactly the "St Clair Disaster" is all about.

Like on Spadina, the St Clair West plan put the streetcar on an elevated median. This project was opposed by some residents, and local businesses who claimed that reduced traffic would impact their businesses. Some info here, more on the Google. Everyone, from locals to commuters, complained about the disruption from construction.

That's not my 'hood, so I can't personally comment on the ultimate usefulness of this project. I can point to other cities, particularly in europe, who take this approach and that it works well for them. It changed the street dynamic for sure, but I think that it's a forward-looking change that will be more appreciated as people inevitably move towards public transit.

As a Toronto resident for 25 years, I've been dismayed to watch our once enviable transit system in aspic, as funding stalls while ridership increases. Approximately every 5 years, a new 'vision' is unveiled, but they're always dependent on acceptance and funding from 3 levels of government. At least one of the three balks, and the 'vision' dissapears in the rear-view mirror as we look at the next. The last few 'visions': Transit City, MetroLinx, and just this month, One City. Oooh. Read what one imagining says about the new kid.

Biggest single problem in obtaining funding (besides current economic malaise) is that the rest of Canada loves to hate on Toronto, especially the reigning PM, and compared to other first-world countries, the federal government makes almost no investment in public transit.

I love streetcars (except when they're jam-packed and it takes 70 min to go 8 miles)
posted by Artful Codger at 6:25 AM on June 29, 2012

Problem with Toronto's streetcars is that they share their lanes with other vehicles that make left turns in front of them. You routinely have several dozen people in a streetcar held up by a single vehicle (often carrying only one person) waiting to make a left. There needs to be a 'tramway' like you find in Europe, two isolated center lanes dedicated to streetcar traffic. They've done this to some extent on Spadina, actually. But on the other lines, especially College/Dundas, what happens way too often is that you wait and wait and wait until finally three streetcars arrive all bunched up together, the first one packed, the ones behind mostly empty.

On the other hand, those new subways are something else!
posted by Bartonius at 6:30 AM on June 29, 2012

forgot to mention 'The Big Move', which is MetroLinx's raison d'etre. It's bold and visionary! But now it's so last year.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:31 AM on June 29, 2012

I moved away from Toronto in the early 90s, never having found out what was meant by those common announcements "99, [station name]" where station name often = St. George. What did or does that mean? I assume they have a better way to communicate among TTC staff than the PA system now.
posted by stevil at 7:22 AM on June 29, 2012

> As a TTC user for the past 15 years, nothing made me happier than to start a new job in January that is within walking distance.

QFT. There is no other aspect of my life with such a huge chasm between what I want to feel and how I actually feel. I want to love the TTC, but...well, here's how my commute went down yesterday:

- waited 20 minutes for a bus that is supposed to arrive every 6 minutes. When it finally arrived it was so packed the driver had to get on the horn and ask people to move back at almost every stop. Of course, no-one did until he'd asked two or three times. As a result the ride took almost 20 minutes, which was only 5 minutes faster than walking would have been. And of course, the ride itself was a lot of fun.
- on the way home I waited 15 minutes for a bus that is supposed to arrive every 7 minutes.
- when I reached my transfer station I saw two buses leaving the station at the same time, so (based on past experiences) I decided to walk. I'd been walking for almost 20 minutes and had nearly made it home before another bus passed me.
- none of these trips occurred during rush hour or anything even close to it.

Granted, this was a worse-than-usual day, but far from the worst-ever and not that out of the ordinary. To be fair, a lot of what ails the TTC (inadequate funding, terrible gridlock) isn't their fault, but that still doesn't change the fact that for a lot of people here public transit makes life in Toronto worse instead of better.
posted by DJ 3000 at 7:55 AM on June 29, 2012

I recently was in Toronto for the first time, and took transit from the airport to downtown and then around the city a bit (not very far). It was entirely a quality experience, and Toronto should be proud to have such a system.

You just got lucky. Our system is great I suppose given the dismal conditions it has to operate in but compared to other cities it's rather horrible and overloaded.

We have 3 subways lines for the entire city. Just 3, and the Sheppard line encompasses very few stations. You could say 3.5 with the LRT I suppose. I've experienced massive and regular delays on the Bloor and Yonge lines. I can accept a massive delay here and there, but the regularity of it is stunning. My sister actually takes the streetcar to work downtown in the financial district instead of the subway, and this is at rush hour on a streetcar line that doesn't have a dedicated lane.

Add to that the lines are packed and we have a Mayor who rejects a progressive and comprehensive transit system outright. I end up driving most of the time not because I want to, but because it's the better option. That's sad.
posted by juiceCake at 8:02 AM on June 29, 2012

Aaaaaaand...there goes OneCity, probably.

If and when I leave Toronto (which, by and large, I love), it will be because getting around the city has become an intolerable ordeal. It's not that far off from that now.
posted by DJ 3000 at 8:13 AM on June 29, 2012

Yeah, I saw something about Chiarelli veto-ing the plan, which is such bullshit.

When I was in Toronto I made sure I lived on the Yonge line and I've never really had issues with the TTC, but that was because I could afford to take a really sketchy studio apartment that probably violated all building codes (and because nothing I wanted to access was off the subway line). Coming from Ottawa, which has a functional-but-slow transit system, and Kingston, where none of the 12 bus lines ran more frequently than once every half an hour, even the few subway lines Toronto had seemed miraculous to me.
posted by Phire at 8:19 AM on June 29, 2012

More info. LRT delayed by 1 year to 2021, and the CVA model gutted.

Also, the mayor really hates streetcars.
posted by Phire at 8:24 AM on June 29, 2012

I moved away from Toronto in the early 90s, never having found out what was meant by those common announcements "99, [station name]" where station name often = St. George. What did or does that mean?

Infiltration, an old urban exploration zine/website (run by a guy named Ninjalicious who has since passed away, sadly), has some details.

I assume they have a better way to communicate among TTC staff than the PA system now.

Actually, I don't think so. Why bother equipping all your people (or even just your "important" people) with individual radios when you could just use the same PA speakers you use for public announcements?

Re: OneCity. I think we have a new winner for fastest transition from "renewed hope for the future of Toronto transit" to "provincial/federal governments stab us in the back AGAIN."
posted by chrominance at 8:56 AM on June 29, 2012

I was riding the front of an old subway car the other day and there was a radio in his cabin broadcasting details just to the driver about a possible jumper at the station ahead (the instructions were to slow way down). I actually ended up at that station ten minutes laler and was discretely approached as I was the only woman on the platform. There were no public announcements in that case.
posted by saucysault at 9:17 AM on June 29, 2012

Mayor hates streetcars (and most of council), mayor and TTC chair don't talk anymore, federal government hates Toronto, provincial gov't likes Toronto but the cupboards are close to bare, and in Chiarelli's defense, there's some funded transit expansion underway already. I expect that One City can be tweaked enough to include the current projects, which will bring the provincial government onside.

I will say this - One City is a reality check. It has a strong plan AND is pretty straight-up about the funding requirements. If the plan is shot down completely, it will be because no-one can yet face the funding issue. Simple as that.

Meanwhile we have Metrolinx to stickhandle serious planning even farther into the future.
Metrolinx is currently working on The Big Move First Progress Report, which will summarize the progress made towards the goals of The Big Move since 2008.

... Metrolinx anticipates that the draft Progress Report will be available for public comment in fall of 2012 and complete by early 2013.

Metrolinx is required by legislation to undertake a full, comprehensive review of The Big Move by 2016.
2013 - 2008 = ... ummm 5 years

Oooooh. Can't wait.
posted by Artful Codger at 10:02 AM on June 29, 2012

St. Clair: not a disaster, but a curate's egg. This guy at the Globe is slightly more positive than me, but he's not too far off the mark.

I live on the west end of the street, near the final streetcar loop at Gunn, and the stop and start construction period from 2005 to 2010 was a mess. This is not the fault of the TTC alone, because the city also wanted to tack on some projects, like burying hydro lines. These clashing projects meant that, for example, my street corner was dug up, paved nicely, then dug up again a few months later and paved again.

The businesses between Dufferin and Bathurst seem to be undergoing some revitalization. There are some closed shops between Caledonia and Keele, but this was always a somewhat poorer area. There are new businesses there too, incluiding a stronger Hispanic presence than before.

I take transit occasionally and ride my bike fairly often between Keele and Yonge St. For much of the stretch, you get 2, sometimes 3 non-streetcar lanes in each direction. However, the merchants in the area asked to keep street parking and were even given more in order to keep them happy. So while these lanes are open during the rush hours morning and afternoon, you are often down to one functional lane for cars for much of the stretch from Old Weston to Vaughan Rd. As a cyclist, I take that single lane where necessary, but otherwise ride just outside the door zone of those parked cars. Drivers are usually pretty polite and cautious under these circumstances, but they get more aggressive and pass more closely when we actually have two clear lanes near Yonge St.

Transit is decent and usually fast. Bunching and short turns during afternoon rush hours are a real pain. For much of the stretch, it looks as if drivers have enough space to drive like civilized human beings and they usually do just that. You get the occasional moron who absolutely must weave through traffic, and the turning lanes at Spadina during morning rush hour are awful, but it looks as if there really is no war on the car for most of the street.

The new LRT lines on Eglinton and Finch should be at least as good and probably better than St. Clair as they should have more space for cars and bicycles than we have.

The true mess of the St. Clair project is the bottleneck around the underpass between Old Weston Rd. and Keele. The section used to be two lanes, and things were busy enough that you'd see congestion during rush hours and weekends, but the congestion is definitely worse now that there is only one lane in each direction. I recently tried to cab in from Old Weston on to St. Clair on a Sunday, but after several minutes of waiting to turn left into that single lane, I directed the driver to go north and route around Rogers, then Weston Rd. Really, really bad congestion and very angry drivers. I take the curb lane on my bike to go through the underpass during the day when it's less crowded, but the rest of the day, I take the sidewalk, as do the local bike cops.

GENERAL CYCLING SAFETY DIGRESSION: If you have a nice big bike lane through an underpass, sure, take that lane if you like. But if there is no extra space for you, ALWAYS TAKE THE CENTER OF THE CURB LANE. DO NOT CREEP TO THE GUTTER YOU MORON. If you are afraid of being in front of a vehicle going through an underpass, you should be shit-terrified of sharing a narrow lane with a vehicle. You have the usual problems of being a gutter bunny -- more obstructions and grit and concrete spillage and grates and no room to move out of the way safely -- plus, you have A GODDAMN WALL AGAINST YOUR RIGHT SHOULDER. You can't even bunny hop on to a sidewalk. You are more likely to have your bike wipe out because of road surface issues than if you stay in the middle of the lane, and whether you're in the gutter or in the middle of the lane, you are falling in the path of a vehicle. MORON.


They could not or did not bother to get clearance from the railway people to widen the existing bridge during the project, although there is a push on now to do this. They really need to do this, because not only are the big box stores between Keele and Stockyards a big destination for west end shoppers, the city has approved a huge plaza for the north side of St. Clair right opposite. There are plans to widen the road between Keele and Stockyards, but if they don't fix the bottleneck as we get even more car traffic here, it's going to be Death Race 2000+. And I'm going to teach myself how to teleport.
posted by maudlin at 10:03 AM on June 29, 2012

My favourite TTC streetcar related pastime was watching the car/streetcar collisions in front of the Molsons Brewery while I worked there during my undergrad summers. It happened with incredible frequency due to the weird road layout where two parallel roads had a traffic crossover. It usually took about half a shift for them to sort it out.
posted by srboisvert at 5:42 PM on June 29, 2012

Oh, Toronto transit. And here I am, just getting out of a meet-up with a former co-worker who hates streetcars and wants to build subways because, hey, you gotta plan for the future and all.

Here's an example of the boondoggle that is Toronto transit planning: I was at a community open house meeting this week for the Eglinton Crosstown project, which as of this writing is the only remnant of the old Transit City LRT network that is not only still on the immediate drawing board, but which is actually under construction. My question was: what safeguards are in place to preserve the funding for the Crosstown if there's a change in the provincial government, i.e. the source of funding for construction?

I was told there were no safeguards. If McGuinty loses the next election, and Tim Hudak's PC government gets into power, they conceivably could claim poverty and/or misallocation of transit funding and put a halt to the Crosstown. And it's not as if there's no precedence for such a move: in 1995 the newly-elected PC government under Mike Harris cancelled construction of the Eglinton West subway line, which would have connected Pearson airport with the city transit system. This, despite the fact that the tunnel was already being dug out and over $90 million had been spent.

According to the woman from Metrolinx I spoke to, the current plan is to get as much of the Crosstown construction underway as possible in case there is any change in government at the provincial level. The more that gets done now, the harder it will be for a new government to turn off the taps.

And why would Hudak or anyone do such a thing? Because, in the case of the Progressive Conservatives, they rarely lose votes in the rest of the province by beating up on Toronto.

So if anyone is wondering why Toronto transit is in such a mess.... well, this is only one of many reasons, unfortunately.
posted by spoobnooble II: electric bugaboo at 5:51 PM on June 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

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