Toronto Transit

A farewell to Toronto’s CLRV streetcars


On December 29, 2019, the Toronto Transit Commission’s venerable Canadian Light Rail Vehicles disappeared from the city’s streets. To mark the occasion, six CLRVs, offering free rides, were put into service on Queen Street between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM before a ceremonial last run to Russell Carhouse in Toronto’s east end.

The first six CLRVs, 4000-4005, were built by SIG in Switzerland, and entered service on the 507 Long Branch route on September 30, 1979. An additional 190 streetcars were built by Hawker-Siddeley in Thunder Bay, with the last cars arriving in 1981. Those were followed by 52 articulated ALRV streetcars, which were delivered between 1987 and 1989, and retired earlier this year.

The CLRVs were unique to Toronto, designed by and for the TTC. Other North American cities that still operated streetcars in the 1970s opted for different designs to replace their ageing PCCs, though Boston have the CLRVs a try.

Several CLRV and ALRV streetcars will be preserved at transit museums, including the Halton County Radial Railway near Rockwood, Ontario; two CLRVs will remain on TTC property for special events.

With the arrival of the last of the 204 Bombardier Flexity low floor streetcars this month and the retirement of the CLRVs, the entire TTC fleet is now 100% wheelchair accessible and fully air-conditioned. Gone, too, with the CLRVs are back-lit vinyl destination signs, treadle rear doors that open by stepping on the stairs, and windows that open at face level and the warnings to keep arms inside.

Streetcar 4124 on December 29, 2019Streetcar 4124 picks up passengers at Yonge Street, December 29, 2019

Though the accessibility and the capacity of the new Flexity streetcars represent major improvements, I will miss the old CLRVs, and not just because they’re the last transit vehicle in Toronto that are older than I am. I was fascinated by Toronto’s streetcars at an early age. As a child growing up in Brampton, I would lobby hard to ride Toronto’s subways and streetcars whenever we went downtown as a family. My parents took me on a ride on the 501 Streetcar between downtown and Parkdale (with lunch at Harry’s Charbroiled Burgers when it was across from the Gladstone Hotel) when I was seven.

IMG_6907-001Streetcar 4178, A Streetcar Named Toronto, at Greenwood Avenue, December 29, 2019

Once I was old enough, at age thirteen, I was making my own trips to Toronto, taking GO Transit trains from Downtown Brampton or Mississauga Transit buses from Shoppers World and Square One to the subway, buying a day pass, and then spending a day wandering the city. The high floor CLRV and ALRV streetcars with their open windows offered great views of the city rolling by.

I continued to ride the rocket regularly when I attended university, taking advantage of breaks between classes to ride further out into the suburbs, eventually riding nearly every bus route in the city. Even after I moved to Toronto, a streetcar ride was an affordable delight (as long as I wasn’t in a rush).

IMG_6927-001.JPGShort turn: Swiss-built CLRV 4001 turns into Wolesley Loop at Bathurst and Queen

My favourite seats were right at the back, with the curved rear with great views on three sides, similar to the bullet lounge at the end of VIA Rail’s Canadian and Ocean trains. The single seats on the operator’s side of the streetcar were also favourites.

Though the last of Bombardier’s 204 new Flexities have finally arrived, there is still a streetcar shortage in Toronto. The 505 Dundas and 502/503 Kingston Road routes continue to be operated with buses. Many of the new vehicles planned for Dundas and Kingston have been reallocated to King Street, where the transit priority project resulted in a significant increase in ridership. The TTC wishes to purchase 60 more streetcars to fully furnish the existing demand and support expansion on the waterfront, but funding isn’t yet available.

Unfortunately, buses will have to fill in those gaps as the CLRVs disappear.

Retired streetcars at Russell Carhouse await their fates

Thanks for the memories!

Ontario Transit

Going for a ride on the Bolton Bus


Caledon, a town of 66,000 located northwest of Toronto, is known for charming villages, fall colours, and horse farms. Its most popular landmarks include the waterfall at Forks of the Credit Provincial Park, the unique Cheltenham Badlands, and the vast Albion Hills Conservation Area. Much of the municipality lies within Niagara Escarpment and Greenbelt protected areas, with lands set aside for farms, estates, parks, and golf. That’s how many Caledonians like it.

Despite its green reputation, Caledon is urbanizing its southeastern quadrant, filling it up with warehouses, truck terminals, and low-density residential subdivisions, all adjacent to the built-up areas of Brampton and Vaughan. Bolton, once a small village, now has a population of 20,000. New subdivisions north of Mayfield Road are indistinguishable from Brampton’s residential development.

Though two GO Transit bus routes ran through Caledon, it had no transit system of its own. This was becoming more of a problem as new warehouses employing thousands of workers opened GO Transit’s buses were scheduled to connect with trains to and from Downtown Toronto, not to serve reverse commuters. Though Brampton Transit operated several routes close to Caledon’s borders, it could not extend north of Mayfield Road without an agreement with the town.

Despite Caledon’s historical resistance to public transit, its attitude slowly changed for the better.

In May 2010, Brampton Transit’s 30 Airport Road bus was extended to the AMB (now Prologis) warehouse complex just north of Mayfield Road. This was done at the request of AMB, though the Town of Caledon had to agree to the request for service.

In 2015, Caledon began to study the need for a local transit system, retaining consultants from Steer Group to evaluate and develop options for new transit services, including routes, operators, and service hours. In April 2019, the report to council recommended starting with a route on Kennedy Road in Mayfield West (contracted by Brampton Transit) and a route connecting employment areas in Bolton with Brampton Transit and YRT at Highways 7 and 50 (contracted to a third party), with a demand-response service within Bolton and an extension of a future Brampton Transit route along Mayfield Road provided within a second phase.

Meanwhile, GO Transit announced the abandonment of Route 38 in June, citing the planned new local transit service as justification for the cut, even though it wasn’t yet setup. Though GO partially restored the service (two daily round trips to Malton GO continue, for now), it remains a short-term solution.

The Mayfield West service — Brampton Transit Route 81 — began in September, connecting with the 502 Züm at Sandalwood Parkway. On Monday, November 11, 2019, the Bolton Route began service, contracted to Voyago. Both routes operate on 30 minute frequencies, weekday peak hours only.

IMG_4900-001.JPGNew Brampton Transit stop on Kennedy Road in Caledon

The two separate agreements don’t work that well for creating a unified transit service.

Though Route 81 and the Bolton Route both have a $4.00 cash fare, the Brampton Transit-contracted service operates on that agency’s fare structure. There’s a discount for Presto card users and a two-hour transfer valid on any other Brampton Transit route. The 80 cent co-fare to and from GO Transit also applies (Route 81 connects with the frequent 502 bus to Downtown Brampton). It’s a good deal for residents in west Caledon.

However, the Voyago-contracted buses serving Bolton are only equipped with a fare box, and only accept $4.00 cash fares. There are no free transfers to or from connecting buses at Highways 7 and 50. (Brampton Transit routes 501 Züm, 1, 23, and 36 connect there, as does YRT route 77. It’s a few minutes’ walk to BT routes 31 and 50.)

Last week, I took the new Bolton bus to get a feel for the new service. The Bolton line operates with two minibuses with twenty seats each and a spot for mobility devices at the rear. Within Bolton, the bus makes a long loop, primarily serving the industrial area in the southwestern quadrant.

I boarded an afternoon bus from Highway 7 at 3:26 PM and rode to Downtown Bolton. I returned on the bus leaving Bolton at 4:30 PM. I was the only passenger each way; I was told by one driver that was typical. By riding the bus, I was able to learn about some of Caledon’s challenges.

Transit options from Caledon council reportCaledon Transit high-priority route options from the April 2019 council report

If the Bolton Line were integrated with York Region Transit and Brampton Transit and made more stops within Brampton. There are several major employers on the Vaughan side of Highway 50, including XPO Logistics, Home Depot, and the Canadian Pacific Intermodal Yard. Additional stops at Major Mackenzie/Coleraine, Rutherford/Castlemore, Trade Valley/Bellechase, and Zenway/Cortrelle would make the bus more accessible and useful to residents and employers. Another stop at Queen Street (Highway 7) and Gore Road would improve connections to Route 50, which serves Humber College.

Those additional stops would likely require a third bus, but the current route struggles to maintain a 60-minute round trip even with the limited stops currently in place. But with fare integration and local service, it could then attract more passengers, defraying the cost of the additional vehicle and operator.

In the long term, it would be good to see more cooperation with Brampton Transit, especially as Brampton continues to develop new subdivisions and industrial lands in the northeast, in the areas bordering Caledon and Vaughan. If GO Transit goes ahead and abandons the remnant of Route 38 an express route between Bolton and Malton GO will still be necessary; ideally, that would would be a partnership between Brampton and Caledon.

Hopefully, Caledon will continue its commitment to building a transit service within its urbanized area. Despite very low ridership at present, the potential is there as population and employment continue to grow. It will take time to tweak the service, improve connections, and build ridership that can count on affordable, reliable transit.

It’s also time for Halton Hills — now the last GTHA municipality without local transit — to step up and follow Caledon’s lead.

Brampton Roads Transit Walking

Why transit users shouldn’t beg to cross the street


With consistently high ridership growth over the last few years, Brampton Transit has proven to be one of the Canada’s greatest transportation success stories. The Flower City has proven that transit can be successful and popular in North American suburbs.

Despite the success at improving transit and building ridership, Brampton has also prioritized motor traffic at intersection, making it unnecessarily difficult to cross the street at major bus stops. The intersection of Vodden and Main Streets, just north of Downtown Brampton, illustrates this problem.

If the beg button is pushed in time, the walk signal to cross Main Street will appear for just seven seconds before the countdown begins, giving just 11 seconds to cross five lanes. Anyone who misses that light will have to wait over two minutes to legally cross.

What Brampton — and cities like it — should do is remove the beg buttons at transit stops with the assumption that pedestrians will want to cross. It’s just one step towards building a transit culture and attracting new riders.

I write more about this problem in Bramptonist.


Transit Travels Urban Planning

Goin’ to Kansas City

Bus and streetcar, Downtown Kansas City

Kansas City, Missouri made news this month when its City Council voted unanimously to include a plan for free fixed-route public transit in the next city budget. Though that budget would still have to be passed in the New Year, the mayor’s support for the measure is a promising sign. Though it will cost $8 million, local politicians support the idea as it will benefit low income riders.

It is worth noting that Kansas City Area Transit Authority’s 2016 annual ridership was just over 14 million a year, while the cost recovery rate was just 12 percent. It would be much harder to offer free transit in Toronto. The TTC’s cost recovery rate is 68%, with transit fares bringing in over $1.2 billion a year. Though a two-hour transfer and free children’s fares were recently introduced, there’s little chance that the City of Toronto would agree to funding fare-free transit. In any case, Kansas City’s experiment will be interesting to watch.

Kansas City was a more interesting city than I expected; I am glad I made the impromptu trip. There are a few Toronto connections, including a streetcar that traveled the continent, a restored Union Station, and a 1920s shopping plaza whose concept was imitated 80 years later in Don Mills.

I enjoyed an evening at a jazz club at the 18th and Vine Historic District and local barbecue. Besides transit, I also got around on an electric pedal assist bike that’s part of the local bike share. It’s friendly, urban city, definitely worth a visit.

About me

Five years of musings

Here I am, back in 2015

Today, December 7, 2019, marks the fifth anniversary of my personal blog, Marshall’s Musings.

I started this website as a place to archive the maps I was making in 2014 after the municipal election. I had mapped poll-by-poll results for each ward, showing how each area voted for mayor and councillor; a few followers on Twitter suggested I start a blog to provide a permanent home for those maps.

After that, I kept the blog going, first mapping council votes (such as the decision to rebuild the east section of the Gardiner Expressway, but also commenting on transit issues, road safety, and local history. Occasionally I’ll write about my cycling trips or other travels, but it’s clear that transit is the most popular topic on this website.

This blog, along with well as my occasional contributions to Spacing magazine, TVO, and Torontoist (now defunct), has provided me with some influence within Toronto’s urbanist circles. Recently, I have been invited to comment on podcasts and in person at a transit summit in Guelph. I’m thankful for those opportunities. It has been a privilege, and I will try to be mindful of that.

Thank you!

The five most-read posts in five years of Marshall’s Musings:

  1. GO Transit and the high cost of “free” parking (November 2015)
  2. Ontario’s failed downtown malls (February 2018)
  3. Mapping the 2018 candidates for Toronto’s 47 wards (July 2018)
  4. Not so fair-by-distance: GO Transit’s problematic fare system (November 2015)
Roads Toronto Walking

Islington Avenue: deadly by design

IMG_6266-001Memorial to 77-year old Pasquina Lapadula in front of her apartment building on Islington Avenue north of Finch

On Thursday, November 29 at 6:30AM, Pasquina Lapadula left her Islington Avenue apartment building and crossed the street in front of her home. Soon after stepping out, she was struck and killed by the driver of an SUV traveling northbound. The driver then fled the scene. Sadder still, drivers passed the scene without stopping to help.

Toronto police are looking for a dark coloured SUV with bright headlights and fog lights. They have yet to find the driver and lay charges.

According to the Toronto Star, 37 pedestrians have been killed on Toronto’s streets. Of those, 24 were 60 years old or over. Since 2007, 410 pedestrians were killed on Toronto’s streets; 238 of those were aged 60 or older. November 2019 was an especially deadly month; Lapadula was the third older pedestrian killed in Toronto in just three days.

Though blame can be laid at the driver, who despite having ultra-bright headlights and fog lights, struck Lapadula and sped away afterwards, this part of Islington Avenue, like many other suburban roads in Toronto, is deadly by design.

IMG_6283-001Islington Avenue looking south from Aviemore Drive towards Finch Avenue

The collision took place at Aviemore Drive in Humber Summit, in Toronto’s northwestern corner, near the boundary between the former cities of Etobicoke and North York. The area was developed in the 1960s and 1970s, when automobile-centric planning was at its peak.

Islington Avenue is five lanes wide between intersections, including a striped middle lane that turns into left turn lanes at intersections. Sidewalks are separated by wide boulevards, and there are long distances between traffic signals.

The road has a slight curve north of Finch Avenue, with a hill down towards the East Humber River at Finch. From Aviemore Drive, it is a 220 metre walk south to the crosswalk at Finch Avenue and 430 metres north to the traffic signals at Milady Road. Just south of Aviemore Drive are entrances to Gord and Irene Risk Park and Recreation Centre and Rowntree Mills Park.

As the speed limit is unposted on this section of Islington Avenue, by law, vehicles may only go a maximum of 50 kilometres per hour. However, the road design encourages speeds far greater than the limit.

IMG_6299-001TTC bus stopped in bay in front of Pasquina Lapadula’s apartment building

As on Don Mills Road north of Finch, TTC buses stop in bus bays instead of on the street itself. These bus bays were not designed for the benefit of transit, but instead for the convenience of private motorists. Buses stopping get out of the way of traffic, and then must merge back in. (A law requiring other motorists to do so exists, but is never enforced.)

Everything about the road design is designed for high vehicle throughput, with little consideration for pedestrian safety.

IMG_6248-001Islington and Finch Avenues

It is true that Pasquina Lapadula could have walked 220 metres down to Finch Avenue, and depending on her destination, another 220 metres back up the hill. The traffic signals and painted crosswalks would have provided additional safety. But the intersection of Finch and Islington itself is problematic.

The intersection sits on a large viaduct over the East Humber River. Right turn slip lanes are found on the southwest and northeast quadrants, allowing right-turning traffic to pass by quickly while requiring pedestrians to cross an additional lane of traffic governed only by a yield sign. Buses on Finch stop at bus bays at the far side of the intersection, further lengthening the distance pedestrians must cross.

IMG_6255-001Slip lane from Finch to Islington

I was frustrated when two Toronto councillors advocate giving out reflective armbands for pedestrians to wear, especially as one of those councillors opposed road safety initiatives in her own ward. I was angered the Toronto Star’s editorial board ignore city data, their own reporters and columnists, and pedestrian and cycling advocates to back those two suburban councillors.

This was especially tone deaf given the Toronto Police Service’s abandonment of traffic enforcement, the epidemic of pedestrians being killed in the last two years, and the disturbing number of hit-and-runs. Armbands would not have saved Pasquina Lapadula’s life when she was confronted by the driver of a speeding SUV, with blindingly bright headlights and fog lights.

This is why we need real Vision Zero measures like lower speed limits, more safe pedestrian crossings, road re-engineering to slow down vehicles, complete streets, and effective police enforcement.