Categories
Toronto Transit

A farewell to Toronto’s CLRV streetcars

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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.

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Retired streetcars at Russell Carhouse await their fates

Thanks for the memories!

Categories
Transit Travels Urban Planning

Goin’ to Kansas City

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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.

Categories
Maps Toronto Transit

A departure from TTC wayfinding improvements

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TTC stops have improved with the addition of route numbers, but this bus stop is deceiving 

In the last few years, the TTC has made significant improvements in its maps, signage, and wayfinding standards. It also introduced new streetcar and subway fleets, retrofitted elevators into older stations (all but one streetcar line and a majority of subway stations are now fully accessible), and opened a new subway extension. Though overcrowding, bunching, and weekend closures continue to be aggravations, it is important to recognize where the TTC has improved.

Specific changes to TTC wayfinding include a new simplified system map, better signage at subway stations, introducing standard signage for diversions, scheduled closures and construction notifications, and revising the classic TTC bus stop.

However, two recent changes represent an unfortunate departure from these improvements.

Categories
Politics Toronto Transit

How TIFF lost the plot

IMG_4193-001.JPG504 King Streetcar diverting onto Spadina on Thursday, September 5

For the sixth year in a row, King Street between University and Spadina Avenues was closed for four straight days. This closure was for the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) “Festival Street,” which took place between Thursday September 5 and Sunday September 8. In addition, King Street was closed during the afternoon rush hours the following Monday and Tuesday for “Red Carpet Events.”

TIFF has been recognized among the world’s most important film festivals, and one where the public has the opportunity to take part (albeit at increasingly inaccessible prices for many screenings). It offers tremendous economic and cultural value to Toronto. It compliments and helps to support many other annual film festivals, such as Hot Docs and Inside Out.

But TIFF’s clout and influence has also led to entitlement, with “Festival Street” being the most disruptive result. While King Street is closed off to traffic during the film festival, it has severe effects for the 84,000 daily riders of the 504 King Street, as well as riders on the busy 501 Queen and 510 Spadina cars.

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501 Queen and 504 King Streetcars stuck in traffic westbound at Queen and Spadina

Several major TIFF screening locations are located on or near King Street West, including Roy Thomson Hall, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the TIFF Bell Lightbox, and two blocks north, the Scotiabank Cinemas. Industry parties and galas are held at nearby hotels and restaurants. It’s natural that King Street would be a hub of activity for the film festival. But it is also the third busiest transit route in Toronto, after the Yonge-University and Bloor-Danforth subways.

The King Street Pilot, which began in late 2017, prohibits through motor vehicle traffic on King Street between Jarvis and Bathurst Streets through the downtown core, though all vehicles are permitted to use King Street for short segments. Despite spotty enforcement, the pilot project allowed the TTC to operate much more reliably through the busy corridor, with an increase of capacity and ridership. In early 2017, daily ridership on the 504 King was 72,000. By March 2018, it grew to 84,000. In April, council voted to make the pilot permanent. This will allow for streetscape improvements along the corridor and wider sidewalks, with improved physical measures to further restrict through traffic.

A lot of political capital went into making King Street work better, so it is disappointing to see all that advocacy for a proper transit corridor go to waste while TIFF is in town. Torontonians are promised each year would be the last year streetcar service would be wrecked for TIFF, but every mid-August, we find out otherwise. 

Categories
History Toronto Transit

The last run of the Rogers Road Streetcar

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Westbound Rogers Road Streetcar at Old Weston Road, 1972. Photograph from Toronto Archives – Fonds 1526, File 72, Item 61

Forty-five years ago today, on Friday, July 19, 1974, the Rogers Road Streetcar made its last run. The route ran from a loop at St. Clair and Oakwood Avenue to Bicknell Loop, located on Rogers Road just west of Keele Street.

The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) had only recently abandoned its policy of eliminating the streetcar network in favour of buses and the planned Queen Street Subway. By the early 1970s, there were still nine streetcar lines in Toronto, along with two extra rush hour services.

The TTC had to maintain a core fleet of streetcars to continue service until a new fleet could be delivered, and there was a shortage of streetcars in good condition. Despite the new commitment to continue operating a street railway, one more line would have to go. Rogers Road, the last of four streetcars operated for the Township (later Borough) of York, would be sacrificed. (It would not be the last streetcar route to disappear, however.)

For nearly thirty years, service on Rogers Road was provided by trolley buses, a branch of the 63 Ossington route. While the TTC promised to extend the trolley bus to Jane Street (which was one of the reasons why York politicians supported the streetcar abandonment), it never happened. Instead, a shuttle bus route provided service along Alliance Avenue to Jane. Once the trolley bus network was scrapped in 1993, the TTC restructured several west-end routes. In 1994, the 161 Rogers Road bus finally provided the through service York had demanded for twenty years.

In July 2014, before I started this blog, I wrote an article about the Rogers Road Streetcar for Spacing’s website, with the assistance of Steve Munro and author John F. Bromley. Five years later, it remains one of my favourite writing assignments.

You can read the Spacing full article on here.

Categories
History Transit Travels

The streetcars of Hiroshima: a symbol of resilience

The Hiroshima Peace Memorial (A-Bomb Dome), with modern Hiroshima rising beyond. Despite its fame, there’s so much more to the city than the memorials.

My wife and I recently came back from an 18-day trip to Japan. It was my first time visiting the country. We stayed in three cities: Tokyo, Kyoto, and Hiroshima, though we made good use of our Japan Rail Passes and made several day trips as well.

Despite hundreds of years of history, Hiroshima is best known as the city upon which the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on August 6, 1945, in the final weeks of the Second World War. The memorial (originally the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, but widely known as the A-Bomb Dome) is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and stands as a reminder of the destructive force and tragedy of modern warfare.

Most tourists to Hiroshima may only visit the Peace Memorial Park and associated memorials, or take a ferry to Miyajima to visit Itsukushima Shrine and its famous floating gate. But what’s remarkable about Hiroshima is the city’s resilience and pride, and there is much more to see, do, and taste. For me, one of those things is the city’s streetcars.

The Hiroshima Electric Railway, known as Hiroden for short, operates Japan’s largest street railway network, as well as many local buses and ferries. While most Japanese cities abandoned their streetcars after the Second World War, Hiroshima made a conscious decision to retain its streetcars; they are a symbol of Hiroshima’s resilience. Though 108 out of Hiroden’s 123 streetcars were damaged or destroyed, seven days after the blast, service resumed on the suburban Miyajima line.

IMG_0264-001Map of the Hiroden streetcar network, with information in Japanese, English, Korean and simplified Chinese

Today, Hiroden operates 271 streetcars, and it has an eclectic fleet. All streetcars are double-ended, and articulated cars operate with both an operator and a conductor. Passengers pay on exit, though customers using a farecard must tap on and off. (The city fare is a flat 180 yen, though an additional fare is charged on the Miyajima Line.)

IMG_0279-001Two newer Hiroden low-floor streetcars pass each other on Aioi-dori. 

Among Hiroden’s assets are two vehicles (#651 and #652) that survived the atomic blast. In the 1960s and 1970s, Hiroshima purchased used streetcars from other cities that were abandoning their systems, including Kyoto, Osaka, and Kobe, some of which still operate today. New articulated low-floor streetcars augment the streetcar fleet, providing barrier-free transit. A complete description of the Hiroden fleet is available on the local transportation museum’s website.

IMG_0794-001Streetcar #1912 was built in 1957 for Kyoto’s municipal railway. It was acquired by Hiroden when Kyoto abandoned its streetcar system in 1978.

Categories
History Toronto Transit

The story of Toronto’s streetcar “bull’s eyes”

7566316174_524a59174e_o.jpgReplica of Toronto Railway Company streetcar #327 operates at the Halton County Radial Railway museum, with the unique glass bulbs visible below the metal “Belt Line” sign. Photo taken June 2012

In 1891, the Toronto Railway Company (TRC) was created, taking over the city’s streetcar system from its predecessor, the Toronto Street Railway. The TRC quickly began electrifying Toronto’s transit network, operating fifteen routes across the city. Electric streetcars were faster than horse-drawn trams, and passengers had difficulties figuring out which streetcar was theirs at night.

This was a problem as many streetcar routes overlapped. For example, Dupont and Avenue Road streetcars operated on Yonge Street south of Bloor, and Belt Line and Yonge streetcars both ran on Front Street. While the TRC had metal signs on the top and sides of each streetcar to denote the route, they weren’t illuminated. With electric light still in its infancy — arc lamps were too intense while early incandescent lamps were too dull to adequately illuminate route signs — the TRC developed an ingenious solution: uniquely coloured glass bulbs mounted on the roof, lit by interior lights. These lights became known as “bull’s eyes.”

Under this scheme, the Yonge Streetcar could be identified by one blue light, while the Broadview Streetcar could be identified with red and green lights. This system required passengers to memorize their route’s colours, and as new routes were introduced, changed, or withdrawn, it became cumbersome. Eventually, lighting technology caught up: while back-lit destination signs were possible by 1910, the TRC became hesitant to spend any capital funds to modernize its fleet or expand the streetcar railway network. The City of Toronto was forced to start its own streetcar system, the Toronto Civic Railway, to serve outlying neighbourhoods.

Though the Ontario Railway Board (predecessor to the Ontario Municipal Board) refused to force the TRC to expand the street railway network beyond the 1891 boundaries, it ordered the TRC to install backlit route signs. These new signs were introduced in February 1913, and those unique coloured bulbs disappeared by 1915. Six years later, the TRC’s franchise was up, and the city-owned Toronto Transportation Commission came into being.

In 1935, the TTC re-introduced “bull’s eyes” to its streetcar fleet. Officially known as an advance light, a single roof-mounted light, which gave off a blue-green hue, was designed to let waiting passengers know a streetcar was on its way. At the same time, the TTC installed dash lights, which both illuminated advertising cards and provided additional lighting, a useful safety feature.

IMG_7929-001.JPGTTC PCC Streetcar #4549 on Queen Street West in September 2018

New PCC streetcars, which began arriving in 1938, were built with the advance lights already installed. By 1940, all streetcars, including the remaining wooden cars acquired from the Toronto Railway Company, were equipped with advance lights. After the Second World War, PCC streetcars purchased from cities such as Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Kansas City, were similarly fitted with the roof-mounted lamps.

IMG_8717-001.JPGCLRV streetcar on Queen Street East, with two blue-green advance lights above the back-lit destination sign. 

By the 1970s, the TTC decided to maintain its street railway fleet after planning for their eventual replacement with buses and subways, and sought a replacement fleet for its ageing PCCs. The new Canadian Light Rail Vehicles (CLRVs) and Articulated Light Rail Vehicles (ALRVs) were designed with dual advance lamps, mounted within the streetcar body, immediately above the destination sign.

Advance lights were introduced to TTC buses starting in the mid-1990s, as new wheelchair-accessible vehicles were added to the fleet, starting with high-floor Orion V and Nova RTS buses, and continuing with newer low-floor vehicles. Blue lights indicated that the bus was accessible. As a bonus, when combined with new digital orange LED destination signs, the bus advance lights served to further improve the visibility of approaching transit vehicles.

11041809023_47fc64e5e7_o.jpgNova articulated bus with orange LED destination sign and blue LED advance lights indicating it is an accessible vehicle

The new Bombardier Flexity streetcars are similarly equipped with new blue LED lights, as they too are fully accessible vehicles. While blue advance lights are unique to TTC buses, the new light rail vehicles for Waterloo Region’s ION LRT, also built by Bombardier, sport similar blue lights.

IMG_8421-002.JPGION LRT vehicle undergoing testing in Kitchener, February 2019

Sources:
John F. Bromley and Jack May: Fifty Years of Progressive Transit (Electric Railroaders’ Association, 1973)
Mike Filey: Not a One-Horse Town: 125 years of Toronto and its Streetcars (Firefly Press, 1990)

Categories
Infrastructure Transit Travels

The streetcar returns to Detroit – but who benefits?

IMG_1489-001Woodward Avenue at Mack Avenue, August 2017

I grew up in Brampton, a suburb of Toronto. Our family could not justify long, expensive vacations, but we did make several trips to Detroit and the region, usually to visit the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. We’d stay at a hotel outside Detroit, usually one with a swimming pool. Besides the museum visit and the pool, my parents would usually include a stop at an outlet mall. We’d also drive through Detroit itself, sparking my enduring fascination with the city.

Since my first visit in the mid-1980s, the Hudson’s Department Store has been demolished, the Michigan Central Station has been permanently closed and allowed to deteriorate, and several downtown skyscrapers have closed and been abandoned. The city itself continued to lose population as more auto plants closed in the city and surrounding suburbs, and city services declined.

But on recent trips, on my own or with friends, we started to see the beginnings of what looked like a comeback. New downtown baseball and football stadiums, followed by new office buildings, the re-opening of the long-abandoned Book-Cadillac and Fort Shelby Hotels, the opening of the Detroit Riverwalk and Dequindre Cut multi-use paths, and new residential development Downtown and Midtown.

On the last trip to Detroit, my wife and I stayed downtown, at a hotel in the David Whitney Building, a formerly-abandoned office tower. We walked around Downtown Detroit and Eastern Market, visited the famous Art Deco Fisher Building, and went to several museums, including the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History, and the Detroit Historical Museum, both of which had special exhibitions marking the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Detroit Rebellion (also known as the 12th Street Riot). We ate at great local restaurants as well.

And I went back to the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, both of which were as fun and as interesting as I remember.

We also took the new QLine Streetcar. It was a fun ride, and I’m happy to report that the service was well used by both residents and tourists alike. But I have some serious concerns as well.

Categories
History Toronto Transit

Mapping Toronto’s street railways in the TTC era (1921-2016)

Yonge and St Clair, north-west
Yonge Street at St. Clair Avenue, 1922. The TTC was busy in its first few years joining together the various street railway systems together and expanding services. Here, work is underway to extend city streetcar service to Glen Echo Loop and connect with the former Toronto Civic Railway’s St. Clair line.  City of Toronto Archives Fonds 16, Series 71, Item 1571

Third in a three-part series — also see Part 1 (1861 to 1891) and Part 2 (1891 to 1921)

In 1921, the Toronto Transportation Commission was established to provide all transit services within the City of Toronto, on a complete cost-recovery basis. Within the City, there would be a single fare for all regular services, including free transfers, with additional fares for services outside the city limits.

The TTC immediately took over the operations of the Toronto Railway Company and the city-owned Toronto Civic Railways and began to unify the two systems. It bought new equipment, and replaced worn-out rail, carhouses, and other facilities. It introduced the first transit buses to Torontonians, and three decades later, Canada’s first subway.

Toronto’s streetcar system expanded through the 1920s, but stagnated through the 1930s, including the loss of almost all of Toronto’s radial railways. But it wasn’t until 1947-1948 that Toronto’s street railway network entered an era of decline, as trolley coaches, diesel buses, and subways chipped away at the streetcar’s dominance.

By the late 1960s, the TTC was looking to eliminate streetcars entirely by 1980, once the Queen Street Subway opened. Of course, that subway line never opened, and the streetcars remained. It wasn’t until the 1990s, though, that the network entered a renaissance.

1923

Within two years, the TTC quickly modernized the streetcar system. New streetcars — known as Peter Witts — were ordered and the oldest of the Toronto Railway Company’s cars were immediately scrapped. The TTC unified the TRC and Civic systems, replaced the radial railways within city limits with city services, and added new routes such as Coxwell and Bay. The City took over the Toronto & York radials as well, but handed their operation over to Ontario Hydro. The TTC also replaced much of the worn out rails, and built new turning loops at the end of streetcar lines replaced crossovers and wyes. This improved operations and allowed for larger, single-ended streetcars to operate on more routes.

The TTC also introduced buses. In the early 1920s, buses were were slow, small and less comfortable than streetcars, but they had their advantages. The TTC’s first bus route, 1 Humberside, provided a direct, single-fare ride through the South Junction neighbourhood to TTC streetcars at Dundas Street; the Toronto Suburban’s Crescent streetcar line couldn’t compete and was soon abandoned. The TTC also experimented with a trolley bus route on Merton Street and Mount Pleasant Road between 1922 and 1925; it was replaced by an extension of the St. Clair streetcar.

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s0648_fl0227_id0001Trolley bus on Merton Street, June 20, 1922. City of Toronto Archives, Series 648, Fonds 227, Item 1

Categories
History Maps Toronto Transit

Mapping Toronto’s streetcar network: The age of electric – 1891 to 1921

People & Historic shots. - [1920?]-1987

TRC streetcars on Queen Street, c. 1910. Note the old TSR horsecars used as trailers behind the electric cars. City of Toronto Archives, Series 1465, File 722, Item 18

This post continues from The Horsecar Era: 1861 to 1891 

In 1891, after obtaining a new 30-year franchise, the Toronto Railway Company went to work electrifying Toronto’s streetcar system. The TRC was a private company, led by William Mackenzie and James Ross. Mackenzie made his fortune in railway construction; together with Donald Mann, he would go on to build a railway empire before it collapsed by the end of the First World War. Mackenzie would also control other street railway and interurban lines in Ontario, including the Toronto and York, the Toronto Suburban, and the Niagara, St. Catharines, and Toronto.

By 1894, the TRC became fully electrified, providing quicker and more reliable service. In the twenty-five years that followed, new electric railways radiated out of Toronto to points such as West Hill in Scarborough, Port Credit, Woodbridge, and even as far away as Lake Simcoe and Guelph. But after a short sprint of service expansion within the City of Toronto, the TRC refused to extend its services beyond Toronto’s city borders of 1891. The City of Toronto was forced to form its own public streetcar company in 1911, and became determined to take complete control over urban transportation services once the TRC’s franchise came to an end.

Maps presented only show revenue routes, including peak period variations and some seasonal routes, such as Exhibition services. I omit some minor service and route changes. I welcome constructive feedback as I plan to re-publish these maps elsewhere.

1894

Electrification of the Toronto Railway Company began when the Church Street line was converted on August 16, 1892. The last horsecar made its trip on McCaul Street on July 18, 1894. The TRC extended several routes in Toronto’s west end, including King, Dovercourt, Bloor, Dundas and Carlton.

The Davenport Street Railway Company began operations on September 6, 1892 between Toronto Junction at Keele and Dundas Streets, and Bathurst Street at the CPR tracks, a short walk to TRC Bathurst Cars. The Weston, High Park & Toronto Street Railway Company began operating the same year within the Junction, from Evelyn Crescent to Keele Street, later extending east to the Toronto City Limits at Humberside Avenue. These two companies merged in 1894 to create the Toronto Suburban Railway.

The Toronto and Mimico Railway was the city’s second radial. After a troubled start in 1892, it extended west to New Toronto by 1894. The Toronto and York built east from Queen Street and Kingston Road to Blantyre Avenue in Scarborough Township. Two short spurs served the town of East Toronto (near today’s Main/Gerrard intersection) and down to the Beach.

ttc-streetcars-1894