Rocket Talk: How Come St. Clair Streetcars Stop So Much?
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Rocket Talk: How Come St. Clair Streetcars Stop So Much?

Have questions about the TTC? Rocket Talk is a regular Torontoist column, featuring TTC Chair Adam Giambrone and Director of Communications Brad Ross’s answers to Torontoist readers’ questions. Submit your questions to [email protected]!

Reader Rob Elliott asks:

Why does the new St. Clair LRT line have so many stops? All the potential time-saving benefits of the new right-of-way are lost by the fact that streetcars are forever stopping at traffic lights and every block or two. Surely the public could be convinced that shorter travel times are worth walking an extra couple of blocks. The public has accepted limited stops on the subway. There are twenty-three stops between Keele and Yonge streets on the St. Clair LRT, and just ten on the parallel subway route along Bloor. When I have visited European cities where the streetcars are common, stopping once a kilometre or so seems to be the norm.

TTC Director of Communications Brad Ross says:

The first thing I need to clarify is that the 512 St. Clair streetcar line is not an “LRT” line like the proposed Transit City lines will be, or like those found in Europe. It is a streetcar line and part of the TTC’s legacy network of streetcars. The 512 St. Clair, in fact, serves a distinct community of small businesses and neighbouring residential communities. It just so happens to operate in its own right-of-way, much like the 509 Harbourfront and 510 Spadina streetcars.
I won’t re-hash the debate that has occurred, and continues in some quarters, regarding St. Clair, but there was a tremendous amount of public consultation during the planning of the right-of-way. The TTC heard many opinions, concerns, and suggestions—among them, “do not remove any existing stops.”
And we didn’t. Save for one.
St. Clair is not a commuter line in the sense that a subway or high capacity LRT line is. St. Clair, on the contrary, is an integral part of the community it serves. By increasing stop-spacing, small businesses that benefit from transit right outside their front door may well face a downturn in foot traffic. In fact, the TTC introduced a timed-transfer to help minimize the impact on local businesses during construction. Making it harder for TTC customers to frequent businesses—i.e. by increasing stop-spacing beyond the 250 metre average now in place—is anathema to community objectives. Every stop is heavily used and relied upon by the community.
Rights-of-way are designed to increase transit reliability as well as speed. Traffic lights were never going to be eliminated, as there is always going to be cross-traffic to contend with. Rights-of-way, however, manage to avoid left-turning vehicles blocking their path, as well as other conditions one sees on mixed-traffic routes, by having transit-only signalization at intersections.
Eliminating or redistributing stops by increasing distances doesn’t improve speed in any significant way. When the new low-floor streetcars arrive, proof-of-payment on all lines will allow for all-door boarding (four doors in total), significantly improving the time spent at a stop.
Improving the line’s reliability and serving the community with frequent service was the TTC’s chief objective with the 512 St. Clair line. While there is speed improvement on the line, the real benefit is a reliable streetcar service that now better serves a vibrant Toronto community.