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  1. Hey folks, Thought I'd start a new discussion regarding the King Street transit pilot project being tested in downtown Toronto, since it would stray considerably from general streetcar news and discussion, as well as any other TTC discussion. Starting November 12th, 2017, the City of Toronto will initiate the project between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street. The project's main aims are to increase efficiency of transit along that particular stretch of King St., primarily improving the service of the 504 King Streetcar in the downtown core. The 504 King is the busiest streetcar route that the TTC offers, with over sixty five thousand in daily ridership. People and Transit are being given priority over vehicle traffic. Until this weekend, this stretch of King street was notorious for its awful efficiency both from transit and traffic perspectives. With over twenty thousand vehicles using the street for relatively local trips (which can be done via parallel streets), transit was getting clogged up. This resulted in uneven spacing between streetcars and the notorious "walking is faster than the TTC" statement. As of the 12th of November, cars are no longer permitted to drive straight through any intersections between Bathurst Street and Jarvis Street. They will only be allowed to turn right, and in few cases left as well, thus removing the use of King as a main thoroughfare. Exceptions to this include TTC vehicles, construction/service vehicles, emergency services, as well as taxis which are only permitted to drive through at certain times of the day. TTC streetcar stops have been moved to the opposite side of the intersections with protected waiting areas. Cyclists are permitted to continue through intersections as usual, abiding by the existing regulations. This project is a cost-effective way of easing traffic congestion along one of the main transit corridors in downtown Toronto, and there are further plans to implement this on other streets, such as Queen and Dundas Sts. Further plans are in place to construct public spaces along King in place of the on-street parking. These spaces would include, but are not limited to: bicycle parking, sidewalk cafes, open seating etc. Here are some links for you all to take a look at: Main Page: https://web.toronto.ca/city-government/planning-development/planning-studies-initiatives/king-street-pilot/ Overview: https://web.toronto.ca/city-government/planning-development/planning-studies-initiatives/king-street-pilot/king-street-transit-pilot-overview/ Informative Posters: https://web.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/968e-Police-Postcard_AODA.pdf Informational Brochures: https://web.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/9096-King-Street-Brochure_Oct25_Web.pdf So let's see what you all think of it? Questions? Suggestions/Criticisms? Or even your own adjustments? Let the discussion begin!
  2. Due to circumstances beyond its control, the Harris County Metropolitan Transit Authority (i.e. "Metro") have taken a radically different approach to light rail than most North American cities. Since Houston lacks the rights of way of unused freight lines for suburban commuter rail service, and have not made reservations for light rail tracks on expressways, it has relied on suburban buses on high-occupancy vehicle lanes of expressways (HOT lanes). For automobiles, free use of these lanes requires a minimum number of occupants, or a sliding toll rate, which is quite expensive during rush hours. Indeed, Houston (The Harris County Toll Road Authority, the Fort Bend Toll Road Authority and the Texas Department of Transportation) have expropriated significant railroad rights of way for the construction of highways. Most notably, the Galveston-Houston Electric Railway for a utility right of way adjacent to highway I-45 in the late 1940s, and. in this century, the Southern Pacific Railway for the Westpark Tollway and the Katy Railroad for the expansion of I-10. Houston sawed of the limb it was sitting on regarding commuter rail, precluding opportunities of providing growing suburbs of a rail transit alternative. The HOV or "HOT" lane approach to suburban commuter bus service has several serious drawbacks, making the commuter buses an option for only a tiny fraction of suburban commuters. Metro have tried to keep up by creating several new local bus lines in suburban areas, but the cost of adequately serving a sprawling service area of 3,330 km² without any rail trunk lines to supply a sufficient number of transferees would require a prohibitively huge sales tax increase, which is Metro's primary source of funding. Passenger fare payments constitute only 18% of Metro revenues. Metro have deliberately kept their fare low. The local fare is $1.25, the lowest of any US big city. Problems with Commuter Bus Service - a 1980s Approach Buses and private motor vehicles share the same lanes, resulting in frequent delays due to wrecks and breakdowns. Traffic backups on the "HOT" lanes are almost as frequent as those on the regular (toll-free) expressway lanes. Buses on their return trips, that is, against the flow of rush-hour traffic, must use the regular expressway lanes, which also have frequent traffic jams, requiring the use of extra standby buses "on-call" to adhere to timetables. That means that drivers may get paid for doing nothing during rush hour except waiting for something to go wrong. With several exceptions, all commuter bus traffic is point-to-point, with a terminus at a park and ride lot in the suburbs, and local stops downtown. There are almost no intermediate stops. Metro's commuter buses are really like a charter or vanpool service, serving a select few. It is very convenient if you work downtown, but most people do not. Other large employment centers in the central city: the Galleria, Greenway Plaza and the Texas Medical Center are served by these commuter buses, but service is inadequate or requires too much driving from the park and ride and the commuters homes for most motorists. To reach an intermediate point on the line, the commuter would have to ride all the way downtown, only to catch a slow, local bus in the opposite direction to arrive at an intermediate point. Due to the enormous amount of time required, no one does this. Unlike a true suburban commuter line, these commuter buses make few intermediate stops and carry no backhaul. In other words, commuter buses running against the flow of rush hour traffic run virtually empty. The suburban termini of the commuter bus lines are typically huge parking lots surrounded by empty fields, with the nearest places of employment and retail several kilometers away, without any connecting shuttle bus service. Thw southern 12 km of Houston's light rail line, on the other hand, has a bi-directional rush hour, with standing room only in both directions. The only option of using your bicycle on a reverse direction commuter bus would be stowing your bike to complete your trip. This would work as long as it is not an articulated bus, which make no provision for bike racks. Biking in Houston is dangerous, there are few bike trails and the temperature most of the year would mean you arrive at your destination drenched in sweat. The Metro commuter buses do not run on weekends or holidays. The only park and ride lot is MetroRail's Fannin South Station. It is open 24/7. The Woodlands, about 50 km north of downtown Houston operate rush-hour only service to downtown and the Texas Medical Center on weekdays only. Houston freight railroads are mostly jammed to capacity due to the port, petrochemical industry and through transcontinental container freight. This bottleneck is payback due the financial inability of the railroads serving Houston at the end of WWII to double-track their trunk lines. The only freight railroads serving Houston, the UPRR and BNSF, are still single track, while the population of the Gulf Coast has greatly increased since 1945. The Southern Pacific Railroad seemed serious about double-tracking their line between New Orleans and Houston, but the construction of the I-10 freeway between the two cities precluded the project. The cost at this late date of widening their rights of way to accommodate commuter rail would be prohibitive.For rail transit, Metro have opted for exclusively reserved-lane streetcar lines in the central city. "Light rail" in Houston is sort of a misnomer, so I use light rail and "streetcar" interchangeably when talking about Houston MetroRail. The criterion for the placement of these routes is to replace already existing heavy local bus lines, reducing energy cost, increasing speed and passenger capacity. To a large extent, the streetcars are synchronized with the motor vehicle traffic light system, improving throughput. For brevity, refer to the Northline/Houston Community College extension as simply Northline, a still- active suburban-style shopping mall at the northern terminus, which opened more than fifty years ago. To contrast Houston MetroRail's speed with light rail lines, like most of those of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) system, whose essential function is high-speed suburban commuter rail service is impossible, barring a major change in thinking of either transit agency. Dallas wisely preserved the rights of way of many of its abandoned freight railroads. Unlike Houston, which has no zoning, Dallas has strict zoning laws. This results in DART light rail cars dumping off riders near industrial parks, since railroad rights of way were used. DART riders must either drive or take a connecting bus to their ultimate destinations. Houston has improved local service by taking busy but slow bus lines and converting them to grade-separated streetcars. In the twelve months ended 30 September 2012, Houston's light rail ridership has grown by almost 23%, 231,094 per month, or 7,700 daily boardings. The northern extension opened on 21 December, 2013. Most, if not all of this increase is attributable to the to the 9 km North side extension of the existing South side line, which itself opened on January 1, 2004. The comparatively slow speed of 23¼ km/h of this line is a vast improvement over the bus service it replaced. The effective speed of the defunct 15 Fulton was less than 15 km/h. The grade-separated streetcar-(probably misnamed light rail) is 165% faster than the bus it replaced. Houston has much more boardings per track mile because it runs in the middle of the street. Instead of some desolate industrial park, the Houston streetcars drop you off in the middle of a residential or commercial location. Light rail in Houston is called "trains" by the riders. When Dallas opened its DFW Airport extension this fall, they got 4,000 riders per day. When Houston opened Northline on 21 December 2013, they got 4,200 additional riders per day. Houston's ridership on Northline is now 8.000. I try to ride Northline once a week. I pick weekdays, Saturdays or Sundays. This is anecdotal, but I have observed that the Northline's ridership visibly increases from month to month. A new plan for the Houston bus system is being drawn up at the moment. Although Houston has dozens of bus lines, called "crosstown" buses, which do not go downtown, the local bus service is still essentially based on the 1927 Houston Electric streetcar system which replaced all streetcars with buses in 1940, one of the first large cities to junk streetcar service at the time. At present, there are only three connecting bus lines at Northline's northern terminus and two on Sundays and holidays. This planned, vast makeover of the bus system is long overdue, and will convert Houstons local bus routes from a star to a grid pattern. The new bus lines will connect outlying transit centers with one another. Passengers wishing to go to the center city will catch a light rail or trunk bus line at the transit centers. Metro currently has 37 Siemens cars in operation. Metro has ordered 105 cars from the Spanish company CAF (Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles SA) for use on their new East End and Southeast streetcar lines. CAF has been plagued with problems: a strike in Spain, the complication of building a construction facility in Elmira, NY to meet the Federal Transit Administration requirement of 60% US content, water leaks under pressure and weight in excess of contract specifications. The stations, track, switches and overhead wire are all finished for the East End and Southeast lines. Houston is toying with the option of pulling some cars off the existing line, which would result in extreme overcrowding. Two CAF cars have been delivered. 302 and 303. CAF faces contractual damages for late delivery. The coming weeks should be quite interesting as Metro wants to put the streetcar lines in service this month!
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