Canadian Commuter Rail Summary 2016

Over the past couple years, I’ve been making year-end summaries of all the commuter rail lines in Canada, identifying changes and trends.  So here is a look back at the year 2016 in Canadian commuter rail.

Improvements compared to January 2016 are highlighted in green, while deteriorations are highlighted in red.

For the second year in a row, there were no significant changes to commuter rail service outside of Ontario, and GO Transit introduced significant new off-peak train service.

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Posted in Passenger Rail | 1 Comment

Neglecting pedestrians in Vaughan Centre

This afternoon I visited Vaughan Metropolitan Centre to see the progress in one of the largest urban transformations underway in Ontario. The City of Vaughan, with a lot of help from York Region and the Province of Ontario, is turning a big-box commercial area best known for Ikea and Wal-Mart into a high-density mixed-use centre featuring highrise office and residential towers. The hub of the development is Vaughan Centre station, which will be the interchange between the Toronto Transit Commission’s Line 1 subway and York Region Transit’s Viva Purple bus rapid transit line.

I was impressed by a lot of the transit infrastructure I saw, especially Vaughan Centre station. I was also happy to find a relatively pleasant pedestrian environment along Highway 7 for such a busy and high-speed road. But my pleasant experience was abruptly ended when I decided to cross Highway 7 to head back along the other side of the road.

Because it took me almost four minutes to do so.

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Posted in Traffic Signals, York | 9 Comments

Do pedestrian buttons actually work?

When people find out I have a working knowledge of traffic signals, this is often the first question they ask.  “When I press the button, does it actually do anything to the signal timing?”  The short answer is: sometimes.  Because there’s more to pedestrian buttons than just getting a walk light to cross the street.

There’s two parts t0 the answer here, which are:
1. There are some pedestrian crossings where someone needs to press a button for the walk light to be displayed, and other crossings where there is no need for anyone to press a button,
2. Pedestrian buttons are being installed at all pedestrian crossings, whether or not those buttons actually have an effect on signal timing.

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Posted in Traffic Signals | 12 Comments

Richmond-Adelaide cycle track review

In November 2011, City of Toronto council voted to introduce separated bicycle lanes on Richmond Street, Adelaide Street, Simcoe Street and Peter Street, creating a continuous network of bicycle routes through the core of the city.  Prior to the Richmond-Adelaide bicycle route project, the financial district had been a notable blank spot in the city’s cycling network.

The backbone of this new part of the bicycle network is the Richmond-Adelaide route.  It consists mostly of separated bicycle lanes on Richmond Street and Adelaide Street, a pair of one way roads that form the main east-west motor traffic route into the financial district from the Don Valley Parkway.


In general the Richmond-Adelaide route is a huge improvement over the previous options for cycling through the centre of downtown.  It also includes some notable steps forward in important areas of design.

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Posted in Reviews, Toronto | 1 Comment

Ontario to legalize bicycle-shaped bicycle signals

The Province of Ontario is taking a step toward more intuitive and less cluttered roadways, exempting bicycle signals from the requirement to be circular and instead permitting bicycle-shaped signal lenses.  Ontario is now inching toward the convention of virtually every other jurisdiction, where each signal’s intended audience is self-evident in its design.

Outside of Ontario, road users encounter a variety of shapes on traffic signals.  Arrows identify a turn signal, vertical and horizontal bars identify a transit signal, and of course bicycle shapes identify a bicycle signal.

Bicycle, left turn, and general traffic signals in New York

Bicycle, left turn, and general traffic signals in New York

Right turn and bicycle signals in Québec

Right turn and bicycle signals in Québec

But in Ontario this intuitive system is outlawed by the Highway Traffic Act’s Regulation 626, which states:

Every traffic control signal shall consist of one circular amber and one circular red indication in combination with [a combination of circular or arrow green indications]. (emphasis added)

Every signal therefore looks the same when it’s displaying red or amber, which is when it’s most critical for its intended audience to be clear. When a signal needs to apply to a specific road user group, we instead need a sign explaining who should obey it.

Bicycle, transit, left turn and general traffic signals in Ontario

Bicycle, left turn, transit and general traffic signals in Ontario

This system is considerably less obvious than having distinctively-shaped signals, and it also contributes to a more cluttered streetscape.

Fortunately, the Ontario Legislature has passed Bill 173, which contains the first step toward icon-based signal differentiation.  Along with some changes to rules about pedestrian crossovers and distracted driving, section 29 of the bill legalizes bicycle-shaped lenses on bicycle signals starting on January 1st 2017:

29.  (1)  Section 133 of the Act is amended by adding the following definition:

“bicycle traffic control signal” means a traffic control signal where the coloured lenses each display a prescribed bicycle symbol; (“signalisation de la circulation pour bicyclettes”)


(2)  The definition of “traffic control signal” in section 133 of the Act is amended by adding “and includes a bicycle traffic control signal” at the end.

The amended Highway Traffic Act’s wording effectively defines the bicycle shape as being equivalent to a circular indication, thereby getting around the restriction from Regulation 626.  The bill also adds more flexibility in signal placement for bicycle signals, which makes sense given that bicycles are smaller and slower than motor vehicles.

While this change does not take effect until January 2017, some jurisdictions just can’t wait.  In 2015, the City of Waterloo installed bicycle-shaped lenses on one of its signals, more than a year before doing so was legalized.

Bill 173 brings us a small but welcome step toward a more intuitive system of signal definition.  Now to complete the package, I’d like to see similar changes made for turn signals and transit signals.

Posted in Traffic Signals | 8 Comments

Why do left turns go first?

In most jurisdictions in Ontario, the convention is that left turns will precede the straight-ahead (through) movements in the same direction.  Why is this the case?  There’s actually more to it than meets the eye.

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Posted in Traffic Signals | 3 Comments

A new design for University Avenue and Keats Way – Waterloo

When I was in my third year at the University of Waterloo, I lived in the west end of town, off Keats Way.  My commute by bicycle commute was generally quite enjoyable by North American standards, it took place almost entirely on quiet streets or in dedicated bicycle lanes.  And it was very fast too!  The 2.1 km trip took about 8 minutes, and if I was lucky with the one traffic signal, I could make the entire trip home without stopping once.

Here was my route, categorized by my comfort level (green is relaxed, red is stressed):

The worst part of my journey was making the right turn off University Avenue onto Keats Way.  Right-turning cyclists share the right turn lane with motor traffic turning right, which often results in motorists speeding past and cutting in front of cyclists to save a few seconds.  Even when drivers would remain a safe and respectful distance behind, I felt pressured to ride quickly to avoid delaying them, adding stress to my otherwise relaxed commute.

Cyclists travelling straight along University are also exposed to this same conflict, as the bicycle lane runs between the through lanes and the right turn lane.  While it’s not statistically clear that this is actually a dangerous situation, it certainly feels very unsafe – making cycling along this route an unattractive prospect for the majority of people.

Keeping the bike lanes always on the right of the traffic lane rather than merging them together would completely eliminate interactions with motor traffic for right-turning cyclists.  This would move the conflict point onto the actual intersection for through cyclists, where it can be addressed separately.

I think that the best solution here would be fully-protected signal phases.  This means that turning cars and bicycles would each have their own dedicated signal, which only allows one to proceed while the other is stopped at a red signal.

The usual way of managing this conflict – where turning cars yield to bikes and pedestrians – would be considerably more dangerous.  In order to allow large vehicles such as GRT’s Route 29 bus to make the turn, the corner radius needs to be very large.  This would then translate to high turning speeds for cars, which increases the risk that a car fail to yield to a cyclist or pedestrian crossing Keats Way.

Here’s what the intersection could look like with protected bike paths and traffic signals:

Overhead view of a fully-protected Keats Way and University Avenue

Overhead view of a fully-protected Keats Way and University Avenue

Protected signal phases can actually be implemented efficiently here because the bulk of the movements are compatible with each other.  For the most part, people are travelling straight along University or turning off Keats Way to/from the east.

KeatsUni_WatBikes3Phase_KW KeatsUni_WatBikes3Phase_Uni

Hardly anyone makes a left turn from University to Keats Way or a right turn off Keats Way onto University since this would be basically sending them back the way they came.  This last signal phase would therefore hardly ever occur:

Phase 1

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Posted in Redesigns, Waterloo | 14 Comments