Light Rail

St. Clair West LRT by the Numbers

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 09, 2012

The conventional story about the St. Clair West LRT is that it was a disaster: cost overruns, struggling business, failed adoption and so on. It has become a rallying call for opponents of expanded rapid transit in Toronto.

But as with so many battles waged mostly via angry anecdotes, actual data can help us cut through the rhetoric. A report in Saturday's Globe and Mail helps to set the record straight:

On the recommendation of councillor Joe Mihevc, the city is considering hiring an independent consultant to prepare a more complete statistical picture of how the St. Clair line has worked out and what issues still have room for further improvement.

It won't be enough to change the mind of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, who consistently demonstrates an incorrigible disdain for reality's bias - his response was, "You don't have to have a's a complete disaster" - but it should help put the issue to bed for anyone prepared to be convinced by actual evidence.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.


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By Steve (registered) | Posted April 09, 2012 at 10:11:33

I live on St Clair and while the construction period was chaotic and questionably run the end result is a success. I use the line as part of my daily commute downtown and on the whole it is a vast improvement. I cross half the line in about 15 minutes to St Clair West and from there another 15 minutes to union station

I would like to see the airport line link up with St Clair West. Given existing and future development on the the street it makes good sense.

I am in general a Rob Ford supporter but on this topic him and Mr Palacio seem off base.


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By Dan Minkin (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2012 at 10:38:02

I lived in the St. Clair and Bathurst area both before and after the streetcar ROW construction and continue to visit my family there frequently. I must agree with Steve's general observations - the construction period was annoying, but the finished product is a clear improvement over what was there before. Not only is the streetcar itself far more effective, but even the flow of car traffic seems to have improved, probably due to intersection/turning lane/signal improvements that were part of the redesign. Most importantly though, St. Clair's value as a main street has shot up, with trendy restaurants, cafes and condo buildings are appearing all the time.

I'd be interested to see all this quantified by a study as per Councillor Mihevc's suggestion. In the meantime, the mayor's baseless bashing of the neighbourhood, in defiance of both reason and decency, constantly furthers my embarrassment as a Torontonian.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted April 10, 2012 at 14:49:27

The question I'd like to ask is, is St. Clair an LRT, or a streetcar?

It seems to be used often as an example, both by the Fordites, as well as the pro-LRT camp. But in actuality, I thought LRT was supposed to be a different beast from the traditional street car entirely (more distance between stops, more "subway-like" boarding, priority signals, larger platforms etc).

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 10, 2012 at 16:42:29 in reply to Comment 75832

The boundary between streetcar and LRT is fuzzy at best - it's fair to argue that a streetcar is just one form of LRT, anyway. I called the St.Clair line an LRT because it runs on dedicated lanes, but the vehicles are primarily the same CLRV and newer articulated ALRV cars used in other TTC streetcar lines.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-04-10 16:43:48

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By lakeside (registered) | Posted April 11, 2012 at 23:16:41 in reply to Comment 75835

The TTC itself is locally responsible for creating a lot of this fuzziness, stemming from their cavalier use of LRT and similar acronyms.

Though likely the result of thoughtlessness rather than a concerted desire to confuse everybody, they've opened up a vast chasm of confused terminology.

This unfortunate situation has created an opportunity recently seized upon by Toronto mayor Rob Ford et al to sow further confusion in support of their damn-the-torpedoes 'Subways, Subways, Subways' quest. (Known to some as the Let's Build Nothing initiative.)

BlogTO recently ran a two part series that reviewed the history of this linguistic disaster.

and, Part II:

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By streetcar aint no LRT (anonymous) | Posted April 11, 2012 at 12:38:31 in reply to Comment 75835

The differentiation between streetcar and LRT is pretty clear. LRT is multi cars linked together with stops further apart than the couple hundred yards that streetcars and buses use. This is not LRT this is streetcars or trams glorified electric buses that run on rails. Pretty much exactly what was there before just spruced up a bit and giving the streetcars signal priority. Hard to believe that it was worth the money.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted April 11, 2012 at 13:59:06 in reply to Comment 75854

It would depend how many transit riders shave a few minutes off their daily commute, as well as how many auto users who experience a travel time benefit to not being stuck in mixed traffic behind transit vehicles.

A few minutes may not seem like much, but when it's summed for thousands of users and drivers in a day, and multiplied across many years, the value of that time (and other potential safety, operating cost, or environmental benefits) can be enormous.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 11, 2012 at 14:14:03 in reply to Comment 75860

Not to mention the fact that the city has already observed an increase in new construction around the line. More density and diversity means it becomes possible to accomplish more with less travel. As Richard Register eloquently put it:

The shortest distance between two points is moving them together; every trip from then on is shorter. That's an efficiency multiplied thousands of times.

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