Are street-level LRT right-of-ways really safe for emergency response?

In the middle of the political battle between the people supporting the new St. Clair West LRT right-of-way (ROW), and the residential and commercial neighbours against it, a Toronto Fire Services report, authored by the late District Chief Robert Leek, concluded that this TTC ROW, as constructed by April 2008, was “not usable by Toronto Fire Services for emergency response”.  In my previous post: “3 big issues with LRTs on the streets” I mentioned that one of these issues is a reduction on public safety, due to traffic being diverted to local roads, and to slower emergency response times; both of these problems caused by increased congestion from an LRT ROW in the middle of an arterial road. Some of the commenters to this post replied by saying that these LRT ROWs give exclusive access to emergency vehicles, as well, and that allowance should make emergency response time quicker, instead. This is effective in the case that the ROW is easily mounted and navigated by emergency vehicles, however TTC didn’t contemplate these issues when they designed the St. Clair West ROW. After having experience with the Queens Quay ROW and the Spadina ROW, it is inadmissible that TTC didn’t consider these basic design parameters for the St. Clair West ROW.

This Toronto Fire Services report mentioned problems related to the narrowness of the dedicated ROW, between the centre poles, and the curbs at the edges (10′-4″ or 3.15 m wide), which could either damage fire truck mirrors, or tires and their alignment (3.1 m fire truck width, including mirrors). Also, the curbs separating the LRT ROW with the rest of the street, was too high and its edge too sharp to be mounted at fast speed (see Figure 1, below), a problem that can also affect ambulances and other emergency vehicles. These design problems not only slow down emergency response times, but they also create a potential for collision with another vehicle(s) along the way. Additionally, this report mentions that when snow removal along the ROW takes place, the snow may accumulate in the middle, creating a snow and ice wall for an emergency vehicle trying to change lanes and pass a stopped train on the way.

Figure 1: St. Clair West ROW width vs. Fire Truck width - Source: St. Clair Ave. West Dedicated Right-of-way report, by District Chief Bob Leek, April 09, 2008.

As it can be expected, this report created a huge alarm for residents along St. Clair West. Bill Stewart, the Fire Chief at that time, responded soon after that the ROW was safe (although, he mentioned earlier that fire trucks would have to move slower than they would in an emergency), and that they are working with TTC to solve all the design problems. Nevertheless, his statement was still seen as politically motivated. As for Gary Webster, TTC’s chief general manager, when consulted about the other Transit City lines planned during David Miller’s mayoralty, mentioned that there was plenty of time to make sure those lines are designed with emergency vehicles in mind. Unfortunately, as mentioned above, they failed to plan for St. Clair West, even though they had previous experience with other dedicated streetcar ROWs. For local Councillor Joe Mihevc’s mind, the St. Clair West ROW may not have been ideal for car drivers or for fire trucks, but commented that “everybody had to pinch a little bit.”

Now, what is the status with the recommended repairs on the St. Clair West ROW? Have they been implemented, and made them satisfactory for emergency vehicles to mount and navigate safely and promptly along this LRT ROW? I haven’t found an answer to these questions yet, so I would appreciate for anybody to come forward with this information, in the mean time.

On the other hand, can we still expect the TTC to design their proposed Eglinton West, Sheppard West and other LRT ROWs in a manner that it is safe for emergency vehicles to respond fast? On TTC’s presentation panels for the Eglinton Crosstown LRT line showcased in November 2009, the ground-level cross-section diagrams don’t seem to have emergency vehicles contemplated in their design, even though the St. Clair West ROW safety concerns, as mentioned above, were widely publicized the year before. As shown in Figure 2 below, the LRT ROW curb seems at the same height as the sidewalk, therefore impeding a rapid mounting over it by emergency vehicles. Also, each LRT lane is drawn at about 3 metres wide (width of LRT 2.65 m), which will present the same width impediments as reported on St. Clair West. After seeing this, will the TTC compromise the street lane widths, or their proposed bicycle lanes (making them unsafe), in order to get more room for the fire trucks?

Figure 2: LRT Typical Cross-section - Source: Eglinton Crosstown LRT Open House Presentation Panel # 8, November 2009.

Street-level LRT right-of-ways remain a concern for emergency response times until all the emergency vehicles considerations are designed and implemented in the ROW, and without affecting the safety of other traffic lanes.

In the mean time, it is still safer to not introduce any LRT right-of-ways in the middle of Toronto roads, and let the emergency vehicles blast their sirens, so other vehicles move to the sides, leaving the centre clear. This is a common practice that works very well today. At the same time, through traffic won’t be forced to move onto calm residential streets, which will put walkers and bikers in danger.


St. Clair Ave. West Dedicated Right-of-way report, by District Chief Bob Leek, April 09, 2008:

Toronto Star – Alarm raised over St. Clair right-of-way:

Toronto Star – Fire chief says St. Clair is safe:

Eglinton Crosstown LRT Open House Presentation Panels, November 2009 (three parts):

2 thoughts on “Are street-level LRT right-of-ways really safe for emergency response?

  1. Pingback: A Settled Debate? « Transportation Toronto

  2. Pingback: Sign of narrow mindfulness | sqwabb

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