Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Service Change: Toronto, Part 6 - 86 Scarborough and 190 Scarborough Center Rocket

The 86 coming back from the Toronto Zoo was by far the worst bus ride I've ever experienced. It's not the route that's the problem...no, the route's fine, going from Kennedy Station on the Bloor Line to the Toronto Zoo. It's the people that were on it. We got on the bus at Guildwood GO Station (GO is Toronto's commuter rail network) having taken the train from Union in downtown Toronto. The ride to the zoo was full of screaming kids, and my father still talks about the odor of the bus.

The bus coming over a bridge.
Up close and personal.
The inside.
But it was the ride back that was awful for me, as you'll find out. The bus was already pretty crowded leaving the zoo (it's pretty much the only service there, aside from a few 85 trips), but nobody was sitting next to me...yet.

The bus at the zoo.
We left the zoo's busway and parking lot, going by a pointless stop in the middle of nowhere, then merged onto Meadowvale Road. Right by a housing development, there was a loop for short-turn buses from Kennedy, then we went through same-house central. We then crossed over the 401, the busiest highway in North America and one of the widest. Then it was back to more housing, even after we turned onto Kingston Road.

It was sometime along here that a man came onto the bus. He had a very drunk-looking walk, a bandage over two of his fingers, and blood all over him. Of course he sat next to me. It made me very uneasy, to say the least. There were some businesses, then Kingston Road went over a bridge with a similar view to that viaduct on the Bloor Line. That is to say, a good view.

Nice and rural.
There were some weird businesses and hotels along the next stretch. At Lawrence Ave, the route was joined by another variant of the 86 that loops around a residential area and office park. It was obvious that this was a big car area, based on Kingston Road's width, as well as the huge parking lots for every business.

At one point, a bloody arm impaired my vision. Turns out it was the guy sitting next to me, and he wanted to get off. He awkwardly reached across me to pull the cord, and yanked it toward him. It was like one last gross thing to do before getting off.

Hooray! I was alone again! But not for long, because a few stops later, another guy came on and sat next to me. He seemed normal enough at first, but then he started hitting himself on the head. And again. And again. He was constantly counting on his fingers, then hitting himself on the head. He couldn't help it (he clearly had Tourette syndrome), but it was still really, really annoying.

We passed Guildwood Station where we got on before and went over the train tracks. There were a few apartments, and then it was back to housing, housing, housing. We turned onto Eglinton Ave, and that had quite a few apartment buildings, as well as more trashy businesses with huge parking lots. We passed the Eglinton GO Station, then there were was another housing development and then a lot of businesses.

We went past the Kennedy GO Station, then over the Scarborough RT tracks and then turned onto "North Service Road," all in quick succession. Finally, we pulled into Kennedy Station and we all got off the bus.

A cool feature.
That's the best "not in service" sign ever!
"Scarborough Center Rocket..." I like the sound of that. It's a lot catchier than just saying "express bus." And it was pretty fast, with only six stops on the route to Scarborough. We started out at Don Mills, the terminus of the Sheppard Line which also has a really dingy busway. There was a fair amount of people waiting with us.

It was an older bus.
The inside.
This is literally the best picture I could get of the stop announcement board.
This is literally the best picture I could get of the "stop requested" sign.
The automatic announcements reminded us after every stop that the bus was express. But what I really like about the announcements on both TTC buses and streetcars is that they say what the next stop is, rather than the current stop. It gives you more time to pull the cord.

We headed down Sheppard Ave, going by the massive mall that Don Mills Station is situated in. We crossed over a highway, with huge apartment buildings always visible. Literally 40 to 50 story buildings that apparently sprung up when they built the Sheppard Line. But there were also shopping plazas and housing developments to vary the views. This was really all there was along the entire route. I mean, we went over a small creek at one point. Is that interesting?

After a stop at Midland Ave, the bus went total express until Scarborough Town Center (the busiest stop on the Scarborough RT). We turned onto Midland, going past - something different! - an industrial wasteland. But those apartments were still in view. Then we turned onto Progress Ave, and then Borough Drive (at the corner of Progress and Brimley Road, there was a restaurant called Boston Pizza!), and finally came into Scarborough Town Center. A fast but totally unremarkable ride.

A somewhat better picture of the bus.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Service Change: Toronto, Part 5 - 510 Spadina and 511 Bathurst Streetcars

The TTC refers to the 510 as something like "streetcar rapid transit," but I like to just refer to it as a Super Streetcar. Unlike most TTC streetcars (the 509 and 512 are the other two classified as SRT), the 510 runs in a median separated from other traffic. That means that the trains really move quickly along Spadina Avenue. The other cool thing about the 510 is that it runs through all three of the TTC's underground streetcar stations. The two by the harbor were closed, but we did take it through the other tunnel up at Spadina Station.

We got on the 510 at Dundas, right in the heart of Chinatown. Fittingly, there was a cool dragon sculpture at one end of the stop, though we didn't have very much time to enjoy it since we were running for a streetcar. Also of note is how leafy the median is: it really makes the street look nice.

Not bad, considering I was running.
So there aren't that many trees here, but it gets better.
We sped up through Chinatown, which mostly runs up Spadina, but once we got to College the business names turned English again. Soon after College the street split up into a rotary around a big church-like building that may or may not be a church. It could also be a University of Toronto building, as we were running alongside the university during this next stretch.

There was a tall building, uncharacteristic for the neighborhood, just before the tunnel portal. In the tunnel, I could hear a lot of screeching from the streetcar. Looking on the map now, it looks like it does make some sharp curves to get into the station. There was a bit of a wait just before because of boarding streetcars, then we came in and everyone got off to go to the subway.

A streetcar going through the tunnel.
A streetcar at the station.
They do have countdown clocks here.
It's so dark!
This was the streetcar that we took.
Replacement buses: you gotta love them. Turns out that part of the 511 Bathurst streetcar was being replaced by buses when we rode. We were waiting at the King Street stop for quite a while until finally a bus showed up. Everyone piled in (and I mean piled in), and the bus went up Bathurst at a glacial pace. The driver seemed both astonished and amused at how crowded her vehicle was.

I was not happy to see this.
After what seemed like a million years, we finally arrived at Queen Street where passengers could get off and grab the streetcar. We waited at the Queen Street stop for another million years, until we found out that it was boarding on a side street. Really? Ever heard of signage?

I don't have any pictures from the bus experience, so here's another 511 we took at the normal Queen stop.
A very cool feature about all of the TTC streetcars.
There were some businesses after Queen but soon it changed to amazingly cute British style flats. After going by a park, we crossed Dundas and went by a huge hospital. There were some businesses up until College, then it was just the flats on both sides. We went by a track and field, then pulled the cord (so much better than the buttons here) and got off at Lennox Street to go see a play.

What a charming neighborhood and a great ride. It almost makes the bus ride worth it...

Something I Totally Forgot to Mention About the Toronto Subway

Interestingly, the Toronto subway technically has 24 hour service. It's just that they're not actually operated by subway trains. Instead, there are Blue Night bus routes that run along entire subway routes during the night. That seems like a pretty efficient way to do it, since a) it's cheaper to operate, and b) there are fewer people who ride during the night so the capacity loss is probably no big deal.

Anyway, just wanted to share that tidbit I completely forgot about when writing about the subway. Bye!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Service Change: Toronto, Part 4 - 505 Dundas and 506 Carlton Streetcars

The 505 was the streetcar we used most often, as well as my favorite of them all. It's just the variety of different neighborhoods seen along the route that makes it really interesting. This is another U-shaped line, going from Dundas West Station on the Bloor Line to Broadview, also on the Bloor. There's a free transfer at Dundas West, where we got on, which makes it quick and easy. That's not to say it was busy, though; there were only two other people on the streetcar leaving Dundas West.

The streetcar, with a really big apartment building in the background.
The inside.
Looking out the back.
There were some businesses and taller buildings heading down Dundas Street West, but as it curved to the left these were replaced with smaller apartments. We were joined by the 506 just before going on a bridge over the GO Transit tracks (GO Transit is Toronto's commuter rail system).

Nice view...
Soon after the bridge the 506 turned onto College Street while we stayed on Dundas. There were quite a few varied businesses along this stretch. The skyline of the financial district was constantly visible in front, but Dundas doesn't actually go through there. We headed by a big park, and it started to get more residential. We crossed over Bathurst Street, going by a big medical center, then Dundas made an s-curve south.

Crossing Spadina, we entered Chinatown. I loved this part: it really felt like we were somewhere in China, since literally every shop name is written in Chinese. After that, we passed the Art Gallery of Ontario and Dundas did another s-curve south. At St. Patrick Station on the Yonge Line, the buildings got much taller but flattened out again after.

After Dundas Station, we passed through Yonge-Dundas Square. Think of this as Times Square, but Toronto. It's considered to be Toronto's downtown, and it certainly has a "downtowny" feel to it. Then the neighborhood got a lot less glamorous and a lot more... not nice. We would always get off at Jarvis Street, right outside our hotel (in fact, we had a view of the streetcar out our window - see pictures below).

Okay, so there aren't any streetcars in this picture, but it still looks cool.
An overhead view.
The streetcar that we took.
They put little flags on the backs of the streetcars in celebration of Canada's independence day. For some reason it says 504 on the back of this 505.
This is what the streetcar stops look like.
These maps and schedules are convenient.
We barely took the 506 on its Carlton portion; most of our ride was on College, which turns into Carlton. We got on at Euclid Ave after eating in Little Italy. There was a shelter, but it didn't have countdown clocks like some other ones on the system.

The streetcar cometh...but it's going the wrong way.
Interestingly, the 506 comes very close to Dundas West Station but doesn't actually serve the station. Instead it goes onto Howard Park Ave through the suburbs to a little loop called High Park. On the other end, it serves the Bloor Line station of Main Street.

So back to when we got on. Having left Little Italy, College Street was still urban with businesses lining it. Crossing over Bathurst, we passed a tall clock tower, then went on past Spadina. There seemed to be more and more offices as we went by Queens Park Station on the Yonge Line. as well as a hospital. There were some skyscrapers, then the buildings got shorter, then as we went by College Station there were taller ones again.

College was now called Carlton, but we were only on for two more stops. At Jarvis, the neighborhood seemed a bit worse, but there was still a nice church on the corner. Night was falling as we walked back to our hotel.

The streetcar leaveth. That's apparently a word.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Service Change: Toronto, Part 3 - 501 Queen and 504 King Streetcars

When writing the title, I thought about how easy it could be to misinterpret it as the Queen and King of streetcars. Rest assured, the streetcars are just named after the principal streets they run on; they don't have special titles.

I was excited to ride the Toronto streetcars, since the MBTA actually leased a few for testing. They didn't make the buy (because they didn't have left hand doors and weren't articulated), but some were in Boston nonetheless. The first streetcar I'll be showing you guys (I'll be doing these in numerical, rather than chronological, order) does use articulated trains, but I guess they must be newer than the ones the MBTA leased.

We didn't take any of the streetcars (except the Dundas one, which will be in the next post) for especially long distances; we did the 501 from Jarvis to Bathurst, about 1 and three quarters of a mile. After a fruitless run for a stopped streetcar and about a 10 minute wait, we were off.

There was some sort of bus replacement for part of the line, it looks like.
The inside.
Looking towards the front.
The 501 runs from Neville Park in the east all the way to Long Branch in the west. Its route is a little under 20 miles in total (for comparison, the 352 is one of the MBTA's longest - if not the longest, let me know in the comments - bus routes, and it's only about 17 miles). The sheer length of the line is probably why it uses articulated streetcars.

We got on in a fairly bad neighborhood, with abandoned buildings and parking lots, but once we crossed over Church Street it got better. There was a nice park on the corner and the buildings got taller. We went by Queen Station and Toronto's old city hall.

We then went by Osgoode Station and Osgoode Hall (which had a very interesting exhibit about the fence around its perimeter...very interesting), then the buildings got much smaller after that. There were some very diverse storefronts along this section. Also of note was a CTV building, which had a car smashing its way out. I didn't take any pictures, but here's a link that leads to the Google Street View of the building.

Nearing Spadina Ave, the neighborhood got hipper, with a lot of clothing and shoe stores lining the street. But after Spadina, it got much less so. We didn't see much of it, though, because we got off at Bathurst to take another streetcar up to the theater district.

A better view of the train.
That may not have seemed like a very long journey, and we took the 504 an even shorter distance: from Bay (the street between the two arms of the Yonge Line) to Bathurst. The line runs from Broadview on the Bloor Line to Dundas West, also on the Bloor Line. However, it's also the southernmost of the principal east-west lines, so that means that it's basically shaped like a big, fat U.

The one picture I got of the 504.
We got on right in the heart of the financial district and headed west to St. Andrew Station. After going by Roy Thompson Hall (a very cool-looking building), we left the financial district, though the buildings were still pretty tall. After crossing Spadina, the buildings got smaller, but they did have very cool brick architecture. However, we soon reached Bathurst and our ride was over. Sorry, 504, for only giving you a paragraph...

But next time I'll be doing the Dundas and Carlton Streetcars, the former of which we actually took a considerable distance!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Service Change: Toronto, Part 2 - The Scarborough RT and the Bloor-Danforth Subway

So what does RT stand for? The other lines are all referred to as "subways," so the Scarborough RT must be different. RT must stand for rapid transit, right? What else could it be? But all the other lines are rapid transit, too...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Transit Tales: To Dog or Not to Dog?

I've been taking the T to my summer job, and I wanted to share this little experience I had one day. It was rush hour, so it was of course absolute madness - I was holding onto a pole for dear life. I felt something hairy against my leg, and looking down I saw a big black lab. "There's a dog rubbing against my leg. It feels kinda nice, though," I said to my friend, Chip. Half the train burst out laughing. See, this is one of those things that you don't think about until after you say it.

But anyway, the guy with the dog soon left at Downtown Crossing, along with many other people on the train. Now sitting, I said to Chip that it would've been mean to tell the guy that dogs aren't allowed on the T (I know for a fact that it wasn't a service dog). Someone sitting a few seats over (complete with muscles and tattoos) piped up and said "That's wrong. Dogs have always been allowed." Now I could've just agreed with him or just said nothing, but my big mouth had to say "Where did you get your information?" "I've lived here for 12 years," said the guy. "Well so have I!" I said a bit too loudly. "The only dogs that aren't allowed are pit bulls and Rottweilers," the guy said. Finally I stopped talking, but I told Chip to remind me to do some research on the matter.

So it turns out we were both partially right. Dogs are allowed on the T (something I didn't know/expect), but not during rush hour. So I was right in saying that he wasn't supposed to have a dog with him.

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