How a Broken Traffic Signal Improved Transit

A brief outage of traffic lights at one Toronto intersection inadvertently gave area streetcars more priority, speeding up service for transit users.

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November 14, 2022, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Red and white Toronto streetcar

Aleksandar Todorovic / Toronto streetcar

A temporary glitch in the traffic lights at Queen and Spadina streets in Toronto revealed how improved signal priority could enhance service on local streetcars

As Jack Landau explains in blogTO, “The malfunctioning traffic signals forced motorists to treat the intersection as a four-way stop. While this was in no way beneficial to the flow of vehicle traffic, it actually made for a head-scratching improvement for streetcars passing through the chaos.” The change in traffic flow “made it easier for Spadina streetcars to cross without needing to wait for left-turning and cross traffic,” explained Derek Ellis on social media.

Transit advocates say the unplanned experiment shows that the city can do more to prioritize transit by using signal timing and dedicated lanes to improve transit speed and reliability. As transit writer Steve Munro put it, “This should be required reading for everyone at City Hall who likes to talk about ‘transit priority.’”

Thursday, November 10, 2022 in blogTO

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