queen spadina ttc signal priority

Broken traffic signals somehow actually improved a Toronto intersection

Something kind of weird happened with the TTC on Wednesday morning in Toronto.

Okay, probably more than one weird thing happened on the TTC at the height of the work week, but I'm going to focus in on the few brief minutes where a downtown intersection's traffic signals went offline, and in the process, somehow actually resulted in an improvement for transit service.

It sounds impossible, but I can totally explain.

For a brief period on Wednesday morning, traffic lights at Queen and Spadina — of notoriously sketchy McDonald's fame — malfunctioned, flashing red and causing confusion at the busy downtown intersection.

But wait, this was supposed to be an improvement, right? Stay with me, please.

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.

Derek Ellis posted a short clip to social media, with a caption explaining that the unexpected traffic signal outage "ironically made it easier for Spadina streetcars to cross without needing to wait for left-turning and cross traffic" in an unplanned improvement of the TTC's existing transit signal priority system.

In a follow-up tweet, Ellis clarified his stance, explaining that "the traffic lights being broken offered more priority to streetcars than the actual transit signals on Spadina."

Spadina is among the routes that already feature a signal priority system that controls traffic lights to accommodate the flow of transit vehicles, but experts and critics are using the brief hiccup to call out the TTC for its level of signal priority implementation, arguing that more can be done.

Transit writer Steve Munro commented on the clip, saying, "This should be required reading for everyone at City Hall who likes to talk about 'transit priority.'"

Lobbyist and urban affairs expert Alex Glista also responded to the video, tweeting, "I am once again begging the City of Toronto to give streetcars their own lanes and signal priority."

Toronto. The city where infrastructure is so chaotic that it actually improves when you break it.

Lead photo by

Lee Chu


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