Shooting a Chickadee with a Cannonball

Post by Steven Dale

The Swiss have an expression to describe solving a problem with far more than is necessary.

To do so, they say, is to “shoot a chickadee with a cannonball,” and is a perfect description of what light rail is to the transit planning problem.

As an example: Toronto’s current fleet of streetcars were designed to reach a top speed of around 100 km/hr, and yet they never reach that speed. Not even close. In fact, if one looks at the Toronto Transit Commission‘s own service summaries, one sees that the average speeds of most streetcar lines in Toronto rarely eclipse 15 km/hr. Most hover around 12 or 13.

(You can find several TTC service summaries on the fine Transit Toronto website.)

Anyone whose ever ridden a Toronto streetcar can tell you the reason. Streetcars in Toronto stop constantly to linger at red lights, pick-up and drop-off passengers and avoid any of the pitfalls of modern urban traffic.

Yes, terminal time and driver’s bathroom breaks also factor into the equation, but the point is still the same:

Streetcars in Toronto will never reach speeds of 100 km/hr because the nature of urban environments preclude it. In fact, even subway trains, which stop far less frequently and operate in exclusive rights-of way, rarely surpass average speeds of 35 km/hr.

It’s like that guy who buys a Ferrari and drives it into the city every day only to get stuck in traffic jam-after-traffic jam. It’s all fine and well that you have a Ferrari that can go zero to 200 in 3.2 nano-seconds (or whatever), but if you use it in the city, you will never get to do so.

So what’s the point? There isn’t one . . . unless you like shooting chickadees with cannonballs.

That Guy

That Guy

Creative Commons image by vm2827

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Light Rail & Streetcars / Thoughts / Toronto
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