Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sharing the road with streetcars

Streetcars present a unique challenge to Toronto road users, but at the same time are very simple to share the road with.  A couple of things that make them easy to be around is that they can't change lanes, they are very visible and they are only found on roads with rail lines running on them.  They only turn onto roads that also have intersecting tracks, but they do make those turns from lanes that we aren't accustomed to seeing traffic legally turn from.  In fact, if you make the same turn they will be charged.

They are recognized in the Highway Traffic Act because there are specific laws regarding them and how you need to behave around them to be sharing the road with them for every one's safety.

Almost every law that applies to the driver of a motor vehicle or a cyclist applies to the operator of a streetcar and vice verse.

You can pass a streetcar that is in motion on the right side only.  Like every rule, there are exceptions...

  1. If the streetcar is travelling on a one-way street, you can pass it on the left.
  2. You can not pass on the right through the approach area of a pedestrian crossover.
Always look at a streetcar as a moving intersection, after all it does have stop signs on it.  When a streetcar is approaching an intersection don't try to pass it.  You can safely assume that it is going to stop. When it stops, the side doors may or may not open.  The safest practice is to stay behind the streetcar until it goes into motion again.

You can't see past it so trying to pass it at an intersection is a recipe for trouble in the case where a pedestrian is trying to catch it from the side you can't see or a car/cyclist blows a red light and creams you as you clear the front of the streetcar.

When the doors are open it is against the law to pass it or approach the doors to closely.  This applies to both motor vehicle drivers, cyclists, skateboarders, roller bladers, e-bikes, etc.

Pedestrians are not allowed onto the roadway until the streetcar has come to a full stop and the doors have opened.  Having said that...they will, so again, go back to the point of don't pass a streetcar as it nears an intersection.

For those of you that complain that streetcars enter intersections on amber lights, you should know that there is a mechanism on them that talks to the intersection.  It holds that light amber so that the streetcar can make it through which creates a better traffic flow for all of us.

The LRT lines are designed to specifically allow a free flow of traffic around the street car lanes.  No vehicles are allowed on them except streetcars and other authorized TTC vehicles.  (You will on occasion see police, fire and ambulance use them - seconds save lives).

Make sure when you are travelling parallel to LRT lines (Spadina, Queens Quay, StClair to name a few) that you pay attention to the traffic signals especially at turning points.  The streetcars have their own signals as do you....mix them up and you run the risk of being T-boned by 20 tonnes or so of metal.


  1. Two questions:

    First, how does holding the amber change the legal situation? Vehicles may not enter on an amber if they can avoid it safely, right? I'm not against letting them do it (many intersections have dedicated streetcar signals for this purpose), just curious how entering on an amber is deemed acceptable.

    Second, I have frequently seen streetcar drivers turn right on red. (Not the long amber situation - fully red.) Tends to happen mostly at night or off-peak traffic times. Other vehicles can only do this if they are in the curb lane, and obviously the streetcar is not in the curb lane. Does that mean they cannot do it at all, or do they get dispensation?

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