Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is This the Region We Want?

Over at the Region's discussion forum, someone calling him/herself ncmoogks (who is obviously a transit rider) has written some very important stuff about LRT. I quote in part:
After the Region has blown its money on LRT, will it be able to sustain the operating costs while adapting to the changing needs and uses of its citizens? Will it be able to incrementally improve this system at all? Or will this end up like so many other public works projects that are touted as bold legacy projects, only to be completed as pale shadows of what they planned?

...the ONLY benefit that I MIGHT see for me, is that the LRT will improve bus service along major routes to offer a frequency that is useful. ...To have an LRT running every seven minutes is great, but if you miss your connecting bus, and have to wait 15-30 minutes for the next one, you might as well walk. In fact, I have discovered that if I want to get anywhere in the City of Waterloo without using a car, it is usually faster to walk the 20-30 minutes. However, my concern is that when the Region spends more money than it planned on this project (and it inevitably will), that it will not have the money to properly maintain and improve the rest of the network. Then, we will have an LRT line with no means of attracting people to it (either feeder lines, or park and rides) and no way of improving it.

You may think this that this is a highly unlikely scenario, but I will end this note with another local example of public works and financial stewardship. You may be aware of a little project called RIM Park. The City of Waterloo built it as a Millennium Project. For a variety of reasons, the park cost ended up ballooning (even without the scam). Ten years later, the City is so stifled for cash, that it cannot afford to do anything but service the debt and it will continue to do so for decades to come. As a result, it is cutting budgets left, right and centre because it can't afford to do anything else. The Trails and Transportation Committee, responsible for among other things walking trails, multi-use trails and improving the City's bike lane network, has barely $100,000 to service existing and new non-car transportation. The Waterloo Concert Band, that for 150 years has been supported by the City, had $2000 cut from its $5100 budget this year because the City was tight for cash. I have worked with a variety of City staff on a variety of projects and the message is the same: there is no money, we are spending anything we have to support the RIM Park payments. Will LRT be anything different?

Is this the Region we want? We are never going to be the next big city with a consolidated downtown, no matter how much the planners try to make it so. If the LRT is voted in, the Region will remain a distributed network of old and new neighbourhoods with a single LRT line that will take 10 minutes off the current travel time and seriously disrupt the urban landscape.

Re the beginning of the last paragraph, I should add: while transit specialists say an LRT is appropriate with densities of 60,000 or preferably 80,000 at a node, the MAE (pages 51 and 52) predicts the following density for its most populace node:

Downtown Kitchener (stops Victoria, Central Kitchener, and Market)
Population 2006 - 10,900, by 2031 - 20,700
Employment 2006 -18,000, by 2031 - 24,100


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