Monday, October 19, 2009

Much of Waterloo Region is Against LRT

I had another letter in the Record today (a little friendly disagreement with James Bow). My letter is just a drop in the flood of anti-LRT letters to local papers this year: to see all the letters, see this. For local news stories and columns that oppose LRT, see this. Meanwhile, here's my letter:

Raised rails a problem
October 19, 2009

Re: Parade can live with light rail — Oct. 13

James Bow says that a King Street light rail transit system will not disrupt Waterloo Region’s parades. As evidence, he says that Toronto parades run under street car lines.

Toronto has street cars and it has parades, but they don’t run on the same streets. The Caribana parade is on Lakeshore Drive west of the Canadian National Exhibition, avoiding street cars. The Toronto Santa Claus parade route is Bloor to University to Queen to Yonge to Front. Except for a short jog on Queen, none of those streets have street cars.

An additional problem with the Waterloo light rail transit is that the tracks down the middle of King Street will either be raised six inches above the rest of the street or surrounded by a curb. Those raised tracks or curbs will have a huge impact on our community. They will make it impossible for Waterloo to have its busker festival or other events in the street.

Even more importantly, cars will not be allowed to cross over the raised tracks or curbs. That means that if you own a business — or drive to a business — on King Street, King will effectively be a one way street. You will not be able to turn left into or out of any driveways where the light rail transit runs. That might not be a big problem on streets such as Queen’s Boulevard that are residential, but it will be a nightmare for busy King Street businesses.

As to Bow’s request that Peter Gay debate the merits of the system in good faith, that’s exactly what the group Taxpayers for Sensible Transit (to which Gay and I both belong) is doing. We have spent a lot of time reviewing the light rail transit and have come to the informed conclusion that, as currently planned, light rail transit will cause grave problems for our community. We suggest that bus technology would be a much better option.

Ruth Haworth


James Bow said...

You forgot to mention that the Santa Claus parade crosses under streetcar wires at Bloor and Bathurst, College and University and Dundas and University.

Anonymous said...

James Bow says to Yappa,"You forgot to mention that the Santa Claus parade crosses under streetcar wires at Bloor and Bathurst, College and University and Dundas and University."

But of course Yappa does acknowledge this: "As evidence, he says that Toronto parades run under street car lines."

That fact, though, which evidently Bow thinks is relevant to the Waterloo case, doesn't in any way counter Yappa's point about the impact of running rails down King St. in Waterloo.

Do the uptown merchants know what the Region is planning to do to them?

Anonymous said...

Another point: for decades Kitchener has been trying to revitalize downtown. One certain impact of the rapid transit plan will be more business at Fairview and Conestoga malls. Therefore, less business for downtown [and uptown] merchants. Are these people not paying attention?

Bert said...

See everyone ?. Here is an example where Yappa & I agree ;-). I don't see how the downtown portion of King Stree will be able to have any kind of LRT, much less raised or not. There is simply no room.

Yappa said...

...and to add to what Bert said, it infuriates me that in Kitchener the LRT is not going to run down King Street in the core; plus, Kitchener gets an underground station at the tracks at King and Victoria.

Whereas in Waterloo the LRT runs right down King through the core of Uptown (William to Erb) and then it turns left at our busiest intersection (King and Erb) and runs against one-way traffic on Erb down to Caroline. At Caroline we have two sets of LRT tracks, as well as rail tracks, criss-crossing an extremely busy intersection - plus the LRT folks are planning to put in railway gates which will go down and stop traffic in all directions every 3.5 minutes (I'm not sure about the time, but if the LRT runs every 7 minutes, then that means that there's a train going each direction every 3.5 minutes, on average).

If this insane Uptown route is actually going to be left in place, then Waterloo should also get an underground bit of the LRT to avoid fouling Erb and the Caroline-Erb intersection. It's very busy already, but will be even moreso when the BarrelYards development (hotels, apartments, and commercial towers 100 meters away) is finished.

Yappa said...

By the way, James, I didn't address the issues of overhead wires because I don't know whether they're a problem for the parades. The problem is that the tracks will be either raised 6 inches or will have a curb around them - unlike the flat streetcar tracks on Queen and most other streets in Toronto.

The overhead wires will make it impossible to continue having the busker festival on King Street.

Just to clarify: I'm not opposed to the idea of a streetcar on King that has flat tracks with frequent stops. (That would have overhead wires.) I'm opposed to an LRT, which by definition has infrequent stops (and yet somehow isn't even any faster than a streetcar). And I'm opposed to the current route in Uptown, which will be a monumental mess.

I would like Waterloo Region to have much better transit. I don't know which is better: a streetcar or improved bus transit. I would like to engage in constructive dialog about the options.

Michael D said...

You know, there's no reason that the curb height or even existence of the curb is set in stone. Instead of just being Chicken Little, you might provide some constructive suggestions for how LRT could be built without your perceived negative impacts. Have you considered talking to the Rapid Transit team about your group's concerns?

Busy King Street businesses that would be seriously impaired by the lack of a left turn into their lot? I am very familiar with King Street, and I call bullshit on this.

I can't possibly imagine how one might get an anti-LRT impression from a paper that publishes work by Jeff Outhit, Peter Shawn Taylor, and your very vocal but small group. By the way, last I checked there were over 1,600 people in the "I Support Rapid Transit in the Region of Waterloo" group on Facebook.

Anonymous said...

I've heard a recording of tonight's meeting.

Very interesting how T4ST seems to be experts on the transit, but even their Co-Chair, Peter Gay, admitted that he doesn't know about some of the basics of the current transit system in the Central Transit Corridor.

It is also interesting that T4ST seems to claim that anything outside of a 20 second walk is not on the route.

Is T4ST actually going to oppose LRT with factual information, or do they just plan to make stuff up to get their way? Your Co-Chair, Peter Gay, can be heard on the recording admitting that he's previously made stuff up for his own business interests.

"The problem (with the study) is... numbers are easily calculated with various formulas... they have all kinds of stats and formulas that pull out numbers to prove this (study). I know that sounds bad, but that's a reality in the consulting business. But again, I'm speaking from experience. I've written reports like that for clients, to prove what they want."

-Peter Gay

Peter Gay is a mortgage broker, and stands to loose from LRT reducing urban sprawl. If he's lied before, and now has been caught lying at the meeting, then why should we believe anything he or T4ST says?

Yappa said...

Hi Michael D. -

"Chicken little" is not quite an accurate description of my involvement with LRT. I attended all but one of the many public forums and gave my feedback in person and in writing. As a member of the Waterloo City Council advisory committee Uptown Vision, I had sessions with regional transit planners about LRT, gave verbal feedback, submitted written questions, and wrote a co-report on behalf of the committee that raised many serious issues about LRT in Uptown Waterloo.

I have also written several letters to the editor and a column in the Chronicle, have engaged in dialog on the region's LRT discussion board, and written a dozen posts about LRT on this blog, most of which have resulted in a lively discussion in the comments section (and I have learned a lot from the comments of James Bow and others). That's not to mention my discussions with people in the T4ST group and others.

All of my writing on this topic has been specific and well-researched. There are links to my blog posts on LRT in the upper right corner of my home page, if you'd like to take a look.

Given my first-hand involvement with the region on LRT planning, I can support Peter Gay's comments about the public consultation process being a whitewash and the reports being heavily slanted. During 2008-9 my committee was extremely frustrated by the region's lack of interest in hearing feedback. At one memorable meeting with three LRT representatives, we gave detailed feedback on the plans and none of the three reps took a single note. I found the public forums extremely frustrating because the LRT reps there refused to talk about details and didn't seem to have any interest in hearing the concerns of attendees. The reports say that something like 900 people attended the four 2008 forums, but as far as I could tell the same people were showing up every time.

In my writing I find fault with many specific aspects of LRT, notably the route down King Street in Waterloo, the left turn across Erb St, the route cutting against one-way traffic on Erb, the mess they will create of the Erb-Caroline intersection, and the colossal mistake of cutting Waterloo Park in two. These are all specific issues that must be addressed or our community will be permanently damaged.

However, these details are not the whole problem. The fundamental design of the LRT is to have infrequent stops so as to create density nodes. We do not have (and are not predicted to have) employment densities that can support such a design. Furthermore, the density concept only works for downtown Kitchener. The Waterloo station areas are rapidly densifying (new word) all on their own. The fundamental design of infrequent stops will create a system that is not convenient for transit users, and that will doom it to be a white elephant that sucks transit money away from traditional bus routes. Consequently, I don't think the proposal can be fixed with some minor tweaks.

So yes, please, debate the issues that I and others raise. But please hold off on these personal attacks (like calling Peter a liar and me a chicken little). We are taking this seriously, and our main goal is to try to get others to take it seriously too.

Michael D said...

Again, I strongly suggest that your group, Taxpayers for Sensible Transit, present your concerns directly to the Rapid Transit group. If it does get built, presumably you'd want to lessen the impact, right?

The reason that the sky is falling in your case is that LRT will "destroy" Uptown Waterloo, which I believe is a completely ridiculous assessment. That's my opinion, not a statement of fact.

If infrequent stops are such a hindrance, I would love to see you explain the success of the iXpress -- which is now a quarter of all GRT ridership, and growing rapidly.

Yappa said...

Hi again, Michael D-

Thanks for the informative comment. I didn't realize that iXpress was doing so well (or the rest of the system was doing so badly?). I'll definitely look into it. One question I have on ridership numbers is: given that students get nearly free transit, do they count riders or revenue? I know when I worked at the R&T Park that the iXPress was used by coop students to hop between the main campus and the north campus. I'm not sure how the numbers should be interpreted. (That question would apply to ridership estimates for the LRT, too: are they based on bums in seats or on revenue?)

As to your suggestion that we submit a report to the LRT planners, that too is a good idea, and one I've been thinking about. I'm not sure at this point what the most effective approach is. I raised all these concers before regional council voted for this LRT proposal...

Yappa said...

Forgot to say...

Why would I take such an extremist approach as to say that LRT could destroy Uptown Waterloo? My reasons are here.

but I think there's a psychological thing at work... (1) Waterloo was a depressed area for quite a long time, with a failing mall and a lot of empty stores, and it's finally doing well but that success does not seem entrenched yet; (2) we all saw what happened to Kitchener, and as an uptown resident I'm frankly worried about the Kitchenerification of Waterloo. I remember when Kitchener was a thriving, diverse, lovely downtown, and I've watched Kitchener city council make attempt after attempt to revitalize it.

Michael D said...

GRT ridership has been increasing steadily (and faster than population growth), but iXpress ridership has been skyrocketing. I do not think students are some kind of "explanation" for why ridership figures are high -- and yes, of course they count as riders. (Their transit is not free, but they did negotiate a wholesale rate -- one of benefit to both parties.) The iXpress success is not limited to the UW area.

I don't know what the most effective approach is, but I think you could simply contact the RT staff and say that your group would like to present some specific concerns.

As for Uptown and downtown -- I understand your concerns, but I disagree strongly about the effect of LRT there. I think your comparison of Kitchener is strange -- downtown Kitchener is also doing well for itself right now. The reason the downtowns of both Waterloo and Kitchener declined has much more to do with suburban sprawl than it does with any successful or failed revitalization efforts. And this is precisely why transit infrastructure that will make Uptown and Downtown nodes on a core transit spine will be a boon -- because they will help make the core a more attractive place to live and work than the suburbs. With 50% growth predicted over the next twenty years, I'd rather entice it to occur in the core.

"You can't rely on bringing people downtown, you have to put them there." — Jane Jacobs

However, I do agree about the routing through Uptown. If both tracks went up King, turned on Allen, then went up Caroline to Erb, it would eliminate a lot of issues and also make it a simpler layout for riders. A bit of parking at the ARC would suffer, and the red house at Caroline & William would have to go -- but it would have to anyway.

Yappa said...

I should add that we (T4ST) gave a presentation at regional council. You can find it here. When I say I want to provide something, I mean something more.

The reason I raise revenue vs ridership and student ridership is that we have to be very careful that we can afford our plans. Students pay $35/term flat fee for a transit pass. The LRT route in Waterloo is more convenient for students than for any other group. Do the revenue projections take into account the large student ridership, or do they multiply the number of riders by the cost of a trip?

The province has given us guidelines for growth over the next 25 years. Waterloo residential development is booming so much right now that we will meet our 25-year targets within a few years. Our problem is not too little growth, but if anything it's too rapid growth. Likewise, other than possibly the stop on Northfield drive, none of the proposed stops in Waterloo are candidates for densification.

The devil is in the details. It seems to me like the entire LRT plan was developed for Kitchener, with very little thought given to Waterloo. As to why Waterloo's reps on regional council voted for it, I don't know... but there's a political element to it.

Michael D said...

Your presentation at council was directed to council (and not staff) to inform their decision. My point is that you may find it of use to discuss your concerns directly with the RT staff.

The revenue projections are based on 2008 revenue figures per rider, which already take into account the U-Pass.

Too rapid growth? Huh? It's not about overall growth so much as it is the proportion of growth in the core versus elsewhere. Maybe Waterloo is doing that this year, but that may change. And Waterloo is not an island. The people who study or work in Waterloo are many of the ones buying houses in the new sprawling subdivisions of Kitchener and even Cambridge. For LRT to prevent that kind of development, it has to connect all the important parts of the entire region. And honestly, there is plenty of growth potential even in Uptown, and even without filling it with skyscrapers. (Also, there is definitely growth potential around UW and the Conestoga area.)

smably said...

I question your claim that students are a problem.

If GRT finds that students are using transit more frequently, they can raise the price of the student pass. It is certainly not locked at $50/term forever. Why would GRT offer a U-Pass if they lost money on it versus students paying regular fares?

I guess what I'm saying is that the U-Pass isn't a subsidy for students. It's a way of distributing the cost of transit over the entire student body such that those who avoid using transit subsidize those who do. If the proportions change, so will the cost of the pass. For example, students in Vancouver pay around $100/term for their U-Pass, presumably because that's the break-even point for their transit operator. A proposed U-Pass for Toronto would have cost $240/term! It shouldn't be any different here.

So if all the increases in ridership come from students taking the train, so be it. Why do the revenue projections care what kind of rider will take the train? They'll all pay their fares.

Yappa said...

Hi smably -

I certainly didn't intend to suggest that students are a problem. I'm merely saying that since they pay differently, we need to be sure to capture that properly in our revenue projections.

But since you raise the issue, I have another concern. The LRT route seems to have been designed disproportionately for UW students: the route stops at Northfield Dr (where many students live), the north campus, the main campus, the Balsillie School and the Pharmacy School. One of the most-oft heard criticims of the route is that it doesn't go where most residents want to go. That raises a legitimate question of whether we should spend a billion dollars for a transit system for students.

Sure we could raise the amount that students pay for transit. But wouldn't students prefer to have cheap bus transit rather than pay a whole lot more to use a train that is no faster?

If the LRT doesn't generate sufficient revenues, then we will be in huge trouble. The first thing that will suffer is the regular bus routes: their budgets will be slashed. Next we'll have fare hikes, general city cutbacks, and then property tax hikes.

I'm a UW alumna. I love UW. I have worked on the north campus for years. I live in uptown Waterloo near the proposed Caroline Street stop. But I still realize that a project as costly as the LRT has to be fiscally successful or it will create an enormous mess for our community.

Michael D said...

If you look at a map of Waterloo, there's only really two possible corridors through it: either along the spur line, or along King Street. That's it! The University of Waterloo happens to be a huge component of the K-W area, and a strong driving force. No conspiracy claims are necessary: that's one of the most reasonable routes to run if you actually consider the geographic possibilities.

To address some claims: Northfield is not at all close to very much student housing, while being close to a fair amount of industrial land. The R&T Park stop would be close to a large number of workplaces in the R&T Park as well as the entire RIM campus adjacent. The Balsillie School placed itself right in Uptown, and the Pharmacy School placed itself right at King & Victoria by the North Mainline tracks -- so it's no coincidence that they'd end up with stops closeby.

This route goes by the important parts of Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge. Yes, that happens to be useful to UW students, faculty, and staff. But again: look at the iXpress; is it useful only to students?

In Waterloo, a city of around 100K, 30K are members of the UW community, which would indeed be well served by the route. A large chunk of the rest also live and/or work close to the route -- and this will be even more the case once the route is in place. I fail to see how this could possibly be construed as an issue.

Yappa said...

Conspiracy claims? I didn't say or mean anything like that. It's like the last guy making up out of thin air the idea that I'm blaming students. Look, this is a vital decision for our community and we need to have a fact-based, serious, rational dialog. It should include people of differing viewpoints, but it shouldn't be so partisan that no exchange of ideas is possible.

I'm loathe to say much more at this point because of the potential for wanton misinterpretation.

smably said...

I could make the argument that the route has been designed to disproportionately benefit workers. It stops in Uptown, the R&T Park, Northfield (near major industrial areas and several tech companies) and Conestoga Mall, all major centres of employment in Waterloo. Is this also a problem?

As for your claim (which I will cheekily paraphrase) that students should just shut up and ride the bus, maybe they don't want to ride buses. I'm not sure on whose authority you are representing the preferences of students. If you mean that we should built BRT instead of LRT, I think students deserve a form of transit that won't be packed to the gills (like the current iXpress is) with no capacity for expansion by 2031.

Anonymous said...

For Michael D, the main argument for rapid transit is its potential for increasing inner-city density [the downtown and uptown centres]. Smably, though, finds its main value to lie in its effect of enabling students to get around town more quickly. Maybe these two should talk to one another. More students on buses/trains won't increase inner-city density; and conceivably more students running around uptown will put off potential condo buyers. Just a thought. Have we really thought this thing through, beyond the thought that someone else might pay for it?

Michael D said...

"More students on buses/trains won't increase inner-city density; and conceivably more students running around uptown will put off potential condo buyers."

Those students will be doing... what exactly on those trains? Right, getting to where they work or shop -- or live. There's a shortage of one- and two-bedroom apartments close to the universities, so people already commute from as far away as Fairview Mall just to avoid sharing crappy seven-bedroom houses. The area right next to the universities isn't the most exciting, either. For example, I'm sure more students would prefer to live in downtown Kitchener if it were pleasant to get to and had a good choice of apartments. Students aren't necessarily going to be the ones buying condos, but many will be the ones moving in to apartments on the light rail line.

Michael D said...

Yappa, what you said was:

"The LRT route seems to have been designed disproportionately for UW students...."

And what I would respond is that the LRT route was designed proportionately for Waterloo as it is, and as it will be -- and that while UW (and not just the students) gets good service, that's in proportion with its regional importance demographically and economically.

It seems you didn't mean to claim conspiracy, but the word "design" implies intent. In any case, I'd rather discuss merits than throw unappealing words around, so consider both of the above instances of such on my part retracted.

Yappa said...

Thanks Michael D -

We don't agree, but I find these exchanges very educational. I'm trying to keep an open mind, or at least be open to criticism of my thoughts.


Anonymous said...

The LRT route seems to have been designed disproportionately for UW students...."

Of course 'design' connotes intent, but that leaves open what the intent was. Here a fair reading would be: "As the route was designed, the students were the big winners..." This isn't to say the route was designed for this result but that this was the result of its design. If Yappa tells us she didn't intend anything more than that that's good enough for me and should be good enough for you. And that reading is also good enough for making her point.

C'mon people, pay attention.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the "success" of the iExpress: I use it frequently and love its route and timing. But it is almost always packed with students so it's difficult to sit down in comfort. Heading south from waterloo to Kitchener after work it is late about 15% of the time, sometimes really late. I took it from the Research Park to Conestoga mall once and had to fight my way onto it because it was packed with students. They need to run additional buses at rush hour in order to make it convenient for the working public. Or perhaps we might as well get the LRT. Why is it so difficult to encourage transit? If I traveled regularly to the Research Park I might be tempted to say "to hell with it" and just buy a car instead of struggling to find a place amongst the students packing the bus.