Sunday, April 25, 2010

Misconceptions About LRT

  • Proponents of LRT claim that the current bus system is not adequate for growing demand, and so we need a long train to meet future capacity. However, the bus on the proposed LRT route, the iXpress, runs every 15 minutes. There is plenty of opportunity for expanding the service: run every five minutes or more during peak times, and move to larger (even articulated) buses. (The iXpress is a sophisticated new transit system and it didn't cost a lot to set up: see this. Buses have the great advantage of being flexible. It's easy to change a bus route, and virtually impossible with a rail line.)

  • LRT is an acronym that is often taken to stand for Light Rapid Transit. However, for the trip between Fairview Mall and Conestoga Mall (the LRT route), the LRT will only be 7 minutes faster than the current bus, according to the Region's transit authorities.

  • In Toronto, the name LRT refers to a very different thing from the proposed Waterloo LRT. In Toronto an LRT is a streetcar that stops every couple of blocks, just like regular streetcars. The only difference from other streetcars is that the Toronto LRT runs on a raised platform, rather than running on a lane also used by cars.

    In Waterloo, the proposed LRT also runs on tracks on a dedicated raised lane. However, it's not a streetcar. It's a longer train (the stations for the Waterloo LRT are planned to be 60 meters in length). Most importantly, it stops very infrequently: there are only 11 stops between Fairview Mall and Conestoga Mall (that is counting the two places where the route turns into a loop as one stop, which is fair).

    Check out the map here. Between downtown Kitchener and downtown Waterloo, there is only one stop. For many residents, the LRT may run near where they want to go but it probably won't stop there.

  • Proponents of Waterloo's LRT have consistently painted opponents as being anti-transit. This is a tactic of demonization that is unfortunate and untrue. There are thoughtful and well-informed people on both sides of the debate. Some prominent examples:
    • One of the most outspoken opponents of LRT is a professor emeritus of civil engineering at the University of Waterloo who taught and did research in transportation and transit planning for 32 years and is a well-known advocate of public transit (link).

    • Here are all the anti-LRT letters to the editor that have been published in Waterloo newspapers.

    • Here are all the anti-LRT articles that have been published in Waterloo newspapers.

    • Here are my own writings on the topic, which mostly focus on negative implications of the LRT for Uptown Waterloo.

10 comments: said...

And here is the TriTAG page on the light rail project, including a debunking of many myths about the project. See also the official project page.

Though there are differences such as added stations for LRT, the two essential changes from the iXpress to light rail would be a dedicated right-of-way and high-capacity electric rail vehicles.


Yappa said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks. I actually provide a link to TriTAG in the LRT section of links on the right, as well as links to the Region's sites.

Ruth said...

Hi Ruth,

That's great! I hadn't seen it.


smably said...

Just a couple of comments on this.

Light rail may save only seven minutes off the current *scheduled* iXpress running times, but if you're ridden the iXpress during rush hour, you know those times can be highly optimistic. Congestion certainly isn't going to get better, and according to the region's projections (which I think are, if anything, conservative), the iXpress will take 56 minutes from mall to mall by 2031, versus 43 minutes for light rail.

Also, I wanted to mention that the Regional Transportation Master Plan confirms that there will still be local bus service on King Street parallel to the light rail. You will still be able to ride the 7, or something similar, along King Street if that's what you want. There's not going to be any reduction in access, but there will be faster, higher-quality long distance transit. As we can see from the popularity of the iXpress, there is plenty of demand for that kind of service.

Finally, I wanted to say that while there are certainly reasonable people on both sides of the debate, I find it rather troubling that light rail opponents are promoting this sort of thing. That article is about as blatantly anti-transit as they come, and it doesn't reflect well on T4ST if they hope to be taken as an organization that supports transit. I appreciate that you have taken a more constructive approach in this debate, but that article is very discouraging for those of us who are truly interested in improving transit here in Waterloo Region.

Bert said...

I'm thinking that this is just one step closer to having Disney-like monorails in Waterloo. Stop the madness !!

Sorry. I had to say that.

Yappa said...

Re the relative speeds of iXpress and LRT, I recently read that LRT will take 2 mintues longer, rather than 7 mintues faster, in going between the malls. I really don't know. The LRT route is longer and it still has to stop at all the lights. One thing seems certain: if the LRT goes in as planned, it will snarl traffic throughout uptown Waterloo and make driving a nightmare, whether in a car or on a bus. Or on a bike.

Re the criticism about the LRT vs free cars article, when I first saw that I thought it was tongue in cheek (noone is really proposing handing out cars to transit riders) and a take-off of an article a BC prof wrote about a transit system for student in Vancouver: he worked out that it would be cheaper to buy every first year student a car. On second reading, maybe it sounds less tongue in cheek. I'm not sure. said...

Traffic is adaptive: it goes on other streets when capacity is limited on a particular corridor. People driving through aren't going to sit there in gridlock when they can take an alternate route -- and King Street is very low capacity compared with many of the alternatives. Sometimes the traffic vanishes altogether; here some may well shift to the light rail. And sometimes, taking away road space can improve traffic flow by causing drivers to make more optimal decisions. It will balance out.

Actually, the modelling (admittedly not well-promoted) shows that LRT would take 39 minutes between Fairview and Conestoga, both on opening day and in 2031, and that's with three more stations than the current iXpress. [smably's figure above is 4 minutes too high -- he probably added the time to the no-longer-planned St. Jacobs station.] By no means would the light rail have to stop at all the lights, as a separate right of way would allow for very good signal priority. By contrast, the modelling shows the iXpress taking 51 minutes from Fairview to Conestoga even in 2014 and 56 minutes in 2031; currently the iXpress is scheduled for 43-46 minutes for that trip.

So that's faster by 5-8 minutes even at the outset and with more stops. Getting out of mixed traffic and having large vehicles with all-door boarding is where it's at.

-Michael said...

Fixed arithmetic: Faster by 4-8 minutes at the outset.

-Michael said...

Ack! I mean 4-7 minutes....

mikel said...

LRT is simply INSANE. There's no other word for it. This is municipal/regional politicians looking for something to do, and bureaucrats looking for something to tout how 'progressive' the region is (the horse buggies don't help:)

Suburban sprawl has been west-east, the congestion is on the 85 and 7/8. I've driven King Street at 5 o'clock downtown and its less than the traffic back home in the maritimes. Look at ANY place with LRT's, they are from suburban areas into city centres. Dublin's second expansion around the downtown was a catastrophe.

As for 'growth' projections, when I first moved here I read through newspapers from the 70's up to see what kind of place it is, its ironic that the late 70's said the same thing-massive growth.

In two years that crashed, and all growth plans were shelved for 20 years! People are coming to waterloo because its the only place left where there is SOME chance of finding a job. But with 10% unemployment, don't be sure that growth will last.

In ten years I haven't seen a SINGLE new manufacturer open its doors, the region essentially is coasting on RIM. I'm from New Brunswick, where everybody knows the name 'Irving'. But when you are riding one name, or one industry, all 'projections' go out the window.

Only a completely unrepresentative body like the regional government could come up with a crazy idea like this and make it stick. It's not even worth seriously considering. This is a region that doesn't even have a WATER plan (running a pipe to body of water 60 minutes away isn't really a 'plan').

Good blog by the way.