Monday, October 25, 2010

Is LRT Dead?

When I read things like this, I'm sure LRT dead: "Mayor Brenda Halloran said she was surprised to learn how many people in Waterloo do not want to see a light-rail system going through the city. “The ‘no’ to trains, that surprised me. People are totally against having trains running up and down King Street,” Halloran said."

And this: "Jan d’Ailly, a two-term member of city council, said he was surprised to see public opinion sour on the light-rail system approved by regional council. “At almost every single door it is ‘no’ to LRT and that surprised me,” d’Ailly said."

Note that Mayor Halloran didn't say that people aren't willing to pay for LRT: she said they're telling her that they are "totally against having trains running up and down King Street." Opposition to LRT is not all about money. This is not something that's going to be fixed by rejiggering the finances.

When I read things like this, I think LRT is going to be rammed down our throats regardless of what the people want:
[Regional Chair Ken] Seiling let it slip that regional staff were trying to shave as much as $85 million off the cost.

Instead of the region’s original $235 million obligation, he suggested the total bill might be between $150 million and $175 million. And there may be new development charges to pay for it as well.

. . .

The original rail proposal required a regional tax increase of close to nine per cent to cover both operating and capital costs. Such a tax hike appears to be extremely unpopular. Seiling seems to think he will be able to get the new council to back a smaller tax increase of perhaps 5.5 per cent to 7.5 per cent. Why not ask voters directly by providing a plan?

We should also remember the current proposal is already a compromise. To save money, trains will only run from a mall in Waterloo to a mall in Kitchener. Cambridge is to get buses. So what will another $85 million in cuts look like? Cheaper trains? Fewer stations? Buggies for Cambridge?

Whatever cost-cutting manoeuvres the region adopts, it seems certain to result in a reduction in ridership and an increase in the tax subsidies necessary to keep it solvent. So as capital costs drop, operating costs may go up in step.

I'm also rather worried by this comment from Cambridge Mayor and LRT opposer Doug Craig:
What is happening right now is that the LRT debate has been deliberately submerged until after the election. The numbers regarding the 230 million dollar shortfall are being massaged, compromises on capital costs are being trimmed and in early 2011, it will in my opinion, be re-packaged and passed by the new council. The costs to all regional taxpayers will be significant because the operating costs will be 23 million dollars a year and the capital costs will exceed projected estimates. In other words, it's unsustainable.

As far as I can tell, Seiling has not heard one word of the thousands of arguments against LRT. He seems hell-bent on shoving this idea through. He is motivated by a passionate belief that growth in the region will overwhelm road capacity. What he doesn't get is that LRT will only help with that problem if people ride it. People won't ride something that is even more inconvenient than the current bus system - and LRT is much, much more inconvenient than the current buses. Further, the LRT as planned will greatly reduce road capacity and make traffic much worse. It will not solve the problem; it will greatly exacerbate it.



Michael D said...

Please explain how LRT is more inconvenient than the current iXpress.

And I will note here that I would rather not see congestion "rammed down our throats" -- preferring to have some alternative, e.g. transit in its own right-of-way.

LRT is not remotely dead, because the problems being posed by growth are not going anywhere.

Yappa said...

Hi Michael,

I have never said that the current system is good. It sucks. The iXpress is a great route for some people, but it's insufficient. We need much better transit.

The fundamental inconvenience of LRT matters because if people don't take LRT, then it doesn't solve the congestion problem. In fact, it massively adds to the congestion problem.

Inconvenience: The three main reasons I can think of are:

1. Stops are very infrequent. That means that many people will have LRT passing close to their home or work, and yet not have a stop nearby.

2. Stops are in many cases not close to target destinations. Case in point: both malls. The bus bays are right in front of the doors. At Conestoga Mall (and I believe Fairview), the LRT stops out on the main road, away across the parking lots.

3. LRT is a fixed route, unlike the 7 buses that follow the spine but go to different destinations. This means many more transfers.

You can add to those points that the massive traffic disruption in Waterloo will also affect the buses that people need to transfer to.

I am not against some form of high capacity transit. I am opposed to this particular proposal. It's a bad plan. People in the region have realized it's a bad plan and they don't want it.

Michael D said...

At Fairview the stop would be closer.

Again, you keep talking about the supposed inconvenience of infrequent stops. The reason so many people take the iXpress right now -- it is the fastest growing route -- is because it is fast and reliable. It has much better speed and on-time performance precisely because it has so few stops. (Except when it gets stuck in peak hour traffic, which is a state of affairs you don't seem to mind.) People are willing to walk to service that good -- yes, even a whole ten minutes. You better believe that when the iXpress frequency dips below 10 minutes, many of those who still take the 7 (which comes more frequently) will switch over.

Between Fairview Park Mall and the University of Waterloo there is particularly heavy iXpress use. From Fairview to UW the iXpress (which comes every 15 minutes) takes 30 minutes, compared to 50 minutes for Route 7 (which comes every 30 minutes). From the Kitchener terminal, the iXpress takes 15 minutes, and the 7 takes 25 minutes.

Branches dissipate frequency. Along route 7's spine, it's at 7 minute headways, but only at 15 minute headways to Conestoga Mall, and at 30 minute headways on Columbia and University. Most of even the 7's ridership is on its common spine, and from UW, Conestoga Mall, and Fairview Mall. Service that's every 7 minutes means you don't need a schedule, and the convenience of that is difficult to overstate.

If you think slow buses are the way to get more people using transit, I invite you to ride the 7 from Fairview Park to UW.

Your predicted "massive traffic disruption" on north-south routes will affect east-west cross-routes... how exactly?

You say that you're not against growth of uptown, which is good, since it's happening and will continue. The planning requirements are for 40% of growth to happen along the urban cores, which means another 100,000 people or more are coming to the Central Transit Corridor. You further claim that LRT will bring chaos to traffic (though I disagree). But then you say that people won't use LRT-- which will be in its own right-of-way with signal priority and not held up in traffic. All this when the number of people living and working in the Central Transit Corridor will essentially double.

What, you expect that people will subject themselves to sitting in traffic when they can walk five or ten minutes to a train that will get them along the main corridor more quickly and reliably than the alternatives?

Or is it that you expect that a doubling of residents and jobs in the central transit corridor will somehow result in less north-south travel?

RO. said...

"People in the region have realized it's a bad plan and they don't want it."

You mean YOU don't want it, you wingnut. Stop speaking for the rest of the Region when it's clear that you don't have a clue. You're just a part of the whining vocal minority. Your opinion is uneducated and uninformed, and it shows.

smably said...

If I may add to Michael's comments, the nasty myth that light rail is no faster than the iXpress seems to be popping up again. Here are the numbers from the region's literature.

Travel time, Fairview Mall to UW:
Light rail: 29.6 minutes
iXpress, today, scheduled: 30-35 minutes
iXpress, 2014: 37.5 minutes
iXpress, 2031: 41 minutes
7, today, scheduled: ~50 minutes

This is despite light rail having three more stops than iXpress! Also note that the iXpress numbers are the scheduled times, as opposed to actual running times. I will bet that the real times show an even more dramatic difference; unfortunately, I do not have access to them.

I would also like to mention that local service (i.e., the 7) isn't going anywhere. Light rail won't interfere with local trips any more than the iXpress does.

Regarding your second point (distance from stops to mall entrances), the malls won't be surrounded by acres of surface parking forever. Those parking lots will be prime locations for redevelopment. But in the meantime, you realize that the walk from King Street to the mall entrance is about half the width of the mall itself? People have no problem doing a full circuit of the mall, but they won't walk across the parking lot to get there? Heck, half the parking spots are farther away than the light rail stop!

Yappa said...

Hi Michael and smably,

Thanks for your comments. I hope you know that I always take you seriously (even when I disagree).

I didn't hear the final resolution of the stop at Fairview Mall (at one point it was going to be on Fairview Road), but at Conestoga Mall the stop is going to be on King Street, which is further than any parking spot. Plus it's outdoors, which matters quite a bit in winter, when it's raining, when you're pushing a stroller, or when you use a cane or walker (due to uneven pavement). Plus, in terms of getting people to take the LRT, perception matters.

As to the speed of buses, I've suggested having dedicated bus lanes at congestion points. I think there's a lot we can do to improve the current system. Anyway, I don't want to dismiss your arguments out of hand... I'll take some time to think about them.

But I do want to address RO: I may very well be a wingnut but I'm neither uneducated nor uninformed. I almost deleted your comment but I thought I'd leave it for humor value. ;-)

Michael D said...

Dedicated lanes at congestion points, you say? Considering congestion is an issue along entire corridors, you're getting perilously close to BRT!

Yappa said...

Re current congestion, I tried driving home from work at 5:10 PM on King Street from Columbia to William. There was construction on King near Hickory, but still it took about 8 minutes. More importantly, I saw 4 buses in total. I passed one bus heading south and I saw three heading towards me (north). There were quite a few cars but traffic was moving no problem. There was plenty of room for lots more buses.

In 2009 I lived at St Clair and Landsdowne during the week, and worked downtown. It was an interesting time to be there because the new streetcar platform down the middle of the street had been built, reducing the car lanes to one on each side, but the streetcar was not yet running so the road was serviced by buses. Every day I took the bus to the St Clair West subway station. There were a ton of buses at rush hour - that is a heavily used route. It would be interesting to get the stats. The trip was awful, mostly because the streets were always torn up for sections of the trip, but other than the construction the buses moved along. They used short turns a lot, which our system doesn't seem to do (by short turns I mean buses that do only part of the route and then loop back). We have two lanes down King, so it has higher capacity than St Clair did.

Michael D said...

No one's claiming that King is congested at all times. Though even now there are times that it's not moving well, the much bigger point is that with growth, demand for driving along King will increase substantially. It doesn't matter whether more buses can fit on the current street, but on the future street.

I should also point out that for buses there is the additional issue of loading and unloading time, and inherent variability of headways when in mixed traffic. Buses start to back up when they run at headways of every 2-3 minutes -- which as you can see isn't too far off from the current numbers.

A transit line's capacity is only as good as its weakest point. If it can't handle the ridership in downtown or uptown, then it can't handle the ridership. Short-turns don't help with inherent capacity of a route, but are only a way of not spending money on less-used parts of a route, and (in TTC's case) pissing off riders who have to deal with a sometimes unpredictable pattern of service.

By the way, GRT does use short-turns in moderation, at least on routes 7, 12, and the iXpress. E.g. some Route 7 buses end at downtown, and some iXpress buses end at UW, downtown, or Fairview.

Yappa said...

Hi aagain -

The claim I have heard repeatedly (I thought from you) is that buses are at or approaching capacity. I drove home down King to check that out. I understand there's a little more to it than that, but I don't see any evidence that we're running more than some small percentage of buses than we could be running.

Michael D said...

I'm not saying that buses are at capacity, but what I am saying is that they are likely only a factor of 2 away from it. That is, there are currently around 12-15 buses per hour per direction on King Street (7 and iXpress), and that at around 20-30 buses we will start to see bus jams.

It isn't the amount of space on a street that determines the capacity, but the intersections. It isn't any good to have wider streets if the bottleneck is the number of cars that can make it through one traffic light cycle.

Similarly, it's not about how many buses you can fit on a street -- you can fit plenty of buses on a street, just like cars. The bottleneck is at stops. It takes time for people to get on and off the bus -- and while this is happening, there's a bus behind that is waiting. Dwell time can easily take a minute or more at busier stops, and when the bus is more packed. It's longer yet when the ramp has to be used for strollers or wheelchairs. Traffic and signals can further prevent the bus from moving forward after it has finished at a stop.

The issue isn't something you're going to see easily before it starts happening, unless you're looking at busy bus stops during peak hours and realizing the amount of growth that is happening.

Yappa said...

Hi Michael,

A related question... what do you think of the trend of putting roads on "diets"? And making King Street from Erb to Central one lane each way? I think it could make bus transit a lot more difficult. Plus, I don't think (but I'm not sure) that the new "dieted" streets like Davenport have any pull-overs for buses. This could be a problem of different responsibilities? (By which I mean, municipal streets vs regional transportation?)

Michael D said...

I think road diets are appropriate in many places. It's essentially a way to re-evaluate the priorities on a given stretch of street among its various possible uses. Sometimes roads are wide and hence fast, but not even being used by all that many cars; their form nevertheless makes it less attractive to walk or cycle. Bearinger and Davenport are good places for them.

I am fully in favour of making King Street one lane in each direction, since its two lanes are in name only. The space that has parking should be able to accommodate bus bays as well. The street is too wide for two lanes, not wide enough for four, a bit of a speedway, and feels unsafe for pedestrians and people getting in and out of cars. I would love to see it look like Kitchener's newly rebuilt section, perhaps with several strategic bus bays. Another good way would be to have bike lanes buffered by parking.

Bus bays aren't really for buses, but for everything else to be able to get around them. I don't know if Davenport will have them, though there's no principled reason why it couldn't. The only reason road diets could be bad for buses is if the street will end up newly congested, e.g. if it were University Avenue that were reduced to two lanes.

It's a good point about the city perhaps having different priorities for a local street than the region, but my impression is that the region and GRT get consulted and listened to on these matters.

Bert said...

I seriously wonder how the LRT will even FIT down King.

Yappa said...

Hi Bert,

Yeah, I'm a bit concerned about the future. We hear (1) that we need rail transit because of congestion on King Street; and then we hear (2) that we should reduce the number of lanes on King Street because we don't need them.

A saner approach seems to be to retain the current lanes and have more buses.

Don't get me wrong - I'd like wider sidewalks and bike lanes. But I can't see how reducing the lanes on King in uptown could lead to anything other than a mess.

I'm still steamed that we didn't take the opportunity for wider sidewalks on the east side of King in Uptown when the new buildings went in a couple of years ago.

Michael D said...

In terms of buses, in uptown it's only one lane anyway.

The point with congestion is that the space is limited and it's in demand by many people going to uptown and through uptown. If uptown is to grow as a retail area, it needs better and wider sidewalks to fit people comfortably. If the core is to intensify, more people need to be able to move along the central corridor. It comes down to the best, most efficient ways to use the space, given the fixed size. And that's sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit.

Yappa said...

I have been driving down King through Uptown at rush hour whenever I can recently to check out the traffic.

Some cars make left turns, holding up the cars behind them as they wait for a break in oncoming traffic. Due to pedestrians, cars turning right also often have to wait. In a single lane, any bus behind those cars would get stuck with the rest of the traffic.

So your statement "In terms of buses, in uptown it's only one lane anyway." makes no sense. For a few blocks north of Erb the lanes are narrow, but cars are travelling in both lanes, and if they weren't they'd be holding up buses.