There's a bandwagon and everyone's jumping on it
We received responses from over 100 candidates, and the overwhelming response (95%) is that if elected they will oppose LRT. While knocking on doors, candidates have been hearing anger and opposition to LRT - I know this not just from the responses, but also because I've been knocking on doors and talking to people myself. The issue is going to sway a lot of voters (which is why our survey is so important). I don't know if any candidates say they oppose LRT just to appease voter anger over the proposal, but I do know that on June 24, 2009, every single Regional councillor - with the exception of Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig - voted in favor of LRT. That includes our mayors, who automatically sit on Regional council.
We need to be more concerned about fairness
As is evident from the responses of candidates in Cambridge, the proposed LRT is grossly unfair to Cambridge, essentially leaving it out of the plan for decades. In future, we need to ensure that our regional initiatives are more balanced.
If the LRT was really about beefing up downtowns, why did it go from a mall in Kitchener to a mall in Waterloo? Why not start by going from a downtown core in Cambridge to downtown Kitchener and Uptown Waterloo? Cambridge is bigger than Waterloo, for Pete's sake.
Elected officials should be open to public opinion
Some candidates chose to not respond to our survey because they thought the questions were too biased. This troubles me. Elected officials have to spend a lot of time listening to constituents on all sorts of issues, and the officials should have an open mind. All too often, citizens who make a statement to city or regional council are met with bored looks and zero interest. That's just wrong. We need representatives who listen to us, not get their backs up and freeze us out.
Saying it's a regional issue is a cop-out
Some candidates responded to our questionnaire by saying that they're running for municipal council and LRT is a regional issue, so it's not part of their mandate. I completely disagree. When something is going to have such a profound impact on the municipal landscape, city councillors should take a stand.
For example, I remain dumbfounded that Waterloo City councillors didn't examine the impact of the proposed LRT route on Uptown Waterloo. Examination of the Region's proposed route map shows three Uptown intersections (King-Erb, Erb-Caroline, and Caroline-William) that could become nightmares, and cross-town traffic on Erb could grind to a halt. (In the LRT plan, only one lane of Erb Street crosses King, and it is also a turning lane.) This would affect not only car traffic, but also buses, bikes and pedestrians. And the ensuing mess would almost certainly have a negative impact on the success of local businesses.
City councillors should also have been looking out for their constituents on accessibility issues. With an aging population who may need to rely on transit, there were significant issues such as the long distance between stops, the long distance from LRT stops to their target destinations (notably the malls), the linkages between LRT and bus transfers, and possible problems crossing the tracks with walking aids.
In my opinion the specifics of this LRT plan are bad, in part, because municipal politicians dropped the ball.
It ain't over till it's over
Many people believe that LRT is dead. After all, the whole plan was based on the feds and province paying for it, and they fell short by $250M. I agree it's unaffordable, but I have no illusions that it's over. Our Regional Chair, Ken Seiling, is still fighting for this like it's his life at stake. Sure we could vote him out, but (1) he has no real opposition and (2) he has enormous backing - I think he got about three-quarters of the vote last time.
What Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig said in our survey was, "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."
There are a lot of good candidates out there
I have been working on LRT for two years now, but I learned a lot from reading the comments of candidates. Many of the comments were thoughtful, insightful, and original - and I say that about comments on all sides of the issue. I was particularly impressed that within Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge, almost every candidate responded. What we need more than anything is a truly open, community-wide discussion about how to improve our public transit. I think our local candidates are up for the job.
For the results of the T4ST survey, see www.t4st.com.