Sunday, November 21, 2010

Better Transit

People give me a certain amount of guff for opposing LRT but not proposing something to replace it. I feel this is an unfair criticism: after all, I'm not a transit planner or an urban planner. I have a pretty demanding job and other stuff on my plate. I can recognize a stinker when I see it but that doesn't mean I can come up with something better. (Also, I have tried to make proposals, such as in this article in The Record.)

Nonetheless, I get the point, and also (as I've said many times), I'm uncomfortable in this ever-negative role, so I've been putting a bit of thought into this. I've decided that someone with my skill set might contribute best to a discussion of transit development by proposing requirements rather than trying to propose routes or technologies or whatever.

At some point it would be good to start organizing the requirements into categories and priorities and so on, but this is more of a brainstorming exercise (and I'm open to criticism on all these ideas), so here is a very rough start.

Public transit should first and foremost service people who have no alternatives
That's people who can't afford to drive or who are unable to drive (due to being under age, elderly, physically or mentally unable, and so on). Serving those groups means understanding where they need to go and what their special needs are in using transit.

A bit of a puzzler here is where university students fit in. University students make up something like 20% of the population of Waterloo, and the current LRT proposal is designed to service the University of Waterloo more than any other group in town. In fact, we might as well call the LRT the "UW Shuttle". UW students tend to be quite wealthy, and transit is optional for them in that they could live close to campus and walk. (When I was a grad student at UW I never took transit simply because it was expensive; I always rode my bike or walked. But that was 30 years ago.) Also, university students get a cut-rate pass to use transit. I'm undecided about this one. I have noticed that the pro-LRT forces are overwhelmingly made up of people at UW.

Public transit planning must be part of overall transit planning
It seems that part of the LRT plan is to force people to take transit by making driving inconvenient. I can't see any other reason for running a GO train down our main street, putting railway gates in Uptown Waterloo, and so on. That's needlessly destructive.

Public transit should co-exist with other transit. That means that public transit should not foul up car traffic: in Waterloo, LRT/BRT cannot turn left across King in Uptown. It also means that there should be provision for parking, where appropriate, at transit stops; intracity transit should connect seamlessly with intercity traffic; and so on.

Public transit should be convenient and go to where people want to go
Any route down King Street must have frequent stops, especially in downtown cores. If the Region wants to build a rail line with infrequent stops, it can't go down King.

Public transit needs density to be successful...
...Which is why our regional sprawl doesn't have successful transit. A really good part of the LRT plan is the attempt to create density nodes. However, we need to look more closely at the actual locations of these areas of densification. In Waterloo, will the LRT do anything to create density? I don't think so. The proposed stops are:

  • Uptown, which is booming without any assistance. LRT is actually a threat to the densification of uptown because it is going to make it a traffic disaster.
  • University of Waterloo, which has stops at Seagram Drive, the main campus, and the R+T Park on the north campus. As that is all UW land and is planned development, I'm not sure what difference transit nodes make to its development. Will LRT cause UW to enroll more students?
  • Northfield/Parkside - There may be some densification opportunity here. I really don't understand this stop. It's on a terribly busy road right by the entrance to the expressway. Is this a good place for a lot of development? I don't know.
  • Conestoga Mall - Again, is this an opportunity for density? It seems to be booming all on its own.

Some of the Waterloo stops could use better transit service, especially Uptown and Conestoga Mall, but that's a different issue (and I don't think they will be well-served by LRT in any event).

But if anyone were interested in creating density nodes in Waterloo, the main transit line would not go to UW, but would go straight down King, making Uptown north of Erb more attractive; and have stops at King-University, King-Columbia, and on King north of Weber. Or something like that.


Brendan Reilly said...

I wonder, has anyone thought of using the existing railway tracks for transit? I mean the line which runs through Elmira, St. Jacobs, University of Waterloo, Waterloo Park, Uptown Waterloo, along Weber St, and ending up joining the main line near the Kitchener train station. Seems to me to be pretty well situated and little used by the freight and tourist trains that are its only traffic presently.

Yappa said...

Hi Fron! Long time.

There was talk of using at least part of them... I never understood why they settled on the current route. There were several public forums and we were told that the public chose the route (I think), but the forums seemed to mostly be PR.

Apparently that spur line is a Regional property and its current lease (lease?) is up in 2012, at which time the Region is considering tearing it up. I would miss it. I like the way it crosses streets in uptown, with the engineer walking in front ringing a bell. I think there are four trains a day.

A really big point in favor of the route you suggest is that commuter trains (now GO) are starting up again, and it would be good to make the Kitchener train station a transit hub.