Thursday, April 21, 2011

More concerns about LRT

Four skilled individuals (planning, Engineering, and legal), all of whom live locally, put together this list of comments about the proposed LRT.
  1. K-W is a city of 350,000, not a city of 729,000, the number that is always quoted regarding the Regional population of 2031. The next largest city where a significant LRT investment has been made is three times our current size. In 25 years, based on the cities' potential growth, it will still be two times our size. There is no urgency to get this passed.
  2. The purpose of building the LRT has nothing to do with transit, where there currently simply is no problem. It is to promote reurbanization of the core area.
  3. The outcome regarding the LRT choice has been predetermined by Regional staff from the beginning. The cart has been put before the horse on so many issues related to planning and development prior to a decision being rendered by Council on the LRT. This forces Council with only one alternative and that is to approve.
  4. The public has not been formally engaged in the decision. The conclusions of staff from a few public open houses do not reflect the experiences of a number of the members of Regional Council who are sharing a far different view of the acceptance of the proposal from last fall's municipal election. The only effective way to determine public support is through a referendum.
  5. No one honestly thinks the proposal before Council will come in even remotely close to the current cost estimates. On average, from recent past experience LRT’s built in North America were 40% over budget.
  6. Ridership numbers are fantasy. Currently there are 9,000 riders on the spine, and that is projected to go to 27,000 the day LRT opens and 56,000 by 2031, more than currently use the system in Houston, Baltimore, San Jose, Minneapolis, etc.
  7. The Region is asking the provincial government to amend the current development charge legislation to allow charges to be collected for the LRT. This is a clear sign that there are significant concerns among Regional staff about cost overruns and that the best way to reduce tax impacts is to have available the D/C option.
  8. The Conestoga Parkway is a common argument used in support of the LRT. In the 1960’s many were opposed because “I will never use it.” Looking back, those who built it were visionaries. There are two main differences. First, currently 3% use transit and 98% use cars, likely the same as it was in the 1960’s. Secondly, the Conestoga Parkway was built solely for one purpose, moving people in their cars, which over time it has done. The current LRT proposal has very little to do with dealing with transit needs or moving people. Its primary purpose is for reurbanization. This is a recipe for failure.
  9. The Region claims that the review and approval of the LRT by a 3rd party “Peer Review Panel” validates that this is a sound proposal. Recently the Chair along with several other members of Council have declared a conflict because of a potential benefit received by them or their families if the system gets built. It should be noted that several members of the “3rd Party Peer Review Panel” are also in conflict as they have done work for the Region as consultants, assisting in developing the current policies towards growth and transit. It would be difficult to suggest that the opinion of this group is valid based on the obvious conflict of several of its members by doing work for the Region and by being paid by the Region to do this work.
  10. The Region is backtracking on having the required “feeder” buses in place with the opening of the LRT. In last Friday’s Record it was reported that the LRT cost is putting pressure on the Region being able to provide buses before 2017-2018 - which will significantly limit the ability to get people to the LRT route to use it. This in turn will reduce ridership and directly affect revenues.
  11. The Region is only showing one financial impact summary, and it is based on unrealistically low capital costs ($810M) and overly optimistic ridership targets (27K on opening day). They need to show what the impact will be for every $50M of cost overrun and every 5K of ridership reduction in a matrix which shows a range of potential likely costs. Council and more importantly the public needs to understand the risk prior to any decision being rendered. I asked this question as recently as last week and the answer I received from Thomas Schmidt was that the Region is confident with their budgeting and we need not worry.
  12. The Region has no idea if their proposed routing will in fact be buildable. As recently as a few weeks ago Caroline Street routing was changed from one side of the street to the other because of concerns about access to underground utilities. These kinds of changes have cost impacts and draw concern as to the overall level of detail used to determine budgets to date.
  13. Have the Cities determined that they have sufficient capacity to allow for development in the core areas?
  14. The Region talks about increasing property values along the route as a result of LRT. Higher property values, relative to the basket of values in the overall community, simply means higher taxes for those currently living near the route. So much for a 2% tax increase if your are fortunate enough to have your property go up in value by 20%. How about a 20% tax increase? Generally when property values increase significantly over a short period of time this is referred to as inflation. I am curious as to how this phenomenon, inflation, is view by the Region as being a good thing.

They also have some questions:
  • Has there been a full independent study of the need and justification for the LRT?
  • Will Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge really have that much core growth that it will support an LRT??
  • The current proposed route doesn’t connect employment areas to residential areas – how will that be useful??
  • With the Region Planning industrial growth in the Townships (like around the airport and other places) how are these areas going to be connected to the LRT and won’t the time it takes to get to a destination far exceed the time by car??
  • Most of the population will still be far removed from the LRT Route as densities in other areas of the Cities are being planned – how will the LRT be utilized by those people??
  • Isn’t a fixed hard built route a real risk – what if development doesn’t occur the way Region thinks it will – isn’t a rubber tire and perhaps electric battery driven), flexible road based system (which can easily be expanded (or contracted) with dedicated lanes be much cheaper, more flexible and much less risky??
  • What is the breakdown of proposed costs of the LRT? – that is – how much for 1) land acquisition; 2) design and final plan; 3) route preparation (,costs of moving roads, services, etc.); 4) Construction; 5) administration... and are these just estimates?? –
  • Most Region projects end up costing far more than projected. Take the Fairway Road bridge over the Grand: it started at $10M and will now be $50M plus. Won’t the same thing happen to the LRT??
  • What are the annual operating costs? Is there an operations budget? Are shortfalls picked up by the tax payers and what will it add to our tax bills??
  • Where will the projected ridership come from?? Has a fully independent study been performed??
  • What contribution have the feds and province 100% committed to the LRT? Is that commitment still there in light of the upcoming election(s) and what if it changes due to the fiscal constraints?
  • The LRT is focused and predicated on high density along its route – what if this doesn’t materialize because of other building forms, slow growth or alternate transportation systems??
  • The Region has essentially eliminated greenfield growth and attempted to focus high density growth along the LRT. Is our community aware of the implications? – doesn’t this just make K-W another mini Toronto? Is that what we want??
  • Isn’t a much better road network much cheaper than a fixed LRT? Won’t we need the roads anyway for truck routes and general commerce?
  • What are the real costs to putting increased density along the core? New water mains and sewer mains have to replace the old – who is paying for that??


Anonymous said...

You are absolutely 100% spot on about the KW LRT.

It boggles my mind that we are supposed to be an intelligent community, yet we are about to embark on this. I fear it is an example of the phenomena of "they may be intelligent, but they have no common sense". (A horrible cliche, and one that I don't like as a university grad myself, but what other explanation is there for anyone thinking this will work?)

So many points can be made (you make many good ones on your blog).

The key point is that to get the numbers projected, workers who own cars will have to use the LRT to go to and from work. Now most workers in KW live in houses in suburbs. Let's be realistic, they are not going to stop being car owners. Even those that live in apartments in inner areas generally own cars. Fine, they may own cars, but perhaps they will choose to use public transit to commute to work anyway.

For someone who owns a car to choose public transit instead, quite simply, the public transit option must be more pleasant and/or cheaper than the driving option.

For those that live in KW, the driving distance is short, so the price will never be high (even if gas prices go through the roof). As you say, car owners have already paid the fixed costs.

For those that don't live in KW (e.g. many of my colleagues who commute from Guelph), LRT up and down King Street isn't going to help!

Going back to the KW residents, price will not make public transit better than driving. Congestion is I would say the number 1 reason why working people use public transit (e.g. London UK, Toronto etc.) KW has a LONG LONG way to go to be so congested that it is quicker to take public transit to work. That's one of the good things about living in KW!

I live in a house in the suburbs. There will be no LRT station anywhere near me. Doesn't this apply to 90% of the potential commuters?

I will pay (I guesstimate about $10,000 as a family over my life if I stay in KW, given the way costs for these things skyrocket) for something I will never use. Am I being selfish to not want to do that? Does it not concern the people who want this thing, that the same applies to 90% of the taxpayers.

Now they are saying LRT will cost so much they will not have the money to improve the bus links to go with it. So even if things become horribly congested, there will not be a bus to take anyway. If public transit really is the long term future (I am unconvinced but open to that possibility), surely it must be VERY regular buses (waiting 15 minutes in the snow each way each day, maybe at 2 connections is a no go!), with MANY stops and connections.

Most people who work in KW do not work downtown (Building LRT may gradually change that - arguably). Even if I (and others like me) worked in an office building downtown, I would need to take a bus, to the train. Hmm, that would be those bus links we cannot afford.

But damn selfish me, EVEN IF the bus links are there, I will not choose this many-legged journey, unless congestion is so bad that I have no choice.

And of course, I would have to change the line I give my kids when I see them off to school from "Remember I am only 10 minutes away if you need to call me for anything" to the slightly different "Remember I am only a 5 minute walk, 5 minute wait, 10 minute train ride, 5 minute walk, 10 minute wait, 10 minute bus ride, and 10 minute walk away, if you need to call me for anything"

Sorry for my disjointed ramblings, but this issue makes me mad!

Anonymous said...

> The purpose of building the LRT has nothing to do with transit, where there currently simply is no problem.

Could not read beyond this grotesque absurdity.