Thursday, April 07, 2011

Questions about rail plan go beyond money

My article in the Record today:

Questions about rail plan go beyond money

In his April 1 community editorial board article, We’re More than a Collection of Taxpayers, Sean Geobey dismisses the community’s objections to light rail transit as a cynical knee-jerk reaction by people who don’t understand what community is all about. He claims all we care about is lower taxes.

Never mind that as the representative for Taxpayers for Sensible Transit (T4ST), I have written articles in this paper that express support for improved transit and detail why light rail is the wrong approach. Or that Taxpayers for Sensible Transit has made official submissions to regional council expressing our concerns about the effect of light rail on our transit system and community.

Never mind that this paper has published nearly 200 letters to the editor against light rail (all reproduced on that are proof of residents’ keen commitment to our community and deep understanding of the issues.

Had Geobey done any research into why so many citizens oppose light rail, he would have seen that this issue is about much more than cost.

Consider the devastating impact the tracks will have on Uptown Waterloo. Of all the downtowns in our region, Waterloo’s is clearly the most vibrant and functional. But the imposition of light rail on King Street and other Uptown streets will make driving chaotic, discourage shoppers and inevitably rob the area of its vitality.

Trains will run against traffic on the one-way portion of Erb Street at Albert Street. This is not only inconvenient, but also dangerous. The Erb/Bridgeport/Caroline intersection will come to a halt every 3.5 minutes for trains to cross. As a result, Erb Street will cease to be a useful east-west route. And it will be impossible to hold popular tourist events such as the Busker Festival on King Street.

More problems: Waterloo Park will be sliced in two by trains. It seems likely a fence will be required, especially since the tracks border a children’s zoo. This will leave the park looking like postwar Berlin.

As a replacement for the iXpress bus, light rail will provide service that is much less convenient. For example, the iXpress stops in the centre of the research and technology park and close to the entrances of Conestoga Mall and Fairview Mall; the light rail transit trains would stop much farther away, requiring long walks for transit riders.

Why is convenience so important? Because you won’t lure people out of their cars with inconvenient public transit.

The cost model of light rail transit assumes that we can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on a rail line because it will result in less money needed for road expansion. If light rail transit does not lure drivers out of their cars, then we are stuck with the unaffordable situation of paying for light rail transit and paying for road expansion.

Light rail transit is a great deal for students at the University of Waterloo, and that no doubt is why Geobey and other students are such vocal supporters. Every student gets a transit pass included in their fees (at a greatly reduced rate). Students are a major component of our transit ridership, and it is important to provide service for them. But we do not need to provide a $1-billion train so that they can live further from campus.

My point here is not to repeat every argument against light rail transit. It is important to lift the public dialogue on light rail transit out of the mindset of Geobey and some other light rail supporters who characterize the anti-rail side as backward-thinking old-timers who don’t know what’s good for the community.

The Region of Waterloo is voting on light rail in June, so we don’t have a lot of time to think through the effects of this megaproject — both financial and physical — on our community. Let’s keep the dialogue respectful.

Ruth Haworth is the spokesperson for Taxpayers for Sensible Transit. She writes the transit web site



Anonymous said...

The problem here does not seem to about light rail, rather the planning of the rail route. Calgary has fantastic light rail that has enhanced the downtown and made it much better. Free fare zones downtown allow riders to go anywhere downtown for free, so lunch spots, meetings and downtown activities are completely open to the all of downtown and its many thousands of workers. It has improved business for all the shopping areas. Yes, the first sections built had some errors and cause unnecessary traffic tie ups but the new west leg has taken all these lessons and will allow free flowing traffic and great light rail. Some portions had to go underground to avoid interfering with intersections...a major lesson learned. Light rail can be great, but you must understand the implications of the plan and make concessions to allow traffic, peple and light rail to coexist. It can be done.

Yappa said...

Hi Anonymous,

I agree completely that good transit is possible, and your comment very nicely describes what such a system might look like.

I think the reason that our region failed so spectacularly in designing LRT is that their goals are wrong. We have a system that will mess up traffic because that's a goal of the designers. The goals of LRT seem to be something like this:

-Encourage drivers to take transit by making driving unpleasant.
-Revitalize downtown Kitchener.
-Get supporters for the system by providing great service to the University of Waterloo.
-Use funds that higher levels of government made available.

In addition, the region does not seem to have any capacity for modifying their plans in the face of good arguments and public outcry.

Part of the difficulty in analysing this proposal is that the region's numbers are so highly suspect. For example, they say that our population is roughly the same size as Calgary's when Calgary started LRT, but the figures for Calgary are urban. The figures for Waterloo Region include the townships - and they include Cambridge, which isn't included. Waterloo Region is a very different place.