Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Future of King Street

I spent the weekend in Toronto, and this morning I needed to head cross town in my car. I decided to take St Clair, thinking it would be quicker. Those days are gone...

The recently-completed St. Clair LRT, like other Toronto LRTs, is very different from Waterloo Region's proposed LRT: in Toronto an LRT is a streetcar that stops every two blocks, while in Waterloo the proposed LRT is a train that stops every 1.5 kilometers. But the tracks will be similar. Here's a picture I took on St. Clair today:

The LRT tracks run on a wide, raised platform in the middle of the street. Cars can't cross it, so if they want to access a parking spot, driveway, or even small street on the other side of the LRT tracks, they have to go to the next intersection and make a U-turn. The U-turns require special U-turn lights, and that means that the green lights for going straight are briefer than they would otherwise be. Today on St. Clair it was Sunday and traffic was very light, but it was painfully slow because I got stopped by a red light at every intersection.

In Waterloo region, the long distance between LRT stops means that we'll need buses to run the same route. That will compound the problem - and the current thinking is that we shouldn't have bus bays.

As this snippet of the region's map shows, the LRT prevents left turns at certain intersections, such as John and King. Cars wanting to make a left turn there will have to proceed to the next intersection and make a U-turn.



Chairman Wow said...

And here is the alternative:

Yappa said...

Actually, my main concern about LRT on this blog has been that the LRT is going to create that kind of congestion.

Cars aren't going to magically vanish, and the LRT design requires buses alongside the trains.

Chairman Wow said...

You're right, they won't magically vanish. Much of the through traffic will select alternate routes to avoid the decreased auto-accessibility created by improved transit (the Region is spending $50 million to improve Weber Street - incorrectly, in my opinion - to facilitate this transition). More users will choose to ride transportation due to the increased comfort, dignity and visibility provided by rail transit. Finally, many more users will require motorized vehicular transit options far less frequently as urban form and density continue to increase along the Central Transit Corridor (and beyond).

I guess I was under the impression that the point of your blog was to demonize higher-order transit, and rail transit in particular. My mistake.

Anonymous said...

Doesn't bother me one bit that drivers will have to deal with a tiny fraction of the inconvenience that they cause the rest of us.

Anonymous said...

Chairman Wow: "More users will choose to ride transportation due to the increased comfort, dignity and visibility provided by rail transit."

Let's see: The LRT fare will be 25% higher. The trip between malls will hardly be faster. There will be fewer stops.

In the 19th century, when trains were the latest thing, passengers may have gotten from them a sense of dignity, but in those days they were also much faster than the alternatives.

For some, I guess, this 19th century technology has a Wow factor.

Yappa said...

By the way Chairman Wow, I love your name!

I'm not anti-transit but I have a ton of very serious concerns about this particular proposal. You can see why here:

Andy said...

Hi Yappa :-)

Thought you might like to tear this apart :-)

Keep up the good fight!

Andy Rogers

Yappa said...

Hi Andy!

Thanks for the heads up on that. I see that Communitech bought a full page ad to publicize that twaddle. As high tech employees, I think we both know how out of touch Communitech is with the tech workforce - even though they claim to speak for us. I have no idea what their real motivation is in trying to push LRT on the region.

There was some big issue with blogger - they must have had to restore from a backup - and your comment plus all my blog changes went missing for a couple of weeks. I'm glad they've finally restored at least part of it.

I hope you are enjoying the spring!


Chris said...

Hi Ruth,

I spoke after you last night at the council meeting. While I didn't agree with much you had to say, I do respect that you said it well.

You mentioned St. Clair in your talk, so I felt this would be an appropriate place to comment. I remember the negative news about St. Clair disruption and its effect on businesses clearly, but I have also heard positive comments about the finished product.

The trouble I have with criticisms of the St. Clair project, and with the "dire" fate that awaits King St. is that it usually comes from the perspective of someone who decries how the street is no longer as car friendly. You went to St. Clair, which was a good artery for car use, and now it is not. And for that, it is bad.

But to me that is only telling half of the story. It needs to be weighed against the commentary I hear from local Torontonians who aren't using St. Clair as a car corridor but as a transit corridor. The reduction in car capacity and convenience needs to be carefully weighed against the gain in transit capacity and accessibility to non-drivers. This one-sided, visual criticism of a transit corridor doesn't seem to allow for any consideration of the greater good-- just the good of the automobile.

I have to admit that when I hear this sort of thing my gut reaction is "gosh, I'm sorry about your car, but we can use that space to move more people now... take the next street over."

I'd like to know whether you have a fundamental objection to any conversion of car lanes to transitways (rail or bus), or if your objection is based on your concern that the transitway won't get the ridership it needs to justify the cost to our car-moving capacity.


Yappa said...

Hi Chris,

I take your point - we can't decry any change to traffic patterns necessitated by improved transit. For example, I support having traffic lights change for approaching transit, which might inconvenience cars on crossing streets. I think there are lots of ways in which transit should take precedence over cars.

But we have to be pragmatic. Even with the region's optimistic forecasts for transit use in 2031, with the growth in population we will have more cars on the road in 2031 than we do now. Transit planning should be part of overall planning and not an ideological exercise. There will be cars on the road. Traffic gridlock will be bad for everyone - including buses that share the roads; and all the businesses on King between William and Victoria that are currently creating core density.

As for St Clair, two years ago I lived at St Clair and Landsdowne, worked at Wellington and Bay, and took transit every day - so I'm pretty familiar with the route. The St Clair car stops every two blocks, not every 1.5 km as our LRT will. It provides good service to destinations on St Clair.

A point about the bus-v-train argument: when I lived there the streetcar tracks had been torn up to build the new dedicated lanes, and the entire stretch was serviced by buses. Buses were fully adequate to move us, even though the construction meant there was only one lane on each side. At rush hour, five buses at a time would show up at a stop - and yet traffic was still moving. We could be well serviced by buses for decades to come.

Anyway, back to your point - it's a balance between transit, cars, bikes and pedestrians. I would feel better if I thought that the region was approaching that balance pragmatically rather than trying to mess up car traffic in a misguided attempt to get people on to transit. That will just end up in the cars eschewing the core.