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??

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lack of credibility, the Region, and LRT reports

Chair Jim Wideman and Members of Planning and Works Committee have released the long-awaited LRT report, titled Preliminary Preferred Rapid Transit Implementation Option and dated April 12, 2011.

There is no nice way to say this. The report is another example of flagrantly biased and inaccurate public relations hooey from the Region.

The report says, "In evaluating the rapid transit implementation options and considering the recent public input, staff have identified that: Rapid transit is preferred over business-as-usual." "10 per cent [of respondents] prefer business-as-usual."

This is based on public comment sheets that asked residents to choose one of 11 options, where the only non-rapid transit option was described as "not considered feasible."

I used to work as a market research analyst and I have heard a lot of wild stories about biased surveys, but this one takes the cake.

You do a survey in which you instruct people not to choose one of the options, and then you claim the survey proves that they don't want that option.


The Region's LRT ridership estimates: pie in the sky

The figures for other cities are from Wikipedia.

This analysis was done by Dave Ramsey. Dave's conclusions:
  1. The estimated daily boardings of 56,000 in 2031 are overstated by at least 40,000.
  2. Just like every city in North America with a population of less than 1M, KW will not need the LRT or BRT to cope with its public transit needs now or when the population reaches 462,000 in 2031.
  3. If LRT is installed, the numbers show it will be a financial disaster. With 15,000 daily boardings rather than the estimated 57,000, subsidies will skyrocket over those forecast. In 2002, after 24 years Edmonton’s LRT had 36,000 boardings with an annual subsidy of $13.7M (see “ETS Light Rail Transit” bulletin). With less than half the boarders, the region’s subsidy will be about $21.7M instead of the $3.8M forecast (see ‘Connecting to the Future’ Summer 2009).

The myth of the successful Calgary LRT

The 30th Anniversary of the C-Train: A Critical Analysis of Calgary’s Light Rail Transit System, by Steve Lafleur

Some nuggets about the Calgary LRT (dubbed the CTrain) from this report, which was released on March 30, 2011:
  • The conservative estimate herein puts the cost per paying rider at roughly $2.88
  • [There is an assumption] that the CTrain is actually getting people out of their cars — it is not. Despite the City’s Draconian efforts to curb downtown parking, more people drive downtown than in any other Canadian city.
  • Calgarians travel further to work than do residents of any Canadian city with a population over one million, save Edmonton.
  • the CTrain has actually helped drive urban sprawl
  • The independent U.S. Government Accountbility Office recognizes BRT as a superior alternative to LRT.
  • It is slow and expensive and at best has a moderately positive impact on traffic. At worst, it has a moderately negative impact.


Saturday, April 09, 2011

Negative impact of LRT on the City of Waterloo

I wrote a little report on some concerns I have about what LRT will do to the city of Waterloo. You can download it here. (Click the file name LRT_impact_on_Waterloo.pdf at the top.)

Upate: I expanded the report so that the Waterloo city impacts are just part of it.


Support for light rail trains gets a boost

During the recent public consultations, the Region distributed a survey that could be filled out on paper or online. It listed 11 options: nine were forms of LRT, one was BRT on dedicated lanes, and one was no rapid transit.

The Region has released the results of the survey, causing the Record to trumpet that 78% of respondents voted for rapid transit, proving that the public wants LRT. But let's look at the survey.

The only option that was not rapid transit was phrased like this in the survey:

"BU11 - Business as usual - no rapid transit (not considered feasible, especially because of its quality of life impacts, disruptive road expansion and because it does not align with the Council-approved Regional Official Plan and Regional Transportation Master Plan)."

Who ever heard of a survey that describes one of the options as "not feasible"? This wording is so slanted that the survey is utterly worthless.

That "not feasible" option is not only feasible; it is clearly the best. It is the option that includes aBRT.

aBRT, or adapted bus rapid transit, is a much cheaper option that BRT in that it doesn't require dedicated lanes for the entirety of the route. It does employ signal priority, queue jumping, and bus-bypassing shoulders, so it is approximately the same speed as BRT (and it's quicker than LRT for the whole route because riders don't have to transfer in the middle). It is much more flexible than LRT or BRT in that the route can easily be changed. It is also much more flexible in that it can be converted to rail in future at little cost if the ridership rises. (BRT, with fixed curbs along the whole route, is very expensive to convert to rail.)

Not only does aBRT make sense, but it is the option currently preferred by Cambridge City Council.

Other questions abound about the survey.

It appears that the Region has counted only the printed surveys, and has ignored the online submissions. The only explanation I can think of for this is that the online surveys must have been against LRT.

The Record article trumpeting the survey results pulls out all stops in slanted reporting. (Support for light rail trains gets a boost) The reporter interviewed me yesterday and I explained the problems with the survye, but he neglected to report them. The article gives the erroneous impression that high tech emloyees are clamoring for LRT, which is utter hogwash. And while the pro-LRT organization is named in full, T4ST is not mentioned. To add insult to injury, they spelled my name wrong. I am referred to as "Ruth Howarth, the spokesperson for a group opposed to the light-rail plans."


Friday, April 08, 2011

The sheep freak out

There seems to be tacit agreement among governments and media that the public must not be panicked by the Japan nuclear reactor fallout. Every step of the way we have been told that certain things can't happen... and then they do.

So we were told this wasn't Chernobyl and it wouldn't be possible to have nuclear contamination outside the reactors... and then when that happened they said it wouldn't spread... and then when that happened they said it wouldn't be harmful... and then when that happened they said it wouldn't get to North America... and now nuclear fallout has been detected (in small quantities) at the Bruce Power plant on the shores of Lake Huron. And just to be clear about this, that's really close to where I live.

I understand the rationale for this "benevolent conspiracy." Nobody wants boatloads of Japanese refugees foundering in the middle of the Pacific. Nobody wants a worldwide financial collapse caused by panic and fear.

But. I for one am starting to freak out only because of all the lies. What else aren't they telling us?


World of debt

In last month's "State of the City" address, Waterloo Mayor Brenda Halloran said that "finances remain the city's biggest challenge, with a $5-million dollar debt over RIM Park still to pay off", according to local news sources.

Not long ago, five million dollars seemed like an awful lot of money... after all, that $5M debt has restricted city spending across the board for many years and it will restrict spending for many years to come. Sports, arts, community programs, children's programs, parks... everything has taken a hit because of that RIM Park debt.

But now that LRT is on the table, a $5M debt is laughable. When the Region builds a rail route through Waterloo, the city of Waterloo is going to have to pay many times more than $5M just for downloaded capital costs. The Region expects the municipalities to pony up for:
  • Building parking garages next to LRT stations
  • Resurfacing roads torn up by LRT construction
  • Moving hydro vaults, utility poles, lamp posts, fire plugs as needed for LRT
  • Rebuilding curbs and sidewalks torn up by LRT
  • And who knows what else...

But wait, there's more! Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig has estimated that LRT will cost $23M per year in operating costs, all of which will be paid by regional taxpayers. Yes, that's right: that crippling RIM Park debt that it's taking Waterloo decades to pay off - Waterloo taxpayers' portion of LRT operating costs will be more than that every year... forever!

All that is in addition to increased regional taxes to pay the roughly $500M that will be the Region's portion of LRT construction costs.

Then there's the rest of the region's Master Transportation Plan, which staff estimate will cost $3.75B (yes, that's billion) over 20 years.

When I write about LRT, I tend to focus on problems with the route, inconvenience, inaccurate ridership projections, inability to meet stated goals, and things along those lines.

But cost is also a vital element of all this.

Here's one scenario that's looking pretty realistic about now: Taxes are going to rise so much in Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge that, far from creating flourishing downtown cores, LRT will cause masses of people to move out to the townships (which won't pay into LRT and so will have much lower taxes) and commute long distances on area highways.

Having LRT tracks running through our commercial corridor, combined with the need to run buses on the same routes because LRT stops so infrequently, will result in so much congestion that everyone will avoid the core like the plague.

The LRT won't be empty though; it will be full of University of Waterloo students who use it as a student shuttle to zip past the empty storefronts.


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


Sunday, April 03, 2011


The enitrety of info about hyperdecantenation in Incredible edibles, a recent article about molecular gastronomy in the New Yorker:
They also claim to have a way of improving wine by “hyperdecanting” it via sixty seconds in a blender—the idea being that it will benefit from the oxygenation and outgassing effects. My solemn, taking-one-for-the-team experiments with red wine have partly confirmed this for Schwarzeneggerian young reds.

I took up the gauntlet. First stop, the liquor store, where I pulled a little prank on the vintages clerk when I put on a serious face and asked for help locating a young Schwarzeneggerian red. (I imagine he's still talking about it.)

Came home with a bottle purported to be a big young Californian red: the 2008 Liberty Cab ($17), and just for fun, the cheapest Italian red I could find (year unknown, name forgotten, bottle recycled). Invited over two wine-loving friends.

Put out three glasses at each place: one for the wine straight out of the bottle, one for the hyperdecanted wine, and my Eisch "breathable" wine glasses, which I have confirmed in other wine tastings do amazing things to wine.

I hyperdecanted by blenderizing each wine for 60 seconds, starting with the Liberty.

The effect was pronounced. Right out of the bottle, the Liberty tasted stellar: rounded, layered. The hyperdecanted Liberty was good, but lost a lot of its definition. It became much more generic tasting, mellow, a bit blah. The Eisch was right in the middle: it was superb.

Some quick palate cleansing and then it was on to the Italian. (No rest for the weary.) Out of the bottle it was harsh, raw, and a bit hard to drink. (Ordinarily I'd have added a teaspoon of water to my glass to mellow it out.) The Eisch was better but still harsh. The hyperdecanted, though: oh, my. It was a transformed wine: the harshness gone.

By the way, the foaminess recedes almost immediately. The hyperdecantenation seemed to remove the "legs" from the Liberty, but added some to the Italian: I don't know if that makes any sense.

Moral of the story? Buy cheap wine and put it in the blender.