Saturday, April 18, 2009

Rapid Transit: King Street North

The two-block stretch of King Street North from University Avenue to Columbia Street is booming with residential development. One surprising thing about the development is that at least two of the enormous new buildings are designed for non-students: one of these near the corner of Columbia is nearly complete, and the other at the corner of University is in the planning stage. The denisty of this area is bolstered by the line of apartment buildings along Regina Street North, just one block to the east.

The mixture of non-students is a very good thing, and creates a more stable neighborhood. As we relearn every year around this time, creating ghettos of student housing results in all kinds of problems, especially for the few non-students unlucky enough to still be living in the area.

You have to wonder why the Region's rapid transit is bypassing King Street North altogether (the route runs from uptown Waterloo through Waterloo Park, across UW campus and up to Conestoga Mall). The Region seems most concerned about giving UW students a convenient way to get to class in UW's new distributed campus - especially the Pharmacy School in Kitchener and the Balsillie School in Uptown Waterloo. For Waterloo, the RT is more of a campus shuttle than municipal transit.

The University of Waterloo can pay for shuttle buses for its students to get around. When I was an undergraduate at Trent, which has colleges in several locations, we had a free shuttle bus and it worked very well. I'm not anti-UW by any means (I'm an alumna and also practically grew up on campus, and am very fond of the place), but this route is just nuts. We're talking about an incredibly expensive transit initiative - building the thing will cost over half a billion dollars just for Phase 1 - and the costs of running it will also be very high. You don't get self-sustaining transit that is largely used by students who pay less than $10/month for unlimited travel (I believe they currently pay $35 for a 4-month term). In addition, students are almost all young; they can walk a bit further to a bus stop or take a slightly slower bus: surely the priority for fast convenient transit should not be students.

If the city of Waterloo were designing a rapid transit route to best suit the needs of Waterlooians, you have to think that it would take a very different route. Instead of being hijacked by decisions made at the Region, we should all take a step back and rethink rapid transit from a Waterloo perspective. After all, Waterloo tax dollars are going to help pay for it, and Waterloo residents are going to suffer reductions in other transit routes if this thing loses money.

We used to have a trolley in K-W that went straight down King Street, turning around just north of University. At the other end it turned at Rockway Gardens. I'm no expert on routes, but I'd like to hear a justification for why the bulk of the RT route in Waterloo should be park and campus. It's also time that we saw revenue projections for the RT.



James Bow said...

I am open to examining the route situation through Waterloo, but I dispute the statement that the current proposed route is "just nuts". That route, which was picked up early, didn't come strictly from the region. A number of transit activists I know -- myself included -- saw it as a way of providing rapid transit to the region inexpensively, while at the same time linking up the major trip generators of Waterloo like a string of pearls. I saw this as early as 1990.

Uptown Waterloo is where a lot of people want to go, and so to give the LRT the best chance for success, it should go there. The same goes for the University of Waterloo, and there is a convenient rail corridor connecting the two. Similarly, the Lakeshore neighbourhood around the Albert McCormack community centre is a major residential area that's fairly far removed from the Uptown, with tricky transit connections. Again, the rail corridor links this area to UW very well. Uptown Waterloo and UW are where a lot of people are going to _go_, and this is one of the neighbourhoods where a lot of people are going to come from.

Finally, we have either Northfield Road or (my preference) the Hydro right-of-way to bring the LRT from the Lakeshore neighbourhood to Conestoga Mall, another place where a lot of people want to go.

One thing I will note is that the obviousness of this route came at a time before the major intensification of King Street between University and Columbia took place. Which is why I am open to opening up the route to review.

Yappa said...

Hi James,

Back in 1990 students paid regular fares. I think the fact that transit is virtually free for them now is a consideration in the economics of the route.

Anyway, I don't have a problem with the route going to Conestoga Mall. I question all the rest of it in Waterloo though. I think we really need to take a step back and evaluate what we want in transit in Waterloo and where we would like it to go. That was never the process in the RT planning. We got a couple of alternatives and were herded along in one direction, it seems to me.

I'm not up to date on the RT route in Kitchener, but last year the proposal was to divert it off of King Street onto Charles and Duke for the core part of downtown. That makes sense... why then is it going to go right down King for the core part of Uptown Waterloo (William to Erb)?

In addition... Why bisect our park with a high-speed transit corridor? Why miss the growing density nodes in Waterloo? Why essentially become a shuttle for students? (the Bearinger Road stop is also a student housing neighborhood)

As I've said before, I'm not questioning the RT plan because I don't want more transit, but because transit is so very important and needs to be expanded effectively. I think we're essentially on the same page on this, except all the details. ;-)

Yappa said...

I should add that alternatives I have put forward are:

- A BRT down King that merges into regular traffic when it hits Uptown and acts like a regular bus from William to Central (with a few stops and no special lanes or platforms). It can resume its dedicated lane and infrequent stops outside of that area.
- An LRT/BRT that bypasses Waterloo, such as on Weber. (I don't have any idea if Weber would actually work.)
- A two-way route on Caroline might work, but a few big problems would have to be sorted out: bus transfers (it's too far from existing routes on King); the Erb-Caroline intersection with an RT criss-crossing it would be a nightmare; and if the ARC has to be torn down at King and Allen to permit the RT to turn there, RT infrastructure money would have to allow for an immediate replacement of the building (wiht its current level of parking) somewhere else in Uptown.