Thursday, November 12, 2009

What LRT Will Do to the Erb-Bridgeport-Caroline Intersection

Bridgeport Road becomes Caroline Street when it crosses Erb. It's a very busy intersection, and will get much busier when the Barrel Yards development is completed 100 meters to the west on Erb. (The Barrel Yards will include hotels, apartment buildings, an office tower and townhouses.) It will also get busier when the west-side subdivisions are built, as Erb is the main route across town to the Conestoga Parkway. The south-east corner of Erb-Caroline is Waterloo Town Square. The library is close to the north-east corner. The north-west corner is the entrance to Waterloo Park, and all the uptown trails converge at this corner.

Here's a snippet of the Region of Waterloo's LRT map showing what the intersection will look like after the LRT is built (you can see the complete map here):

"Full movement intersection" means that cars can turn in all directions. These are special intersections on the LRT plan: cars are not allowed to cross over the tracks anywhere but at full movement intersections (there will be a curb running alongside the tracks to prevent cars from crossing them, or possibly the tracks will be raised six inches to prevent it). At all other intersections and all driveways, cars cannot turn left, but must go past their destination, make a U-turn, and head back.

"Railway control" means that there are going to be railway crossing signals, including gates and flashing lights, something like this:

Here's a drawing I've prepared of what the Region's map means. If you see any differences, let me know and I'll modify it. I have tried very hard to make it perfectly accurate, based on the Region's map:

The heavy dotted lines are the LRT, with one line coming from King Street and heading into Waterloo Park, and the other line coming out of the park and heading back to Kitchener. The map also shows the current train tracks; these are infrequently used and a train employee walks across the road ringing a bell when the train crosses.

As you can see, there will be three railway signals (marked in red), on Bridgeport, Erb and Caroline. The LRT is scheduled to run every 7 minutes, but there are tracks running in two directions so a train will go by every 3.5 minutes. That means that every 3.5 minutes the gates will come down, lights will flash, bells may ring, and everyone will have to wait until the LRT goes by. That is in addition to the normal red lights that regulate traffic.

These changes to this very busy intersection are obviously going to cause mayhem for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. I myself drive, bike or walk through that intersection every day: it's very busy. Besides long backlogs of idling cars, this is going to cause motorists to flood onto side streets to avoid the mess, and to cut through the Waterloo Square parking lot. That means that the disruption is going to spread far beyond this one area.

This is just one of the unacceptable effects of LRT on uptown Waterloo. If the LRT happens, this must be fixed.

As with all my LRT posts, if you see any errors leave a comment and if I agree I'm in error I'll modify the post.


Michael D said...

One correction to the diagram: Bridgeport Road is fully one-way there (i.e. all arrows towards the intersection). I wish it weren't, but that's how it is.

I disagree about this having a negative impact on cyclists and pedestrians. That is by far the worst place for both cycling and walking in Uptown Waterloo, primarily because of the speed and carelessness of cars on the one-way roads and due to the size of the intersection. I consider the left turn from Erb to Albert part of this problem as well.

So while I'm not a fan of this arrangement, the complexity for cars will slow them down at the intersection and make it less scary for everyone else. Incidentally, the track on Erb would eliminate the frighteningly high speed of left turns onto Albert.

Yappa said...

Hi Michael,

Thanks for the correction. I know that intersection so well... not sure how I could have done that. ;-)

And you're right that it's an awful intersection for pedestrians, particularly with cars turning right from Bridgeport to Erb. It's possible that the frequent use of railway signals will help that; it's also possible that it will make it worse as drivers take chances to try and make it through. It will certainly make pedestrians wait longer, along with everyone else, to get across the street.

Re bikes, my problem with the intersection has always been the train tracks. Three sets are not going to be good.

I'd like to see an example of another busy downtown intersection that has train signals deployed every 3.5 minutes. This plan seems so unusual as to be bizarre. I'm not a transit planner and I don't have all the answers, but this presents itself as an enormous red flag to me. And this is just one of the problematic intersections in uptown Waterloo planned with the LRT... Erb-King and Caroline-William are also going to be bad.

The more I think about it, it seems that LRT cannot be in the current loop configuration. If it goes down King, it needs to continue straight through uptown. Otherwise, it needs to take a different route.

Tim said...

Great article! The Erb/Caroline would be a prime candidate for a scramble crossing cycle that separates transit, cars, and cyclists/pedestrians. Something like this:

- Erb green light, no pedestrian crossing
- Caroline green light, no pedestrian crossing
- All traffic stop, pedestrian crossing in all directions

Totally shutting down car traffic to allow pedestrians to cross seems odd at first, until you look at what impact eliminating pedestrian crossings during the traffic cycle has on traffic movement. It's done a lot in Japan and usually works well.

Routing and station placement in Uptown is a difficult choice; benefits can be realized if the route split is eliminated.

If both directions of the LRT end up moving on the existing rail corridor, it can be then routed to a station right beside Waterloo's public square, guaranteeing immediate pedestrian traffic and stable custom for existing Uptown businesses. Street festivals could still exist by closing King directly north of the Laurel Trail and would benefit from a high-capacity system that allows people to leave their car at home instead of looking for parking during an event such as the Busker Festival.

Alternatively, this system could also be routed down the median of Caroline, with a slight cut out of the Valu-Mart parking lot to preserve the right turn lane onto Erb St. E. This would allow for the historic train station to be used as an LRT stop and give the Uptown portion of the LRT a distinct heritage feel.

I believe it's important that the design elements of this project do not unduly interfere with the feel of our neighbourhoods. I don't think "full railway control" is a necessary tool here if people follow simple traffic signals (and a "no right turn on red" restriction onto Erb West) but there might be a safety regulation I'm not aware of at play.

Uptown Waterloo is one of the most exciting opportunities to get this project right; the draft certainly could use tweaking to make sure we build something truly special for our next generation.

Yappa said...

Hi Tim,

I appreciate your positive attitude!

I think what you're proposing is what's called a pedestrian scramble or X crossing, where all traffic comes to a halt while pedestrians can cross the middle of the intersection. This is a cool idea for intersections that have a lot of foot traffic, like Yonge & Dundas in Toronto. It's not at all suitable for Caroline-Erb in Waterloo, which is on a busy car path but is not a place frequented by throngs of walkers.

Also, if you think through your proposal, having a scramble would mean that all traffic in all directions must come to a halt every 3.5 minutes for the LRT, and every, say 5 minutes for pedestrians. If the stoppage was for 60 seconds, that would mean that all traffic would be stopped for 2 minutes out of every 8.5 minutes, or nearly 25% of the time. I don't think this is even remotely feasible.

I agree that the loop plan is a problem. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the possibility of running the LRT through the Waterloo Square parking lot and I don't think that would work either. Having it go straight down King Street makes more sense, I think.

Thanks for the comment!

Yappa said...

In my calculation of how often traffic would be stopped, I mentioned the LRT and the pedestrian scramble but forgot to also consider the regular red lights required for traffic...