Sunday, December 05, 2010

Rally for Rails

Three local organizations held a rally for LRT today at the Waterloo public square. It was a well-attended event, especially given the temperature; one or two hundred people, I'd say, mostly students (not counting press and organizers). A number of people made (mercifully) brief remarks, including local politicians Ken Seiling, Carl Zehr, Angela Veith and Jean Haalboom.

I sat off to the side and listened, trying not to get in the way. I was struck by my agreement with almost everything that was said. The remarks mostly concerned what I would call motherhood issues, and I think there's broad public support for them: a cleaner environment, less congestion, less sprawl, and more efficient use of public funds.

That's all an argument for better public transit. The problem is that LRT is not better public transit.

You don't have to be a transit planner to know that good public transit is transit that people want to take: that goes to where people want to go and is convenient. In Waterloo, the LRT is convenient for people at the University of Waterloo and a couple of other groups (bedroom communities to the north, perhaps), but not so good for most residents. The proposed LRT doesn't stop frequently enough; the route does not benefit most of Waterloo; and taking it would involve too many transfers (unless you're going to UW).

LRT is not going to reduce congestion or create density nodes if people don't ride it; there are plenty of examples of expensive transit failures in North America, and the proposed LRT is likely to be another one. Insanely, some proponents want to create traffic jams in order to force people to take the LRT, but the carrot is a far more successful tool than the stick in transit planning, because if you make traffic impossible, people will just go somewhere else. Instead of working and shopping Uptown, they'll go to the industrial parks and big box stores on the outskirts of town.

LRT is poor transit planning in other ways, too. By running down our main street without stopping very often, it actually reduces our ability to get to places on our main artery. It disrupts car, bus and bike traffic while not providing alternative convenience.

The final nail in the coffin and biggest failure of the proposed LRT route is the left turn across King onto Erb that will cause traffic chaos in the Uptown - as well as the chaos it will cause at Erb-Bridgeport and Caroline-William in the Uptown.

The problem with the cost of LRT is not that it costs money: it's that it wastes money.

Students in support of LRT are quite cavalier about the cost to taxpayers. I'd like them to put their money where their mouth is and agree to the following. If this UW rail shuttle is to be foisted on the residents of Waterloo region, there should be:

  • No more cheap transit passes for university and college students - they pay the full adult fare.
  • Transit passes should be a compulsory ancillary fee for all students, guaranteeing revenue for the GRT/LRT.
  • UW students should pay an extra fee of $10/month since the LRT services them more than any other group.

But better than all that, whether it's LRT, BRT, bus, streetcar or whatever technology, the route should be changed so that Uptown Waterloo is not so severely damaged. Bottom line: LRT cannot turn left across King in Uptown. Either it is circumvented to go two-way on Caroline, or - far better - we get a transit system that goes straight down King, creating density nodes at King-University, King-Columbia and King-Weber; and we get a route that has much more frequent stops.

And let me say again that not only do I live extremely close to the proposed Uptown LRT stop, but I work (and have worked for most of the past 11 years) near the proposed UW R+T Park stop. I am not only an alumni of UW but my parents were both profs there and I grew up on campus: I love UW. My opposition to LRT is not because of any personal inconvenience or dislikes: it is because LRT, as currently planned, is very, very bad for Waterloo.



Tim said...

Thanks for coming.

Please correct your post: only WSPA is a student organization. WonderfulWaterloo is a community forum and TriTAG is not a student group, nor is it run by students.

Agreed that Caroline is a reasonable alternative to King.

Yappa said...

Done. Thanks Tim.

smably said...

You said: "No more cheap transit passes for university and college students - they pay the full adult fare."

University students have the U-PASS (which is not subsized -- see the next point!) and college students are able to buy a pass that costs around $200 for four months, not much cheaper than a regular adult bus pass. I don't think Conestoga College students are particularly relevant to this discussion; I haven't seen any credible evidence that they would add any significant ridership to the proposed rapid transit system. (Note the campus locations.) I think we can agree that if any students are to benefit from the light rail system, it's likely to be UW and WLU students.

You said: "Transit passes should be a compulsory ancillary fee for all students, guaranteeing revenue for the GRT/LRT."

Good news: transit passes are already compulsory for university students. The U-PASS was approved for Laurier in 2005 and UW in 2007. And, as I've mentioned in previous comments, the U-PASS supposed to be revenue neutral -- i.e., it are not designed to provide a subsidy for students. So you need not fear that students are getting a free ride.

And finally: "UW students should pay an extra fee of $10/month since the LRT services them more than any other group."

I find it strange that you think UW students will benefit in particular. Most students live in Northdale, Lakeshore, or Beechwood, and rapid transit isn't going anywhere near there. In fact, I think it's pretty clear that the iXpress serves students a lot better than light rail will -- it has a stop in the heart of Northdale and a stop at McCormick, neither of which light rail will serve. Light rail won't serve the student area at the north end of Uptown either. Transit improvements for students will mostly come in the form of better cross-corridor bus service and better frequency on existing corridors.

And, as I'm sure you realize, students pay taxes too. They pay property taxes through their rent, and indirectly through products they purchase locally. Nobody gets a free ride.

smably said...

Also, the crowd was "mostly students", eh? Care to say how you determined the enrollment status of all the attendees? ;)

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a student, it's really very easy Smably.