Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cambridge: Getting Screwed and Dodging a Bullet

On her blog, Regional councillor Jane Mitchell completely poo-poos any concerns of Cambridge residents that LRT won't extend to their city. She describes Cambridge as a bunch of whiners who had terrible transit when it was their responsibility, who don't have the ridership to justify being in on Phase 1 of the LRT, and who make a habit of complaining falsely of unfair treatment by the Region.

I was embarrassed by the post and thought it was shockingly undiplomatic, especially as it was written by someone who's making decisions for the entire region. But in addition, it's wrong. This is not about being unkind to Cambridge; it's about materially disadvantaging them.

First - The LRT is not going to be much faster than the iXpress in travelling from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Mall. But for people going on to Cambridge, the LRT requires that people get off the train and wait for a bus - which means that for people going from Cambridge to anywhere in K-W, the trip will be slower and less convenient than iXpress. They are expected to contribute over a hundred million dollars - possibly several hundred million with expected cost overruns - for a transit system that is worse than what they have now.

Second - Imagine five years from now, when a company or individual is considering relocating to Waterloo Region. What signal do they get from the region's second-largest city not being on the main transit route? This isn't just about disadvantaging transit riders: it's about disadvantaging Cambridge real estate and property values and businesses. An LRT that doesn't go to Cambridge is far worse for Cambridge than no LRT at all.

In my research I have been talking to Cambridge residents, politicians and city staff, and what I hear is that they are well aware that they both have been screwed and dodged a bullet. Screwed in the ways I mention above, but dodged a bullet in other important ways. LRT would have messed up Water Street and the lovely, growing core of Galt. In addition, it looks like the municipalities are going to have to foot the bill for a lot of LRT capital costs: for replacing pavement, sidewalks and curbs that are torn up; for moving hydro polls and street lights; and so on. This was wholly unknown until Nancy Button was asked a question about it at the last Regional Council meeting. This could be tens of millions for each of Waterloo and Kitchener: I heard that Cambridge recently had to pay $2M for such capital costs when the Region built a roundabout.

Note: I like Jane Mitchell's blog a lot. I read it regularly, and I think she does us a service by being so candid in her writing. I wish I'd written a positive post about it before writing this negative one.



Anonymous said...

So LRT would screw up the lovely core of Galt, but not having Cambridge on the LRT would disadvantage it?


Yappa said...

Hi Michael,

That is exactly my point. It would disadvantage Cambridge economically to not have it, and yet they dodge the bullet of the downloaded municipal capital costs and the messing up of a core area.

Another way of putting that is to say that they don't want LRT, and they have strong grounds for saying that the rest of the Region shouldn't have it either - especially if Cambridge is made to pay for an LRT that doesn't reach them.

Anonymous said...

Wait, what? You have written about how LRT would not have enough stops to be convenient, how it would therefore be used mostly by students, and how it would destroy main streets. Just how do you also propose that it be an economic advantage to have it?


Yappa said...

Say you have two little towns with little roads through them. Then you build a big road that goes through the middle of one of the towns. The big road might totally mess up the town it goes through: make it difficult for people to park, cross the street, or turn onto side roads. It might require cutting down trees, destroying streetscape, etc. It is bad news for the town that gets it.

But it's also bad news for the other town, because now people passing through use the big road and don't go to their town. (You see this example in the history of settlements all over North America.)

LRT is not exactly like that, but it's the same idea.

Anonymous said...

But you say that no one except students will use it, because infrequent spacing is not convenient - so why would a city getting LRT have positive economic impact?


Yappa said...

Hi again Michael,

I've said a lot of stuff, but I don't recall ever saying that ONLY students would take it. I said that not enough commuters would take it to reduce road expansion enough to justify its construction.

Ferd said...

Anyway, Michael, isn't it clear that Cambridge is getting screwed?

Anonymous said...

Ruth, you've called it a "UW rail shuttle" and wrote: "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."

I think it's pretty clear that you don't think it's going to be of any more transportation relevance than is current bus service. Which makes it all that much stranger that you nevertheless claim LRT would provide any economic benefits to the cities it does directly reach.


Michael D said...

Ferd, I don't agree on that. I think a prioritized rapid bus system is a really good approach on any corridor that's not nearing the capacity of such a system. With the growth as it currently is (and as it is mandated to be), there's few years left in which buses can successfully move down the central K-W corridor. Which means now is the time to start setting out dedicated space; but the infrastructure of the dedicated space solution ought not be a stop-gap measure that will itself only work for a short period of time.

You know - considering the Cambridge tax contribution, it would hardly be a massive change in tax burden for Kitchener and Waterloo if Cambridge didn't contribute to LRT. But that would be a very unfortunate thing to build into what is in the long term a Region-wide transit plan, as the same equity reasoning would then make it far more difficult to get any extension to Cambridge built.

The implications are not insignificant for other major infrastructure projects. Should Kitchener and Waterloo take back their 75% subsidy of the massive Regional roadworks planned and underway in Cambridge?