Today the last phase of public consultations for Waterloo Region’s Rapid Transit project begins, with one tonight in St. Jacobs. The other ones will be held this week and next at familiar locations – see the Region’s site for details on times and venues. The materials being presented at the meeting are available online, as is an online comment sheet if you cannot make a meeting in person. On May 31 and June 1, Regional Council will hold public input meetings to hear delegations on Rapid Transit. In June Council is expected to vote on the final plan. One of the reasons the consultations have been so drawn out is to streamline the required Transit Project Assessment, which would start in October and take six months, but which could be delayed by new information.
Staff are presenting an only slightly-revised recommendation for the first phase of Rapid Transit to be light rail from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Mall. The staff recommendation at this stage includes figures on how the project would be funded — which includes the use of some of the future increases that had been allocated to the transit improvements in the Regional Transportation Master Plan. Right now that stands at 1.5% tax increases for seven years for the combination of the two, tempered with tax decreases elsewhere and the possibility of lowering the tax impact through development charges. Importantly, this recommendation includes concrete provisions for a second phase of light rail to Cambridge, with recommendations to begin a project assessment in 2014, to start buying necessary property, and to begin planning for a second GO Transit / light rail intermodal terminal in Galt.
The plan is solid, but could be better. Now is really the last chance to push for major improvements to the proposal. We have written before about some improvements we would like to see, including altering the routing in uptown Waterloo and changing mid-block stations to ones at major streets.
The short-term plan for Cambridge should include bus lanes on Hespeler Road (the first in Waterloo Region), which would be a symbolic step but also a practical one. Particularly if the commitment to extending LRT is a serious one, two lanes of Hespeler will become transit-only at some point. The roadway is wide, and it only makes sense to make the curb lanes bus-only lanes as soon as possible. With growth of traffic, the earlier it is done the less painful it will be. It would signify a commitment to transit along that corridor and would help change the perception of Hespeler Road. With any luck, the city of Cambridge would encourage street-facing development and make it that much easier to extend the line.
One issue that hasn’t been brought up so far is crossings of the tracks. Where the proposed light rail route runs along King Street outside of the downtowns, motor vehicle traffic would not be allowed to cross except at signalized intersections. But there has not been any mention of islands or other infrastructure to allow pedestrians or cyclists to cross between those intersections, which can be far apart. It’s important that LRT be built in a way that does not divide up the street into two poorly-connected halves, and in a way that makes the area an attractive place to walk — and hence attractive to build dense transit-oriented development.
Make sure to attend the public consultations and to make your thoughts known about Rapid Transit. Whether or not you have provided comments before, it’s important that in this final stage you communicate your support and anything you feel can be done to improve the plan.