All posts by Mike Boos

Mike is a new homeowner and father, who walks, bikes, buses, and drives his son around Kitchener.
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Week in review: March 25, 2017

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Consultations, feedback, and events

Transit

The GRT strike has been averted! Transit workers will now vote to ratify the agreement reached with the Region.

On Wednesday, the federal government delivered their 2017 budget. It continues the governments plans to invest heavily in public transit with predictable funding, but will be eliminating the public transit pass tax credit, stating there was no evidence for its efficacy. Some are decrying the move as hurting pocketbooks and discouraging transit use, while others celebrate the end of a ’boutique’ tax credit.

ION light rail

Details are starting to come together at a few of the light rail stations:

Bombardier and Metrolinx sparred in court this week, as the court considered an injunction preventing Metrolinx from terminating its order of light rail vehicles. While Metrolinx maintained Bombardier has failed to deliver its obligations and that no formal changes to the delivery schedule were agreed upon, Bombardier argued that Metrolinx is trying to weasel its way out of the contract because it doesn’t need as many vehicles anymore due to cancellation of the Scarborough light rail line. The judge questioned Metrolinx’s urgency for being able to cancel the contract. Meanwhile, Bombardier has shipped the second Metrolinx pilot light rail vehicle from Thunder Bay to Kingston (note, this is not the second ION LRV).

From Minneapolis and St Paul comes an account of the new Green Line light rail route. Out of local business and neighbourhood concerns, as well as construction woes has emerged a wildly successful system connecting the twin cities.

Cycling

The Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment has released a new toolkit to help doctors and health care providers become advocates for transit and active transportation in their communities.

More communities are now seeking, stress-free, comfortable cycling environments. Vancouver has new guidelines for all ages and abilities (AAA) cycling facilities. Tuscon has concluded paint is insufficient for all ages cycling. Advocates in Silicon Valley look to develop a ‘stress-free’ network, overcoming jurisdictional boundaries between many separate municipalities and communities. A new study out of Seville shows that building a network of protected bike facilities results in a significant reduction in cycling risk. To help chart where safe cycling is and isn’t, Mapzen is developing new mapping tools for cycling facilities.

Elsewhere, The Guardian questions the efficacy of compulsory helmet laws, a suggestion for shifting people’s thinking in the face of knee-jerk anti-cyclist reactions, more and more ‘dockless’ bikesharing systems are emerging, and the CAA (yes, that CAA) notes there’s no explicit funding for cycling or walking in the federal budget:

Reimagining our streets

Waterloo, in partnership with the Region, the two universities, and Conestoga College, is looking at how to make University Ave a better gateway into to the city. A study, similar to the Uptown King Street redesign, will be conducted to enhance the street, while also finding ways to better accommodate transit and active transportation. This is a huge opportunity to make University Ave more of an urban street than a suburban arterial for a rapidly growing Northdale community.

CityLab looks at ‘sneckdowns‘ – places where the roadway is narrowed by snow – as cues for safer street designs, while #GivePedsTheGreen, a campaign in Seattle, aims to eliminate ‘beg buttons’ to activate crosswalk signals.

Land use

Visualizing Density, a new website from the Canadian Urban Institute, tries to illustrate the densities of five neighbourhoods in the context of the Ontario Growth Plan. The Barrel Yards in Waterloo (well, at least part of it) is one of the case studies. A new study raises concerns about the growing number of seniors in car-dependent neighbourhoods, recommending cities make changes to land use plans to favour compact walkable developments. And the Ryerson City Building Institute shows how compact, transit-friendly built forms in the Growth Plan will help the province meet its greenhouse gas emissions targets.

In Downtown and Uptown, Kitchener sells one of its surface lots, while Waterloo hikes the rent it charges for special events to use its parking lots.

Around the web, suburban sprawl gets blamed for staggered school start times and sleepy teens, and good transit access leads to higher property values.

The road ahead

Uber is opposing the new federal budget, which will require them to pay HST like taxi drivers do.

A new report tries to identify the communities most compatible with autonomous cars – surprisingly they’re the least sprawling, while others predict autonomous cars will undermine sustainable cities, by drawing users away from transit and overwhelming streets with cars. Scientific American looks at how driverless cars that always try to avoid collision could impact pedestrian behaviour and traffic if they always yield. And Bike PGH releases the results of their survey regarding encounters with autonomous vehicles.

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Week in review: March 18, 2017

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Consultations, feedback, and events

Transit

A potential transit strike looms; if the Region and GRT drivers cannot reach an agreement by Sunday night, buses won’t operate Monday. GRT has put together a webpage on how to prepare for alternatives. As luck would have it, today is Transit Driver Appreciation Day. Thank a driver and hope those good vibes will help smooth out an agreement before the strike deadline.

$15.1 million in new transit funding for the Region has been announced by the federal government. The matching funds include money for 18 new buses, upgraded cameras and security, active transportation improvements (as we understand it, this includes lighting, walkways, and a study for a highway crossing between Avalon and Chandler), and equipment and studies for transit signal priority. (Full list here.) As most projects were already budgeted in the Region’s capital forecast prior to this announcement, this could mean property tax savings or additional projects down the line.

The Breslau GO station initial business case report, used to help justify picking Breslau as a new location for a regional express rail stop, is now available. The report estimates building the station would result in a savings of 1.3 billion vehicle kilometres traveled by car over a 60 year period.

Civic engagement

A new report from the Pembina Institute celebrates Waterloo Region’s Community Building Strategy around ION light rail, in conjunction with Kitchener’s station area planning, as an example of good public engagement around rapid transit. The report lays out key success factors for planning and public engagement for transit infrastructure.

TransitCenter has published a new “field guide for city leaders” entitled All Transportation is Local, which helps mayors and councillors to pursue transportation improvements that impact their citizens daily lives while making political wins.

Doug Gordon suggests that cities not do NIMBYs work for them by giving too much prominence to addressing potential concerns to projects, for instance with parking. On the other hand, a lack of up-front reassurances can be a void that people fill with their greatest fears – such as with Stage 2 light rail, where opponents seem to think half of Preston will be destroyed, because the Region hasn’t had details on what ‘partial or full takings’ of property means.

ION light rail

James Bow of Transit Toronto has written a history of electric transit in Waterloo Region, including the planning efforts and progress to date towards ION light rail. TVO writer John Michael McGrath writes about the importance of political longevity to getting long-term projects like ION light rail done, while London’s more recently revised rapid transit plans now face new challenges.

CTV visits the Bombardier assembly facility in Kingston to see the next few trains in production. John Lornic of Spacing questions whether Bombardier’s alleged bribery scandal in Sweden should disqualify it from further business with local and provincial governments.

Active transportation

Waterloo Region features prominently in TCAT’s new book, Active Transportation Beyond the Greenbelt, which looks at projects in Outer Ring municipalities of the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Case studies include Kitchener’s East Avenue road diet, a new trail along Cambridge’s Conestoga Boulevard, and the Region’s Spur Line Trail.

People for Bikes tries to explore the reasons for gender differences in cycling rates, and celebrates a guerrilla protected bike lane built with toilet plungers that became official two weeks later. A new study finds that while most drivers break the rules of the road to save time, people who bend the rules while biking often do so to save energy or when they feel it makes them more safe. As one of the authors tells Streetsblog, “When there’s a disregard for the rules it tends to come from efforts to negotiate infrastructure that really wasn’t built for them.”

Canada Bikes has sent out a survey to federal NDP and Conservative Party leadership candidates, asking what they would to to support a national cycling strategy.

A need for speed?

TriTAG debunks a report by traffic app Waze that claimed Waterloo Region had the slowest travel times in Canada during the month of February. The numbers are completely incongruent with the average 16 minute commute duration for the Region, but they do suggest that long-distance commuters who rely on the app could benefit from better inter-city transit options.

The question of long commute times is not an insignificant one – long commutes are correlated with dissatisfaction. But as CityObservatory notes, speeding up commutes seems to just extend the distance people are willing to travel, which doesn’t save any time in the long run.

Parking

Kitchener will consider selling one of its parking lots to Perimeter Developments for $2.35 million. While the sale would not reduce parking capacity in the long run (the proceeds would go to a fund for more parking garages), it is nice to see downtown surface lots turn into useful and more inviting places.

Ride-sharing and ride-hailing

Mobility Lab explores whether commuters in small- to mid-sized cities will come to accept on-demand shared rides. For larger cities, a new study investigates the potential impacts of driverless cars for ride-hailing, including impacts to transit use, city revenues (through vehicle registrations and parking), and single-use residential areas that tend to have one-way travel demand. CityLab suggests the use of ride-hailing apps after a snow storm could make traffic and collisions worse.

Austin Texas drove Uber and Lyft out of town last year when it updated its ride-hailing bylaws, and the big players didn’t want to play by the new rules. The result has been greater competition and diversity of choices for ride-sharing as smaller players have filled the void. The absence of Uber and Lyft has been bemoaned by ‘tech bros’ at the SXSW conference this week. Local transit advocates suggest it’s an opportunity for privileged tech workers to understand the challenges of taking transit faced by others who can’t afford Uber, and maybe work to improve the system.

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No, Waterloo Region doesn’t have Canada’s longest commutes

Incomplete data, or not fully-understood data, can lead to some pretty faulty conclusions.

On Wednesday, 570 News published an unbelievable headline: “Waterloo Region has the longest commute time in the country.” The article cites a new study from traffic app Waze, claiming the average commute time in Waterloo is 53 minutes, nearly double that of Toronto, where it was 31 minutes.

Don’t buy it. (more…)

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Week in review: March 11, 2017

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ION light rail

Some opposition is forming against light rail in Cambridge. Preston residents are finding in their inboxes angry letters in opposition to the preliminary preferred route for Stage 2 of light rail.

(Fact checks: Nothing is ‘secret’ – the study has been widely publicized and two rounds of public consultations have taken place. Additionally, while some properties may be impacted by the preferred route, nowhere near that many will be ‘wiped’ out, though some slivers and parcels of land may need to be bought along the route, as was the case for Stage 1.)

If you want to counter these negative messages, we’d encourage you to reach out to your Regional Councillors with a quick note of support for Stage 2.

Transit

GRT’s new fareboxes have begun to appear in buses, which will enable electronic fare cards to be used instead of tickets and passes. Meanwhile, talks continue between the Region and bus drivers over their next contract. If a deal isn’t reached before March 20, drivers have voted to go on strike.

Elsewhere, London’s rapid transit plans hit a snag, Saskatoon ambitiously intends to plan a bus rapid transit network in  a year, and Calgary introduces a sliding scale for discounted transit passes. In the US, TransitCenter and Streetfilms celebrate San Fransicso’s improvements to its bus network,  including rolling out the ‘red carpet’ of painted bus lanes and higher transit priority.

Cycling

Advocates are proposing a 300 km Grand Trail network to link walking and cycling trails along the Grand River.  The Kitchener Post supports the plan in their recent editorial.

Cycling reads this week include a look at the connection between women and protected cycleways that offers something of a challenge to the cycling advocacy community, lessons from Copenhagen that can be applied here, and a celebration of the recent growth in bike sharing systems in the US.

The Road Ahead

After a series of scandals and huge losses, CityLab’s’s Laura Bliss asks if Uber is doomed and how competition in the ride-hailing market is changing. And despite extremely low ridership, a partnership between Kansas City and mobility startup Bridj is being hailed as a success in terms of the lessons learned which will be applied to a new on-demand app for passengers with disabilities.

CityLab/The Atlantic looks at the big players in the race to build autonomous vehicles, while Fortune pours cold water on the notion that we’re going to see fully autonomous cars on the market anytime soon, and the New York Times points out that self-driving cars can’t fix traffic, but road pricing can.

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Week in review: March 4, 2017

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Consultations, feedback, and events

(more…)

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Week in review: February 25, 2017

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Consultations, feedback, and events

ION light rail vehicles

The first ION light rail vehicle arrived in Waterloo Friday. Kitchener Post columnist James Bow says it’s worth getting excited about. The public is invited to view the vehicle at an open house on April 8. (more…)

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Week in review: February 18, 2017

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“LRT has left the station”

The first ION vehicle has left Bombardier’s Thunder Bay plant Wednesday. It’s expected to take 10-12 days to arrive in Waterloo. Daily progress updates are available at the Region’s rapid transit website.

Metrolinx is firing back after Bombardier’s notice of injunction over its light rail vehicle order, claiming that the pilot vehicle is not passing their inspections. Metrolinx officials also claimed the ION vehicle isn’t operational during yesterday’s board meeting. Transportation and Environmental Services Commissioner Thomas Schmidt confirmed the vehicle isn’t fully operational yet, and that the vehicle will need to be tested before being accepted.

ION and development

This week, TriTAG member Mark Jackson-Brown writes about Kitchener’s news study for a  crossing of the ION tracks from Traynor Ave to Fairway Road, recommending a more westerly location than the preliminary study location. A final crossing location has not yet been established, but understanding the needs of the community is important to avoid being anchored by the “default” location. Having surveyed residents in the neighbourhood, the Social Development Centre of Waterloo Region echoes our sentiments.

The multi-modal transit hub at King and Victoria will be built in stages, with the help of a private developer. The transit station and train platform components are expected to be complete by 2021, while the mixed-use towers and former Rumpel Felt building may not see completion until 2027. Meanwhile, seven public art pieces have been selected for various ION light rail stops.

Analysis by The Record suggests new housing development is surging near the ION corridor, while new office construction has not. Meanwhile, some businesses along the ION corridor are attempting to claim damages for construction disruptions.

In the Washington D.C. area, residents are questioning why so much parking is being built near transit stations, in what should be walkable, transit oriented environments. We think they’re questions worth raising here as well.

And more transit

Brampton Focus asks Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca for an update on all-day, two-way GO and the CN freight bypass. The Minister indicated that updates on a final agreement with CN will be announced “in the coming weeks and months.” To support more and faster trains along the Kitchener Line under Regional Express Rail, Metrolinx recently announced it was accepting bids to construct another rail tunnel beneath the 401 and 409 highways.

Metrolinx appears to be favouring fare-by-distance for integrated fares across all GTHA transit networks.

Streetsblog has announced a new series on “getting transit right,” which will explore the transit systems of various US cities through the lenses of service quality, land use, maintenance, expansion, and future plans, beginning next week. In the meantime, we suggest you check out their recent comparison between commuter rail systems in Paris and North America, looking at frequent, all-day service, and orienting land use around train stations as reasons why Paris sees so much more ridership than here.

Cycling

Cycling Magazine showcases the latest technology and techniques for keeping bike lanes clear of snow, the Globe and Mail asks (and answers) who has the right of way when bike lanes and protected bike lanes meet intersections, and researchers at Cornell use swerving manoeuvres tracked by accelerometer and GPS sensors in bikeshare bikes to guess where parked cars are regularly blocking bike lanes. (They’re doing it to try to figure out where parking might be in short supply or streets are gridlocked, but it might have great applications in parking enforcement.)

Walking with the crowd(-source)

TriTAG’s winter sidewalk study has reached its halfway point, and will wrap up in early March. We’re excited to share our results volunteers have completed the final counts and we’ve had a chance to process the data.

In Edmonton, political leaders and advocates are pushing for the removal of “beg buttons” at intersections and for changing signal timings to be more pedestrian friendly. It’s inevitably running up against car-oriented metrics of traffic engineers, so advocates are trying to crowd-source data on how disruptive the signals are to getting around on foot.

The Road Ahead

CityLab notes that American car ownership, in decline since 2006, has begun to rebound, but it’s too soon to tell if it will be sustained.  City Observatory shares two important messages this week. First, that tolls are shown significantly reduce congestion and if applied to existing roads, can avoid the need for additional expensive road expansion. Second, as motor vehicle deaths surge due to increased driving, instead of shaming or demonizing drivers, it’s more effective (and fair) to simply expect them to pay the true costs of driving, which will reduce car use and save lives.

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Week in review: February 11, 2016

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Consultations, feedback, and events

ION light rail

Regional staff have revealed their preliminary preferred route for ION light rail stage 2 through Cambridge. Route would use River Road extension to cross Highway 8, follow Shantz Hill to Preston, avoid the Hespeler/Pinebush intersection by using a freight bypass to cut the corner, and follow the rail corridor and Beverley instead of Water to better facilitate future connections with GO trains. Consultations will be held Feb 23, 28, and March 1, and online feedback can be shared until March 17.

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Consultation materials from the public meeting regarding re-introducing pedestrian access between the Traynor/Vanier neighbourhood and Fairway road retail amenities, separated by the ION light rail tracks, have been posted online. Feedback is due February 24.

Finally, Bombardier has applied for a court injunction against Metrolinx to prevent it from terminating its contract to provide light rail vehicles for the Eglinton Crosstown and other future GTHA rapid transit lines. Both sides now blame the other for delays. In November, when Metrolinx filed a notice of intent to terminate the order after lengthy delays, local officials stressed that disputes between Metrolinx and Bombardier would not impact our vehicle order. The first ION train, originally expected last year with the other 13 vehicles, is now due to arrive before the end of the month.

Census

Population counts from the 2016 Census were published Wednesday, revealing a trend of growth toward urban centres. Waterloo Region grew by 5.5% from 2011-2016, with the Northdale neighbourhood more than doubling in size, thanks to increased density allowances, mixed-use zoning, and reduced parking requirements. Other figures from the long-form census, including transportation mode shares, are expected to be published late in the year.

Maps showing rates growth for the Region tend to exaggerate growth in sparsely populated areas, where small numbers look like significant rates of change. So we’ve put together our own map of the results, scaled by land area to show effective changes in density for each census tract:

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As the map shows, significant growth is seen in both Uptown Waterloo and Downtown Kitchener. Growth in census tracts along the ION light rail route was over 6%.

Transit

This summer, the Region will recruit 500-750 participants from the Transit for Reduced Incomes Program (TRIP) waiting list for a study on how low-cost transit passes improve their quality of life.

Around the GTHA, a new study reveals that GO train passengers are exposed to elevated levels of diesel exhaust, Pearson airport hopes to turn itself into a new transit hub, where light rail, bus rapid transit, and future high-speed rail on the Kitchener Line can converge, increased growth in the 905 has planners hoping to see better transit options beyond just getting to Union Station, and Raise the Hammer mulls why Hamilton’s transit ridership is in decline. (Hint: it’s service cuts and fare hikes. Sound familiar?)

Elsewhere, the mayor of Cleveland’s refusal to allow buses to connect in the city’s main square sounds somewhat reminiscent of the University of Waterloo acting as an obstacle to light rail/bus connectivity. And don’t miss Transit Center’s great post on how smart cities and transportation systems are more about good planning and policies than the latest technology.

Cycling

Bill Bean on his blog Take the Lane has a post about the life and work of local and artist and entrepreneur Robert Linsley, who was killed last week while riding his bike.

The 2017 Winter Cycling Congress took place this week. Local researcher Robin Mazumder (and present KPL guest librarian) presented a keynote on how cycling infrastructure can help our mental and physical health in winter. He shared some of his thoughts on this with Canadian Cycling Magazine. Meanwhile, Torontoist looks at what Oulu, Finland is doing to keep its residents cycling through the winter.

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Week in review: February 4, 2017

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Vision Zero

A man cycling on King Street near Conestoga Mall Thursday was struck from behind and killed by a driver coming from the highway. Police say charges are pending. TriTAG notes that the conditions of this highway exit encourage fast speeds before merging.

Toronto lawyer Patrick Brown writes that recent court decisions in New York show how Ontario municipalities could be exposed to liability if they fail to heed calls for traffic and speed calming measures. He notes efforts to enact vulnerable road user (VRU) laws to Ontario, which would increase the penalties for killing or injuring people walking and cycling. (more…)

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Week in review: January 28, 2017

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Parking

Record reporter Catherine Thompson covers a recent City of Kitchener study that found that most lots and garages are never more than 69% full, thanks to onerous parking minimums. She also highlights our blog series on parking.

It tolls not for the DVP

The Premier has denied the City of Toronto’s request to allow it to toll the Gardiner and the DVP. Despite this prohibition being bad policy – tolls are effective tools for managing congestion, shaping travel incentives, and having highway drivers actually pay the full cost of the infrastructure they use – Toronto’s loss is Waterloo Region’s gain. As part of the announcement, the province will be doubling the share of the provincial gas taxes municipalities receive to help pay for transit, phased in over 2019 to 2022. Under the present rates, Waterloo Region is receiving $10 million this year, which could increase to $20 million under the new formula. (The Region’s share of the pie could further increase if ridership growth with ION outpaces the rest of the province.)

The federal government is pitching in $96 million to widen the 401 from 6 lanes to 10 between Hespeler Road and Townline. We’re just going to leave this here:

Transit

The Region continues to gear up for building the multi-modal transit hub, inviting potential private partners to submit qualifications. It is expected that the final developer would be selected within the next 18 months. Meanwhile, Kitchener and the Region are holding a public meeting today (January 28) at 1pm concerning providing pedestrian access to the far side of the ION tracks for the Traynor/Vanier neighbourhood.

This week, CityLab published two articles on transit. The first looks at the importance of good transit as an equity issue for women, especially minorities, in light of congested Metro trains to the Women’s March on Washington. The second shares new research showing that buses are significantly safer than driving in cars.

Taxis and ride-hailing

The Region is still rolling out implementation of its new vehicle for hire bylaw, as taxi drivers complain about a lack of taxi stands (or the inconvenient placement thereof).

Cycling

Waterloo Bikes has a write-up on the upcoming public consultation for the Uptown Streetscape redesign. Construction, which will introduce protected bike lanes to King Street for the first time, is expected to begin this spring. Kitchener has approved its 2017 budget, which includes improvements to the southern stretch of the Iron Horse Trail.

The Metcalf Foundation has published a new report on how to make Toronto a world-class cycling city. It’s recommendations, which include integrating cycling routes with transit connections, winter maintenance of cycling facilities, and building protected bike lanes are likely equally applicable here. And the CROW Design Manual for Bicycle Traffic, the bike infrastructure bible from the Netherlands, has just been updated (in English too!)

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