Statement Regarding Uptown LRT Routing

Below is the TriTAG statement Duncan Clemens presented tonight to Waterloo City Council, prior to its deliberation about the Region’s preferred approach to LRT routing in Uptown Waterloo. We will present a similar one tomorrow at Waterloo Region’s Planning & Works Committee meeting.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you tonight about what has been a lengthy process. We congratulate other members of the community who have also come tonight to add their voice.

The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group is pleased that the Region of Waterloo has taken the time necessary to carefully explain the Uptown Waterloo routing challenges to the public in its September 27 meeting. This process of engagement was good for the community, and we hope to see more of it as the detailed system design commences. Doing this kind of consultation helps the public take ownership of what will in 2018 become their rapid transit system.

The preferred option helps to address new development in the quickly-growing area of Waterloo surrounded by the new station at King and Allen. In addition, moving one of the two platforms of the station at Willis Way next to the Public Square encourages people to use Waterloo’s main public space and its surroundings. The use of the spur line and the station platform adjacent to the square will allow for the preservation of surface parking on King, traffic flow on Erb, and is truly a best practice in placemaking. The routing will enhance a square that is already a resounding success for the City of Waterloo.


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Are The Best LRT Options for Uptown Waterloo the Ones Not Being Considered?

Last week’s Planning and Works agenda (PDF) had an update on the Rapid Transit project, and the RT Team has also released a summary of public comments from the September 27 Uptown LRT planning workshop held at Knox Presbyterian Church. Kudos to the Rapid Transit team for attempting to organize what was discussed by 24 distinct groups over the course of three one-hour meetings into a very big, rather unwieldy set of tables.

This meeting was good for the community. LRT through Uptown Waterloo is a pretty contentious issue, because everyone is scared of how it will change the landscape. This meeting did a good job of explaining why the Rapid Transit team selected its preferred option — but didn’t present all of the alternatives available, just the ones being considered by the Rapid Transit team.

With that in mind, TriTAG has produced two additional alternatives for Uptown Waterloo LRT routing that would have no impact to the Waterloo Public Square ice rink, wouldn’t require any buildings to be destroyed, would impact road traffic less than many of the presented options, and would improve the user experience of transit customers in Uptown Waterloo. (more…)

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Fare increase plans betray confused priorities

Few people attended Thursday’s consultations about the Grand River Transit 2011-2014 business plan. Which is unfortunate, because there’s a real zinger lurking in those plans, as I mentioned in our post on them. Over the next three years, GRT wants to raise fares by 16%, 23%, or 30%. Don’t think a fare increase is warranted? Tough luck, as GRT isn’t talking about any option of keeping fares matched to inflation. If you’re concerned about this, make sure to submit your comments on the business plan and contact your Regional Councillors.

Why fare increases? To reach 50% cost recovery from fares, apparently — from the current 37%. Why 50% cost recovery? Who knows. Chris Klein has some speculation over at Waterloons. I saw and heard nothing to indicate that this figure isn’t arbitrary.

Let’s be clear, we’re not opposed to increasing GRT’s farebox recovery rates. And we’re not necessarily opposed to fare increases, particularly if their purpose is to substantially improve service. But these fare increases look like fare increases for the sake of fare increases. It’s fare increases because we can, because “people will ride anyway”, and because “see, other cities have higher fares!”.

Which, well, is not convincing. On the one hand, the Region claims to want to get far more people using transit. But considering transit demand as static and transit riders as expendable is counterproductive, to put it mildly. (more…)

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Three Years of Thinking Small at GRT

Tomorrow from 4:30pm to 7:30pm Grand River Transit is holding public consultation centres in Kitchener (150 Frederick St) and Cambridge (Cambridge Centre) on its 2011-2014 business plan. See the GRT site for details and for an outline of the current proposal and an online feedback survey. (Some more information, including maps, is in the report on page 19 of this month’s Planning & Works Committee agenda.) If you can, please attend a session in person — but in any case, please send your comments in.

To me, the outline strongly suggests that GRT (and by extension, Waterloo Region) is already giving up on the Regional Transportation Master Plan (RTMP). It’s giving up on making major changes to the bus network, and limiting itself to tweaks here and there, hoping for LRT to come along and make everything better. GRT leaves changes of substance to beyond a three-year horizon. The RTMP aims to increase the transit mode share from 4% of peak hour trips to 15% by 2031. If that happens, it will be no thanks to GRT’s current plans. (more…)

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East-west Mobility in South Kitchener

Last night I presented to Regional Council on behalf of TriTAG regarding the plans for extending River Road across Highway 8 and Hidden Valley in south Kitchener. See the agenda (PDF) for the staff report and recommendation. Below is the text of my written submission. Other presentations focused on the environmental impacts, the cost, and alternative alignments. In a 13:2 vote Council went ahead with this step of the planning process, but several indicated reservations and there seemed to be some interest in the suggestions in my presentation and those of others.

I would like to express TriTAG’s disagreement with the direction being taken on the River Road extension project.

We do not believe that there has been serious consideration of alternatives for increasing capacity for east-west movement of people in that part of Kitchener. We do not believe that expanding capacity for the movement of vehicles in this corridor at great cost is appropriate – not to mention the environmental costs, both local and Region-wide. However, if capacity for vehicle movement has to be increased, we believe there are better alternatives which have not been considered. (more…)

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High Demand for Weekend GO Trains

Recently we made a short survey regarding GO Transit service available through our social media networks. It was described as being about the service extension, and we avoided describing its purpose. That purpose was two-fold: to get a sense of the demand for the upcoming GO train service from Kitchener to downtown Toronto and – more importantly – to see how much demand there is for weekend service, which GO Transit is not currently planning.

We had 84 respondents to the questionnaire – 48 from Kitchener, 32 from Waterloo, 2 from Cambridge, and one each from Elmira and Guelph. Some conclusions from these data follow. More details are at the bottom of the post.

While current bus service seems to meet weekend travel needs as well as weekday travel needs, people don’t use VIA Rail service on weekends for travel from Kitchener to Toronto. This is not surprising, given that a return trip costs over $50 and that there is only one available round-trip – which leaves Toronto rather early for a weekend (5:40pm). This suggests a high latent demand for train service suitable for weekend trips.

There is a sizable weekday travel demand from Kitchener-Waterloo to downtown Toronto, and GO trains are poised to capture a substantial portion of it. However, the weekend demand from K-W to downtown Toronto is about twice as high as the weekday one, and survey responses indicate that weekend GO train service from Kitchener is more than justified.

Though GO Transit has historically been a commuter service, its extension to Kitchener has reached beyond the GTA to what is a self-contained urban area. Few people commute daily to Toronto from Kitchener-Waterloo. However Toronto is close enough to be a destination for non-commuter travel. It’s about time for GO Transit to acknowledge and embrace the intercity travel market, and not pigeonhole Kitchener-Waterloo into an ill-fitting role as a suburb.

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Fischer-Hallman Express Stations Uncovered

Waterloo Region’s second iXpress route, along Fischer-Hallman Road, will begin service in September. It will start at 30 minute headways Monday through Sunday, and have 15 minute headways during peaks. We hear that the route branding will be something like “Route 201 iXpress”, though it would be more useful if it were simply iXpress Fischer-Hallman or iXpress [colour].

The stop locations have not been publicized, however it turns out that they appear in a Request for Proposals for transit shelters for the route, from several months back. The full proposal details (PDF) include a list of stations and drawings of exact shelter locations (Appendix 2).

View Fischer-Hallman Express in a larger map

From south to north, the stations are: Forest Glen Plaza, Block Line / Laurentian, Block Line / Westmount, Westmount (on Fischer-Hallman), Activa, Ottawa, McGarry, Highland, Victoria, Stoke / Hazelglen, University, Thorndale, Erb, Keats Way, Columbia, Columbia / Beechlawn, Columbia / Hagey, Columbia / Phillip, University / Phillip (one way), Hazel / University (one way). (Note: the list in the PDF has a mysterious “University / Conestoga College” stop, which all signs point to actually being Hazel / University.)

The list really is pretty boring – the route stops mostly at major intersections, stays on Fischer-Hallman instead of entering the Highland Hills terminal, and keeps a stop distance around the 600-1000m range. It doesn’t stop at Columbia and Westmount, instead stopping at Beechlawn just west of it. That location allows for better access from both sides of Columbia Street but it requires a terrible pedestrian crossing (link to Street View), which is going to be dangerous without at least a pedestrian island.

The main thing the line is missing is an anchor at the south end to help make it a line with demand in both directions all day. Currently the route will mostly serve to connect residential lands in the south with employment and the universities in the north. But it’s a long and quick route on a major corridor, so there will likely be many other kinds of trips as well.

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Car-Free Sunday and Cycling in Style

Cycling in style. (Photo: Flickr / Amsterdamize)

This Sunday the city of Waterloo will be closing King Street to cars between Erb and Union Streets from 11am to 3pm, opening it up for people to enjoy and hosting a number of events in that space as well. There will be four such Sundays this year, and Kitchener plans to join the party — making it really “square2square” — only on July 17th. The event has a website and an organizational/informational Facebook page. If you can help out, the organizers are still looking for volunteers.

Please come out to Waterloo’s first Car-free Sunday and tell everyone you know to come! Success of the first one will help increase momentum and business support for the upcoming ones – perhaps we could eventually see businesses pushing for car-free spaces here. The event is important symbolically as a conscious step towards reclaiming the streets as a place first and foremost for people and not just for cars.

We also invite you to join some of TriTAG and others on a stylish ride down King Street to celebrate the first Car-free Sunday. We’ll meet around 11:30am on Sunday, June 19th at the north end of the car-free area in Waterloo (King & Erb), and ride south/east to downtown Kitchener. Around noon we’ll head out from the Kitchener City Hall plaza for a tour of several of Kitchener’s cafes. Attire: nice street clothes – not spandex! If you’ve got an old 3-speed in the back of the garage, now’s the time to haul it out. There is a Facebook event as well.

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The Future of Transit in Waterloo Region [Update]

Map designed by Duncan Clemens.

On June 15, 2011, Regional Council will be voting on whether to approve Light Rail as the preferred option for rapid transit in the Region of Waterloo. As we find ourselves on the eve of one of the most important votes in the region’s history, it is important to remember that our Councillors are not only voting to fund a light rail transit line running from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to Fairview Park Mall in Kitchener, but also on a funding strategy for the Regional Transportation Master Plan.

The RTMP provides a framework for transit funding improvements for the next 20 years, with steady annual increases in the per-capita level of funding for transit. By 2031 funding for transit operations will have tripled over current levels, and the modal share for transit is expected to triple to 17%. The document includes a guide for planned service increases and improvements, which will be reviewed as each year’s plans are put into action.

This plan approved by Council last year includes plans to implement a number of cross-corridor express routes which will supplement and feed passengers into the central rapid transit spine. In fact, the first of these new iXpress-style bus routes is due for implementation this September, and will run from the university district to Forest Glen Plaza along Ficher-Hallman Road. A number of other trunk express bus routes will soon follow on King-Coronation, University Ave, Ottawa Street, Maple Grove Road, Highland Road, and Victoria Street North.

Although not shown on this map, the RTMP also includes plans to restructure local bus routes in the suburbs so that they are more direct and reliable. Routes 7, 12, and 29 are all seeing routing changes this year that will improve on-time performance and create more direct routes between origins and destinations.

Also arriving this year is GO train service from Kitchener to Toronto at the existing Kitchener VIA station. The Region has also purchased lands at the corner of King and Victoria to construct a new inter-modal terminal for GO, VIA, LRT, GRT, and other intercity coach services all in one location.

Cambridge is also not being left out of tomorrow’s vote. Regional staff are recommending that the region put forward $1 million a year to implement transit-supportive strategies in Cambridge to increase ridership. In addition, staff are recommending that Phase 2 from Fairview to Ainslie begin its project assessment in 2014, that land be purchased for Phase 2 as soon as feasible, and that a location for an inter-modal terminal for GO rail service and GRT be explored.

The agenda for tomorrow’s council meeting, including the details of what is being voting on, can be found at this link. If you would like to attend, the public Council session will begin at 7pm at 150 Frederick Street in Kitchener (the building with the orange roof). If you want, you can RSVP to the Facebook event here.

If you can’t make it, we will be covering the event live on Twitter with #LRTvote, and it will be broadcast on Rogers Cable 20.

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