Major Transit Increases Begin

This year will be the first year of a new program of major transit improvements in Waterloo Region.

Last night Regional Council passed its 2011 budget, with a 0.75% increase for Police Services and a 0.72% increase for everything else. Thanks to some uploading to the province, the service improvements this year still leave the overall increase (1.43%) well below the 2.2% or so current level of inflation.

The most notable aspect of this year’s budget is its inclusion of an increase to fund the first year of the 20-year Regional Transportation Master Plan (RTMP), which calls for a major shift in focus to transit. The plan calls for an increase of 1.15-1.2% to fund transit over the first five years, and then ramping up to 1.3-1.5% in the subsequent fifteen years. This year staff had asked for 1.25% in order to avoid that ramp-up later, which would have seeded the newly-created RTMP Reserve Fund with $4.05 million. (more…)

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TriTAG Asks Regional Council for Overnight iXpress in 2011

(Below is the statement I made at yesterday’s Regional budget input meeting. Please call and write your regional councillors expressing your support for these initiatives. Their contact information is at the following link: http://bit.ly/hvkN5t)

Hi, I’m Tim Mollison, I live in Kitchener, and I’m here to represent the The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group, or TriTAG. TriTAG was founded in May 2009 with the idea that people should be able to walk, cycle, and take transit to everywhere they need to go, with dignity. These modes should be accessible to as many people as possible, and made as useful as possible, because transit and active transportation are better for the environment, public health, and the form of our cities.

I’m here this evening to speak about the Regional Transportation Master Plan. (more…)

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Public Consultations on Ten Rapid Transit Options

Between March 1 and March 10, Waterloo Region will host public consultation centres on options for Rapid Transit. Residents will have the option to consult directly with the Rapid Transit team, and share in the decision about which of the ten revised rapid transit options now on the table should be given further consideration by Regional Council.

In 2009, Council had approved in principle a rapid transit option combining light rail through the Kitchener-Waterloo urban corridor, with bus rapid transit connecting to Cambridge. Provincial and Federal funding fell short of projected costs, and so the Region has developed a comparison of ten options, ranging from LRT through the entire corridor to an “as is” comparison in which we do not implement any light rail. The remaining eight options contain a combination of LRT and BRT or aBRT (adapted Bus Rapid Transit). You can read a summary of these options in the Record or download the staff report.

The consultations provide the best forum for interested citizens to ask questions and bring up concerns about any of the current options or about the rapid transit plan in general. Each meeting will be attended by regional staff who are directly involved in the project and who will be prepared to answer questions. Public input from these consultations will inform staff’s decision on which one or two options to bring back to council for further deliberations. In short, attending these meetings and voicing your opinions is the single best way to influence the course of rapid transit in Waterloo Region. It is also the best resource for becoming informed about what is actually being proposed.

The meetings will be held at locations in St. Jacobs, Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge:

St. Jacobs:

Tuesday, March 1, Calvary United Church, 48 Hawkesville Rd. 3-8 p.m. (Facebook event.)

Waterloo:

Thursday, March 3, Albert McCormick Community Centre, 500 Parkside Dr., 3-8 p.m. (Facebook event.)
Wednesday, March 9, First United Church, 16 William St. W., 3-8 p.m. (Facebook event.)

Kitchener

Thursday, March 3, Region of Waterloo Headquarters, Front Lobby, 150 Frederick St., 3-8 p.m. (Facebook event.)
Thursday, March 10, Faith Lutheran Church, 247 Westmount Rd. E., 3-8 p.m. (Facebook event.)

Cambridge

Wednesday, March 9, Region of Waterloo Cambridge Office, 150 Main St., 3-8 p.m. (Facebook event.)
Thursday, March 10, United Kingdom Club, 35 International Village Dr., 3-8 p.m. (Facebook event.)

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Proposed GRT Expansion in the 2011 Regional Budget

There’s exciting news for people who have entered the recent rapid transit debates asking for improved bus service: the proposed 2011 Waterloo Region budget delivers the first in a series of major expansions of bus service as part of the Regional Transportation Master Plan (RTMP).

Background

According to the Region’s major issue paper on the RTMP (PDF currently unavailable), the plan “places a greater emphasis on transit to maximize the use of the limited road space and to plan for a sustainable future.” It does this “to achieve the compact urban form as prescribed by Ontario’s Places to Grow Growth Plan and the Regional Official Plan,” and to do this it incorporates into the transit system some form of Rapid Transit along the urban corridor that connects Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge.

There are many reasons that the RTMP was adopted, but the three driving factors are: first, the Region is obligated by provincial law to channel 40% of growth into existing urban areas (through the Places to Grow Act); second, the Region will see a population increase the size of another Kitchener over the next 20 years; and third, roads are more costly to build and maintain and less effective at channeling growth than investments in public transit, cycling, and walking.

The RTMP includes but is not limited to Rapid Transit. It also includes plans for expanding existing bus service, adding as many as 11 new iXpress-like routes servicing the east and west parts of Kitchener and Waterloo and linking the suburbs to the urban corridor. For maps showing short and long-term changes to Grand River Transit routes, see the last two pages of the major issue paper.

The 2011 Budget: bus route expansion begins

The Region has proposed a number of increases to service on existing routes, in particular on the iXpress, on the 7 around the universities, and on the 52 in Cambridge. If approved, it will add a new iXpress-like route along Fischer-Hallman, realign the 12 to follow Westmount and extend Route 29 to Ira Needles.

To achieve this expansion, the region will have to purchase “19 new buses and provide 75,550 additional service hours annually (a 13.2% increase in service hours).” The changes will take place in two parts, iXpress improvements in June 2011, and the rest in September.

This year’s changes will also include changes to the transit technology, with “increased access to accurate travel information in real-time, more reliable service with less delays and a more convenient fare payment system.”

Costs and where the money is coming from

Expanding the transit system is not cheap, but then, none of the options for accommodating at least 40% of 200,000 new people and 80,000 new jobs within the existing urban areas are cheap.

The budget proposes increasing transit fares by 5% per year, with an increase going into effect in July 2011.

But what about the impact on property taxes we keep hearing about? If you add together all the increases based on inflation, approved commitments, funding for the RTMP (1.25%) and New Issues and Critical Service Enhancements, then subtract budget adjustments and the 2011 Upload Savings (from the province taking back the responsibility for funding some programs), the net increase is 1.23%. For an average home that pays $1,500 in Regional taxes annually (out of $3,000 total in property taxes), this would be an increase of $18.50 per year, or about $1.50 per month. Note that this does not factor in changes to the police, city, or school board budgets.

To get involved or learn more

Update: The 2011 budget has been finalized, and in addition to the issues discussed here, there are many programs of interest, including arts funding, poverty reduction, and health programs. You can find out more about the budget here.

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TriTAG statement to Regional Council, 19 January 2011

Chair Seiling, Members of Council,

Light Rail Transit was never chosen because it had a lower capital cost than a bus-based solution. The project was chosen because it requires fewer wages to operate than buses, and because the rails it runs on attract private-sector investment. Why would Council, which voted in favour of this project on its merits alone in 2009, vote to reconsider? Has Council not done its due diligence? Or, was the value of the project, and its sister project, the Regional Transportation Master Plan, not properly explained to citizens?

(more…)

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Safety on the Iron Horse Trail

How many streets do you know that close at night?

The recent murder on the Iron Horse Trail has sparked public discussion of trail safety and how to improve it. While suspects have been apprehended, the safety of the trail remains an important issue, particularly as the attack appears not to have been targeted. Whether or not the trail is actually as dangerous as often portrayed, there is a strong feeling in the community that one shouldn’t use the trail when it’s dark, and that’s unacceptable for such a major transportation link.

Many people have suggested that the trail should be lit at night, which is an obvious thing to do and which should have been done long ago. Most know that the Iron Horse Trail used to be a former railway, but it also used to an electric railway. So if you look carefully along the entire length of the IHT, you’ll actually find hydro poles going all the way along. Adding lighting should not be a difficult proposition.

Why is lighting important? The obvious answer is it lets people actually see the path at night. It also makes people feel safer using the trail, as it is thought and felt that would-be criminals avoid well-lit areas. The latter may well be true, but if people feel safer and thus use the path more, that is already important. Moreover, many people likely avoid using the trail during the day because they are afraid of returning when it’s dark. Well-travelled areas are safer, due to the possibility of someone walking by or biking by. And this possibility of witnesses both discourages crime and increases the chance of assistance.

Another suggestion has been to put more eyes on the street, which is a concept from the work of Jane Jacobs on cities. It’s about having housing and shops facing the street in such a way that people there are able to respond to incidents on the street. I’m not sure how possible this is on the Iron Horse Trail, but it’s worth looking into having more housing facing the trail. And there are a number of connections that should be made and improved between the Iron Horse Trail and the neighbourhoods it passes through.

But I would argue that the biggest danger and deterrent to trail users is motor vehicles. As I showed previously, the Iron Horse Trail essentially doesn’t have any road crossings. The trail just stops and resumes on the other side; in between you’re on your own to navigate the often fast-moving traffic. It’s worse at the two places where the trail crosses near an intersection, as trail users (including cyclists) are supposed to go out of their way on the sidewalk to cross both streets at the signal. Making the Iron Horse Trail as continuous as possible, with really good road crossings, would cut down on the hassle and time for using it and substantially improve the experience.

If we’re serious about safety on the Iron Horse Trail, we should add lighting to the trail, but we should also improve the path so more people are using it at all times of day.

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January Volunteer Meeting

This entry has been updated for a 7:00pm start. We will also be joined by UW planning professor Jeff Casello.

If you’re interested in helping out with what TriTAG is doing, come out to our first regular volunteer meeting. We’ll bring you up to speed on the issues and what needs to be done. Main issue will be light rail, but there are others as well.

The meeting will be at Whole Lot-A Gelata in Waterloo on Tuesday, January 18, from 7:00pm to 9:00pm. (Facebook event is here.) You are welcome to come earlier to have time to get some coffee or gelato.

We plan to hold volunteer meetings monthly.

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