Rapid Transit Media Round-up

The past week or so has seen a lot of talk about Rapid Transit in Waterloo Region. A round-up of media reports and opinions follows.

On Tuesday morning, staff presented a “Preliminary Preferred Rapid Transit Implementation Option” to Planning & Works Committee.

Reporting prior to the meeting:
Support for light-rail trains gets boost – The Record
City wants trains: Officials surprised by public opinion in Cambridge – Cambridge Times

Reporting on the meeting:
Region chair, Cambridge mayor bow out of rapid transit votes – The Record
Same plan: New LRT plan same as old one – Waterloo Chronicle
Councillors still trying to gauge if there’s support for light-rail transit – The Record
High cost of trains will delay better buses – The Record
Regional councillors pull out of voting on transit plan – CTV
Seiling says conflict on LRT proposal never crossed his mind – The Record
Councillors clarify conflict of interest concerns – CTV

Developments in Cambridge:
EDAC wants LRT scrapped – Cambridge Times
Cambridge Chamber of Commerce’s thoughts on the report
Cambridge council motion rejects paying for light rail – The Record

Developments in Waterloo:
An email regarding a planned “anti-LRT rally”
LRT meeting rescheduled – 570 News
Mayor Halloran’s clarification on Twitter

Recent opinion pieces of note:
Cambridge Times editorial – No shock as LRT goes ahead
The Record editorial – Transit debate about to resume
Waterloo Chronicle editorial – Who’s to say?
The Record editorial – A clash of interests at the region
Sean Geobey – We’re more than a collection of taxpayers (The Record)
Ruth Haworth – Questions about rail plan go beyond money (The Record)
Kate Daley – Without the right questions, transit plan could fail (The Record)
Cherise Burda – Light rail transit suitable for high-tech hub (Pembina Institute)
Bill Romahn – Many benefits for city in preferred LRT option (Cambridge Times)
Matt Tiessen – Follow Berlin model (The Record)

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TriTAG and OpenDataWR Applaud Public Release of GRT Data, Host Launch Party

WATERLOO REGION – Open Data Waterloo Region (OpenDataWR) and the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG) wish to applaud Grand River Transit’s long-awaited release of bus schedule data.

On Monday, a redesigned GRT website went live. Included on the site is a collection of publicly-available, machine-readable files which constitute GRT’s current schedule and route information. The files are in a standard format known as a General Transit Feed Specification or GTFS, which is used to power online transit scheduling and visualization applications such as Google Transit.

“We are thrilled to see Waterloo Region finally releasing this data. Since Open Data Waterloo Region was founded, transit data has been the single biggest request we’ve heard,” said Michael Druker, a founder of both Open Data Waterloo Region and TriTAG. (more…)

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TriTAG doesn’t think GRT should eavesdrop on your conversations

WATERLOO REGION – Today, Grand River Transit (GRT) is poised to conclude less than a week of information sessions and a comment period, which had not been publically announced prior to Monday. The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG) is concerned about details of the plan and the haste with which privacy concerns are being pushed to the wayside.

“Grand River Transit is moving too quickly to implement surveillance on buses,” said Tim Mollison, a TriTAG founding member. “GRT staff first intended to begin surveillance on buses without a policy in place, which Regional Council required be drawn up. After a policy was thrown together, Regional Council required public consultation to be carried out, but the time allotted by staff for comment has not been adequate.”

“If this isn’t stopped, before most regional taxpayers realize, GRT will be listening in on every conversation they have on the bus.“

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GRT Surveillance Consultations

Last year, GRT began installing cameras on buses for security purposes. Due to privacy and other concerns about the lack of a policy about storage and usage of recorded material, turning them on was postponed until a policy was written. In February, Regional staff brought forward a report and a draft policy on “Onboard Mobile Surveillance Systems”. Planning & Works Committee had concerns, but approved the policy in principle, with the stipulation that the public be consulted. (See that meeting’s minutes.)

There was some material on surveillance at last week’s consultation centres on GRT service improvements, but no material was on the website and no prior notice was given that this information would be presented.

We have recently found out that GRT is holding public consultations this week, about which there has again been little notice. There will be one tomorrow at Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge, and one Thursday at 150 Frederick Street in Kitchener. If you cannot make one of those, please review the details of the draft policy and submit comments this week on your thoughts or concerns.

Later this week we will post our thoughts on the surveillance, but at this point we are very concerned that audio/video surveillance is moving forward with insufficient attention to privacy concerns and inadequate public consultation.

Thanks to Kate Daley for keeping us in the loop about this.

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Untangling the Route 7 Mainline: Understandable Transit

Current monster of a Route 7 schedule, and it's only for weekdays before 7pm. (There's a back.)

Our transit network’s most frequent service should be something we can take pride in. Unfortunately, the “mainline” Route 7 is an absolute mess. It has three branches in the north end, three branches in the south end, a long layover right in the middle, problems with bus bunching, and a schedule that can confound even the seasoned transit user — to say nothing of those who need convincing to take transit. On essentially the same corridor, we also have a rapid service, but which is not as frequent. A rethinking is in order.

We propose that iXpress frequencies be increased, that Route 7 be consolidated into a single trunk route on King Street, and that the north end branches be split off into a local circulator — a University Loop route. This would preserve current utility, while vastly simplifying the GRT network and making it far more appealing to existing and new riders. It’s one of those cases where transferring (at University or Columbia) is good for you and good for your city. According to our back-of-the-envelope calculations on the basis of available schedule information, the redesign could be accomplished through re-allocating existing resources available after this year’s GRT improvements.

More specifically, our proposal would mean: 8 minute headways (time between buses) on the iXpress, 10 minute headways on a consolidated Route 7 on King Street, and 8-10 minute headways on both directions of a University Loop route. Each one of those would be a simple, understandable, frequent-service route. Importantly, the iXpress would take its rightful place as the most frequent service, and thereby start building up the ridership patterns for Rapid Transit service that will replace it.

If you would like to see this happen, make sure to send your comments in to Grand River Transit planners along with your other thoughts on this year’s service changes. Staff have told us that they’ve received few complaints about the complexity of Route 7 — which is the elephant in the room. Let them know what you think.

The rest of this post describes the redesign and why it will work.


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Comments on Rapid Transit Options

All the consultation centres for Rapid Transit implementation options have taken place, but you still have until tomorrow (Friday the 25th) to make your opinions count! The official Rapid Transit site has the information which was presented at the centres and you can find the comment form here.

We fully support a Light Rail Transit based approach. That said, there are two main issues of concern to us at this stage, and we encourage you to add your thoughts on them to your comments or to otherwise contact Rapid Transit staff to convey your own concerns. The issues are detailed below.

The first one is the routing of proposed Light Rail Transit through Uptown Waterloo. The plan has the two directions split, the southbound track going along Caroline and Allen and the northbound along King and Erb. We believe locating the stops on separate streets is problematic and a missed opportunity for a better, more consolidated design. Staff tell us that there are difficulties with right-of-way size, underground utilities, parking, and the BIA that have resulted in the current planned alignment. We believe a better option would run both directions up King Street and then turn near the current freight tracks, and that this could initially be done using a single track on a small piece of the corridor. This would allow a consolidated station right at the public square. Another option is to run both directions on Caroline Street, again using a single track to deal with narrow right-of-way (namely, at William Street).

Our other main issue is with the mid-block location of several stations in Waterloo: one is to be at Seagram Drive, one at UW Davis Center, and one at the R&T Park. We’ve been told that Wilfrid Laurier University insists on a Seagram stop, and that Grand River Transit and GO Transit are intending for a major terminal off Phillip Street, next to a UW Davis Centre stop. We believe these choices contradict the aims of creating a grid-based network which is understandable by users. A mid-block terminal between Columbia and University would either force buses on those streets to go out of their way or would force a poor connection between cross-corridor routes and the LRT line. We also do not believe Seagram Drive has anywhere near the potential of developing as a corridor that University Avenue does. In the not-too-distant future University Avenue is likely to be a candidate for Rapid Transit itself, so it’s important that we are planning for future connections.

Our preferred alternative would be to eliminate the Seagram Drive station, and to instead have stations at University Avenue, at Columbia Street, and at Bearinger Road. If a Seagram Drive station must be included, it would best be added to the above three, instead of forcing the other stations to mid-block locations. Finally, if stations cannot be changed, we propose that instead of the terminal being off Phillip Street, that a busway be constructed between University Avenue and Columbia Street to facilitate access to the terminal.

Finally, we would like to see consolidation of stations at Charles & Borden, an extra station at Mill & Ottawa, and curbside painted bus lanes on Hespeler Road for the iXpress / aBRT – to be implemented as soon as possible.

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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.)


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.)


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.)


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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