We Have 4 Weeks to Bring LRT to Waterloo Region

Friends and Neighbours,

On June 15, 2011, four weeks from today, Waterloo Regional Council will make a pivotal choice that stands to alter our community for better or for worse.

The decision to build Light Rail Transit will create vibrant, walkable, LRT-supported growth that will help our community wean itself off the gas pump.

The decision not to build Light Rail Transit will mean painful, sprawling alternatives; traffic conditions like the GTA, and the likely clawback of over half a billion dollars by the federal and provincial governments for more “shovel-ready” projects such as LRT in Hamilton.

Friends, neighbours – we are running out of time, and Waterloo Region’s LRT needs your help.

LRT is under serious attack by anti-transit “No to Everything” NIMBYs.

They’re hijacking community meetings, they’re spreading misinformation – anything to keep Waterloo Region from investing more money into transit and better quality of life. They took out an ad in the Waterloo Chronicle last week (http://bit.ly/iB6jrf) that misrepresents the local cost of the project and lies about its tax impact.

Regional Council will not vote for LRT without hearing your support.

Please help support Light Rail Transit one last time – Regional Council votes on LRT on June 15, 2011. You can help out by e-mailing your Regional Councillor, speaking up at a public meeting, composing a letter to the editor, donating money to help TriTAG print posters and run newspaper ads, and showing up to our Rally for Rails II so people watching at home can see just how much of our community supports Light Rail.

Taking one or all of these five steps today can help sway undecided council votes:

1. Tell your Regional Councillor to support LRT. We have a mobile-friendly form where you can send an email to your representatives on Regional Council here: http://tritag.ca/m/LRT

2. Register to speak at the LRT public meetings, even if you only speak for 1 minute. Call 519-575-4420 now (yes, even after business hours) to register with the Regional clerk for meetings on May 31 (Tuesday) at 6pm or June 1 (Wednesday) at 4pm.

Both meetings will take place in Regional Council chambers at 150 Frederick Street in Kitchener. Registration deadline is the May 26 at 4pm – don’t wait until the last minute, call now!

3. Please donate money to help us print posters and put our ads in newspapers.
The opposition is buying advertising space to whip up fear about LRT with the hopes that tax-weary citizens won’t ask if the “No to Everything” crowd has a better plan.

Help counter this misinformation by sponsoring poster printing and ad buys in The Waterloo Chronicle, Imprint, The Cord, The Record, and The Cambridge Times. Whether you can help with $20, $50, $100 or even $200, every dollar helps and will go directly to the cost of advertising. You can view the kind of ads we’re going to run at http://bit.ly/lTqimG, and you can donate by visiting http://www.tritag.ca/about/donate/ or e-mailing donate@tritag.ca.

4. Write letters to the editor. Pick up your favourite local newspaper and write them 200 concise words about why LRT will be good for you and your community.

5. Attend the rally! The community needs to see your support right up to the vote on June 15, so what better way to support LRT than a party? Saturday, June 11 at noon, held at Speakers’ Corner (King and Frederick) in Kitchener – let’s show Waterloo Region what we’re made of!

Thank you for your time, and we hope to see you soon,

TriTAG (The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group)

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Campaign Update: LRT Builds Our Future

We now have 4 different posters you can help us put up around our community. All posters are sized for Ledger/Tabloid (11″ x 17″) paper, but can be printed on other sizes with trimmable margins.

We encourage you to print as many of these as you can, and put them up wherever you can, in colour or otherwise. Also, please consider donating to TriTAG so we can print as many of these as possible in full size and full colour for distribution to local businesses and community centres.

Download and print the PDFs here:

Spine (Colour)
Spine (B/W)
Students (Colour or B/W)
Not Your Grandma’s Streetcar (B/W)
Let Someone Else Drive (Colour or B/W)

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Bringing Bike-Sharing to Waterloo Region

Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare (Photo: James D. Schwartz / Flickr)

Yesterday was a momentous day for cycling in Ontario — not because of the election, but because Ontario’s first modern bike-sharing system has launched in Toronto. The Toronto BIXI system hopes to replicate the success of Montreal’s original BIXI installation. Waterloo Region should be getting in on bike-sharing too.

Bike-sharing is a way of using bicycles as public transit for short trips. A system of stations is densely distributed across a portion of a city, with secured self-serve access to bicycles on demand at stations. The system is designed not for long-term bike rental, but for bicycles to be taken for trips from a point A to a point B. Near point B, the bike is returned to another station and back into circulation.

It’s a remarkably efficient transportation infrastructure, and is reasonably inexpensive to operate — often made cheaper or even profitable through advertising. The bicycles are sensible upright city bicycles and require no special gear to ride. Like transit, bike-sharing extends the reach of a person on foot but without requiring one to use their own vehicle or the same vehicle for every leg of a series of trips.

One of the best reasons to invest in bike-sharing is that it is an easy way to increase the number of people cycling. Bike-sharing breaks down some of the barriers to cycling in the city, increasing the number of people getting around by both the public bikes and their own bikes. That, in turn, helps to bootstrap support for putting in place high-quality cycling infrastructure on city streets.

Last fall Washington, D.C. launched a bike-sharing system similar to Toronto’s, which has proven very popular and is already expanding. Many cities are now developing bike-sharing systems or looking to start them. Locally, Research in Motion has its own small BIXI system. How about bike-sharing for Waterloo Region?

Several months ago, a group at the University of Waterloo led by Josh Joseph began advocating for a bike-sharing system on campus. Just recently they have shifted their sights to a Region of Waterloo bike-sharing system, which is something we fully support. Check out their website and the impressive support they have received, both from politicians and on a nearly 1000-strong petition.

Even prior to the UW-based initiative, many individuals and organizations have expressed interest in getting a regional bike-sharing system going. During the last municipal elections, one of our questions for Regional Council candidates was specifically about a bike-sharing system for Waterloo Region. You can see their responses here. Most of Regional Council looks to be on board with the idea.

So it’s not a matter of whether to bring bike-sharing to Waterloo Region, but when, where, how big, who’s paying, and how much. Let’s get the Region rolling.

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Some Thoughts on the Final Rapid Transit Consultations

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.

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Recent News and Link Round-up

Interesting recent news and links from our region and around the world:

The City of Waterloo is looking at redesigning Columbia Street / Lexington Road between King Street and Davenport Road, with a complete streets approach. Public Information Centre this Thursday, April 28. Details at the City’s website.

Regional Council last week approved a road diet and bike lanes for part of Frederick Street in Kitchener, bike lanes for a missing link on Fischer-Hallman Road, and the last phase of public consultations on Rapid Transit. Details in the April 12 Planning & Works Committee agenda.

The Region of Waterloo is planning to rebuild University Avenue in 2013 between Weber Street and Lincoln Road, with a proposed new design including on-road bike lanes. A Public Consultation Centre has already been held, and comments are due by April 29. Details starting on page 94 of that same April 12 Planning & Works Committee agenda.

The last round of Rapid Transit consultations will begin next Saturday.

The Record reports on a battle between bike lanes and parking spots in Cambridge.

The University of Waterloo Bike Share Initiative is now the Region of Waterloo Bike Share Initiative. We’ll be writing more about this soon.

Raise the Hammer writes about forgiving and unforgiving approaches to street design in Hamilton.

GO Transit has a new online advisory panel called Let GO Know.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities wants us to tell party leaders to #CutMyCommute.

Take the Lane reports that there will be an Active Communities Summit in Guelph on May 27.

Streetfilms shows the support for the two-way protected bike lanes on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn.

Streetsblog: Despite the gridlock of New York City’s bridges, they carry far fewer people now than they did 70-80 years ago, when they had dedicated space for transit.

Streetsblog: Since pedestrian plazas have been installed on Broadway and Times Square, air quality has dramatically improved.

Streetsblog: In Portland, there is massive demand by businesses for replacing on-street parking with bike corrals.

Copenhagenize: Western Australia has a short video encouraging drivers (and not only) to slow down and enjoy the ride.

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Is the Waterloo Chronicle Misinforming Waterloo?

Tonight the Waterloo Chronicle put up an article and an editorial about last Friday’s LRT-related meetings in Waterloo. These pieces are from tomorrow’s print edition, which goes to most homes in Waterloo. Unfortunately, the article as currently written contains falsehoods, and quotes which bash TriTAG. We were not contacted for this piece and were not given space to respond to the accusations.

Let’s set the story straight.

Last Wednesday we were forwarded an email originally by Ruth Haworth, spokesperson for Taxpayers for Sensible Transit, which consisted of the following: (more…)

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City of Waterloo Adopts Complete Streets Plan

Last night Waterloo City Council adopted its first Transportation Master Plan (TMP). The plan aims “To develop a coordinated and integrated transportation system that provides realistic travel options to the auto, thereby creating a City that is truly accessible to all”. To that end it includes a decrease in emphasis on motor vehicle traffic from historical practice, and an increase in focus on walking, cycling, and transit. It sets out the high costs of maintaining an expanding road network as unsustainable, and makes clear that congestion should not always result in road widenings.

The TMP is an overarching document that sets out the city’s direction for the transportation system, and which should guide concrete projects. The plan is in alignment with the Regional Transportation Master Plan. The Region of Waterloo is responsible for transit and most arterial roads and transit, whereas the cities are responsible for the rest of the street network, including off-road paths.

Several delegations spoke in support of the TMP’s recommendation for the city to phase in municipal snow clearance. Prof. Jeff Casello spoke regarding the importance of ensuring that land use is planned together with transportation; he said that the city’s TMP is cutting-edge for North America. Speaking on my own behalf, I asked Council to consider 30 km/h speed limits on some residential streets and physically separated cycling infrastructure based on Dutch best practice.

Yesterday’s motion was to approve the TMP in principle, and to approve the report’s “non-cost action items” (p. 143 of the packet). All policies will still be brought to Council individually, and anything that requires changes in budget will have to be its own battle. The motion was opposed by Councillor Mark Whaley, who suggested the plan is “too visionary”, that municipal snow clearance of sidewalks is too expensive, and that the plan would languish on a shelf. Other councillors and staff indicated that many portions of the plan do not require a change in budget, but rather in priorities, and that there are also substantial costs to not implementing the change in transportation focus. Councillor Jeff Henry spoke of the devastating impacts road widenings can have on a neighbourhood, and of the importance of considering the kind of city we want to live in. The TMP motion passed with the support of the rest of Council, with only Coun. Whaley opposed.

The short-term (0-5 years) non-cost items that will be completed are: integrating the TMP into the new Official Plan, adding Transportation Demand Management (TDM) incentives into the development process, and providing annual TMP reports to City Council.

The plan recommends hiring an Active Transportation and TDM coordinator in the next budget process. It also proposes to add $100,000 per year over five years to the city’s snow clearing budget to phase in increased (and prioritized) sidewalk coverage.

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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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