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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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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