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Rapid Transit Consultations

On Tuesday I went to the Region of Waterloo's Rapid Transit Environmental Assessment public consultation at St. Andrew's church. They are asking for public input as to the best routes to use for the new transit system. There is another consultation happening at First United Church (beside Waterloo Town Square) from 2-8pm tomorrow (Thursday Jan 17). Comments are due for January 31. The proposed alternatives and comment sheets are available on the website.

This is big stuff. I think that rapid transit in the region could either be a great boon to the region or it could be a big expensive infrastructure project that nobody uses. At this point it is not clear which way the project will swing: the planners are clearly more interested in using the project as a planning tool than they are in actually making sensible transit for the region.

For example, I was shocked to see that building good links for transit to other cities (Guelph, London, and Toronto being three prominent examples) is explicitly not a design goal for the environmental assessment. This all comes from Regional Council (and in particular Ken Seiling's) fear of turning Waterloo Region into a "bedroom community", but it is stupid, cognitively-dissonant nonsense, and it does not bode well for making the transit system a success. For some reason it is okay to build more highway exchanges and to rebuild Highway 7, but it is evil to give us good public transit options so people could get out of their cars when going to Toronto. There is one option (out of five, I think) for putting a rapid transit stop at the Weber and Victoria bus station, but that route is totally bogus because it does not stop in downtown Kitchener. It's as if they are trying to sabotage the process.

Overall I get the impression that this proposal is being put together piecemeal, without a lot of coordination or unifying vision as to what this system is supposed to do or how to get it passed politically. One planner told me that there would likely be greatly reduced service down King street even if they route the RT line through the University of Waterloo instead of taking King. Another planner (this one with GRT) said that transit frequency down King would have to remain high. Who is right? When I expressed my concerns about connecting to the train station, somebody proposed moving the train station to King -- but the train station is owned by VIA Rail, not by the Region. It is not clear how the feeder buses will work with the proposed stops (and this is apparently GRT's responsibility, not the Rapid Transit planners').

It also distresses me that we don't have more actual transit users participating in the process, and that the planners designing the system probably do not suffer through the system now. If they did, maybe they would be interested in fixing obvious problems with the existing system (such as the route 7 and iExpress buses being scheduled five minutes apart). Why should we trust people who don't take the bus (a group which includes me, incidentally) to design a new transit system for the region?

Most importantly, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) was chosen as one of the two feasible options for the rapid transit system. (Light Rail is the other.) I am hoping that BRT is a straw man option, because the planners must be on drugs if they think we can sell a multi-million dollar BRT option for the spine of K-W. I can picture the papers and radio station personnell wetting their pants in derision now: we are going to take a bus-based transit system, sink millions and millions of dollars into buying up land and building dedicated routes, and end up with... a bus system?

This issue is not technical. It is not even related to cost. In purely rational terms, buses may be better than rail for our transit corridor. But sociologically we think of trains as cool and buses as ugly stinky vehicles that are full of poor people and teenagers. Overcoming that impression (if it deserves to be overcome) would be a huge barrier, and selling this system to a bunch of taxpayers who live in the suburbs is going to be hard enough already.

I don't know whether comments will make any difference. Most government projects that seek public input don't seem to use that input for much more than public relations. But I intend to fill out my sheets anyways, and if this topic interests you maybe you could as well.

Comments

http://transitea.region.waterloo.on.ca/

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Boo!

I remember this being an issue in the last round of municipal elections, but I never got a sense from anyone of what the rapid transit system was supposed to do. What is it supposed to do? From a perspective of having grown up with the TTC in Toronto (where many transit advocates oppose the expansion of rapid-transit at the expense of busses), the idea of having a rapid-transit system in a place as small as K-W seems odd--it doesn't seem that difficult to get from one end of the place to the other with the existing bus system; on the face of it, it seems like if you want to move more people, you ought to just add more busses.

Is it supposed to go to Cambridge, too? Is the whole idea to collect students, university workers, and RIM workers from Kitchener and Cambridge and deliver them to Waterloo??
I second the booing.

The real reason they want rapid transit is as a planning tool. The
thought is that if they have a "spine" going from Waterloo to
Cambridge, we will keep up urban densities in the central core and be
able to handle the immense population growth the region is facing. As
a sidenote the system is supposed to move people up and down the
region, to workplaces, universities, shopping and such.

Nobody has quite figured out all of these people are going to get from
their suburban windy roads TO the central spine so they can get to
work and school, but that is outside the scope of this study. (Meh.)

If you think it doesn't take long to get up and down the spine you
should try to take the bus from Waterloo to Cambridge pre-iExpress. It
is better now, but (as I learned firsthand) when iExpress stops for
the evening you are hosed.