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June 15 2011 – Waterloo Region’s pivotal moment in its history and Transit history

By shost at 9:17 am on Tuesday, June 14, 2011

On Wednesday June 15 2011 Waterloo Region Councillors will vote on a project 8 years in the making — the Waterloo Region Rapid Transit initiative. Since this has the potential to be a pivotal moment in Canadian transit history, I feel it is worth covering as many of our readers are in Waterloo region.

Now, I have no doubt there is a certain preaching to the choir that is occuring on this site, as many on this site are already transit friendly, but let’s first look at the facts in Waterloo region. This writer has commuted to Waterloo region for 10 years and knows all too well the problems facing the area

  • Commute time between 2001 and 2010 increased by 25% on any route to Waterloo, and highway 8 to the 401 is always stop and go
  • While Highways are being improved in the area, you cannot widen Highway 85 any wider and highway improvements help little once you get on city streets
  • City streets are already as wide as they can go, Weber and King St are four lanes and quite congested, and in sections especially through downtown without expropriation of more sidewalk/pedestrian access, you cannot widen the streets any wider
  • The number of crossings of the Grand river in Waterloo region are a total of four. (Bridgeport, King St/HWY 8, and HWY 7 to Guelph) causing major bottlenecks
  • Population in the Region has exploded in the last 10 years, with additional commuters to RIM/Open Text/(Insert company name here)/ from the GTA, competing for valuable and scare pavement

GO trains are one piece in the puzzle to solve the Inter-city commuter problems, but good Transit is required to help commuters get to their workplaces, and Waterloo region transit is only as good as it’s roads are….. sadly it’s not that great.  There are essentially four options:

  • Light Rail between Waterloo and Cambridge
  • Light Rail between Waterloo and Kitchener, BRT from Fairview in Kitchener to Cambridge
  • BRT between Waterloo and Cambridge
  • Improve city roads

The option making the most sense is the second option – Combination LRT/BRT (second stage of the project would extend LRT to Cambridge) at a cost of about $900 million, $600M of which would be bore by the Federal Government, and $300m By region taxpayers.

It would be smart to consider a full LRT solution to Cambridge, but without the Province or some other level of Gov’t pitching in I feel it will not happen, and all signs point to no, for now. An extra $300-500M would be required to change the BRT section to LRT.

BRT — Bus Rapid Transit would be a very positive step forward, but it must be segregated from city streets,  and there are few places to allow that to happen especially in Kitchener and Waterloo. BRT will also cost about $600M. Is it worth it? The rail corridors that exist make the most sense as they exist, they run through downtown(s) (with slight variances) and they are effectively, underutilized and often overlooked corridors. It would be very difficult to expropriate the existing rail corridors for BRT use as they have use as freight lines, except for the Waterloo St. Jacobs line as it is already Waterloo region owned and the freight could in theory take a hike.

This leaves us with the last option, improving roads.  Road improvements will result in more traffic headache during construction, and incremental and brief improvements in traffic speed until more cars join the road network to congest it yet again.

More people who are in favour of roads would say who the heck uses Transit anyway? Only poor people and the youth? While this may be true,  look at Toronto and how many people use GO Transit, TTC and other modes, and look at the urban development that has occured along subway lines. You can bet it wasn’t Yongue Street roadway that has afforded Toronto 30 years of urban intensification and the resulting taxpayer rewards of the development that has occured. The subway changed eveything and the LRT project of Waterloo region promises to do the same.

In fact, if you look back 75 years ago the Rapid Transit solutions back then (Grand River Railway, Kitchener-Waterloo Streetcars, Lake Erie and Northern Railway in Galt, connecting to Canadian National and Canadian Pacific passenger trains) shaped the current fabric of Waterloo region, and yet the existing LRT network is proposed on essentially the same corridors as those of the past. Why? Because the fabric of Waterloo region hasn’t changed, it has only grown and now a proper Rapid Transit solution is required to allow the continuing prosperity of the Region.

Councillors and Voters — your best choice is to vote in favour of Waterloo Region Light Rail, it is the only solution that makes sense. Anything else will deny you the successess the future is proposing to you at this very pivotal moment in your history.

N.B: This is also a pivotal moment in Transit history, A vote to procceed for LRT in Waterloo region will electrify LRT proponents in other cities such as Ottawa and Hamilton, and perhaps more. A failure to proceed with LRT will set us back another 30 years and doom everyone to continued gridlock within city limits.

- Stephen C. Host, Guelph, Ontario. Please post your comments below.

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Comment by Tom West

June 23, 2011 @ 12:25 pm

“Only the poor take transit”. The average hosuehold income of GO transit users is over $100,000 per year. I want to be that poor!

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