While the public consultation centres for rapid transit are finished, you can still learn about what is being proposed and make your voice heard. All of the information presented can be found here and you can still fill in the online comment form.

Here is my perspective.

Preferred Technology: Light Rail

I have always been in favour of light rail (LRT) to meet our rapid transit needs. I believe that only light rail transit can transform our cities, transform our downtown cores and transform our behaviours. I am convinced that only light rail will spur the development required to intensify our cores and eliminate pressures to continue to expand into the rural and natural areas around our cities. If we want to manage growth, light rail is what is most likely to assist with that goal–and help attract and retain the creative class we will increasingly depend upon to keep our economy strong.

Bus rapid transit (BRT) had been floated as being a transitional stage before building a light rail system. That idea is dead in the water as far as I’m concerned since you can not take a BRT route and simply replace it with LRT later on. It’d be nearly impossible since the BRT could no longer run on its route while the LRT was being built. We can avoid the resulting chaos by acting to solve the problems of tomorrow today.

We will want to make the change since BRT is not a long term solution. By 2031, it’s expected that a BRT system would be maxed out and that no more buses would be able to be added. There are a couple reasons why. There is a maximum number of buses that can be at any one station at a time. As well since BRT would have priority crossing intersections, too many buses would make it difficult for east-west traffic to flow smoothly. Light rail can handle a higher quantity of passengers much easier for a longer period of time.

Not pursuing either BRT or LRT is not an option. There is a huge bill attached to building new roads and expanding existing ones–and there’s no provincial or federal contribution to reduce the impact on local taxpayers.

Light rail is the best technology to meet our rapid transit needs.

All LRT routes meet my minimum requirements

All of the rapid transit options meet my minimum requirement that light rail run through the downtown cores of Kitchener and Waterloo. These areas are where there is the greatest potential for the redevelopment required for intensification. As a result, it help to ensure there are enough riders to use it. So the question becomes, where should the LRT start and stop?

My preferred option: Cambridge to St. Jacobs

I would  like to see the LRT run from St. Jacob’s in the region’s north end to the Ainslie Street Terminal in Cambridge in the region’s south end.

I think that putting in the full line upfront ensures that all areas of the region are not only treated equally but seen to be treated equally. Doing so will help to ensure that we reflect the reality of how we already live while making it more common to think of ourselves as one region. As we grow, we’ll become more interconnected and having the LRT in place will help knit us together by making it easier to get around.

My greatest concern is money since this option is the most expensive option by far. If it needs to be paid for out of property taxes, it is clearly not affordable but that doesn’t mean we need to rule this option out. I hope that financing and/or partnership options will be explored that can make this option viable. For example, applying development charges on development spurred by the LRT to its construction could reduce the demands upon existing property taxpayers. A private sector partner could also make the complete LRT possible upfront rather than in stages.

While I would really like to see the Cambridge to St. Jacobs option pursued, I am not sure how realistic it is. It may be necessary to stick with the original plan to have a phased in implementation starting with the northern leg. If so, I like that Cambridge could begin seeing the benefits of Adapted Bus Rapid Transit (aBRT) as soon as late 2012 or early 2013.

Start at Conestoga Mall

If we go with a staged implementation, I think that the LRT must start at Conestoga Mall. I believe that LRT will most quickly be adopted in Waterloo. Ensuring that people can easily access the entertainment, dining and shopping at Conestoga Mall will ensure the LRT has strongest possible ridership numbers as soon as it is launched.

The question then becomes, how far does it go? As I said before, all the endpoints are minimally acceptable. As I inferred with my preferred option, the further LRT runs at first the better. The determining factor becomes what is affordable and responsible.

Go to Fairview Park Mall

I think the best option for a staged implementation is to run the LRT from Conestoga Mall to Fairview Park Mall as originally approved. There are cheaper LRT options but the difference in cost is not enough to justify shortening the route. I think that having the LRT go to Fairview Park Mall helps more residents of Kitchener to access it and enjoy its benefits. It will also increase ridership to the south by adding a significant commercial area as a draw. Having the route go from mall to mall is the best way that LRT can improve public transit in addition to directing our growth towards our core.

Let’s pick one of these two options and start to build the future of Waterloo Region!

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