Below is an analysis I posted that came out of a discussion in the comments in another post. I thought I would share.
Thanks for writing this well thought out and articulated post. It will help us both understand our thoughts better (I had never previously done the analysis below).
When you say that 200,000 people will be coming to Waterloo in the next 20 years (which I actually think will be low), I agree that they probably won’t live in the country (at least that of course should be the goal). I also agree with the goal of getting dense enough development around each station, because this is what will allow us to get cars off our road, our true goal.
My concern is that the LRT is going to have 16 nodes. Let’s assume that we can dictate that 100% of all future residential and office development will be placed directly beside one of these nodes (unlikely, but a good place to start). Then I believe that means your odds of living and working at the same node will be 6.25%* (although it has been a while since I did math! *edit: note, my math was indeed off originally, I have now fixed it) So that means there is a 93.75% that you will be living and working at different nodes. Now you will have to consider whether you have a car, and if so, whether you’ll take LRT. If you don’t have a car, you’ll be someone that is already taking the bus today, and will take the LRT tomorrow, so no reduction in cars on the road. But most likely you are someone that has a car, so that you can get to places outside of Waterloo like other cities, the beaches on Lake Huron, or for parts of your job. If you were one of these people, assuming both your office and work are right beside their closest node, would you LRT or drive? Well, if you LRT you have to walk to the station (0.5 min), wait for the train (3.5 min average during peak hours), ride the train (X min), and walk to work (0.5 min). So 4.5 + X min during peak hours. If you drive, you have to walk to your underground parking (0.5 min), drive X min or less (almost never traffic in Waterloo today, and most likely not for the next 10 years), and 0.5 min to park. So 1 + X min to drive. If we say X is 5 it will be 9.5 minutes instead of 6. So not only will driving take you less time, but you also won’t have to walk/wait in the hot/cold/rain/snow, and if after work you need to go somewhere off node, you won’t have to go home first to pick up your car. Which will you do? I’d give you at least a 90% chance of driving, but let’s put it at 50% to be safe.
So now we can tally it up. So for every 1000 people living on the corridor, where they both live and work right beside an LRT station, 531 people will take the LRT or walk, and 469 people will drive. Of course, this is best conditions, as many places to live or work will have a significant walks to the station first, increasing the odds that you’ll drive.
But now imagine that you could change the rules in the region, and to stop people from driving you said that you we’re only going to open 5 stations to start, so that development would focus there. Because using the same math then there would be a 20% chance you would live and work at the same node (1/5), resulting in only 400 people taking cars, a savings of 69 cars per 1000. Not bad but not great.
But now what if you took it to the extreme? What if you said you were only going to open a single station for the next year? That you were going to spend 800 million on it, and that it is going to be the most beautiful station anyone has ever seen. That it would make Grand Central Station in New York look like a toy. Do you think any condo developer build such that they couldn’t advertise as being right beside it? I don’t think so. Which would mean that now the chance of living and working at the same node would be 100%, and no one would take cars. A savings of another 400 cars per 1000, with the gracious assumption that 50% of people would take the LRT instead of drive when it would take longer to get there, ask you to go outside in the cold/hot/rain/snow, and eliminate your flexibility should you want to go somewhere off node after work.
I agree that we should be spending money to concentrate development so that we can take cars off the road. But if this is really our goal, we should start with one node and then move out from there. Because then everyone could walk, and no one would drive.
But of course you make a fantastic point. We are made up of 3 cities. So instead of deciding to pick a single node and get an extra 470 cars per 1000 people off the road, we have compromised, resulting in almost twice as many roads, twice as many road crews, and twice as many cars.
This is the problem with rhetoric. That it breaks down once you put it through actual analysis. This is why that instead of saying “we need to add mass transit to be able to handle growth”, we need to break that down into clear goals, and then analyze how the LRT will meet them. Because if we say the goal is to “spend the minimum amount of money to remove the maximum number of cars from the roads per 1000 people we grow” we will quickly see that there are much better options.