Now that the emotion is out of the way I’m talking to a lot of people and iterating through the logic. Here is my most recent attempt. Any feedback appreciated.
After I spoke at council this morning it was really great as I got to talk to several very pro LRT people. In particular I spent almost 2 hours talking to a guy who exited on of the very successful startups in the Waterloo. He actually has a passion for transportation and travels all over the world looking at their systems, and has been working on the Waterloo LRT for the past 6 or 7 years. It was good as we’re able to work through the key hypotheses that would decide its success. To get to the root of why we each believed what we believed.
Once you remove all the emotional fat, the meat of the issue comes down to two issues. 1. Will the LRT increase ridership? and 2. Will the LRT concentrate development, leading back to 1?
On 1, the problem is that they the council is using a “top down” approach to judge the market: Waterloo has this many people, which is this % of the number of people of other cities, which have this many riders, therefore Waterloo should have this many riders. This used to be the way VCs would evaluate start up markets, but today the method is obsolete, as it makes it difficult to take into account absolutely any unique aspects of the situation.
Instead, VCs now use a “bottom up” approach. In this model you start with how you’ll actually reach the customers. So in Waterloo today there are two types of commuters: those that take transit (buses), and those that drive. For those that take transit, we can safely assume that they will also all take the LRT. So no lift but also no loss. For those that drive today, it is very simple to determine who will switch to LRT once it is here: which costs me less time? On the LRT side, the questions are: how long does it take me to get to the closest station, how long do I have to wait for the train, how long does it take me to get to my station, and how long does it take me to walk to work when I arrive? .5 min to walk to the station (right beside Bauer), 2 min to wait for the train (we’ll be opportunistic), 6 min to ride the train (stops), 10 min to walk to work (based on where Kik is). 18.5 minutes. On the driving side, the question is how long does it take me to get to my car, how long does it take me to drive to work, and how long does it take me to park and walk to work? So in my case, .5 min to get to my car, 3 min to drive to work, and .5 min to get to my office. 4 minutes. The issue with LRT in Waterloo is that there is parking close to everyone’s home and work, but almost no one will have a station close to both their home and work. And that there is very little traffic, while trains have to stop at every station. You could argue that one day the roads will be too crowded., slowing down cars while trains remain unaffected. Now the plan shows that this will take 5 years to start to have an affect, but even then my drive would have to be almost 5 times as slow as it is today for LRT to be faster. At which point it would literally be faster for me to walk.
Now your last argument could be that the LRT would be fast enough that it would sell your car. But in a region as isolated as Waterloo, and with a high tech work force like ours that can afford it, I have yet to meet anyone that has gotten rid of their car, even when they can walk to work.
The only other argument is that it will concentrate our development and stop urban sprawl. Again this is based on hope instead of reason. Yes developers are putting up buildings, but they would and will put them up without an LRT as well. Again, we can look at bottom up: those that are in condos today which cause densification, and those that are in houses that cause sprawl. All condos are already being built along the corridor. Not because the LRT is coming, but because that’s where people in condos want to live. If there was a condo in the country, would you move there? Of course not. That’s why you live in a condo. For the people already in the country, would the LRT cause them to move to a condo in the corridor? Again, unlikely. They probably have a family and value a backyard, and that it is cheap, and again because there is no traffic there is really no reason why not. Compare this to Toronto where the AVERAGE commute is 1 hour each way, each day.
Now you could argue that the concentration caused by the LRT will make living near it so much BETTER that people will start to move from houses to condos. But this is also the argument I am making, but is somewhere between 3 and 19 times worse. 19 times worse (longer) if concentration happens evenly over the whole LRT, instead of over just the 1 km I am proposing. Or 3 times if it only happens over the three hubs.
Because if concentration is really the only possible goal left of getting the LRT, I have a much better solution. Let’s take the 800M, pick a spot, and put up 3 CN Towers all side by side. Then I GUARANTEE you wouldn’t get a stretch of condos all the way down King. You’d get every condo CLAMORING to get as close to those 3 CN Towers as you could.
But this of course reveals the problem with politics. What spot would we choose? We are a region consisting of three separate cities trying to be one. But if we want to be one city, lets be one city. Because then we wouldn’t need transit at all. We’d simply put up 3 CN Towers and watch a Walkable Waterloo emerge overnight.
And finally we get to the root problem, at the very bottom: our region lacks vision. Because we are leaving the era of car first cities. A world where everyone wanted and had a car. And entering a walking first era, where people won’t be able to afford or want to drive cars. But where transit also isn’t ideal.
We are entering a new era of city design and development. And like with RIM beating Dell, it will be the walking first cities that throw out all the rules out and start again that beat out all the car first cities of the past.
This is what I am really saying. That the LRT is a solution for an era passed by. And that with 800 million we would could both the resources and the opportunity to throw out all the rules of the car first era city development and design and start agsin. To be one of the first cities to really build for the walking first era from scratch. We could do what BlackBerry did for cities. If only someone had the vision.