Actually, This Train Hasn’t Left the Station

Readers of this blog will now know I have two thoughts on the LRT:

1. That it is a solution that only works once driving gets much slower and parking gets much more expensive. Everybody I have talked to behind the LRT eventually agrees, but assures me that when that day comes 5, 10, or 20 years from now, that I will be thankful we put in the LRT all those years ago. If we continue on our current growth path and do nothing, then I agree, but to me spending all this money so we can then sit back and wait for our miserable and congested future to appear doesn’t sound like a lot of fun.

2. That to get people out of their cars TODAY we need to concentrate development around a single node so that we can live, work, and play all within walking distance. This way we can keep the roads fast as we grow while also improving the quality of life. The key question is “how would you do this without government intervention?” I actually think there is a way, and that Waterloo is perhaps the only city in the world in a position to pull it off, but I will wait to share more.

But the key thing I have learned is that we have time. I had an hour meeting last week with Mike Murray, Waterloo Region’s Chief Administration Officer, where I asked what the risk was that budget overruns or reduced ridership could bankrupt our region. His simple answer was “we don’t know, because we haven’t gotten the DBFOM proposals in yet”. In fact, if those proposals come in too high, he said we will simply have to cancel the project, and that the trains will be returned at minimal or no cost. He was confident that the proposals would come in on budget, but it’s like saying you’ve already bought a house before even knowing what the final price will be.

So we have time. Time to come up with a better solution. One which won’t require us to sit by and wait for a congested and miserable future to appear, but one which will keep our roads free while also improving the quality of life in Waterloo. For anyone that loves this city, seems like a challenge worth taking on.

11 thoughts on “Actually, This Train Hasn’t Left the Station

  1. Andrew Svoboda

    To take a look at your two points made here, I would argue the following.

    1. I get that this isn’t necessarily the most exciting development idea to some. However, the region has looked at the incoming number of people, and it predicts (though of course the report could be flawed) that we will see a large enough increase to warrant the LRT. As someone who challenged the city councillors on their so called emotional push for and LRT, I find your assessment that the “congested future to appear doesn’t sound like a lot of fun” to be sort of ridiculous, and an entirely emotional response.

    2. I’m not sure I understand or agree with the viewpoint that getting people to walk in Waterloo region is the only way to save transit. In fact, I would argue it is the opposite. To somehow create a walkable city would be incredibly time consuming, expensive, and would completely ignore everyone who is not in the core. It is nice to think of alternatives, however this hasn’t at all been thought through or laid out to compare. In fact, it seems very much (again) like the original argument you made when discussion the emotional decisions of the councillors, which you yourself are making now.

    I don’t think either of the points made in this post, then, accurately represent the problem that the LRT is trying to address. A walkable city would ignore those who currently or in the future would reside outside of the core (and there are many such people). The LRT is meant to serve the existing and incoming population along the central transit corridor that was identified in the 70s, this is the entire point.

    1. Ted Post author

      Hey Andrew,

      Thanks for the comment. You do make a lot of good points.

      On 1, you are right, I do make some emotional points. I do think we can do better. But just because I use emotion here doesn’t mean that the logic we discussed previously goes away. Yes, Waterloo is going to grow. But putting in the LRT will not reduce the number of cars on the road, the stated problem the LRT is meant to solve, and we will still end up with a congested city. The reason for this is because driving is just so fast in Waterloo today, and both driving times and parking costs would have to go up significantly before taking the LRT made economical sense. In other words, the LRT says it will reduce congestion on roads as Waterloo grows, whereas really the only thing it will do is provide an alternative once the roads become congested.

      On 2, you are right, I haven’t laid it out. I do hope to do so in the future when the time is right. But in the mean time, I disagree with your point that creating a walkable city would completely ignore everyone else. In fact, I think it would be in their absolute best interest. Here is a thought experiment. What if we could mandate that every single person moving to Waterloo in the next 10 years could only do so if they gave up their car? Then there would be zero incremental cars on the road. Therefore, road congestion and parking costs would be at the same levels in 10 years as they are at today (roughly), allowing the city to grow while keeping driving times fast. Now obviously we can’t explicitly force every new citizen to give up their car, but what if we could entice them to do so implicitly? Wouldn’t that be the ultimate solution for everyone?

      1. Michael Druker

        I get that you think there ought to be better, more innovative ways to make the region more walkable, and, by proxy, solve the problem of transportation for a growing region. But “what if there were a better way?” isn’t much of a solution. There certainly are plenty of things to be done and that can be done, but they require mechanisms of action rooted in empirical reality, real budgets, legal abilities, and political possibilities.

  2. clasher

    Are you still driving your car two blocks to the LCBO? So much for a walkable city if you’re not even willing to walk the two blocks to get your booze. And you’ll sit here and tell us that we should walk everywhere while you can’t even bothered to do it where there is already sidewalks and traffic signals for pedestrians? I dunno what else to say but WTF?

    You seem to ignore everyone that doesn’t drive in Waterloo Region today, and you also seem unfamiliar with the reality of driving in Kitchener and Cambridge during rush hour. It seems to me you live in an “ivory tower” and don’t actually know what working class folks that are stuck commuting from their homes in the ‘burbs to the office jobs downtown or the factory jobs in the industrial parks. I don’t know how long you’ve lived here or if you’ve ever lived in Kitchener or Cambridge. Have you ever tried commuting from the Cambridge industrial parks to the homes in north Waterloo? How about trying to get from downtown Kitchener at 4:30 to the homes around Highland hills mall? Have you tried walking any of these common regional commutes?

    There’s also the increasingly important issue of mobility for people that can’t walk. I know you might not realise it but there are folks that are so poor they can’t afford to drive and because of disability or age can’t walk anywhere either. What’s your grand plan for these folks?

    It seems to me you’re pretty unfamiliar with exactly how much of this area’s population goes up and down the central corridor already for various things since you seem to go between your loft and your work and then off to Toronto on the weekends, presumably all with your heavily subsidized personal automobile.

    Real life isn’t simcity and you can’t really just wave a wand and remake the lives of 500,000 people because you don’t like the idea of a quiet, fast train rolling up and down the spine of this region.

    1. Ted Post author

      Hey Clasher,

      Thanks for the post. To your points:

      Re walking for booze. I should walk because it is the best option, not simply because “I should”. I will only walk once it is more interesting and more convenient then taking a car. You might say hey, you’re just lazy! But unfortunately that is humanity, and is a concept well documented in terms of induced demand ( Basically, it says that people will continue to take their cars until taking the car is so painful that they will do something else (largely just stay at home). Yes, one day Waterloo will have this problem if we maintain our current course, but today largely we don’t. Putting in the LRT won’t fix our congestion problems (a post on this later, based on the book Walkable City –

      On the personal accusations, I don’t think these help the discussion and simply weaken your arguments. I don’t live in an ivory tower. I am a 26 year old kid like almost everyone else. I’ve lived here since 2005, both uptown Waterloo and downtown Kitchener. Yes I have a car, but so does the rest of Canada (1.65 cars per 3 person Canadian household). The only difference is that in Waterloo we can actually drive them. Yes there is traffic, but not only will the LRT not solve this problem (again, a post on this later), but it also won’t be along almost any of the high traffic routes you mention.

      On mobility, I grew up with a handicap brother who spent his entire 19 year life in a wheel chair. I care for these people immensely. At best the LRT will help them incrementally, by making it easier to board the train. But buses and bus stops could be outfitted to do this too.

      1. clasher

        Walking is the best option… you get exercise and don’t have to burn fossil fuels. The gasoline and automobile industries are heavily subsidized in this country. Look at the money spent by governments attracting Toyota and other automakers to this province.

        You don’t have to pay for all the externalities that come from driving your car… I’ve read that there are 560 cars for every 1000 Canadians so that means we’re all paying for those roads through taxes but only 56% of us actually have the cars to use them. User fees and gasoline tax don’t begin to cover the cost of road building.

        It’s funny that you bring up induced demand and try to spin it to justify using your car to drive two blocks. The reason it’s easy to drive and has been is because all levels of government have been building infrastructure for automobiles almost exclusively since WWII, if not before hand. The expressway widening, the new highway 7, the fairway road bridge, the coming river road extensions will likely be well over a billion dollars by the time they are all done. All those new roads will just increase demand for automobiles. You seem to “believe in” induced demand yet you assert with some fuzzy math that induced demand couldn’t possibly work for the train they want to build that runs along a route that is already burgeoning with demand for bus service.

        I’m sorry to let you know that you are not like everyone else. “Everyone else” doesn’t get a chance to give a million dollars to UW, nor does everyone else get the chance to live at one of the most expensive address in Waterloo region. Take those as personal insults if you want to but they are facts you’ve mentioned on this blog before… and as you say your grandmother said, “to those much is given, much is expected” and I think it’s bit disingenuous to pass yourself off as “just another 26 year old kid”.

        1. Ted Post author

          Hey Clasher,

          Agreed that roads/ cars are not the solution, and never once have I suggested that we should build more roads. By pointing to induced demand, I am simply showing that no matter what the road capacity is, people will take it over transit until that capacity is completely filled, simply showing that people prefer to drive cars then take transit. In all my reading so far, I have not heard of a single city in the world that has full transit without clogged roads.

          Therefore, all I am trying to say with this is that in a perfect world, people would prefer to never have to take transit, as long as the roads were never crowded. We are at that point today in Waterloo, where we all drive instead of take transit, because it is simply the better option in terms of time, money, convenience, and comfort.
          The key question becomes “what do we do as Waterloo grows?” One option is to put in an incredibly expensive LRT, that no car driver will take on day one, and then sit back and wait for the roads to get clogged enough for people to eventually switch. Or, we could try to find a solution that gets people out of their cars today, before the roads are clogged. The only way to do this is to make a dense enough node in the region that you can live, work, play, eat, and shop all within walking distance. The only way to do this is to spark a development that everyone who wants to build/live/employ will do so right around it.

          Do you think such a spark is impossible to create?

          1. clasher

            Hi Ted,

            I don’t think you’re reading the same wikepedia article that I am.

            “Just as increasing road capacity reduces the cost of travel and thus increases demand, the reverse is also true – decreasing road capacity increases the cost of travel, so demand is reduced. This observation, for which there is much empirical evidence, has been called Disappearing Traffic, also traffic evaporation or traffic suppression. So the closure of a road or reduction in its capacity (e.g. reducing the number of available lanes) will result in the adjustment of traveller behaviour to compensate – for example, people might stop making particular trips, condense multiple trips into one, retime their trips to a less congested time, or switch to public transport, walking or bicycling, depending upon the values of those trips or of the schedule delay they experience.”

            The more you build roads, the more folks will drive. That’s pretty obvious and I’m not arguing that fact. The point I’m making is that the “awesomeness” of driving exists because the industrial-political machinations of our society have been catering almost exclusively to the needs of single-passenger automobile use for most of the 20th century, expanding greatly after WW2.

            The thing with induced demand is that it holds true for other modes of transportation. The LRT isn’t being built to convert car drivers. It’s being built for the people that “live, work, play, eat, and shop” all along the central corridor of this region. I know car drivers are used to being the first (and only) priority when it comes to infrastructure money but that is changing simply because the oil that keeps car culture running along is getting more expensive and running out.

            I don’t think the LRT is gonna convince everyone to move downtown and sell their cars, but it will serve everyone that lives along its route far better than buses do (more capacity and frequency) as well as draw in folks that are tired of car culture and can’t afford two cars and a house in the ‘burbs any more.

            1. Ted Post author

              Hey Clasher,

              Ok awesome – we agree that once roads are congested, adding more won’t solve the congestion, as people will chose to drive more often as soon as it becomes practical again. Therefore, we shouldn’t build more roads. Agreed.

              That said, induced demand does NOT apply (in all my readings) to transit. Transit is simply a spill over from driving: once people can’t drive (induced demand), they will find other ways (bike, walk, transit) or simply do less trip (in your quote, combine trips, retime them, or simply not go).

              For the people living on the corridor (myself included), beyond the initial emotional appeal of “looks at these sweet trains!” I can’t see any benefit over buses: I still have to walk out and wait in the cold, I will still most likely not get a seat, and I will still have a long walk cold walk to my ultimate destination once I arrive at the station. How does the train change any of this?

              My theory is that most of the defenders of the LRT are people that are taking the bus today. That represents 4% of this community (a stat from UW Region). But ultimately will the train be that much better? I doubt it.

              My proposal is to focus on walking. Something that is actually better than driving, not something that is simply the only other option once driving gets impossible.

  3. Brett Hagey

    Just came across your blog after the review in the Cambridge Times.

    I hate to be the Devil’s Advocate. Actually I love being the Devil’s advocate, as my two ex-wives will attest.

    Your ideas are very solid and reflect concepts from an era where people did indeed live, and work, and play within an immediate geographic area. The small town feel of places such as Ayr is a prime example of a lifestyle where one’s entire existence is centralized on one spot.

    Being from the technology industry we can understand how this more traditional form of ‘cocooning’ will ultimately transpire, at least for the information workers of tomorrow. We will more then likely do much more teleworking in the future as computer technology gives us the ability to further our collaborative efforts from remote locations. I would love nothing better then to sit on a beach and code a new software system for a customer in Calgary, and that day will come.

    But we live in a far different world then that. We have a large community within this region who live then work in completely different geographic areas. It’s been like that for decades, and for many that type of lifestyle will exist for decades to come. Waterloo Region is the ‘bedroom’ community of many who travel to Metro Toronto, and that’s not going to stop any time soon.

    From the retail consumer’s perspective, people shop in not only the retail centres that these trains are going to be geared towards, but shop in other stores scattered all over the region, and this is definitely a shortcoming in the current design of the LRT; a system designed to benefit only a small minority of retail and service establishments when all consumer-based enterprises will be footing the bill for it in the form of taxes.

    The vision of the LRT is needed but not in the way our public enterprises have invoked, and that is because of corporate influence and manipulation; the people who own the shopping centres and the landlords behind the high-density residential areas these trains will service, are the ones who brought this current implementation to existence, otherwise we would have been looking at more visionary, and future-proof systems instead.

    As far back as the last municipal election the Region was given other concepts to consider from the very people who chose to run for election, but these ideas were never brought to public scrutiny.

    We need a region-wide transportation system that will eventually allow commuters access to all corners of the region and beyond because we are a mobile community in many aspects, and the current LRT system fails to provide any solutions. You are right that it needs a complete re-imagining, but the re-imagining was already done, and it was ignored, by the very people prepared to put us in debt to the tune of (many) billions over it’s lifetime.


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