My Latest Logic

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 This used to be the way VCs would evaluate start up markets, but today the method is obsolete, as it makes it difficult to take into account absolutely any unique aspects of the situation.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.

17 thoughts on “My Latest Logic

  1. Catherine Holloway

    hah I must be one of these weird people you talk about who lives in KW and chooses not to own a car. I do the reverse commute from you – I live in the Kaufman lofts and work in the R&T Park. I graduated a year after you and upon graduation, I had two choices – live in a cheap house on the outskirts of Waterloo, or live downtown in a more expensive condo. For the first two years I tried the first approach – and hated it. Frankly, I hate driving and the iXpress is so convenient if you live along that route. I don’t know when you’re driving on King St., but at rush hour it gets pretty crowded and the speed of traffic slows considerably. Instead of being stuck in traffic, feeling stressed out about concentrating on the stop-and-go, on the iXpress I can spend a nice 20 minutes reading a book, listening to music, or just chatting to the person next to me.

    You’re also forgetting a third category of commuters – those who bike. I bike every day at rush hour, and King St. needs a serious attitude adjustment. Almost every single day I get honked at, or passed way too closely by some guy driving alone in an expensive car, for practically no benefit in time. I’m not surprised, I would be an asshole too if I had to drive to work every day.

    I’m really looking forward to the implementation of LRT because it will mean that King St. will be a little calmer and more pleasant and safe to bike on. An alternate approach would be simply to make the right lane on King St. a transit and cyclist priority lane. This is fairly common in large European cities. But of course this would also make your drive a little longer…

    1. admin Post author

      Hey Katherine, this is great. Thank you. I forgot to mention that in Toronto I also have a bike. And when I have to go further than walking I usually take it. I have never biked in Waterloo though (even though I have one here too), because I just find the lower density boring to ride in.

      You seem to mention that the I Express works for you, and that really you want bike lanes. What do you think the LRT will provide you over the buses that already exist? And if you could live walking distance from your work in a similar place to the one you have now, would you do that or stay where you are?

  2. Sam Nabi

    Let me offer a counterpoint to what I perceive as your biggest misconception…

    “… almost no one will have a station close to both their home and work …”

    The Region of Waterloo is expected to welcome 200,000 new citizens in the next 20 years (as per the Provincial Government’s growth forecasts [PDF]). Where will all these people live? Not in suburban tract houses, that’s for sure. The City of Waterloo is running out of space on the edge of town, and all three municipalities are putting land use policies and zoning in place to concentrate development around future LRT station areas. That’s what station area planning is all about: getting a high enough density of development, with a mix of uses, near transit stations so that each station area is both a destination (for shops, offices, etc) and a significant trip generator (lots of residential development). If you can live and work in the same station area, great. If not, LRT connects them together.

    Take a look at the development going on in Uptown Waterloo right now, mere blocks from where you live at the Bauer lofts. The Red Condos, 144 Park / OneFiftyFive, Cortes on King, the BarrelYards. Most of these are residential, but there is significant office development planned for the BarrelYards. I guarantee the coming LRT was a major decision factor when these developers looked at where to locate.

    “It’s right on the LRT line. It’s exactly what we are looking for. We want density in the core and on our main public-transit lines. That’s what we are offering” (Red Condos)

    “The property is located only one block off King Street, Waterloo’s principal urban corridor, and planned route for future light rail transit service.” (144 Park)

    Looking beyond Uptown, the massive redevelopment of the NCR lands into a tech campus points to the future Northfield LRT stop as a “key selling point“.

    The point is, there is a virtuous circle between development, growth forecasts, and municipal land-use policies to ensure that the most number of people can live and work near transit.


    That was a bit long. I’ll leave you with a few other quick counterpoints, which I can elaborate on if you wish:

    You seem to be really focused on the current proportions of where people live and how they commute, without considering the impacts of future growth and how that might change these proportions. Don’t be so sure that people aren’t willing to give up their country homes and cars for urban, transit-oriented (and, yes, walkable) neighbourhoods.

    Your hypothetial alternative of “picking a spot” to concentrate development ignores the history and cultural identities of this region. No politician is seriously proposing that we all become one big city – we have a 2-tier government for a reason.

    Density doesn’t mean condos everywhere, and it doesn’t mean we should choose one spot to concentrate all the growth. A mix of huge towers, smaller apartments, townhouses, walk-ups, duplexes, can still provide the critical mass of people required to increase transit ridership. the vision for Waterloo is enough density to support transit and walkable nodes, not a concrete jungle where traffic congestion is transferred from roads to the elevators in your building.

    A transportation plan based on LRT station areas is fundamentally different than the car-oriented model. It lays out nodes and corridors of activity, and encourages growth in these areas. Compare this to auto-oriented infrastructure where cheap land was developed without a vision for how it will function as a neighbourhood. Walkability is an important part of this new transit-oriented vision, but we need both transit and walkable nodes to be able to travel car-free in the Region.

    1. admin Post author

      Hey Sam,

      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 0.39% (although it has been a while since I did math!) So that means there is a 99.61% 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, 502 people will take the LRT or walk, and 498 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 4% chance you would live and work at the same node (1/5 * 1/5), resulting in only 480 people taking cars, a savings of 18 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 480 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 498 cars per 1000 off the road, we have compromised, resulting in 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.

      1. Sam Nabi

        First off, you haven’t done anything to refute my evidence that LRT is, as we speak, encouraging compact development near station areas. You can churn out whatever hypothetical numbers you want, but that’s not how development is unfolding.

        LRT isn’t about operational efficiency at all costs. It’s about finding mutual benefits between the environment, traffic, economy, social equity, the list goes on. The Region conducted a Multiple Account Evaluation in 2009 to quantify the costs and benefits on multiple strata for different LRT proposals, including “Business As Usual”. This is one of the many reports that seeks to answer the question, “what will we get out of LRT?”.

        There has been over a decade of study, analysis, public consultation and political will from all three levels of government to make this happen. Spend some serious time reading through the Region’s rationale and background studies (which is all online) if you want to have a real, informed discussion about the issues at play.

        After you’ve done that, take a look at the benefits case analyses for other Ontario municipalities to get some perspective about how Waterloo Region is different.

        You’ve come late to the debate, so at least do your homework before assuming what the key considerations are.


        To humour you, I’ll address a couple more of your points…

        “If you were one of these people, assuming both your office and work are right beside their closest node, would you LRT or drive?”

        LRT all the way. I don’t have to worry about parking (sorry, not all of us have a red-carpeted parking spot steps from the office door), the stress of driving, buying gas, maintaining a vehicle, scraping it off in the winter (not all of us have a convenient heated garage) and I can fill my commute with useful and interesting things like catching up on Twitter or reading a book instead of staring at taillights.

        “almost never traffic in Waterloo today, and most likely not for the next 10 years”

        Where are you getting this figure from? The Region’s projections say that we will need to expand our roads by 500 lane-km by 2031 if auto trends stay the same.

      2. Alex

        Then I believe that means your odds of living and working at the same node will be 0.39% (although it has been a while since I did math!)

        Actually they would be 6.25 assuming people choose their residential location at random. Now who does that? People don’t look at a map and “pin the tail” in a random location. I would expect a much larger number of people to live at or close to their work node.

    2. admin Post author

      Actually, another interesting point on the politics: we have already cut out one of the cities, Cambridge. The LRT won’t be going there. And actually at council this morning the councilor for Cambridge actually went out of her way to mention that her constituents we’re upset about it.

      If we cut down from 3 cities to 2, could we cut down from 2 to 1?

      1. Chris Klein

        Ted, there are some interesting arguments, and I’ll compliment you on attempting to find blue-sky solutions.

        You are proposing that by concentrating development in a single core, where everyone can live and work and play, we can create a vibrant, walkable, amazing place that doesn’t require 19km of train or hundreds and hundreds of suburban arterial roads.

        It’s a nice idea. But I’ll argue that it is the same kind of top-down planning that you’re objecting to elsewhere, impossible under our provincial law, and ultimately undesirable.

        Top-down planning: you are essentially arguing for the creation of a new place to house a significant fraction of (net) new residences and jobs that come with the projected 200-250K new citizens of Waterloo region in the next 20 years. This is something that can only be accomplished by taking a central-planning approach to new development, and forbidding competing development.

        Impossible under provincial law: Right now, we’re trying to limit sprawl. One of the tools to do so is the so-called “countryside line” and the realization we need to build up, not out. But even this modest effort is fraught with challenge: go read up for the role of the Ontario Municipal Board in overriding local government’s zoning decisions. The OMB is something in need of reform, but even if we could reform it tomorrow, it would still stand in the way of strict development freezes outside of your One True Core that would be required to focus investment and development in one 1km^2 patch.

        Undesirable: A lot of urbanists turn to Jane Jacobs because her writings from 50 years ago still echo today. And she’s pointed out something that hasn’t changed: the most walkable, vibrant places grow organically. Large-scale planned developments suffer because human interactions are complex, and planned cities and neighbourhoods (take Brasilia, for example) end up being as ill-suited to our use as a giant waterfall-driven software project with up-front specification. And usually as expensive.

        Ultimately we have to influence, not dictate, our development and growth. Individual decisions will adapt and transform neighbourhoods more efficiently than a planning commissariat that tries to prevent development of 99% of our urban area for the 1% chosen area. And what makes this rapid transit project more viable is that it works with our region the way it is now, rather than against it. We have a chain of cores and destinations along a single axis– city cores, universities, and even those malls which have been criticized (but which happen to be transit nodes already). Against this axis we can (and will) run express buses of lower capacity.

        LRT is an important part of this, by serving as an attractor for development, and a heavy lifter for serving the demand of new development and those feeder expresses. Like any network trunk, unless it has the capacity, it will saturate. Organic ridership growth along the iXpress line and with ridership attracted by other express routes, already stand to saturate it: and that’s ignoring the positive feedback influence from development that higher order transit attracts.

        Blue sky is great, but ultimately we need to focus on the achievable.

          1. Ted Post author

            Hey Chris,

            This feels like the best piece yet on the site! Thank you.

            I am actually a big fan of Jane Jacobs, and have read several of her works, and also those of one of her students (his name is escaping me at the moment).

            I agree with almost everything you have said above, except for two things:

            1. That it needs to be completely or ever mostly top down. Because I think we could put up something iconic that would have the same effect. I know this has never really been done before, but what other city in the world has been yet had so much potential as Waterloo before? We have an incredibly unique opportunity.

            2. You were doing so well until the second last paragraph 🙂 Can you create an analysis that shows with numbers what you have said with words?

          2. Mike

            Ted – can you back up your assertion that “3 CN Towers” or something equally iconic could attract development within a 800 m radius with “analysis that shows with numbers “? I don’t yet understand the mechanism by which the opportunity to live within the shadow of something really tall will have a positive influence on my home purchasing choices.

            1. Ted Post author

              Hi Mike,

              No, I can’t yet. Right now I am just trying to understand the problem, so that we know what the key variables that will drive the best solution.

              So far, the key variables seem to be densification. That the LRT will indeed cause some densification, but that if the LRT was somehow able to attract everyone to a single node, then this would mathematically be a much better solution. I have personally experienced this myself, living at Bauer, perhaps the closest condos to uptown Waterloo. And yet I still don’t walk to LCBO. You could use rhetoric and call that “lazy”, but really the math makes sense: driving is both faster, requires less effort (walking a a bunch of booze that far is not fun), and potentially more comfortable (if its raining/snowing/hot/cold).

              If and once we agree that our goal should be maximizing development around the fewest number of nodes, then and only then should we turn to finding a solution.

              Do you think we are at the point where we have adequately defined the problem (minimize the % of people that drive) and the key drivers of it (the % of people that will live at work at the same node where it isn’t drive or LRT, but simply walk)?

              1. Mike

                See, this is where proponents of the project have a huge leg up on you. If you visit the Rapid Transit Project site you could literally spend weeks reading through the various studies, planning documents, and countless public consultation materials dating back to 2005. Rapid transit for Waterloo wasn’t conceived in a vacuum, but through years of careful consideration of the community’s transportation and growth needs and its values. I’d caution against, after reading a couple of Record opinion pieces from a skewed columnist, attempting to outsmart the professionals who have been working to consider these problems for the past decade. Especially when the ultimate decision to accept their recommendations was made two years ago.

  3. Chris Klein

    Seems like there’s a maximum reply-nesting level on this blog, so I’ll try to make clear what I’m responding to.

    1. That it needs to be completely or ever mostly top down. Because I think we could put up something iconic that would have the same effect. I know this has never really been done before, but what other city in the world has been yet had so much potential as Waterloo before? We have an incredibly unique opportunity.

    This idea of One Place is an important one to justify. I raised the question of whether it’s even possible– in legislation, but also politically (we are a region of 3 cities and many townships, and while the townships have been receptive to reducing sprawl that might envelop them, I don’t know how you convince 2 other cities to abandon development to focus on the third).

    Or financially for that matter. $800M sounds like a lot, but it doesn’t build much dense neighbourhood. Back of the envelope assuming a simple (and low, based on some googling cost of $100K per condo unit gets you something like 8,000 residences worth of condo (less if you want infrastructure to serve it.) So you need a single-point catalyst to attract privately funded development to grow a single high-density core (the “something iconic” you mentioned.)

    So even if we could redirect the entire $800M at that (likely an impossibility, given the funding sources and conditions), I think you need to provide suggestions of what that icon might be before using this single-node scenario as a realistic alternative.

    I went through all that because it’s almost impossible to deal with point #2 until we’ve decided whether or not it’s worth providing a high quality transit network to get around a larger area. And that depends on whether we foresee most or all of our additional residents needing to go further afield than the single high density node you’re proposing, and how their travel will distribute across modes under status quo ante, or with our future transit network (LRT, aBRT *and* new express bus routes) in place.

    So no numbers yet, just logic and defining the parameters of this debate. 🙂

    As an aside, the impossibility of coalescing a city’s growth to one single walkable node is reflected in the strategy of many places (ours included) of adopting a multiple nodes and corridors model. Multiple walkable nodes or corridors can be served by transit much more efficiently than our evenly distributed low density of sprawl. Ontario’s guidelines for transit-supportive development go into great detail on this strategy, and our own region’s Central Transit Corridor site has a ton of material on our community building strategy, and why and how we’re focusing on this corridor.

    1. Ted Post author

      Ahh sorry about the nesting. It should now be set to the maximum of 10 🙂

      Mike asked some similar questions, so I’ll let you see above. But your comments further my point: that first we need to find and agree on the problem definition, and then find and agree on the key variables that will drive a solution.

      Because otherwise there will be too many options for a solution to look at and assess.

      For example, you bring back up the point of “providing a high quality transit network”. But we have already seen that adding the LRT will have almost no effect on the problem, if we agree to define the problem as “minimize the % of people that drive in Waterloo”.

      Is there another problem definition we should consider?

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