The Story Behind Why I Decided to Speak Out Against the LRT

If your neighbour beside you was building a house, and half way through you saw compelling signs that he was building it on contaminated ground. Would you say to yourself, oh well he’s already half way there? Or would you go over and suggest he stop and take a closer look first?

A couple weeks ago back at Kik HQ, we we’re talking about how we needed to get more involved in shaping our community. Because if we were going to buck the trend of moving to the Valley and try to build a world class company here, we would need a world class city as well.

On the way out Heather turned to me and sparked this entire ordeal: “Start with the mayor,” she said, “ I’ve heard people say mixed things about her. You need to know who you’re dealing with.”

So this past Sunday morning I decided to take a look. I pulled out my phone at 9 AM and started to search. “brenda halloran disappoints”. “brenda halloran criticsim”. “brenda halloran lacks”. I did search after search trying to find any negatives I could. To find an issue where she had made a wrong choice. And the only thing I could find was the LRT. She voted against it, when ultimately it was approved 9 votes versus 2. Ha, I thought. What a fool. As Waterloo grows we’ll need to add transit to free up our roads. And because we can’t afford subways trains are the only way. Also, doesn’t she know how great trains are?

I set out to prove that she was on the wrong side of the vote. That she had made a mistake. Boy was I wrong.

I started reading everything I could find on the LRT. Trying to prove that Brenda had made a mistake. But the further I went, the further I got from proving her wrong. And after 18 intense hours of research it finally clicked: Brenda might actually be right.

I knew I couldn’t say anything. That it was too late. Hundreds of people had spent tens of thousands of hours working on this project, and speaking out now wouldn’t be fair. But then I read one more article that made me decide I had to speak up. You can find it here: http://www.therecord.com/opinion-story/2621462-rail-transit-was-never-up-to-the-public/

I sat there alone in my room, in the middle of the night. What should I do? I believed that we were about to make a terrible mistake. That the logic suggested that the LRT was a weak solution at best. And I knew that if I wanted to be heard I would have to say something bold. And I would have to put my face on this issue, something I have been incredibly conscious to avoid my entire life (if you are interested in reading about my story, you can find one version here: http://pandodaily.com/2012/07/11/ted-livingston-the-shape-of-canadian-tech-to-come/).

So I looked at the problem in the same way I looked at dropping out of University, or donating the million dollars: either I do or I don’t, and either the decision ends up being right or wrong. And instantly I knew. That if I chose to say nothing, and if it LRT turned out to be wrong, that it would haunt me for the rest of my life.

I then considered others. What would I want done to me if I were in their shoes?

I thought about being someone on my team: Ted we need to focus, we are building such great things. Why do you bother? But at Kik I say we are building three things: a messenger, a platform, and a company. And recently I have already been focusing more and more of my attention on building the company. On our culture and values, and on our incredible team. And on the environment and city we live and work in. Because I know that if we want to build a world class company here, we will have to build a world class city as well.

I then thought about the citizens of Waterloo: this has been such a divisive issue already, and that at some point we need to decide and move forward. And here is this guy, at the absolute last moment, making a big fuss. But as a citizen, I knew that if the LRT turned out to be a disaster, and I found out there was someone who felt strongly that there was a better way, I would be disappointed that they didn’t speak up.

I thought about all the developers: but we have already spent, and now you’re changing the plan? But this is business, and with all reward there is a risk. And in business sometimes you need to sacrifice in the short term, to win big in the long.

I thought about our Councillors: who is this kid who thinks he knows? Why is he trying to embarrass us in front of our region? But I don’t actually think they campaigned against the LRT and then changed their minds because of some sort of conspiracy plot, but because all the emotion around the issue is simply making it hard to really know one way or the other.  And if I were them I would worry that if the LRT turned out to be wrong, and case studies were one day written on when Waterloo let emotion beat reason, I would say to myself “ahh my gut told me this all along, I should have been stronger, I wish someone spoke up”.

And finally I thought about all the volunteers and staff that had poured their lives into this project: please, we have worked so hard, why do you come to us now? For this group I felt most. All these incredible people who love our city and are trying to do their absolute best. But I worried that all their work was based on flawed assumptions. And that if the LRT turned out to be wrong, that they would feel guilty about letting down the city they love, asking themselves for the rest of their lives, “how did we let ourselves miss this?”

And so I decided to let it rip. I posted a petition Tuesday at 2 AM, and then sent it to all the Councillors and CC’d all the press – no point speaking up if your voice won’t be heard. And a storm has been brewing ever since.

My goal is not to stop the LRT. My goal is to make sure there is rigorous mathematical analysis and reason behind the choices we make. We may find that the LRT is right for our city. That mathematically the LRT will solve the explicitly defined problem of “reduce the percentage of Waterloo citizens that drive as our region grows”. But right now I am looking over at my neighbour, half way to building his house. I have taken some samples of his soil, and taken them back to my lab for analysis. I can’t be sure of my results, but I am strongly suggesting to you my neighbour: I think we should stop and take a closer look first.

41 thoughts on “The Story Behind Why I Decided to Speak Out Against the LRT

  1. Bill

    What a load of crap. Not everyone is as privileged as you and can afford a car. You can’t expect elderly people or overweight people or whomever to walk everywhere. Maybe if you led by example, but you don’t. You have a car and probably are mounting this crusade because you get pissed off when buses crammed full of people pass you on the road. You speak of their flawed assumptions but I don’t see any logic to your point of view other than some deep-seeded mistrust of government.

    Reply
    1. Ted Post author

      Hey Bill. I don’t think it is fair to speak on my behalf. If you care about this discussion I hope you will stop.

      To your points:

      Not everyone is as privileged as me. True. I have been given wonderful opportunities in my life, which does feel incredibly unfair. But as my grandmother always likes to remind, “to whom much is given, much is expected”.

      Can’t expect everyone to walk everywhere. True. That’s why we have buses today. The LRT will not add any new routes.

      Led by example. Why do I need to lead by example? Should getting to work have to be a personal sacrifice? I drive my car because it is faster. And because it will continue to be faster until my drive gets 5 times slower, in which cases it will be fastest for me to walk.

      Crammed buses. I have no problem driving around buses. I understand that we need them. And if they are so crowded, why did we cut the iexpress service back to only go every 15 minutes during summer? I found one route in Toronto that goes every 6 minutes: http://www.ttc.ca/Routes/39/Eastbound.jsp. There are probably more frequent ones as well (I only looked at Finch, because I know it is a popular route).

      Not seeing any logic. Could you please be more specific? I am here to iterate and learn, but a comment like this makes that difficult.

      Reply
      1. Michael Druker

        The LRT will not add any new routes.

        That’s not true. The LRT is being used to add substantial capacity in the central transit corridor, and to reorganize and grow the bus network substantially. As part of this process, a grid of iXpress routes is being formed to encompass the whole region and there are huge service increases such as those planned for this September. When LRT is launched, that will free up many of the huge number of buses that currently serve the corridor directly, and through the routes that will be more efficient due to no longer having to go to terminals.

        Reply
        1. Ted Post author

          Mike, as I understand it the LRT will simply replace the current iXpress route. If we should get more buses, or reorganize existing routes, then that an interesting but separate issue. The LRT in and of itself will not add any new routes.

          Reply
          1. Michael Druker

            You understand wrong. The reorganization of the bus network is an integral part of the Regional Transportation Master Plan together with the LRT, and depends on a much stronger central corridor than buses can provide due to capacity.

            Currently the bus network primarily functions through timed transfers at terminals – many routes all go to downtown Kitchener or to the University of Waterloo. That means they do not form a useful grid with cross-town routes. With the LRT, transfers can be done all along the length of the LRT instead of at potentially out-of-the-way hubs. The LRT will be able to handle the capacity and make a grid network with a strong spine work.

            Reply
            1. Ted Post author

              Hi Mike,

              Are you saying that if we chose not to do the LRT, that then we won’t be able to get more buses, and then we won’t be able to reorganize routes? If so, how come?

              You could argue that buses can’t handle the load, but then why are we running the iXpress on a reduced schedule when I have found at least one bus schedule in Toronto that runs 3 times as frequently (and I only looked at two routes).

              Reply
              1. Michael Druker

                That is what I am saying, because of the importance of the central corridor in this region to any transit network. See here: http://www.therecord.com/opinion-story/2564650-light-rail-system-will-help-the-region-avoid-potential-problems/

                Three basic points:
                -Right now is slow season for commuters and students, so ridership is not highest for any kind of infrastructure. But infrastructure has to handle the highest peaks.

                -Growth is hugely important, and already nearly half of the region’s growth is taking place in the central transit corridor. That means high growth in ridership along the central transit corridor, unless capacity runs out.

                -The biggest point is that much of the ridership in the corridor is currently on Route 7, precisely because it’s more frequent. Take the two routes together, and during regularly busy times of year, we’ve already got a bus every 3-4 minutes. There’s not much room to increase that, and when the limit would be hit in about 10-15 years, congestion would become a strong deterrent to reurbanization.

                Reply
                1. Ted Post author

                  Hey Mike,

                  To your points:

                  Agreed we need to handle highest peaks. Do you know how often they plan to run the iXpress in the fall? I have heard they have cut back service, which doesn’t make sense given all the supposed growth.

                  Agreed growth is important. LRT only helps if it convinces citizens to transit instead of drive. All previous analysis shows that even if you live and work right beside a new LRT station, taking the LRT will still take twice as long as by car. Why would anyone LRT? But maybe you disagree with the previous analysis? If so, what parts? Or maybe you disagree that commute time is the most important factor? If so, what other factors should we consider? Comfort and flexibility are all better in car. Price could be a factor, but the average 3 person household owns 1.65 cars in Canada, so even in big cities families aren’t giving up their cars, only leaving them at home to get to work because driving would take so much longer (http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20100302212551AANFWET).

                  Agreed congestion will become a problem in 10 to 15 years. LRT only solves this problem by concentrating development. But it does so around 16 stations and 19 km. As stated before, I live as close as is possible (Bauer) to one of the densest areas in the region (Uptown) and yet it still is not dense enough to live a walkable lifestyle. If we really want desnification, why don’t we do it around 1 station and 1 km first?

                  Reply
                2. Michael Druker

                  “Do you know how often they plan to run the iXpress in the fall? I have heard they have cut back service, which doesn’t make sense given all the supposed growth.”

                  It will be back to every 10 minutes including off-peak, with some additional buses during peaks. The cut-backs in summer were a way to cut down the budget a small amount, given that it’s a year that’s seeing increases for LRT and a huge increase of GRT service in September.

                  “All previous analysis shows that even if you live and work right beside a new LRT station, taking the LRT will still take twice as long as by car.”

                  I don’t know where your analysis comes from, but it doesn’t include the time or cost to get to and from parking when parking is hard to come by. If you live in uptown Waterloo and work in downtown Kitchener, and your parking spot is not right in front of your building, pure travel times become competitive, setting aside all costs and hassle of using a car for the trip.

                  Price is certainly a factor, especially the price of parking in a dense employment area. Traffic is another factor, as the unpredictability of it and powerlessness are annoyances that can be avoided with transit that has its own right of way.

                  “As stated before, I live as close as is possible (Bauer) to one of the densest areas in the region (Uptown) and yet it still is not dense enough to live a walkable lifestyle.”

                  You are not everyone. I know a fair number of people who live there and around there, and who disagree with your assessment. They live in that area, and pay the premium, precisely because it is walkable. I have lived in that area precisely because it is walkable.

                  “If we really want desnification, why don’t we do it around 1 station and 1 km first?”

                  You have yet to propose any mechanism whereby your “one station” should attract massive numbers of people to live/work/etc. within short walking distance. Wishful thinking does not build density and walkable urbanism.

                  Reply
                  1. Ted Post author

                    On cut backs, doesn’t this scare you? That we are cutting schedules when there is proven demand, just to save a few bucks? How are we possibly meant to afford the LRT?

                    On parking, you are right, I didn’t take this into account. Can you provide any examples of places this is an issue? I go to meetings all over town, and rarely have I found parking to be an issue.

                    On Bauer being walkable, agreed that is debatable. But do they drive or transit to work? The iXpress and LRT transit times will be roughly equivalent for the foreseeable future, so if they are transiting today they will transit tomorrow (although yes, it will be in cool trains). But also if they are driving today they will most likely drive tomorrow as well.

                    On wishful thinking, agreed. That said, I like to think of this is problem solving: if I gave you 800mm dollars to build whatever you wanted, wherever you wanted, could you come up with a solution that excited people so much that all future development occurred right around it? Personally, I actually think there is an incredible solution…

                    Reply
                  2. Michael Druker

                    “On cut backs, doesn’t this scare you?”

                    No, because the token cutback (not that it’s great) is in the context of a year that is seeing a huge increase in service. The Region has a lot invested in the LRT and bus network increases, and it is ramping up taxes to get it paid for. If it didn’t do that, it would instead have to do the same thing to pay for more new and upgraded road infrastructure to handle the demand instead.

                    “But do they drive or transit to work?”

                    They walk, bike, and take transit. I know many people who choose where they live based on the commute it affords them.

                    “The iXpress and LRT transit times will be roughly equivalent for the foreseeable future, so if they are transiting today they will transit tomorrow…”

                    Sort of, but not really. Because:
                    -Right now, the iXpress 200 can get so packed during fall and winter that it discourages new riders from using it.
                    -iXpress already gets slowed down by traffic during rush hour, and it gets stuck in general traffic as well. LRT will not be affected and will have a much more reliable schedule.
                    -LRT will be faster despite having more stops. The official LRT speed estimates are conservative, but it will shave 5-10 minutes off the end-to-end time.

                    “…if I gave you 800mm dollars to build whatever you wanted, wherever you wanted, could you come up with a solution that excited people so much that all future development occurred right around it?”

                    $800m is not really that much money as far as city-building, and I don’t think there’s any magic bullet (apart from actual coercion) to get development to cluster as you describe.

                    But one thing I don’t think you understand is that municipal governments have good reasons for being risk-averse. (Sure, they can sometimes be happy to innovate, with proven technology and after good pilot studies.) When the shit hits the fan, they can’t close up shop or decide to move on to some other project – they have to clean things up, and still keep the buses running, the roads patched-up, the bridges standing, the water clean, and taxes manageable. When well-run cities build infrastructure or make investments, they look at the 50-year timeframe and they don’t count on optimistic promises.

                    Reply
                    1. Ted Post author

                      Thanks Michael and Mike for all your posts. They have helped me get to the heart of the issue, which is now becoming clear. I will post on this next.

                      In the mean time, I see both of you are part of TriTag, which is cool. Why did you choose to join it? What are your backgrounds? Would love to get to know you guys better.

                    2. Michael Druker

                      I got involved so I could support a better, more urban, progressive, and sustainable future in the region. I initially came to Waterloo as a student, but chose to stay here in large part due to the progressive planning in the region that’s so far ahead of many other places.

                      If you’re interested, I’d be happy to chat over a coffee or something. And I should note: while I’m rather critical of many of your points on LRT, I think there’s a lot of value in having public advocacy on walkability and related issues. There’s still plenty that needs to be done to support better walkability and density in the region.

                    3. Michael Druker

                      Great! WordPress should have my email for my comments… at any rate it’s [first initial][last name] at gmail.

                    4. mb

                      wrt the single node idea, its flawed in that it would promote sprawl. the reason why we have projects that focus on 16kms vs. 1km is to prevent creating such a dense centre that sprawl occurs naturally. the lrt will allow for a long cycle of steady development along the corridor which limits the wasteful spending that would be experienced should be build an olympic stadium at king and queen.

                    5. Ted Post author

                      Hey mb,

                      Not sure what you are getting at… If we took the development from 16 km, and concentrated them at along 1km at 16 times the density, to me this is the exact opposite of sprawl…

                      Maybe I am missing something

                  3. Michael Druker

                    “On parking, you are right, I didn’t take this into account. Can you provide any examples of places this is an issue? I go to meetings all over town, and rarely have I found parking to be an issue.”

                    The two universities. The Tannery, where some employees get parking way out on Bramm Street. Sun Life, which runs a shuttle bus from distant parking lots. Downtown Kitchener in general, where parking for employees is not always on-site, can be expensive in city lots, and can be impossible to find on-street.

                    Both Kitchener and Waterloo are looking to redevelop their surface parking lots with buildings, and to raise parking rates to at least where they recover their costs (which are much higher for structured parking). And both cities are growing their cores. Which all means that parking supply is not going to be going up much, but demand will – pushing prices up.

                    Keep in mind that visitor parking is not the same as employee parking, and that not all employers provide free parking.

                    Reply
      2. Patrick

        “why did we cut the iexpress service back to only go every 15 minutes during summer”

        I realize that you just started paying attention to transit in this city 2 days ago, but this was a huge debate earlier this year – see http://www.therecord.com/news-story/2619746-local-transit-users-criticize-proposed-cuts. Council made these changes KNOWING that transit users would be left standing at stations while full busses went by, but they did it to save a few bucks. Earlier this week, GRT was forced to put more 201 busses back on the schedule because of too many complaints. The GRT Twitter replies have been full of complaints about full busses.

        In my experience, transit use in this city expands to fill the availability. I bought a house along the iXpress/future LRT line specifically for access to transit. I’ve been taking the iXpress since it started. When the iXpress first rolled out, ridership was low. Over a few years, we started seeing crush load conditions. Then the headway was improved to 10 minutes, and service is a bit better again, but still standing room only for large parts of the route. It’s not hard to see this pattern continuing as the city grows more dense – busses every 5 minutes, then every 2 minutes, until King St is nothing but a line of busses. Since you probably dismiss that as “rhetoric”, I encourage you to look up the GRT official stats and run your own projections.

        By the way, the next time you feel compelled to wade into a debate on a subject you know nothing about, you may want to keep this Mark Twain quote in mind: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” Lots of people, here, on council, on Twitter, and on Reddit, now think you’re a fool.

        Reply
        1. Ted Post author

          Hey Patrick,

          First off, personal attacks are not appreciated. If you would like to be part of the discussion, please be respectful.

          On GRT cut backs, if we are cutting back schedules to save a few bucks, when we know there is a need, how are we possibly going to afford an $800mm construction project?

          On a line of buses on King, the exact same argument could be made for trains: we’ll start at a train every 7.5 minutes, then every 5, and then every 2, until king street is nothing but a line of trains. Fortunately, if required buses can spread out the load between multiple roads, whereas trains cannot.

          Reply
          1. Alex

            Really Ted you should have informed yourself a bit better before jumping into this debate. One of the reasons LRT was chosen over BRT (buses with dedicated lanes) is that it is trivial to double the size of a train: you simply couple two trains together, yet you still have only one driver, which is the dominant operating cost.

            So no, we won’t have a train every 2 minutes. We will have a train that is up to 2.5x larger every 5 minutes and since it uses a dedicated lane, this can easily be done.

            Reply
  2. Corry

    Ted – thanks for posting this. The fact that you’re talking about this issue is a service to the Region, regardless of if LRT Is a good idea / bad idea. The ‘smartest community’ in Canada should ALWAYS welcome debate, ALWAYS want people to challenge past decisions, ALWAYS encourage people who haven’t been involved yet to get involved.

    I also think it’s disingenuous for people to paint this debate as “car drivers vs. non-car drivers”. It’s not about that at all – the stated goal of the project was to make it easier for car drivers to shift to public transit. Since that’s how the project is promoted, that’s one of the ways it should be evaluated. Maybe not the only way to evaluate it, but definitely an important one.

    If the ONLY reasons people have to be against your position are “it’s already been decided”, “he’s too privileged”, or “he’s not in government so how can he know” – then that’s pretty telling.

    Reply
    1. Malcolm McCulloch

      The fact that you’re talking about this issue is a service to the Region, regardless of if LRT Is a good idea / bad idea. The ‘smartest community’ in Canada should ALWAYS welcome debate.

      I just want to add my support to this. From the review I’d done (which was not large) I was thinking that LRT made the most sense. I’m presently undecided.

      However, I am aware that’s possible that the main thing we need is some kind of transit expansion, and that LRT now is better than spending another 7 years (5 years research + 2 years getting approval) figuring something else out. I think this point is perhaps why some people are extremely frustrated by your criticism and attempts at obstruction at this stage.

      Anyway, I welcome conversation about this! I’m hoping that all parties move forward with the cities’ best interests in mind, and most importantly, a willingness to be wrong.

      Reply
      1. Ted Post author

        Thanks Malcolm and Corry for your comments. In the interest of full disclosure, both Corry and Malcolm previously worked at Kik.

        Reply
  3. Mike Stark

    Surely tons of this discussion has happened over the 8+ years of this project, and you’re definitely not the first to bring up any of these points… The iXpress buses were put in back in ’05 – our cities were a different place then, the LRT won’t be complete for many years to come, our cities will definitely be different then too. The current iXpress route takes something like 39 minutes to traverse. Using the current population model, the route will take 56 minutes by bus by 2031 – The LRT by comparison will take 36 minutes (I’m going off of memory here, maybe someone can look up the true numbers).

    I agree that the price tag is huge for the region, where the majority of people probably drive (just hit the conestogo parkway any day at 5 and you’ll know what I mean), but if we’re trying to build a better, walkable, urbanized city, doesn’t this really make sense to have fast, cheap and reliable transit running through the core? I think the key for us as local business people and supporters of our amazing cities is to support this great transportation initiative (with amazing support from the government) and get employees, neighbours, friends and family to join us in using this.

    I live Uptown Waterloo, and work Downtown Kitchener. I like being central to so many services in Waterloo and have the ability to travel from Conestoga Mall to Fairview with relative ease. I’m looking forward to a leaner, faster more encompassing transit system within the KW Area, and hopefully this will pave the way for more infrastructure rolling out to neighbouring towns and cities (great transit to Toronto and / or Airport would sure be great!)

    It’s hard to judge the numbers that will use the LRT, and off the bat, it might be hard for any change to happen, but as the roads fill up with cars, and the train runs quick, we’ll see an increase in ridership. I wouldn’t be surprised if it increased right off the bat though… I mean trains are WAY cooler than buses.

    Thanks for bringing up the discussion though, it’s great that you’re passionate about the region.

    Reply
    1. Ted Post author

      Thanks Mike, really appreciate this post.

      Based on all the discussion so far, it seems like the number one debate for the LRT is “ok, your numbers make sense, but every big city needs transit, and we want to be a big city, so why not just put it in now before its too late?”

      I have answered this in other comments. I hope you will seek them out. Maybe this should be the next topic we discuss 🙂

      Reply
  4. Cory Albrecht

    If you’re “looking forward to a leaner, faster more encompassing transit system within the KW Area, then why, as mentioned in the CBC article[1], are you so concerned about having to take longer than 4 minutes to get to work? That’s the sign of somebody who thinks as a car user and that cars are the only solution. Especially since you complain about losing the flexibility to go to the gym after work. What, is your gym outside of town and not serviced by Grand River Transit? Oh dear me – it will take you 20 minutes to get to the gym? How horrible for you. I begin to wonder if you’ve ever used the GRT. As Mr. Druker tried to point out to you, LRT doesn’t mean an axing of the iXpress services. If you’ve actually read up on this debate, you’d know that increased express routes is part of the plan. Wikipedia even mentions it, for crying out loud.

    In the 570news article[2] you say “the thing that’s amazing about Toronto is not that they have a subway, that they have a bus, that they have a streetcar, but that you can walk everywhere”. Seriously? How many people do you think walk from Lawrence Manor, High Park North or Crescent Town areas to go work near Queens Park or on Front Street? How many people do you think live near Fairview Mall in Kitchener and work in Uptown Waterloo walk that hour and a quarter every morning to work, and then home again at 5pm? How many of then do you think walk the 2.5 hours to Conestoga Mall to go see a movie? Nobody, I’d guess, but I bet they’d be glad to be free of of the hassle of parking by taking a 15 minute LRT ride to Downtown, a 25 minute ride to Uptown or 35 minutes to the movie? Walking is only a workable alternative if every place you want or need to go exists a 15-30 minute walk from where you live.

    When things have been significantly debated and discussed for *years* and you wade into the fray with an attitude that you’re the only person who has thought of these things *and* you’re making mistakes out of ignorance, you need to expect some flak for that ignorance and not start pontificating over Twitter on the difference between rhetoric and logic, or writing woe-is-me blog posts about how you’re only trying to point out a danger. Otherwise dismissing your opinion is legitimate because your opinion is not. When you make yourself look foolish, don’t whine about people pointing it out to you.

    [1]http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/story/2013/07/11/kw-waterloo-light-rail-transit.html
    [2]http://www.570news.com/2013/07/10/lrt-petition/

    Reply
    1. Cory Albrecht

      Whoops! “emotion and logic” rather than “rhetoric” and logic, to be exact, though the sense is still the same.

      Reply
      1. Ted Post author

        Hey Cory,

        Thanks for the post. When I put up the petition I did so fully knowing there would be push back. Fully knowing that there would be personal attacks. But I sat there and thought, what will I regret? And so here we are, and I have no regrets.

        With me you are right, I value you my time. I would rather hang out with friends, then spend time on the commute. But which of you thinks differently?

        Of course I agree that nobody is going to walk an hour to a movie. But I also know that when the LRT takes 2 to 5 times as long as driving, they aren’t going be to taking the train either.

        This is my point. What if we could take that 800 million, and instead of putting in glorified buses, we built a community where everything was in walking distance? Where the movies, groceries, bars, shops, and work we’re all a 5 minute walk away?

        Reply
        1. Mike Boos

          Please stop the ‘glorified buses’ rhetoric. It’s too bad you missed the opportunity this weekend to see the demo vehicle for yourself; you might be less inclined to make such a misleading statement.

          To say a light rail vehicle is like a bus is like saying apples are oranges. Sure, both are fruit, but they’ve got distinct characteristics that make one more desirable than the other in certain situations. Electric trains on welded tracks are a vastly different experience from buses – the motion is very smooth. The designated rail right of way and signal control will mean never being stuck in traffic or behind a red light. The vehicle design allows for the vehicle to pull seamlessly up against the platforms so that wheelchairs and strollers can roll right in, unlike buses, which must pause to lower and raise ramps. Rail vehicles can also mean lower operational costs – a single driver can move 200 passengers (or even 400 with two connected trains), instead of about 65 with a bus. This is important, as the peer-reviewed models tell us that 60,000 people a day will be travelling the corridor by transit in 20 years.

          Reply
          1. Ted Post author

            Hey Mike,

            Thanks for calling me out on the glorified buses rhetoric. You are right. I will stop using this.

            That said, I do believe they share many characteristics of buses: the are a box that move people from point A to point B. Buses too can be given dedicated lanes and priority signals, as well as boarding platforms. Also, the study I posted showed that their operating costs are typically twice as high as comparable BRT systems.

            I also agree that it was too bad I missed seeing the train, although I have seen many pictures. The trains actually do look cool, but coolness alone, or their ability to draw crowds, will not get people out of their cars after the first couple of rides.

            Reply
        2. Cory Albrecht

          Ted, It’s not a personal attack to point out when the comments you are making show a lack of knowledge of the topic. It’s a valid criticism to point out that you’re missing something in your evaluation, and when it’s something that easily available, like the non-axing of iXpress, it’s proper to call it ignorance.

          “But I also know that when the LRT takes 2 to 5 times as long as driving, they aren’t going be to taking the train either.”

          Oh you, do you? You may be so car-centric limited in your thoughts that you’d rather go through the frustration of taking 10-15 minutes to find a reasonably close parking spot in stead of spending that extra 5-10 minutes on the LRT and not have to worry about parking at all. BTW, Fairview Mall to Uptown Waterloo, 16 minutes via car, 20 projected via LRT, 27 via current iXpress. This is another factor of your ignorance on the subject – that you don’t know how long the travel will actually take. “2 to 5 times as long” is, well, dishonest hyperbole.

          “What if we could take that 800 million, and instead of putting in glorified buses, we built a community where everything was in walking distance?”

          Seriously? You think that $800 million is going to rearrange the entire cities of Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge so that every house has a nice cafe, several nice restaurants, a public school and a high school, a movie theatre, a concert hall, a grocery store, banks, doctors & med tech offices and a diversity of employment such that everybody can walk in 15 minutes to everything?

          Even if we could snap our fingers and magic that utopian urban layout into existence, it would never stay that way. People will change employers and no longer be a 15 minute walk from work but they won’t ant to move to a new house because they like the one they have now and the neighbourhood where they’d have to move to to maintain that 15 minute walk is too upscale and expensive for them. Maybe they’re moving new to the city, instead across town, and while they can afford the neighbourhood that is in the 15 minute walk radius they decide on a cheaper one farther away so they put the extra money into a Caribbean vacation every winter. Or maybe it’s a trivial as that new neighbourhood has a Sobeys and a Dunkin’ Donuts but they prefer Zehrs and Timmy’s. Or conversely they get a promotion and want to move to a part of town with newer, bigger homes than are available in their area. Neighbourhoods will gentrify and the people who work as your store clerks and waiters will have to move to cheaper neighbourhoods farther away and no longer be able to walk 15 minutes to work. There are many other reasons, decisions that people make which make your idea of these 15 minute walk neighbourhoods a fantasy that will never happen in practice.

          All those reasons are why we need a healthy public transit system capable of moving large amounts of people across town when car traffic becomes impractical due to density, and we are getting very close to that – some will even feel from driving downtown Kitchener that we are already there.

          This fantasy also requires a ridiculous reduplication of services that increases the cost of providing them. Compare a few big mega-supermarkets scatter across town like now compared to a corner-store grocer in ever neighbourhood as per you fantasy. More buildings to lease, more employees to run them, a larger logistics wing and more trucks to get everything delivered in a timely fashion before the store runs out because it doesn’t have as large a warehouse in the back, and so on. Your grocery bill just went up significantly. That maybe OK for a well-off person like yourself who can afford to rent a place in downtown Toronto where he only spends the weekend, but not everybody has that financial flexibility.

          Your entire argument is built on the idea that you know better than people with education and experience in urban planning, and that in spite of having all these things pointed out to you that you are missing or ignoring by so many people, you still know better than everybody else. For example, when I challenge your idea that Toronto is such a walkable city by asking how many people live Lawrence Manor and walk to work on Front St., rather than coming up with some demographic stats as to where the L-M inhabitants actually work and how that they mostly walk to near-by places of employment, instead you just don’t mention that and simply reiterate how nice it would be to have everything in walking distance. Or how you just ignore the point about the benefit of not having to find a parking spot making up for a slightly longer transit time.

          Reply
          1. Ted Post author

            Hey Cory,

            Thanks for the post. To your points:

            Re: personal attacks, when a flaw is pointed out in my analysis then absolutely not, it is not a personal attack, it is part of having a discussion! In fact, I greatly appreciate it, and is the point of this site. To have that discussion.

            Re: 2 to 5 times. You have provided a single example of where the LRT will *almost* be as fast as driving. But what about this. If we pulled up Waterloo region on Google Maps, and randomly picked 2 points, and then calculated the driving time and the transit time between them, and then repeated this 100 times: how many times do you think driving would be at least twice as fast as transit? I would be shocked if it were less than 95. Maybe this analysis has been done, but I have repeatedly asked and still nobody has pointed me to it (yes, lots of analysis was done, but I haven’t yet been able to find this analysis).

            Re: $800 million for walking, no, of course not, that would be crazy. There are two types of people in this community, suburban and urban. Suburban people value their backyards, and will continue to drive their cars. The LRT is not for them, it will only increase their taxes. I am focusing on the urban people. For these people, I think with $800 million you *could* spark a single dense core, one where every person who wanted the urban life would want to live. We don’t have a single one of these cores yet (I have tried living at both of our two densest cores, Kaufmann in Kitchener in 2011/12 and Bauer in Uptown 2012/13, and neither come close to being walkable). Furthermore, because it is 19km the LRT will only further spread out development more.

            Re: never happening, the downtown Toronto skyline is exploding because everyone who wants urban is moving into the walkable core. Density does not have to mean cost. In fact, I think it could be much cheaper.

            Re: public transit once car becomes impractical, this is a good point and one I fully agree with – if we do nothing then one day our city will be congested and we’ll be glad we have the LRT, even if it takes us 2 to 5 times longer to get anywhere then in the good ol’ days. And at that point, this city will suck in the same ways every other great city does, only it will be much less great. At that point, it would be foolish for any tech company not to move to Toronto or the Valley or New York: they have all the advantages but more (restaurants, culture, etc), with all the same disadvantages but less (same congestion, better transit). This is a new point I hadn’t thought of before, which I will try to tackle in another post – what makes Waterloo special as a tech hub?

            Re: fantasy. This point doesn’t make any sense, and is almost an argument for suburban sprawl (Boardwalk?) That said, it is also just wrong: downtown Toronto has mainly large grocery stores.

            Re: entire argument. I don’t mean it to come across that way, I only want what is best for our city. I have read countless books on urban planning, and have noticed a common theme that it is actually these experts who are to blame for all the problems cities now find themselves in (eg grab Walkable City, 5 stars on Amazon, one of the most acclaimed books on the subject: http://www.amazon.com/Walkable-City-Downtown-Save-America/dp/0374285810/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1374783571&sr=8-1&keywords=walkable+city). So no, I don’t think we should just believe the experts because they say they are the experts.

            Re: pointed out by so many people, I have been approached by countless people expressing their appreciation for speaking up. I have also talked to many extremely pro LRT people who after an hour conversation have walked away entirely unsure. My fear is that people who are against the LRT aren’t speaking out because they are afraid of being attacked like we have seen on this site. They are branded as having no vision, as being pro car, as being selfish and lazy. Because being pro LRT has the moral high ground. Of course we should save the environment. Of course we should leave our cars at home. Of course we should take transit. But that absolutely doesn’t mean we will.

            Reply
  5. Michael Shao

    Hi Ted,

    Great to see someone speaking up as a leading voice in a fight that many others couldn’t even dare to try (such as myself). Not being able to be heard is one of the most frustrating things ever, especially when you get attacked for being “ignorant” or “not with the times”, simply for not having the privilege or opportunity that others have been so fortunate to have.

    As a student, I liked the idea of an LRT, as I’d seen it done so well in the city of Vancouver. While subways and trains in general were an utter failure in Toronto and New York City, I’d like to see someplace that does it right (aka Waterloo), but that’s going to take work. The current mechanism didn’t take into account enough of the working public, and as you’ve already addressed, we’re not a dense enough city to encourage walking/transit.

    I’m coming back to school at Waterloo in the fall, and I already know I’m driving, because it takes way too damn long to take transit to and from a grocery store to be able to justify switching to a “free UPass system”. It’s also the reason I was creating shoptimize, but business backlash and general lack of interest from big companies (like Loblaw/Sobeys) were enough to shut me down.

    I’m glad to see there is a voice of reason amongst a lot of the muck I’ve seen, and I’m glad to know that there is an intellectual who is willing to fight for what is right. A much-needed Tommy Douglas if I ever saw one.

    Thanks again, Ted.

    Reply
    1. Ted Post author

      Hey Michael,

      I think you are the first person I don’t know to offer your support on this site, which means a lot. Thank you.

      How much faster would transit have to be before you switched from driving? What other factors could cause you to get out of your car? You also raise an interesting point that as a student you have a free GRT pass, and yet you still don’t use it.

      Reply
      1. Michael Shao

        Actually, you do know me, you probably just don’t remember me. I am a long-time VeloCity resident, and I’ve been applying to VVF every term I’ve lived there.

        Transit would have to be reasonably regular for me to switch. I have no problems with travel times, but my biggest issue right now in Calgary (which is similar to Waterloo, except farther along since they built their LRT six months ago) is that the timings between LRT/buses is so long that it doesn’t make it worth it to take transit, however I have to, since I don’t have a car here.

        I would have to know that transit is:
        a) not overcrowded
        b) reasonably regular (every 5-10 min, with the drivers being on time!)
        c) good coverage in highly-travelled areas (uptown waterloo, the University areas, etc).

        Yeah, I have a “free” UPASS, being a student of UW, but I don’t use it because of how slow the coverage is, if at all. Even buses such as the iXpress aren’t that “regular” – at minimum they come every ten minutes, but even during peak I’ve seen them come as infrequently as a half hour. That’s frustrating if I have a Greyhound to catch at St. Charles terminal on a time constraint, and I had to wait a half hour for an iXpress, despite leaving my place an hour before the bus leaves.

        I think the biggest problem for me is lack of convenience. If I could get to Conestoga and back to campus fairly easily (i.e. via LRT or reasonably quickly by transit – less than a half hour), I would definitely consider switching. Until then, I don’t feel as if I could switch without inconveniencing myself heavily. When I grocery shop, I need to be able to be flexible in my spending habits, buying the food I require to stay healthy.

        Reply
        1. Ted Post author

          Good points Michael, and sorry I don’t remember you! We’re you there when I was (Winter 2009)?

          I think your writing above illustrates why walking is so beautiful:

          a) it isn’t overcrowded
          b) the train waits for you and leaves whenever you like

          The problem of course is distance – I’m not even willing to walk the 200m from Bauer to LCBO, nevermind from campus to Conestoga!

          But I guess that is the key question: could we eliminate distance? Could we build a development that moved Conestoga and put it right beside UWaterloo (metaphorically of course, not literally)? If I gave you $800 million and said you can build whatever you want, but a) it must be a pure private development b) it must only cost $800M and c) it must maximize the % of people that walk (ie dont take cars), what would you build? It would have to be a spark, something that is just enough to start a fire, as $800M won’t go that far. What would you build? How would you spark a fire?

          Reply
  6. Michael Shao

    Sorry, I guess I was being vague. I’m two years older than your old intern Malcolm! — You gave a talk at VeloCity when I was a first-time resident there in May of 2011. My last terms in my degree are in Spring of 2014, and I hope to be able to spend my last school term at VeloCity. I’ve been a resident ever since Spring 2011 (whenever I’m on a study term).

    I think the problem was that we never designed the city to be good for public transit, as you seem to be leaning toward.

    It’s due to this fundamental problem that I personally see no reason to give up my car, because everything’s so far apart in Waterloo that I legitimately cannot give my car to lose “time efficiency”.

    The way I see it is like so; I have three basic premises in which the decisions I make w.r.t. transport methodology. Efficiency of time, money, and overall benefit. If I can only save money by installing an LRT, instead of money as well as time and benefit, then I see no reason to give up my car, given that all I lose with my car is money.

    Reply
    1. Ted Post author

      Ha cool.

      And I completely agree with you. This is the killer comment you said:

      everything’s so far apart in Waterloo that I legitimately cannot give my car to lose “time efficiency”.

      I 100% agree with this, and putting in what is logically a faster, smoother bus will absolutely not fix this. But a development that induced all future development to be right around it could…

      Reply
      1. Michael Shao

        Thanks for the compliment – I tend to think of myself as an entrepreneur in the sense that I require creating, using, and inspiring efficient and optimal solutions to things.

        Whether it be gaming, life, or even mundane processes such as eating or doing laundry, everything should be efficient for me to be happy. I also agree with your point — you can’t just create a faster version of a bus and expect people to use it.

        The “build it, and they will come” mentality that the city seems to have taken is a very elitist response, despite their planning and despite their hard work.

        I would seriously reconsider how much actual “community input” they got, instead of just using the direct feedback they received. I would doubt that the actual feedback is represented properly through those who actually had time to come forward.

        Unfortunately, I’ve been on co-op for the past seven months, and was completely uninformed and unaware of the happenings. I think it’s mainly due to these things that I have so much protest and passion against these kinds of subjects, especially since the city never actually directly approached interest groups. Saying “we held forums” and “we had meetings about this” isn’t going to cut it when you’re affecting a population of almost three-quarters of a million people, especially if they truly believe they are acting in the “best interests of everyone”.

        That kind of mentality is exactly the reason why America is so badly thought of. “Corruption” runs rampant and free due to the lack of awareness and the lack of ability to speak out; those who try are indicted and condemned to their own devices until further notice (Manning, Snowden, Assange).

        Very sad, very cruel, yet very predictable. I still applaud a person like yourself with so much influence — I would be even more impressed if a company like RIM stepped up to the plate and helped out as well.

        Reply
        1. Ted Post author

          That’s a good point, RIM. I wonder what they think…

          I think the city did try to do their absolute best, but I think what happened to me is also what happened to everyone else: you hear about it, you stop and think quickly, we are growing, makes sense we need transit, trains are cool, and hey they’re the experts so lets just see how it goes. And that’s it. In one ear, out the other.

          But if you ever get the time and stop and really dig in, you start to realize it makes no sense. I only got the chance to do this two weeks ago, because I felt I needed to “prove” that by voting against the LRT our mayor didn’t know what she was doing.

          Reply

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