Rally 4 Rails

Dec 5th Rally 4 Rails

My husband and I arrived back in Canada in 2009 after two years in Europe and quite a few more in BC. I’ll admit we didn’t choose the area, it chose us with a fantastic opportunity for my husband. Hoping to continue our sans car, public transit life we’d had in Europe, we selected Guelph’s Ward 1 for its proximity to Via Rail (I commuted into TO) and our ability to walk to the Market and the downtown core. After a year we decided to move on to KW, and again chose a house that allowed me to walk to work and downtown. We were surprised to find that there was no commutable transit between Kitchener and Guelph, which left my hubby tethered to our car everyday. After living in Madrid, with one of the world’s best metro systems, this was and is a shock.

You can imagine that we were thrilled to hear about the arrival of GO Train and the seemingly aligned Regional plan for LRT; and our dismay at hearing the advocates start to dismiss it as unnecessary, too expensive and not “for us” during the recent election. Enter tritag, the Tri-Cities Transport Action Group and Wonderful Waterloo with December 5th’s Rally for Rails: Don’t Derail Our Future. A strong showing of supporters (in freezing weather) plus a really good offering of speakers including Region, City, university and even arts representatives showed that there are others like us out there – people who want to tread lightly on our planet’s resources, plan for long term sustainability and who believe in what Waterloo Region is and what it can be.

Like every rally of this type, you have your naysayers. An older gentleman circulated through the crowd with flyers that deemed the LRT plan as too expensive. We gave him a polite no-thank-you, and when he asked if our minds were already made up, we said heck yes. After all sir, not only do we pay taxes now, we will be paying them long after you are not. We´re planning for the future, are you? And as one sign so well put it – “Roads aren’t free.”

If you want more on what is happening with LRT planning, what you can do to help or just to see what the arguments are, I would encourage you to visit tritag’s website. You can find ready to print flyers, how to get involved (from sending an email to volunteering your time) and links to all sorts of resources like an intercity transportation guide. You can also join the conversation on Wonderful Waterloo.

We aren’t Toronto and we certainly don’t have the bulk of a major city like Madrid, most likely we don’t want to be either. R4R drove home the message that systems like LRTs are not just for mega cities, they are for communities that are planning for substantial growth, that take initiative for greening their backyard and others and understand that sustainable planning isn’t always the easiest route to take.

My favorite sentiment of R4R came from Martin de Groot who said (I’m paraphrasing here) that wasn’t it crazy that a city that has been deemed one of the most intelligent and innovative in the world, feels that it can’t do an LRT because it is too difficult. Yes I agree Martin, LRT may be hard, but it is right.

Thanks to Wonderful Waterloo and TRITAG for this opportunity to show our support and connect with others who think it’s as good an idea as we do.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Rally 4 Rails

  1. Fred

    “After all sir, not only do we pay taxes now, we will be paying them long after you are not.”

    So seniors shouldn’t get a vote then on what to do with their Tax dollars? Your statement is offensive to say the least.

    Are you saying we should have an age limit on opinions…only working middle and upper class people should get a vote… No one over the age of 65 because their days are limited anyways?

    • Fred, I do thank-you for your comments. Getting a discussion going about LRT is exactly what we need to be doing.

      I included the gentlemen in the entry as he brought up cost as the major reason why we should not do LRT and I would have included him no matter his age. LRT is a plan for the future of our Region and looking solely at the now is not good sustainable planning. By 2030 we will increase by 50% with 45% living in a core which will be accessible along the LRT routes. LRT can be the main spine of transport, which cities that size usually have (or something like it), while buses will inform the rest. We have the buses and they are at capacity. Do you take transit regularly in the city now? I do. It isn´t fun. I don´t want to increase our road system to handle that capacity, and hey roads are not free either.

      I took offense at the gentleman´s words to us because they indicated that we were too young and did not contribute enough financially to have a say. Everyone should have a say in our future, and I hope that everyone takes the opportunity to say what their vision for Wat Region is.

      (To qualify where I am coming from: my husband is a consulting engineer and PhD that specializes in sustainable systems, his work has taken him around the world to work on master plans for cities not yet built and to improve on those that are. Never once has he recommended a bus system. We´ve both lived and worked in European and Canadian major centers and have seen the possibilities of sustainable planning. Diverse sustainable energy and good transportation is of benefit to all and makes a happier and healthier community)

  2. Phil Dee

    I have to agree with Fred, and this is coming from someone who is no where near retirement.

    My problem with the light rail is that it will be inaccessible to most and buses will still be a huge part of the picture. In a town our size, this really begs the question whether we really need it at this current time.

    Also, how much is it going to cost to ride these rails? Public transportation is already quite expensive for those of lower income (the majority). It seems to me like light rail will serve those coming into high rent zones, of which our uptown/downtown is quickly becoming. Of course, the working poor will be made to shoulder the payment of taxes for the light rails they will most likely have no use for or find very expensive to ride! While those who can afford to live in new condos and most likely do quite well financially, will have no problem paying to ride the rails. I say take the bus like the rest of us, the bus system with small tweaks can easily serve our growth to 200 000 and beyond.

    It just seems like light rail is not a solution that really takes into consideration MOST of the residents of KW, so I have to ask, why do it then?

    And for the record, I’m an avid biker and public transportation advocate, but I have def. not jumped to conclusions on light rail.

    Waiting to be convinced, because I want to believe. I’m very skeptical of these big “investment” plans, as they almost never work out for most residents, especially those of lower income (which quite frankly should be the priority).

    • Thanks for the comment, as I indicated above all discussion is good discussion.

      Again I would suggest that we need to plan for the future rather than the now. Even if LRT went to construction now, it would take time for it to be completed. What would Wat Region look like then? How about by 2020, 2030? Do we want to keep increasing our sprawl, low density living that requires great resources to maintain and sacrifices farm land? If so we´ll need more roads, extensition of services and other things that cost money. LRT is part of a larger vision for the Region that also includes more development along its lines. What do you want our future to be?

      “Of course, the working poor will be made to shoulder the payment of taxes for the light rails they will most likely have no use for or find very expensive to ride!”

      – You don´t indicate that all income levels pay taxes, with those making more paying more. The “working poor” also have to pay taxes for road extensions and service extensions even if they don´t live in those areas. Not a fair argument. Find another one and maybe you´ll convince me.

      • Phil Dee

        Hi Kirstie,

        All discussion is good, I agree. This is going to impact everyone, I hope more and more people get involved. Through this discussion, I hope I can at least let folks know the facts about what is going on, because that is what is needed and it can only come through people becoming engaged in the issue and informed.

        I agree, more roads is not a good solution, and maintenance of roads is not good either. Neither is sprawl (which has so far been very poorly managed). However, I do not think increased bus services needs to mean more sprawl. I do not see the current roads being diminished (other than reducing lanes and putting in bike lanes), in fact, my occupation as a taxi driver clearly shows me that roads are here to stay (at least what has so far been built). I guess the question become, will LRT mean less maintenance costs on the lanes that will be turned into rail? Also, LRT is clearly not going to service very many people, everyone is still going to heavily rely on buses to get off the main transit lines of the LRT. Or am I getting this wrong? Will the LRT actually get people out to the burbs, of which our entire region is mostly made up of? To make things clear, I’m strongly for stopping all sprawl at the level where it is now (it’s already appalling and we have already paved precious land). But I see a strong bus system as something of more use to get people within the existing zones, as opposed to an expensive project like LRT which, IMO, will only service people to a point, where they will anyway have to get on a bus to get home.

        All income levels pay taxes, this is true. But when you are of lower income, higher taxes actually take away your food. When you are in high income, it doesn’t actually make things “terrible” for you. If you look at guaranteed income schemes, it is the same argument as to why these schemes have to be unconditional and given to everyone, regardless of income level. Higher taxes means a lot more for those of lower income, than those whom higher taxes simply means less luxury.

  3. Goncalo Pedro

    Phil Dee wrote:

    “Public transportation is already quite expensive for those of lower income (the majority)”

    I have to disagree on this one. The most expensive form of transit is actually a personal vehicle. A monthly pass with GRT currently costs $60 a month. Even if you own a personal vehicle which is completely paid for, I think one would be hard pressed to compete with the cost of taking public transit.

    I agree with you that transit is too expensive, and I wish it was further subsidized to make it even more attractive.

    LRT might be more expensive from an initial capital outlay perspective but when you take into account the growth prospects for the region over the next 20 or 30 years, LRT starts to make sense. LRT is a compact high, high density form of transit with a lot of growth capacity that won’t occupy more road space than the initial construction footprint. The same cannot be said about busses.

    Fred mentioned
    “So seniors shouldn’t get a vote then on what to do with their Tax dollars? Your statement is offensive to say the least.”

    That’s a cheap shot. Of course everyone should have a say in what happens in their community and I applaud the gentleman for coming out and vehemently opposing the rally. Unfortunately these arguments tend to focus on short term financial issues.

    Ultimately it will be the teenagers of today which will shoulder the lion’s share of the burden and I for one think that the LRT will make their lives just a little bit easier.

    • Phil Dee

      Hi Goncalo,

      “Public transportation is already quite expensive for those of lower income (the majority)”

      “I have to disagree on this one. The most expensive form of transit is actually a personal vehicle. A monthly pass with GRT currently costs $60 a month. Even if you own a personal vehicle which is completely paid for, I think one would be hard pressed to compete with the cost of taking public transit.”

      There is a reason why the personal vehicle, even though it costs more than public transit, is heavily used in this region. It is because the buses do not get you where you need to go, when and where you need them. It creates many unsafe situations and it forces people to rely on cars/taxi’s (which are more expensive than public trans). Is the LRT going to solve these problems? That is what I need to be convinced on. So far, it doesn’t seem like you could have LRT without still a massive improvement in the bus system. Which begs the question, again, why not just have improved buses without the LRT? Our city REALLY is not that big for something like that. How have things gone for Vancouver and the Sky Train? That is a HUGE city compared to ours, and there are many problems with the Sky Train.

  4. John R. Paterson

    IN SUPPORT OF LRT
    This blog is a great idea to generate some thoughtful discussion. I’m fully in favour of an LRT because I just don’t see any real downside, especially considering that it’s a long term investment. Having an LRT will be a definite selling point for people deciding to move to Kitchener/Waterloo.
    Kitchener/Waterloo has reached or is close to the point where building new roads, bridges and interchanges costs far more than the benefit being realized. In other words, it is no longer cost-effective. The reason is simply that everyone needs to get from point A to point B and back again during the same time period. Unless we totally re-structure society by staggering work hours in a coordinated way, congested, slow and not infrequently gridlocked traffic is the inevitable result. There are more and more vehicles on the road, the majority of which have one occupant.
    Visit any city with an LRT and you will find that they are well used. Given a choice, most people will gladly switch. The saving of time spent commuting is reason enough. The difference is minutes on the LRT vs. hours commuting. But, cost is another significant factor. The cost of operating a vehicle (economy car) is around .40 per kilometre. Assuming a daily round trip commute of 60k, operating cost works out to $480.00 per month – not including parking. Add parking at $10.00 per day – which would be considered a bargain – and the cost goes up another $200.00 per month to around $680.00 .
    By building an LRT now, Kitchener/Waterloo has a great opportunity to be ahead of the significant population increase that has started and will continue over the next few years. Acting now will translate into cost savings. The current state of the economy will mean more competition and lower costs for construction, material and equipment.
    Anyway, that’s what I think – how about you?

  5. Phil Dee

    “Fast and frequent buses could span ‘Innovation Corridors’ ”

    http://www.therecord.com/news/local/article/304329–fast-and-frequent-buses-could-span-innovation-corridors

    A very interesting article appeared this week in The Record.

    • Yup, saw this article too. I think that the idea of creating a fantastic transit service in the “Innovation Corridor” is exactly what we need to do.

      I still don’t think that buses are a draw for the young professional as the article indicates, but LRT’s are. Take a look at the centers in Canada that have them. In Vancouver the “suits” along with everyone else ride the rails, much fewer are found on the buses. Buses are also not the greenest option, and in light on the rising fuel costs (these are not going to get better) perhaps not the most forward thinking option.

      International marketing campaign? Not so much. Build something great, and positive word of mouth will happen on its own.

  6. John R. Paterson

    “Fast and frequent buses could span ‘Innovation Corridors’ ”

    An interesting article, which I agree with conceptually. The basic issue for transportation planning is that large numbers of people work within small areas (city cores, tech parks, etc) but most live in suburbs spread out over a large area and located considerable distance from where they work. The suburban phenomenon was due to the popularity of single fammily residences and with the automobile as the main means of transportation to and from the workplace and shopping and service centers. Given the increassing cost of car commuting, overcrowded roads and vehicular air pollution we need other transportation options. To most of us, cost and convenience are the major determinants.
    So, having said all that, I agree that there needs to be a system of fast and frequent feeder buses from outer suburbia to the main LRT line. Another option are ‘park and ride’ lots located near the LRT line.
    One of the most important considerations is developing a public awareness campaign to promote public transit options. Old habitss die hard, especially where cars are concerned.

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