Waterloo Regional Council Approves LRT Line 9-2

Congratulations to our neighbours in Kitchener-Waterloo for embracing an LRT line in their city.  Unlike Toronto, with a would-be Mayoral dynasty whose grasp of transit and municipal finance can be breathtakingly mean and shortsighted, K-W has decided to proceed with a rail spine for its transit network.

Now is the time for Queen’s Park to accelerate support for LRT in Mississauga and Hamilton.  Get off the pot and show people what surface rail transit can do.

Read details in The Record.

More info on the Region of Waterloo site.

58 thoughts on “Waterloo Regional Council Approves LRT Line 9-2

  1. “Everyone is congratulating Kitchener here. Kitchener used to be a streetcar city.”

    “Does anyone know why streetcars/rails were abandoned in the first place?”

    As the links show, Kitchener-Waterloo’s streetcar line vanished in 1946, replaced by a trolley coach service which operated until 1973. The reasons why streetcars vanished are probably similar to why they faded out at roughly the same time in Vancouver, Sudbury, Ottawa, and numerous cities across America. We’d just fought the Second World War, and that was a period when car use dropped, thanks to gasoline and rubber rationing. Ridership on local transit (mostly streetcar) lines abruptly stopped their long decline and rocketed forward. The systems were operating at their capacity.

    They were also being maintained on a shoestring. War rationing was limiting the availability of metals to replace tracks, wires and streetcar parts. When the war ended, the vehicles in service were basically kaput. With the end of gasoline and rubber rationing, car use again roared forward. Transit agencies across North America confronted dwindling ridership as well as aging infrastructure that had to be replaced en masse.

    Many transit agencies were privately owned at the time. Many of these went bankrupt, and were taken up by the cities. Even those agencies which were city owned (as Kitchener was, through the Public Utilities Commission) faced a hefty bill in repairing their aging system, and a reduced ridership to justify it. So they, like Vancouver, Halifax and Cornwall, opted instead to switch to trolley buses, paying only to repair the wires and purchase new rubber-tired equipment, and scrapping the older vehicles and tracks.

    Since then, Kitchener and Waterloo have grown substantially. As this was post-war growth, it was growth that was centred around the car. Kitchener-Waterloo sprawled, essentially, and the downtowns suffered the typical urban decline that marked many cities in the 1960s.

    In the 1990s, concerted efforts have been made to reverse this trend. Kitchener City Hall was rebuilt downtown, and various redevelopments in Uptown Waterloo have helped bring these downtowns back. The city has also increased its growth, thanks to significant investment from the city’s burgeoning tech sector. If projections hold out, the Region of Waterloo will grow from 500,000 to 750,000 by 2031. Most of the developable land in Kitchener and Waterloo as well as Cambridge have been taken up by sprawl. Our roads are seriously congested and getting worse.

    Regional planners have assessed the situation and realized that if we don’t want to sprawl into the rural lands of the surrounding townships, we’ll have to build up, not out. We need to intensify development along the central corridor of King Street. Some intensification is already happening, but it won’t go far without good transit support. The iXpress route was established on this corridor earlier this decade, and ridership has increased to the point that 10 minute service throughout the day will be introduced later this month (service on the paralleling 7 MAINLINE has been at 5-7 minutes for some time).

    The need for higher-order transit along this corridor is clear, and LRT has the capacity that BRT lacks. That’s why LRT was selected and, hopefully, shovels will be in the ground soon.


  2. @Michael:

    LRT advocates like myself aren’t saying “End subway expansion in Toronto once and for all!”. We do need new subways in Toronto, but I disagree that it would belong under Eglinton, Sheppard, or Finch for the simple reason that they do not justify a subway now, and they will not justify a subway in the future (past 2031). If you want to argue that a subway would be justified eventually (even if it’s well beyond 20 years), I welcome proof (I’d also like to know how long we’d have to wait for this to happen).

    You claim that an LRT wouldn’t offer an improvement over the current bus. Whether that’s true or not depends where you live. If one lives close to where they’ll need to transfer (and would need a short ride on the LRT), of course there would be a very small improvement in travel times, but the improvement wouldn’t be much better for subways either. Conversely, if you live far from your transfer point (and would need a long ride on the LRT), your time savings on the LRT would be significant.

    Here’s an example for the Finch LRT (one could produce numbers for Sheppard in the same way). The TTC estimates that the average speed for the LRT would be 22-25 km/hr, 5-8 km/hr faster than the bus they provide. For commuters travelling to Yonge Street:

    If they start at Bathurst, they would save 2-3 minutes
    If they start at Jane, they would save 7-10 minutes
    If they start all the way in Rexdale or Humber College, they would save 14-19 minutes

    (a quick note: this assumes a station spacing of 400-600 metres)

    I’m hesitant to try to calculate the time savings if a subway is built instead of LRT, because it might not be feasible to build a subway line with the same station spacing as the proposed LRT. But assuming a subway with comparable station spacing travelling at an average speed of 30 km/hr, here are my calculations:

    If they start at Bathurst, they would save 4 minutes
    If they start at Jane, they would save 13 minutes
    If they start all the way in Rexdale or Humber College, they would save 26 minutes

    Yes, these calculations are that of an amateur (assuming the average speed applies to the entire line), but my point is people living at Bathurst would not experience much of an improvement with a subway anyways. As for the other end of the line (Humber College), should people really reject the LRT’s time savings of 14-19 minutes, just so they can save an additional 7 minutes?

    So the statement “LRT won’t offer much improvement over a bus” is really debatable, and it really depends on whom and where you ask. And the statement “Subway would for sure be a vast improvement over an LRT” is questionable as well.

    “that will still take people 60 minutes to get to Yonge Street, is not going to attract people”. So I’m going to call you on this one: your claim is nonsense. You’ve assumed that the average LRT speed would be the same as the bus, and that’s simply not true.

    And no, a transit line with far-apart stations isn’t necessarily desirable either. Commuters, even suburbanites, start and end at major intersections, and at many locations in between. That’s the case for Finch West, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that were the case for Sheppard East too. The further apart the stations, the longer one would have to walk, and if the stations are too far apart (2 km/station like on the Sheppard Subway), then many would end up having to rely on a car or a bus (which would have reduced service). While you might favour the far-apart stations line because it’s fast, it’s almost useless to people who don’t live within walking distances to stations, and they are just as important as you are.

    “It is about what gets people to where they want to go in a fast, reliable, and competitive manner to the automobile.”

    It’s unrealistic to try to have transit compete with the automobile for every trip. Imagine this: The couple living at 14 Greengrove Crescent who commute to Lawrence/Morningside want an express subway (they claim that this is the only way to make it competitive with the car). Should we pursue this? There is demand for this link, but not enough. Maybe the TTC can provide a shuttle bus for these people, if they really want a direct transit link, but even that’s expensive.

    So while there is a demand for better transit on Sheppard East, there isn’t enough of it to justify a subway.

    “In closing, the debate should also not be about here and now. We must build for the future, and like the Toronto of the 1960′s, that means putting subways in areas that may not support it at the moment.”

    You talk as if it won’t hurt us to pursue this “subways everywhere” dream. Here’s my response.

    First, it would preclude money for transit service improvements that are truly needed (eg. building a Finch LRT, increasing streetcar service on Queen, etc.).

    Secondly, not only would it preclude improvements, but it would preclude money to maintain quality transit service across the city. If a subway would cost us net $x million/year, then we’ll have to find $x million/year in service reductions across the city (and if we were to beg the province or feds to cover our $x million/year hole, we’re missing the point of what’s intelligent use of money).

    I could get into all the functional benefits of surface LRT over grade-separated subways, but that’s been mentioned many times on this blog.

    Finally, many people like to claim that building unjustified subways is just as smart as building the Prince Edward Viaduct to accommodate subways. I don’t think this is a fair comparison because building an entire subway line would cost much more than modifying a bridge design (yes, both are more expensive, but is the marginal cost of accommodating subways in a bridge really as much as an entire subway line itself?).

    “Yes even Sheppard, attracts more people than most subways that are only 6 km long. In fact it attracts more riders than some subway lines that are 20 or 30 km long.”

    Examples? And what does this mean?

    The debate isn’t about how to blindly give people what they want. It should really be about how best to give people what they need in the most efficient way possible.


  3. “When the condos go up actually on King, then I’ll believe it.”

    In the uptown Waterloo – downtown Kitchener corridor, some recent completed projects: Kaufman Lofts, Bauer Lofts, BPR Lofts, the 42, the Tannery District. Ongoing: Arrow Lofts, the BarrelYards, Breithaupt Block, 133 Park, 144 Park. Planned: the Red Condos, Fusion Homes towers, City Centre condos.

    The condos are going up, and that’s before LRT got the green light. I’m certain that plenty more office and residential is in the pipeline.


  4. Michael says:

    “People on Sheppard and in Scarborough (myself included) are against LRT because it offers us no benefit over the current buses.”

    As someone who lives in Scarborough and who uses Sheppard, I have shown in a previous comment that the Sheppard East LRT actually would reduce travel times. This is why I am in support of the Sheppard East LRT.

    Morningside to Don Mills is about 12 km. The LRT was supposed to average 23 km/h. This means the trip from Morningside to Don Mills would take 31 minutes. Compare that to the current 85 bus route, which averages 17 km/h and takes 42 minutes to make the same trip between Don Mills and Morningside.

    Extending the Sheppard subway will do very little to reduce commuting times because it will terminate at Scarborough Town Centre (STC). STC is a station that is only successful because a lot of feeder buses drop people off at the terminal there. Many Scarborough residents have to take a long bus ride to get there. Personally, it takes me 30 minutes off-peak hours and 45 minutes in rush hour to get to STC by TTC. If the Sheppard subway were extended to Markham and Sheppard for example, that would go a long way to reducing commuting times.

    Michael says:

    “If you come to Scarborough with a grade separated LRT plan like the one they have in St. Louis, or in parts of Calgary. People would be all for it.”

    Technically speaking Transit City, including the Sheppard East LRT, is grade separated. The track bed would be slightly elevated in the middle of the road just like on St. Clair. LRT operations would be segregated from traffic.

    Micheal says:

    “To be honest, I don’t really care if we get LRT or subway out on Sheppard. Give me and most people out here in Scarborough an updated express bus network, that includes super expresses to the Yonge subway and major destinations like Yorkdale and York Uni, and we would be happy.”

    As a Scarborough resident, I would not be happy with an express bus service. Buses are often crowded (because they have less capacity), operate in mixed traffic and rarely run on time. If the TTC could run an express bus service like VIVA that would be a completely different story but they haven’t come anywhere close to matching the speed of that system.

    I think two options for improved bus service need to be looked at. The TTC can set-up a VIVA like system for major routes. The question is, where is the money going to come from for this? The second option is for GO Transit to improve and increase their service offerings in Scarborough by providing more buses to more destinations. I won’t hold my breath for any of these things to happen.

    Michael says:

    “Yes even Sheppard, attracts more people than most subways that are only 6 km long. In fact it attracts more riders than some subway lines that are 20 or 30 km long.”

    Usually when I ride the Sheppard subway off-peak hours it is deserted. The claim that it attracts more riders than some subway lines that are 20 to 30 km long sounds very far fetched. The Sheppard subway only seems to be busy during rush hour. We also need to keep in mind, part of that is because the trains are 4 cars long rather than the standard 6 common with other subway lines in Toronto (not including the RT). This makes the line seem busier than it really is during rush hour.

    Steve: Never mind that Sheppard has 10.9 trains/hour versus 25.5 on the YUS.

    I am not a light rail advocate or a subway advocate. I am a transit advocate. We had two choices. The first is building the first phase of Transit City, which was funded and under construction. The Sheppard East LRT would have opened in 2 years!. The second is Ford’s unfunded pipe dream to STC that will most likely never get built. Given the choice between an LRT on Sheppard East or nothing, I would opt for the LRT. Sadly, that’s off the table and people in Scarborough will get no transit improvements at all.

    People in Scarborough themselves are to blame for this for a number of reasons. (1) Many people did not critically think about Ford’s election promise to have the Sheppard subway in operation for the Pan Am Games. How is this feasible with no funding? On top of that, subway projects in this city take a decade to complete. There is a process of planning and EA’s that need to be followed. How can he unilaterally speed this process up? How can he get a subway built in 4 years when it takes everyone else in this city 10? (2) Many people didn’t really know what LRT’s are. Groups such as Save Our Sheppard spread misinformation (not through malice but because they were unsure what LRT’s are too) regarding LRT technology. The TTC also did a poor job of explaining the technology to the public.

    In the end, the debate over technology choice for Sheppard is a moot point. There won’t be any transit improvements on Sheppard East in the foreseeable future so it really doesn’t matter if I want an LRT on the route and if others want a subway. Right now, the only reliable way to get from point A to B is to drive.


  5. Jacob Louy makes several very good points regarding the lack of need now, or in the future, for a full subway line on Sheppard.

    To that, I would add that the very long term need in the suburbs is better met by a network of LRT lines, unless you are keen to promote more urban sprawl. If one goes out 50 years into the future, I am most certainly sure that one could justify a full subway line along Sheppard, but one would have to consider a catchment area that spreads several kilometres away from Sheppard to justify that need. Given that stations would likely be 1-2 km apart, we are talking about elongated catchment areas, not a circular radius around each station.

    Over that 50 years, the increased capacity would be better served by parallel LRT implementations for several reasons. First, the catchment areas would be smaller. This attracts more users because access to the line is easily facilitated through a greater frequency of walk-ins as well as short bus connections. Longer bus connections and lack of parking facilities deter users of a subway line that depend on a wider catchment area. Second, the lower cost of LRT construction allow for incremental construction of the network over that period. Subway requires building pretty well all that capacity up front, while LRT allows adding the capacity through parallel line construction not only as it is needed, but also as funding becomes available. The third benefit to this is that of providing alternative routing in an emergency. Sure, if one of a few parallel lines is down for part of a day, the others will be over crowded, but it sure beats having nothing but a few replacement buses like we see a few times a year on Yonge.

    This is not to say that LRT is the only solution, but it is by far the better solution in the suburbs. A DRL subway line is long overdue and warrants the capacity needed yesterday (for its eastern leg, while its western leg is warranted in the not too distant future). There simply is no justification for full subway capacity in any of our suburbs unless the plan is to create downtown-like density in the suburbs. This will in turn cause those who chose to live in the suburbs because they didn’t want to live in that situation to move out further, thus promoting more urban sprawl.

    Urban sprawl will only be stopped by appropriate transit modes for the various parts of the city.


  6. Richard claims to be a transit advocate but clearly stated in his novel that its ‘LRT or nothing’ for him and the suburbs. Also, Richard blaming the people of Scarborough for the Sheppard East LRT not being built right now is ludicrous because he then goes on to say that the TTC did a poor job marketing the project to the people (which was the main problem).

    It’s people like Richard that do more damage than good when it comes to discussions like these and set off these BRT vs LRT vs Subway fights that go nowhere. The ridership numbers along the eastern portion of Sheppard Avenue East (east of Markham or Neilson Roads) do not warrant LRTs.

    TTC’s focus should not be on Sheppard but on the DRL, the Don Mills LRTs to serve Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park (2 neighbourhoods with 50+ apartment buildings), and maybe 1-2 north-south LRTs through Scarborough (i.e. Kennedy? Mc Cowan?) to alleviate traffic on streets that cross and clog Sheppard Avenue East.


  7. Michael says, ” Give me and most people out here in Scarborough an updated express bus network, that includes super expresses to the Yonge subway and major destinations like Yorkdale and York Uni, and we would be happy. “

    I have a really hard time believing that there’s huge demand in east-end Scarborough for trips to Yorkdale and York University. Not enough to justify $6+ billion (guessing that the Yonge-Downsview leg might be $2B, and that may be too low) in capital costs.

    I recall someone here suggesting that there might be transit demand between Vaughan and Scarborough Town Centre, so the Sheppard line should continue up the Spadina line. That was pretty funny too.

    And the subway isn’t a magic instantaneous teleportation device either. From Scarborough Town Centre to Bloor-Yonge station, it is about 40 minutes via RT and Bloor-Danforth according to the TTC trip planner. From Don Mills station to Bloor-Yonge is a little over 30 minutes, again according to the trip planner. (The times change a little bit depending on when you choose to depart. I arbitrarily put in 11:30 AM Saturday morning.)

    A subway ride from Scarborough Town Centre to Don Mills will be at least five or six minutes, maybe a bit more. So the Sheppard subway is of basically no benefit to anyone starting at STC and wanting to go downtown.

    The LRT would have gone east from STC. The subway won’t. The proposed extension of the Sheppard subway east does nothing to speed up the transit journeys of people living in eastern Scarborough.

    If you live at Morningside and Sheppard, and insist on getting to Yorkdale in half an hour, I suggest you try driving instead of taking the TTC. It may be possible to drive there in half an hour, especially if you start at 11 PM or something. In short, the TTC is under no obligation to provide people with speedy cross-town trips. The city is simply too big. A subway won’t help. Even a ride on the GO train won’t be able to shrink the city’s size down very much, once you count in the travel time from the (widely-separated) stations to your final destination.


  8. Simone says:

    “Richard claims to be a transit advocate but clearly stated in his novel that its ‘LRT or nothing’ for him and the suburbs.”

    I never said it’s LRT or nothing so don’t try to claim I made statements that I never did. Michael argues that an LRT line will not reduce commute times only a subway will do that. I attempt to debunk his claim by showing that an LRT line will in fact reduce commute times. On top of that, I argue that many people in Scarborough take lengthy bus rides to get to Scarborough Town Centre (where a Sheppard subway extension would terminate). A Sheppard subway does nothing to reduce commute times because the lengthy bus rides still exist for most commuters. Sorry you missed that. I guess you had trouble taking in all the information in my ‘novel’.

    Simone says:

    “Also, Richard blaming the people of Scarborough for the Sheppard East LRT not being built right now is ludicrous because he then goes on to say that the TTC did a poor job marketing the project to the people (which was the main problem).”

    Again, you seem to miss the point. You seem to insinuate that my statement is a contradiction when it attempts to recognize the complexity of the situation. Both the people in the inner-suburbs and the TTC are partly to blame. Ford promised a subway on Sheppard and many people supported this idea over Transit City without thinking about how he plans to actually accomplish this. Also, the TTC didn’t do much work in educating the public on what LRT is. If you followed the election, the inner-suburbs overwhelmingly supported Ford. They voted for him and he canceled the Sheppard East LRT. So yes, Scarborough residents are partly to blame for the lack of transit improvements through north Scarborough.

    My argument was not an LRT vs. subway vs. busway debate. It’s that the most appropriate technology needs to be chosen for the route in question based on projected ridership and demand. Your claim that people like me ” do more damage than good” is ludicrous.

    Simone says:

    “TTC’s focus should not be on Sheppard but on the DRL, the Don Mills LRTs to serve Thorncliffe Park and Flemingdon Park (2 neighbourhoods with 50+ apartment buildings), and maybe 1-2 north-south LRTs through Scarborough (i.e. Kennedy? Mc Cowan?) to alleviate traffic on streets that cross and clog Sheppard Avenue East.”

    You criticize me for opening up a technology debate, which I never did (I merely responded to one) when you go ahead and attempt to open up a debate on where lines should be built and who deserves transit improvements.

    What I also said is that Transit City was funded and the Sheppard East LRT was under construction. That plan was thrown out the window in favor of an unfunded Sheppard subway with no plan on how to fund the line. That is completely different than starting a debate on which technology is better, LRT or subway.


Comments are closed.