Improving the Rapid Transit proposal
There have been a few weeks now to think about the Region of Waterloo’s rapid transit recommendation, and to read the discussion about it, both well- and ill-informed (the latter particularly notable in The Record). No Achilles’ heel has been exposed, but I do want to mention a few points that I believe would improve the proposal.
First, the current proposal involves a staged implementation, with the portion from Fairview in Kitchener to Cambridge using adapted bus rapid transit until ridership warrants full LRT extension. I think Cambridge is right to be concerned with this plan, as there is no strong commitment on the part of the Region to ever extend the full line to Cambridge. A split system can only be a temporary measure, because the line transfer and change of modality fundamentally disconnects the system, annulling some of the benefits of the rapid transit line. The same reasons why BRT is less usable than LRT — and more, since this is not full BRT — are the reasons why aBRT to Cambridge indefinitely into the future is unacceptable. There has to be a firm commitment by the Region to complete the line, with a guarantee that the line would be built by a certain year or a certain ridership on the aBRT, whichever comes first. Honestly, the Region should have enough faith in the economic powers of the LRT system that it would start building the Cambridge segment as soon as the first stage is operating, if not sooner. Either one of these possibilities would help assure businesses and residents of Cambridge that development focused on the aBRT line would not be too risky, as LRT extension would not be an empty promise. Of course, this assumes that stations would be preserved, which is also something to which the Region should commit.
The division between LRT and aBRT in the recommendation occurs at Fairview in Kitchener. However, I think it may make more sense to extend the initial LRT to Sportsworld for a few reasons. Sportsworld is currently undergoing a fair amount of development, and it is also more natural to group it with Kitchener than with Cambridge. A division placed there would allow coherent transit lines for both Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge. The primary benefit, however, would be easy access from the 401. Space for a park-and-ride is likely easy to find, and the location allows reasonable access to both cities. It would also allow for a decent connection to inter-city buses, which are going to remain important for at least the near future. But I will say that I’m not entirely sold on this, and if initial LRT to Sportsworld is difficult to justify economically, it is probably not worthwhile.
The major issue I find with the alignment itself is the recommendation to split the route in downtown Kitchener and Waterloo, and I will address that in a separate entry.