Tag Archive | problems

How the University of Waterloo fails its pedestrians

Missing sidewalks are in blue, access roads that are used as paths are in red, and orange indicates unpaved or inadequately distinguished paths. (The image links to the detailed view on Google Maps.)

The University of Waterloo’s main campus was built in the 1960s, and it shows badly. The campus is designed with a strong car focus, despite UW being a university with extensive pedestrian traffic. I’ll leave further discussion of the problems of UW’s suburban form to a future post, and restrict this one to existing pedestrian issues.

How does the University of Waterloo fail its pedestrians? It often provides sidewalks on only one side of a road or sidewalks that are too small. Many main paths are not paved and encounter obstacles such as parking lots, man-made berms, poor or absent crosswalks, and, of course, weather conditions. UW forces pedestrians onto access roads designed for cars that make those on foot feel distinctly unwelcome. Instead of using more appropriately-sized vehicles, it uses regular vans and SUVs (maintenance, police, delivery, access vehicles) right on major pedestrian thoroughfares. Many buildings connect poorly to their surroundings, with few access points and several buildings actually surrounded by something resembling moats. The university is difficult to get in and out of, with poor connections to an existing path network and missing sidewalks on major roads (Westmount Road and Seagram Drive), as well as on the within-campus Ring Road itself. The adjacent shops on University Avenue surround busy parking lots and are frankly hostile to pedestrians, despite the vast majority of customers being pedestrians.

There are additional issues for cycling and handicapped access, such as excessive use of stairs, man-made topographic obstacles, mismatched or absent curb cuts, and so on.

In the map above, I’ve tried to point out most of the problematic sections around UW, excepting the significant additional troubles of ongoing construction. Below are a few photos I took this week that give a feel for the kinds of problems pedestrians face on the University of Waterloo’s main campus. UW does have many portions that work fine for walking, but that is no excuse for its failures. Read More…


The “little old lady” approach to driving buses

First of all, I’ve never driven a bus. I have, however, driven plenty of cars and have had the opportunity to observe that cars differ in how easy they are to smoothly halt and accelerate. But I’ve always been able to learn and adjust, with the aim of making the ride reasonably smooth. In my estimation, though there are likely differences between different buses, there is also between-driver variation in jerkiness of ride.

Therefore I propose the following aide to bus drivers (or those who train them). Whenever there are passengers on board, the driver should drive as if there is a little old lady standing at the front of the bus and trying to hold on before the bus gets to her stop. That means minimizing jerkiness for fear of sending the little old lady flying. Most drivers should be familiar with this scenario, and it gives a tangible way to think about a smooth ride.

Ideally there would probably be accelerometers on buses, but in practice whatever keeps the little old lady reliably on her feet is probably good enough for the rest of those on board the bus as well.

Quantifying the bus experience

Yesterday I took the iXpress bus from Uptown Waterloo to Conestoga Mall (with only four stops in between). In those 20 minutes I counted around 130 minor rattles of the bus, and 80 major rattles. So on average, that’s around a rattle every 6 seconds, with a major one every 15 seconds. It’s not surprising why it’s difficult to read on a bus, and why headaches are a frequent result of the ride.

What’s wrong with buses

I’ve now had two posts about bus systems and their issues. This time I want to talk about buses themselves. It is rare, at least in my experience, for there to be frank discussion about why people do not use them. But it is worth discussing why buses have such a negative connotation for most people, and what can perhaps be done about the causes.

Buses stink. With the notable exception of trolleybuses, this has up to now always been true. The exhaust fumes of diesel buses are quite bad. It’s particularly bad when these fumes make their way inside the bus. Newer buses are generally not as bad, but the older ones are still large parts of most systems. Regardless, it is an issue that remains relevant for rider experience and health.

Buses are loud. They’re loud outside, they’re ridiculously loud inside. The newer NovaBuses here are less loud, but that’s only by comparison.

Transit agencies view buses as billboards. This may be okay to an extent, but it is not okay when the ads block most of the view out the window. Not only does that make the ride even less pleasant, but it’s also difficult to see whether the bus is near your stop.

The ride is nauseating and headache-inducing, due to jumpiness of the bus and the sudden stops and starts. Here there is a partial fault of roads, and of the nature of buses. But what I find interesting is the huge difference that the bus driver can make. In my experience, some deliberately make gradual starts and stops, while others will make them very quickly, to the extent that riders get thrown about. A bad bus ride can easily ruin my day. Judging by the huge variance I’ve experienced in Grand River Transit buses, drivers have gone through either little or no training with regards to quality of ride for passengers. I can’t imagine this kind of training cost to be comparable to the money that gets spent on buses themselves. If GRT spent the effort on training, I’m sure it could market it so people took notice.