Light Rail Transit: Flavour of the Week

It looks like come hell or high water, Waterloo Region is going to have a Light Rail Transit system, whether residents want it or not. Pretty much every option presented includes an LRT component. We are told that the majority of attendees at public information sessions were in favour. When politicians note the overwhelming opposition to LRT on doorsteps, those people are merely derided as stupid, misinformed, or misguided. The Region knows better than they do.

Why LRT? Not for transportation. It will be slower than buses. No, it is to revitalize the uptown, in which every previous attempt has failed. And to raise property value, so that more tax can be collected. Buses apparently won’t do that. Of course this is all just a gamble.

Light Rail Transit if merely the flavour of the week – just like roundabouts, nodes and corridors, and road diets. All ideas are new and hot for urban planners to try, and then discard when they fail. No problem at all, except for the massive waste of taxpayer dollars.
Kevin Libin at the National Post demonstrates some of the folly of Light Rail Transit using the oft-touted Calgary LRT. We are frequently told that LRT will eliminate the cost of building roads:

Furthermore, despite the dreams of transit planners, the system hasn’t actually gotten people to give up their cars: more people still drive downtown in Calgary than in any other Canadian city. And most transit riders, as everyone who lives here knows, simply drive to and park for free at the LRT stations and then ride the train downtown, rather than pay the $22 median “early bird” daily parking rates in the central business district. The LRT certainly hasn’t saved Calgary the pain of road building costs: the city spends the most in Canada per capita laying asphalt, 25% more than its closest rival, Edmonton, the study reveals.

And we’re told that LRT if far preferable to more flexible Bus Rapid Transit:

Bus Rapid Transit is essentially industry jargon for express buses, but has fallen out of favour with municipal politicians. The reasons, Lafleur believes, is because higher levels of government often pick up the bill for train infrastructure, letting municipal politicians “trade off higher capital costs for lower operating costs, even if the total cost is higher” and because cities often overlook, as Calgary has, the hidden costs of light rail. I think it’s just because mayors like choo-choo trains — or at least, as Lafleur points out, so many are intoxicated by visions of urban-hip “transit oriented development” built around LRT stations. These trendy communities result in higher property values, which work out nicely for city tax departments and high-income workers (the ones lucky enough to have parking spots provided for them downtown), but not so well for low-income workers, who are the ones most likely to benefit directly from transit.

It is fairly evident at this point that all information promoting the LRT is so biased as to be completely unusable in making a serious decision about transit options in Waterloo. Is it that difficult for Regional staff and politicians to actually speak honestly about transit?

However, my favorite line is that one that we need the LRT to attract skilled workers. How did we manage to attract the skilled workers that already live here without the LRT?

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