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Highway 7 broken thinking

The province wants to hear what you have to say about their plans for the new $400 million Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph. I, for one, have quite a bit to say, particularly about the section of their study entitled "Alternatives: Analysis and Evaluation". The document is full of interesting intepretations of fact and misleading statements.

Among the gems in this document:

4.1.1 Transit:

"The origin-destination survey undertaken in 1989 for the Highway 7 Planning Study determined that the majority of possible transit users have diverse origins and destinations within the Kitchener/Waterloo and Guelph areas." Highway 7's modal share study is based on 1989 numbers? I was 8 years old, Guelph was a bit over half the size it is today, fuel was cheap, and we just concluded the largest mass-abandonment of railways in the nation's history.

"The transit modal split is the percentage of trips (typically person trips) that would be 'attached' to transit. The transit modal split between urban centres is less than the transit modal split within a single urban centre. The target for transit modal split within the City of Guelph is in the range of 5 to 6%. The Region of Waterloo's target for transit modal split (and general reduction of trips) is higher than Guelph's, approximately 8%, however on an inter-regional basis the target would not exceed 5%. In order to predict the benefit of transit as a solution in the Highway 7 corridor, it is necessary to establish a hypothetical modal split. A reasonable transit modal split between Kitchener and Guelph would be in the range of 3 to 5% (for all transit modes, rail, bus, etc.)"

What I don't get about this is why anyone considers 5% an acceptable target for transit usage. In my view, we should be aiming for a 5-10% modal share for the automobile, not a 5% modal share for transit. We will achieve it by building transit systems rather than highways. If we build highways because our transit systems are not efficient enough and lack capacity, we are perpetuating that very problem.

4.1.1.1 Rail Transit:

"VIA Rail provides existing train service between Kitchener and Guelph as part of the Toronto/London/Sarnia route. The train departs westbound from Guelph five times per day and eastbound from Kitchener four times per day." FALSE. In 1989, this was true. In 1990, this was reduced to two trains in each direction. Not until 2003 was this increased back to three daily trains in each direction, with fewer on the weekends.

Next paragraph, same section:

"Heavy rail transit is considered to be the highest order of transit service. Examples of heavy rail transit service in Ontario are the GO Transit system and TTC subway in Toronto. These transit systems are best supported by high density residential and high density commercial / industrial land uses." Perhaps they should look at Guelph and Waterloo regions in terms of today's densities, rather than those of 1989?

A couple of paragraphs on:

"The cost to provide full commuter service between Kitchener and Guelph, as discussed in the EA Report 1997, would be in the range of $140 to $160 million. This cost assumes the two new tracks would be required for the entire 24 km length. This assumption is based on experience with adding passenger rail service to a corridor with only one track with freight as a priority. This is consistent with the assumption that a service between Kitchener / Waterloo and Guelph would be part of a bigger system."

Let's break that down a second. This report states that triple-tracking the main line between Kitchener and Guelph would cost in the area of 1/3 the cost of new Highway 7 over the same distance, and is therefore unfeasible. Hmmm. Next bit, I don't suppose anyone told them that the tracks they are looking at host a whopping 4 freight trains a day, two in each direction, and that triple-tracking the line would be massive overkill when new passing tracks and advanced signalling could be achieved for a small fraction of the cost. It's a good thing GO is paying attention to this, because the Highway 7 EA folks sure aren't.

It goes on:

"If the assumption is modified to one train set operating as a 'shuttle' service, only one additional track would be required. The operation could be on a 60 to 80 minute cycle (i.e., 30 to 40 minute trip each way). The capital cost for this alternative, excluding the train set, would be in the range of $75 to $85 million." This is several times the estimate of the more recent North Mainline Municipal Alliance study which said infrastructure costs from Kitchener to Guelph and on to Georgetown would cost a measly $19 million, excluding the trains, and be enough to operate 4 trains, not just one.

4.1.3 Rationale for Selecting Road Improvement Alternatives:

"Bus and rail service exists in the corridor and has not significantly contributed to a reduction of trips in the last 10 years. For transit, it was determined that while increased transit ridership would benefit the level of transportation service, it would not, on its own, eliminate the need for increased road capacity to address future growth. Thus, to meet future demand, the expansion of Highway 7 would be required whether or not transit initiatives were introduced."

This is misleading. No useful rail service exists between Guelph and Waterloo Region at this time. If you want to travel to Guelph from Kitchener by train, you have three options. One of them leaves Kitchener at about 6:30 am, the next leaves at around 9:15 am, and the next leaves at around 9:15 pm. Going the other way, the situation is even more desperate, with a departure from Guelph at 12:04 pm, 6:50 pm, and 11:15 pm. With this schedule, and the unreasonably high cost of tickets between these locations at $16.80 per passenger per trip, and the near total lack of parking at either station, it is not fair to suggest that rail service has had any chance of adjusting the travel patterns of inter-urban travellers, nor is it a viable option for any commuters between the two cities in either direction. Further, building the highway without building the corresponding transit systems will not serve to improve this situation. A few years down the road our new highway will be in place, our transit systems will not be, and we will again say that new highways are needed because our transit systems are not having an effect. What they won't say is that it is because, while we subsidise drivers to an unfathomable extent, we can't be bothered to invest the paltry sums decent transit systems require.

If we are serious about fixing the modal split, we have to invest in the under-used modes, not the over-used ones.

Posted at 10:33 on June 17, 2008

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

Clean Air Day a bust? | highways transit | Banning drive-thrus won't solve the real problem


Mark Bailey writes at Tue Jun 17 13:04:09 EDT 2008...

Hi David,

How right you are. We build automobile capacity, discouraging public transit investments, and then argue for more auto capacity by pointing to the failure of public transit to attract further ridership! Thanks for calling the planning staff on this cyclical argument. I think we should be looking at the example of Salt Lake City, and the great work Rocky Anderson did in developing an attractive (and very popular) light rail system. In fact, I read recently that tourists will ride the light rail system "just for fun." If I recall correctly, Rocky's vision was put in to action by opposing a proposed state highway...

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