That sounds so cool and futuristic: Rapid Transit: Phase II. I envision a new glistening bullet train speeding over top of the city as a sultry female voice announces "Next stop, Osborne Station".
In reality we're getting ordinary buses that have their own right-of way and a computerized male voice that butchers half the street names. And it's not "Phase II", it's "Stage 2".
I'll take it.
As most Winnipeggers who give a damn are aware, there has been some debate about how to route Stage 2: go straight down the CN line adjacent to Pembina Highway, or dogleg off to the west to take advantage of the transit-oriented development (TOD if you like acronyms) opportunities afforded by the vacant Parker Lands. A study was done to provide a recommendation on the matter. It can be found here: http://winnipegtransit.com/assets/932/Final_Report_-_SWRTC_Stage_2_Alignment_Options-web.pdf
I am going to get right to it: I don't like the recommendation. The study recommends the crooked option 1B, versus the straight option 2.
The primary reasons for this recommendation, given on page 65 of the report, are:
"Based on transit service design, transfer of ridership, flexibility of the system, walking distance to the stations, and development density Concepts 1A and 1B are seen as being more suited to BRT while Concept 2 is seen as being more suited to LRT."and
"The Concept 1B alignment allows for the U of M to access the rapid transit system via multiple access points,along with alternate extensions of additional phases of rapid transit to other areas of southwest Winnipeg, including Linden Woods, Seasons of Tuxedo, Whyte Ridge, Kenaston Common and Waverley West."To this second point: the only access point for additional phases of rapid transit that Option 2 precludes is Hurst Way. Where is Hurst Way? Exactly. Hurst Way is that little bit of road that you get when you extend Wilkes Ave. across Waverly. It certainly does not spring to mind as a critical Rapid Transit access point.
Remember, the point of this thing is to get people from downtown to the UofM and places in between. It's not to get people from Linden Woods to the UofM. That would be pointless. They won't use it anyhow.
The earlier point is explained in more detail on pages 35-37 of the study, which concludes with this statement:
"Although BRT technology will work well for the Concept 2 alignment, the more direct route and the current development density along the Letellier subdivision of Concept 2 is higher than along the Manitoba Hydro Corridor and consequently more passengers are within walking distance of the stations. As more opportunities for denser re-development occur along Pembina Highway, the Concept 2 alignment is better suited to LRT technology than the Concept 1 alignments."Please read that carefully one more time.
Although BRT will work well with Concept 2, it is straighter and more passengers are within walking distance. ... This is the argument against Concept 2.
You see: because the straight line is better for LRT, the other option must be better for BRT because one single option cannot be better for both. The rules just don't allow for that.
In reality the things that make Option 2 better for LRT are the things that make it better for any kind of transit: it goes through a more densely populated area and is within walking distance of far more people. Option 1B divides an industrial park and low-density residential, yet somehow the study spins that into a plus for the dog legged route.
There are other arguments made in favour of 1B in the study, including transit-oriented development (TOD), primarily in the Gen Equities-owned Parker Lands. The assumption seems to be that rapid transit is a necessary condition for development to occur, because the study projects the incremental increase in property tax revenue from developing the Parker Lands to "medium-density" and allocates that as a benefit of the 1B corridor.
I think this is flawed. I don't happen to think that an area wedged between a rail line, a busy thoroughfare and a low-density residential neighbouhood is a likely place for TOD. I think TOD is more likely to occur in walkable areas of town where a person does not necessarily need a car.
If development does occur in the Parker Lands area, I don't think transit should be given all the credit. Development could occur there in any case. In fact, the study states that the owner of the Parker lands is "Indifferent to Letellier or Manitoba Hydro ROW alignment." (p.85)
Another argument in favour of 1B is that there are fewer road crossings than Option 2. This is true, but there are ways to mitigate that. For example, most of the gated intersections (Xs in the diagram below) could be closed off.
You would want to maintain a crossing at Windermere Ave (second X from the right) and maybe one other one, but all of those access points to Pembina Highway are not needed. In fact they are kind of dangerous. I got into a pretty bad accident once with a minivan trying to cross Pembina at one of those uncontrolled intersections.
There may also be ways to speed transit along this stretch through technology: priority signals for the transit way and synchronization for example.
I could go on because there is more to say about this, but I'm running out of steam. I encourage you to read Christopher Leo's Oops, forgot the environmental assessment for other points about the project. Also listen to the discussion on Winnipeg Internet Pundits.
While at this point I would be happy just to see any kind of rapid transit line built, I think it should be built with current needs foremost in mind. The chosen route trades off usefulness for the questionable potential of transit-oriented development. It's a gamble, and not a wise one in my view.