Wednesday 27 February 2013

Rapid Transit: PHASE II

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:

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."
"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.


Anonymous said...

The other flawed argument is the AT component. Apparently the proponents of the dog-leg route insist the straight route does not have enough space to include a bike path. Yet if I am riding along Pembina, the increased distance that the dog leg route covers makes me dismiss that route for cycling.

So if there is no possibility for a bike path along the Letellier route, then really the AT compoent is irrelevant as nobody will use it anyway

Brian said...

I also want us to talk more about this bizarre notion that there's no room for transit-oriented development on the straight Letellier - Pembina route. That's true only if you assume that development must be greenfield, yet I can think of more than a few broken down storefronts on Pembina itself that'd be steps away from the line that'd be suitable for densification.

cherenkov said...

Hey it's the Brians ...

B1: Good point. I thought I would leave AT to a bike enthusiast like you. Building a bike lane up Pembina is always an option as well..

B2: The study mentions somewhere that there is potential for more densification along the Letellier line, but they estimate the incremental tax base increase as 1/3 of the crooked route. I think they're off base with that. Like you say, there are lots of spaces along Pembina that could potentially be re-developed. I would like to see a details of how they came to their estimate.

unclebob said...

I am struggling to see how you get densification on any line that is deliberately designed to run past everything rapidly. When i consider for example the subway in Toronto, the densification expands at the most common couple of destination stops downtown as opposed to either end. But in this case people were already going there. We would not have such points on our route no matter which one you picked If anything there might be densification at the destination of the University but I do not see that as helpful for tax base or private economic development.
As to development of the Parker lands - I can see why he is indifferent. They are going to get developed anyway so Transit should not pat itself on the back too quickly. The only difference is that Transit is probably going to cut apart and complicate the owner's existing plan.
I think I am with the peanut - bite the bullet and go straight. that is what rapid is about. You can never trust bureaucrats to get it right.

Brian said...

Sorry Uncle, but I can't agree on two counts.

1st: You wrote: "When i consider for example the subway in Toronto, the densification expands at the most common couple of destination stops downtown as opposed to either end."

Not sure if you've been there lately, but by any other city's standards, Toronto now has residential and commercial downtowns at multiple points on the transit grid, not just mere densification. I'm not about to suggest we'd see anything like that with a BRT line on Pembina, but even a cynic like me can expect 5-10 new apartment buildings would appear within a few years on our own "rapid" transit line.

2. You said: "The only difference is that Transit is probably going to cut apart and complicate the owner's existing plan." That discounts the possibility that this *was* the plan - that Transit will now pay more to buy right of way than Marquess paid for the original swapped parcel, generating a profit for him without his even having to take the risk of development. He can then flip the rest and walk away whole with zero risk.

That said, I agree on going straight. I'm not convinced the (minor) AT problem can't be solved some other way.

ekimsharpe said...

you've done a swell job of criticizing the dog-leg. i'm afraid that we'll never have an efficient rt system. transit is not a tool for greenfield development. it's about providing public transportation where it's needed most. i'm not sure that's how the city sees it.

bad pun alert!

when will they learn to follow the straight and narrow path.


cherenkov said...

Yes, I'm afraid RT will be compromised by bad planning like many things around here. Sigh.

No worries about the pun. This is a pun-friendly environment.

unclebob said...

I have had a lot more time than many others to think about the development issue surrounding the Toronto subway. I watched it built and saw what happened around it. My own view is that later development (remember the word later) away from the destination points was more a reaction to the demise of the existing commercial and residential infrastructure. In other words, the core of the city was rotten and the rot became more visible and open to exploitation near the line. If you want to see where the earlier actual development money went it was out along the edges in Scarborough and towards the northwest away from the N/S subway.
On the issue of the developer, I do not know him or work for him. i just see an environment which is not conducive to development.

njaohnt said...

Why are we spending $590 million dollars on this project, when the 161 only takes 11 minutes? At 7.6 km, I can't see it taking any shorter than 9 minutes with rapid transit. Do the math. If 12 000 people use it everyday, they would each have to pay $155 per hour saved over 40 years. No one riding the bus would pay $155 for an hour. If we can save them one minute, by using transit priority signal, and off-board fare collection, we have around $7 million to put in that type of rapid transit.

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