A One-Track Focus on LRT Bypasses Needs of the Many to Satisfy Vision of Few

The one thing about trains — when they’re coming your way, you’ve got to be the one that gets out of the path, because they’ll run right through you. And that appears to be the tactic that LRT proponents are using in their emotion-filled arguments responding to City staff’s recommendation for adopting the less-expensive BRT system.

After all, if you’re against LRT, you hate London, right? At least that’s what the tenor of the conversation has been. You hate London, you’re anti-progress unless you’re all-in.

I happen to disagree. And this one-track focus on LRT as the be all and end all of transit solutions is only serving to bypass the needs of the many in its headlong rush to satisfy the vision of a select few. But I guess I foolishly define “progress” by solutions that benefit all demographics.

There are those who say there’s overwhelming demand for LRT. Again, I disagree. I think there’s overwhelming demand amongst a select group of vocal participants in less-than-ideal (read: generally within a four-block radius of downtown) information-gathering sessions who overwhelmingly support this plan.

We keep hearing how nearly 15,000 people were involved with ReThink, when we know that’s not true (I know, I asked). And to frame the past municipal election as a referendum on the London Plan is revisionist history because that election was less about an endorsement of our future than a purging of our past.

The general public? They just want better. And while the LRT will be an amazing service, it’s one that services (and preaches) to the converted. The proposed lines are servicing areas that are already well serviced; We’re not looking outside of the coveted downtown/Western/Fanshawe core. How do people who work on Exeter Rd. or out at Dr. Oetker, or anywhere else for that matter, get buses? I can only imagine the people in Summerside, who can’t get adequate bus service as it is, must feel about their tax dollars helping fund a system where the transit rich get richer, whilst they remain without.

To that point, a change in busing shouldn’t be to just better serve those who are already served. To increase ridership, you need to improve the service to key areas. To that end, I think we should focus on fixing what we have, adding some BRT lines, and seeing what the potential and demand is before investing heavily in something that may not work. An LRT won’t service people who live in Pond Mills or Westminster, but those are people who would love to have a better service, from my experience.

I’ve illustrated this When I worked on White Oak Road/Exeter and lived on Hillhead, it took me 1.5 hours to get to work by bus — for a seven-kilometer trip. I could drive in 10 and walk in an hour. That’s what we need to fix.

If we want to talk true vision, let’s look clearly at what we have and what we need. Let’s optimize the current routes — multiple north/south and east/west straight lines, every 15 minutes, on key arteries (e.g. Wellington, Wonderland, Highbury, Adelaide; Dundas, Commissioners, Southdale, Oxford, Fanshawe Park Rd.) with feeder service to some of the smaller communities. There’s really no reason why the Kipp’s Lane Thompson Rd bus should wind throughout the whole city.

By being smarter with what we have, we can establish a better baseline. If that service attracts more people, then you will have growth.

In speaking with a representative on the LTC commission, I was informed that ridership is down 1.5 per cent this year and last year. For the hybrid model to be successful, it needed a 1.5 per cent increase every year, starting in 2015. That’s not to say we’re behind the eight ball, but it’s clear that Londoners may prefer playing snooker instead of being forced into one corner pocket.

That aforementioned 15,000 number is not individuals, it’s participants. They overlap. And even if we’re generous and say that two-thirds are unique (and I have my doubts — I know I was counted multiple times), that’s not truly representative — less than three per cent of London’s 350,000 population.

We wouldn’t run a poll at five London Majors’ games, say, “a new downtown multi-million dollar baseball stadium is our highest priority,” and base our decision on a clear interest group. So why would we do that with LRT?

We are not Ottawa, we are not Mississauga, we are not Pittsburgh. That doesn’t mean we have to be less than them, but we can be different. Change is needed, but it has to be the right change for us — not just keeping up with the Joneses for appearance sake.

That doesn’t mean I hate London. It just means I’m not entranced by shiny things and holding blind faith in an “If you build it they will come” mentality. Nor do I believe in building based on the needs of today’s youth — today.

True, Millennials are eschewing vehicle ownership and living downtown. But here’s a secret — so did Gen Xers like me. Generations of youth have loved to congregate in downtowns, where their social and work lives intersect.

But here’s another secret — people change. I’ve been back living and working downtown for a couple of years now, but for a long time I lived in the suburbs. You may not know it, but those people aren’t evil. They have communities of their own. And, most shockingly, they have thoughts and desires. At 22, I was happy to live downtown and work everywhere. As my lifestyle changed, with a child and the desire to have a backyard, I moved to the suburbs.

I don’t want to build a city only for Millennials. I want a city that’s supportive of Londoners from eight to 108. I want a city that’s supportive of all stages of life. And I’m not stressed when people leave — I left London in my 20s and returned in my 30s. Many people do. Students come to Western for a new experience, then move back home. It’s about gaining perspective, seeing different ways of living, and understanding that our problems and challenges aren’t unique to The Forest City. And it’s about learning that what really matters isn’t investing in shiny baubles, but rather investing in people.

Those Millennials who don’t want cars today, for social AND economic reasons, may think differently in the future when their lifestyles change. That’s why building a city that’s focused on servicing all of our life stages is far more appealing than simply catering to a specific demographic, hoping they’ll stay.

An LRT would be just the latest jewel in a crown that teeters precariously on the head of an emperor who is wearing no clothes. We have a number of other significant issues that we need to address. Elite ways to get people downtown are useless if we don’t deal with the real ills that are facing the core.

If we really want to service all Londoners, then investing in a better system makes sense. But an optimized route network complemented by a BRT more than does the job — no matter how much the LRT advocates want to retroactively demonize the BRT option.

It may not be as shiny, but it more than meets our needs. And it’s sustainable. That’s no Field of Dreams, sure, but it’s a reality that instead of simply appearing better to an outside audience will actually make our city better for all of its residents.

6 thoughts on “A One-Track Focus on LRT Bypasses Needs of the Many to Satisfy Vision of Few

  1. Dave Taylor

    Best article I have read on the subject. In order to properly assess our needs in BRT/LRT/Hybrid, we first need to fix a system that is broken. We need to provide a service that people can rely on and that meets all their transit needs. We currently run a small town bus service in a city. Let’s talk to the shareholders and find out what is really wrong with our current system. Until we do, we cannot hope to reverse the trend of declining ridership.

  2. Jarad Fisher (@jarad_fisher)

    I really fail to see how this is relevant to the LRT vs BRT debate (unless you’re eschewing rapid transit entirely). BRT will cost more to run than LRT, so if anything it will be more harmful to the peripheries because it will simply cost more to run along the core routes. I’m not saying this alone is reason to dislike BRT (the difference is fairly negligible) but if it’s a point in anyone’s scoreboard, it’s a point for LRT.

    BRT really only comes out ahead in one metric: initial cost. London has already said that it will cap its funding at 129m.

  3. Brent Sterner

    I agree with this article. This city cannot manage the existing traffic light system. This “system” has no idea what the traffic is doing. It is run by timers. There us some coordination but it all depends on history and best guessing. )You don’t look at the goalie, then look at the puck and shoot from memory.) Roads are widened and all the traffic uses only one of the resulting lanes because the other is a bus lane with no bays for them to stop off the roadway. IMO London needs to demonstrate the best it can do with the existing system. If London cannot coordinate traffic better than what I see every day, then this city doesn’t deserve a multi-million upgrade that will only be 50% effective.

  4. Pingback: The BRT Crash: How We Got There and How We Drive Forward | The M-Dash by Jason Menard

  5. Pingback: A Letter to Council: Great Cities Have Great Transit; But Not Necessarily this BRT | The M-Dash by Jason Menard

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