Transit mode share on the rise

Transit use is on the rise in Waterloo Region. Service improvements, slowly being rolled out by GRT, are making transit a more viable choice for many people. Ridership has doubled since 2001 when the Region took over transit from the cities. The ridership growth has outpaced population growth by a factor of five.

What’s more, the growth in transit use appears to be a sustained demographic trend, as a new generation is starting to make different transportation choices than their parents. While some might dismiss the high ridership numbers of young people as something that will change as they age and begin to earn more money, the trends suggest that this isn’t the case. 25-34 year olds from 2001 are now all in the 35-44 bracket, and are more likely now to use transit than a decade ago.

Transit Mode Share in Waterloo Region Data from Statistics Canada National Household Surveys from 2001, 2006, 2011

Transit Mode Share in Waterloo Region
Source: Statistics Canada National Household Surveys from 2001, 2006, 2011

Young people who use transit today are sticking with it as they grow older. The university bus pass program is likely to have a profound influence over the ridership of adults in the coming decades.

Waterloo Region rapid transit walkshed beyond 2017

Above is a ‘walkshed’ map of potential future rapid and express transit services in Waterloo Region. A walkshed is the area that is accessible by walking a certain distance to or from some point of interest, in this case, transit stops.

The RT network (in red and orange) is derived from the plans by the Region’s Rapid Transit Initiative, while the iXpress network (in blue) is guesstimated from proposed 2013 service, the GRT Business Plan, and the Regional Transportation Master Plan. The code used to generate the walkshed map is hosted on Github.

Fun with GTFS

I’ve slowly started to migrate a few of my small code tinkering projects onto Github. These two projects both involve the handling of transit service Open Data.

future-gtfs: Tool for augmenting GTFS datasets with potential future transit routes and service frequencies. I’m using it to create data needed to help demonstrate the benefits of Waterloo’s future Rapid Transit service through something like OpenTripPlanner.

animate-gtfs: Script I made for generating an animation of GRT bus service.

A Tale of Two Road Diets

In the past few years, the cities of Waterloo and Kitchener have implemented what was then called road diets. (Road ‘right-sizing’ is a better term used today.) Waterloo converted Davenport Road from 4 lanes to 2 with bike lanes and a median a few years back to great fanfare. Last fall, Kitchener narrowed the expansive 2 lanes on Margaret to provide marked parking areas and bike lanes, as part of one the City’s 5 cycling priorities planned for 2012.

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Cedar LRT Station

Community Building with Rapid Transit

It’s Saturday morning, but you’re stuck in traffic. You’re on your way to the Kitchener Market, and the cars on King Street are inching forward slower than rush hour. You grit your teeth as the bus you’ve been creeping behind lurches and stops to let off a few impatient passengers. They’ve been waiting to move as long as you have, and they scurry to the corner to cross, dodging turning vehicles. You finally make the turn onto Cedar and find the parking lot full, again. Frustrated, you loop the nearby neighbourhood a few times, finally snatching a parking spot. A good part of your morning wasted already, you hurriedly pick up your eggs, meat, and a few veggies, and head back to your car as quickly as you can, just to face the traffic all over again.

CC by-nc-sa by Dr Phil on FlickrFast-forward fifteen years from now. King Street is still busy, and the parking lot is full, but that no longer bothers you. You find your ride in a light rail vehicle relaxing as you glide to a stop at Cedar and Charles. A wide promenade to lead you to the market awaits, lined with shops and cafes. The street has been closed to traffic today, and vendors have set up tables here outside the market to keep pace with demand. You catch the eye of a friend – she’s just come downstairs from the flat she recently moved into on Cedar Street – and she invites you to join her at the little cafe below her new place. You grab some patio chairs and chat for a while before parting ways to browse the many shops and vendors. Arms loaded with food, you head back to Charles Street. As the train approaches, you remember you’ve forgotten the cheese! No worries, another train will come again in just a few minutes.

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Cedar LRT Station

Catch the Vision

A draft of the central transit corridor community building strategy is being presented for public input this month.

I was privileged to participate as a citizen in workshops for the community building strategy in the spring and am impressed with the work that has gone into it.

The vision for the community transformation that will accompany rapid transit being presented in the draft strategy is both breathtaking and well within our grasp.

This future of better transit, roads, paths, and intensification is what will keep me and my family rooted and working in Waterloo Region.

Which is why I’m alarmed that a small minority who oppose rapid transit in the region has grown increasingly noisy as of late.

If this is allowed to continue unanswered, I fear regional council may forget the groundswell of support in 2011 for rapid transit, and this future may be lost, extinguished by those whose vision is too narrow to look beyond the status quo.

I would encourage everyone to attend the community building strategy public consultations, or visit the website at centraltransitcorridor.ca.

Catch the vision, contribute to it, and speak up once again for a better future.

Victim-Blaming Underfoot

Since the beginnings of civilization, people have been building and walking on roads. Walking on public streets was once a safe and normal activity, but since the introduction of the automobile, pedestrians have been displaced. This has come as a concerted effort to shift the blame for collisions away from car operators: industry and drivers’ associations have successfully convinced society of the invented notion of ‘jaywalking’, vilifying what was once an everyday stroll down the street.

Today, even as the public and governments begin to once again recognize the social, economic, and environmental value of active transportation, we continue to fall under the illusion that people must yield to the ‘needs’ of cars. As pedestrians continue to be hurt and killed by cars, police and radio ads implicitly blame victims with reminders to “wear bright clothing” because somehow choosing to walk helps contribute to a “dangerous combination.” This is absurd and diverts our attention away from the real source of the danger.

The truth is that most of the time, if a motorist “didn’t see” a pedestrian, they have failed to operate with the level of caution and care warranted by the weight and speed of their vehicle and the conditions of the road. It’s why driving is a licensed and regulated activity, while walking is not. Let’s remember to watch vigilantly for pedestrians the next time each of us gets behind the wheel.

Square pegs in round holes: A better design of roundabout entrances for cyclists

Roundabouts raise a great deal of controversy in Waterloo Region. Some love the way they make traffic flow smoothly. Others fear the unknown, or at least the other drivers who don’t know what they’re doing. Pedestrians and schoolchildren don’t feel safe crossing them. Traffic engineers are very much sold on roundabouts. Like them or loathe them, they’re here to stay.

Roundabouts can be a challenge for cyclists. As putting a bike lane on the outside of a roundabout invites dangerous sideswiping, it’s best to take the lane like any other vehicle when approaching a roundabout. Consequently, North American standards require that designated bicycle lanes end before the entrance to a roundabout. Unfortunately, when implemented in Waterloo Region, this presents two unpalatable options for cyclists. A curb cut onto the sidewalk and ring of crosswalks is provided for the timid. (If the expectation here is to dismount, it’s clear that it’s been far too many years since our traffic engineers have climbed onto a bike.) The other option is to merge with traffic when the bicycle lane ends.

This poses a safety problem. Cyclists are forced to merge in front of faster moving vehicles. While drivers are supposed to slow down for roundabouts, they don’t always do so. The implementation with the second roundabout lane, shown above on the right, is simply infuriating – it allows a car to enter the rightmost lane before the bike lane ends, which could cut cyclists off at the last minute.

It should be obvious that faster moving traffic behind should be watching out for slower moving traffic ahead, rather than having to turn your head to see if someone’s coming up faster from behind. (Not that shoulder checks are a bad idea, just that due diligence is easier from a car looking ahead rather than a bike looking behind.) It’s like how I was taught to ski down a hill: those downhill from you can’t see you, so yield if you’re skiing faster than them.

I’ve proposed a different way to ‘end’ bicycle lanes when approaching a roundabout, in a way that encourages this kind of behaviour, shown below. In the image on the left, the road markings imply that it is cars that must yield to bicycles ahead of them before merging into the roundabout entry lane. I’ve chosen ‘shark teeth’, which aren’t yet very common or well understood around here yet, but hopefully will become more so as time progresses. Shark teeth point in the direction of vehicles that are supposed to yield and show where they are expected to stop if necessary. Even if a driver is unfamiliar with this style of markings, it should be clear that they are leaving their lane for another and must merge carefully. This is made more obvious by the use of bike ‘sharrows’ in the middle of the lane.

The configuration on the right should be obvious: when a new lane is created for entering the roundabout, it should be a continuation of the bicycle lane so that drivers are required to think and can see cyclists better before merging occurs.

These aren’t big changes to the design of our roundabouts, but they could make a huge difference in terms of cycling safety.