A tweet by former Councilor Bill Marra caught my attention.
As I responded when I retweeted his tweet, LRT should be considered but it needs to be done in the context of other possible corridor options like BRT, a street car or as a part of an traditional corridor with enhanced bus service and active transit options.
Although their is no doubt that an LRT running down University Ave knitting together Sandwich Town, the University, the Downtown would be game changing city building initiative there are some challenges. The first is whether such a rail line would be viable from a usage standpoint. Now there is no doubt that if built some riders would use it, particularly students shifting between University campuses but there is a real question of if there are enough people in Windsor’s downtown to support route.
Currently on Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Ottawa are home to LRT lines in Canada, with Waterloo Region, Surrey BC, Gatineau Que, Peel Region and Hamilton having them in the works. A rule of thumb with LRT, regardless of whether it is elevated/separated with their own right of way (think Eglinton LRT in Toronto that is under construction) or embedded in traffic (Q-line in Detroit) you need approximately 10,000 people per square km along the line. Although other research point lower thresholds, it then requires employment density along or at terminus of the line and entry points that captures ridership from other parts of the community.
Unfortunately Windsor fails to meet this this population threshold, with the City’s population density being only about 1,400 people square km. From the Census DAs along the University Avenue corridor we find a density of 3,992 people per square km and after removing the University and a few other lower density DAs (around the bridge and waterfront) it only increases the density to 4,348 people per square km. Although there is no doubt that an LRT would attract investment and intensification if we have double the population density in established neighbourhoods or transform where people do business in or city to potentially make it viable the question becomes, is it worth the cost?
The chart below illustrates the different lifetime cost structures of modes of public transit on a per km basis (Boring Company not included).
There are several things to consider when looking at the chart above. Obviously initial capital outlay is important and in all likelihood, at least partially paid for by other levels of government. A similar statement could be made for the rehab costs as precedent is in place where upper level of government assist in long term capital revitalization. One the flip side, operating costs are almost complete bore by the local transit entity along with the financing costs for local portion of the capital and rehab costs. At just under 5 km from Mackenzie Hall to past Caesars on University Ave. the potential costs of transit in their corridor become very real.
London opted for a BRT (now itself in doubt) over an LRT largely due to the cost, construction time and questions about viability due to population density. Waterloo has gotten its LRT helping it cement its tech friendly image but it is $50 million over budget and months behind schedule. Hamilton and Peel Region are both pushing forward with Metrolinx LRT plans which have the potential of including community benefit packages to their impacted neighbourhoods.
All options should be explored for the regeneration of the University Ave corridor but when we get down to brass tacks, certain options are more viable and reasonable. Personally as the trade offs between one option and other could result in millions of dollars in additional lifetime costs. Those dollars maybe better utilized dealing with other quality of life issue or combating some of the social issues that exist in the same neighbourhoods as this study.
Although I think an LRT is impractical for Windsor, all I can do is echo’s former Councilor Marra’s comment to get involved and dream big. The online survey can be found here.