Windsor Research Project – Wheels on the Bus

This past week an initial update service delivery plan was published by Transit Windsor along with a really good tool to explore the proposed routes and provide feedback. Despite some strange media coverage that saw push back on social media this is a huge step forward for our community and there are a number items to unpack.

Image result for more than transit

Overlaying Information

Before digging into the plan itself I want to point out some recent research from the University of Toronto that examine how transit poverty (poor access) contributes to socio-economic disadvantage (greater low income, poor health, higher unemployment etc.). The research geo-spatially examined at employment centres, transit access and cadence and neighbourhood demographics in the GTA, to determine areas that were transit rich and transit poor. Then connected those status with other socio-economic challenges. What they found was that transit access, particularly in large urban centres, is a driver of opportunity.

A lens like this would be an interesting overlay on new routes while comparing to existing routes to see if these routes will not only improve services but also drive socio-economic outcomes and equity. How do these routes service social housing locations, schools, libraries and community centres for the people that utilize these facilities is important to understand and measure.

Timing?

Digging into the proposed routes, I actually have very few issues (found later) with the routes themselves. What does come to mind are the potential route run times and number of stops. Based on the interactive map that is available online, they chart the routes, but don’t necessarily show stops or estimate the time that will be taken on that route. The new “Primary 10” more or less is a streamlined Crosstown 2 with the eastern and western ends modified. The Crosstown 2 according to the schedule takes just under 1 hour to makes its run, how long will the “Primary 10” take? This is the real test, is the bus quicker and more efficient than other modes of transit?

The other timing piece that I question is whether the routes are timed for our economy? On weekday primary route service begins at 5:30 am and end at 1:30 am. In the City of Windsor, 23% of employed individuals leave for work between 5am-6:59am (2016 Census). Setting aside that routes aren’t planned to service 1/4 of this time period, if the route then takes 30 minutes to get them near their place of employment the question that emerges is whether or not transit can deliver them in time for them to get to work in time. If people are leaving for work at 5:30 am, they generally need to be there for 6 or 6:30am, if you miss that first bus, you can’t catch another until 6 am, ensuring that you are late.

I do recognize that there is a cost/benefit of whether or not there are enough people concentrated within the transit system to justify these early morning operations (same with late night). Based on the Mission outlined for Transit Windsor

Sharing the Road?

Although I haven’t had the time to overlay this, but how do the new routes align with the Active Transit Master Plan? Although the study speaks to integration over the next decade the devil is in the details. For examples the report outlines potential transit corridors with lane prioritization, how do these corridors interact with existing and potentially enhanced cycling streetscapes.

Transit Priority Lanes?

Although bikes and buses can very easily share streets, given the tensions in our community around road space. If we are talking about prioritized bus lanes being developed how does that impact things like sidewalks and separated bike lanes within active transit strategy? The perception that will need to be challenged is that there is room on the road for all of these elements at once. That challenge will have to be bore by political leaders in our community.

Random Route Thoughts?

Sandwich – A gap that I know that will be raised is the lack of local service for Sandwich town to a grocery store. The Secondary 1, Local 121 do start/end in at the HDGH terminal and pass the Tecumseh/Huron Church shopping areas. A number of the Primary routes, do service Sandwich Town but then do not stop at the grocery store. As East Windsor has a number of “local” routes West Windsor has very few a potential service gap could be a Sandwich Town to University to shopping centre route in West Windsor.

I do recognized that there is a route (Primary 16) that services Sandwich and it does go to Devonshire Mall which is home to a Metro, but this is a longer hall than if we are honest, Metro is a more expensive store than the Food Basics in the West End (likely why the Metro closed and turned into a Food Basics).

Gordie Howe Bridge – Building off of the need for a West End local route, the Primary 16 and Inter-regional 200 are the only routes to service the Bridge site. Ensuring that workers don’t need to drive to the bridge during construction would be a good thing. Although there is time, once the bridge is built some sort of additional service will likely be needed to support cross border connections, the hundreds of jobs that will be permanently on the plaza, as well as bikers and walkers crossing the bridge. Again a local West End Route may solve the problems.

Catholic Central High School – The announcement that Catholic Central is moving down McDougall likely requires some sort of transit service. Given that Catholic Centre is one of the most diverse schools in our region not ethnically but socio-economically transit access is important. Servicing the downtown core where child poverty averages 50% and provides ESL supports for student across the entire City of Windsor, transit access is vital.

Although the Primary 15 does get close running on Howard, there is no direct walking access to the School location due to the train lines. The Secondary 56 going down McDougall to Euginine before doubling back on Howard to Ypres could be a solution to servicing Catholic Central.

Leamington Although mentioned in the report, the pilot project Leamington shuttle to St Clair college is not included in the inter-regional route mapping. A few things emerge from this project:

  1. This route, if we are being honest is superseding and existing shuttle service here and here. Although I would expect Transit Windsor to deliver high quality service, the proposed plan of 3 trips per day doesn’t measurably increase access to Windsor (or the County) and maybe setting the service up to fail.
  2. If an individual doesn’t go to St Clair College but lives in the County, is that route convenient for them? Although the proposed route do have a number of Primary route connections from the college, with only three trips per day, will this pilot enable someone to get a job in Windsor and work regularly or visit an attraction and then not be stuck waiting for a trip home for several hours?
  3. Is there a possibility for this service to not go directly to St Clair but make a Old Castle or South Windsor stops? There are employment and shopping opportunities that by adding a stop that would saving back tracking and likely encourage usage.

EC-Row – I was really happy to see that EC-Row was being utilized, particularly by the express routes. One gap that I do see is there is no true East-West run on EC-Row. Primary 14 goes St.Clair to Tecumseh Mall. The Primary 16 starts at the West End terminal via Sandwich to the airport and beyond. Given that Devonshire mall is the common change over point for these buses, would it not make sense to do a 3 stop run: West End, Devonshire Mall, Tecumseh Mall to allow rapid crosstown access? Additionally if that route could be scaled, to include a Manning Road connection via EC-Row suddenly the East – West movement in our region becomes much easier and quicker (traffic on EC Row permitting).

Scaling Plans– Although there is a lot of talk about regional transit in the proposal, I question how scalable some of these new routes are and whether or not we should just be scaling now?

North Talbot road is a perfect example Workforce WindsorEssex has identified that transportation barriers were preventing people from working in some cases. The proposed new route (Primary 17) ends at the Silver City plaza meaning employees in the Old Castle areas will still have to walk the last mile to work. We have had this conversation for a long time

Beyond this specific example what does a scaled up service into Tecumseh look like and how does it impact all of the East Windsor local routes?

The questions that bring to mind are:

  1. Why aren’t we providing services to these locations? I don’t know about the inter-regional politics but having a bus making a drop off or pick up at North Talbot is not a significant route extension. I recognize the logistics of needing a place where a bus can turn around, and a safe stop site but your telling me that a business couldn’t offer up a parking lot and space for a transit shelter if you could provide them regular transit access.
  2. As mentioned above, what about Manning Rd stop via EC-Row?
  3. Last night Tecumseh approved the funding for a new sports complex. For some in East Windsor this will be the closest community centre facility to them. Bridging the Local 101 which already run down McNorton and is planned to turn literally a few blocks before this “regional facility“.

The adage of “Just Do It” comes to mind. Yes the County municipalities would free ride on that service put into their community. If proven useful and in demand then a business case to request servicing cost at a fair market price or you remove service. Present the plan now, and force the discussion rather than wait and then tack on additions to the strategy.

How I feel

This plan is hugely ambitious for Transit Windsor, and given the low share of municipal investment in transit it may be the best that they can hope for. Doubling the bus fleet, building new infrastructure, new maintenance facilities are important steps forward.

For me, for a decade plus plan, it feels like the real ambition for a “best in class” regional transit service is missing. This plan could be the backbone and pitch for a true regional transit service, even at a high level. Today (June 25th) the new Minister of Infrastructure announced $103M for Bus Rapid Transit in London, they have a bold plan that will see entire road networks rebuilt in their community to accommodate BRT, I don’t know if ours is bold enough to unlock the same investment in our community.

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