Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Keith Martin in Favour of LRT

I got a newsletter from Keith Martin, MP for Esquimalt Juan de Fuca, and it he is very strongly speaking for LRT for Greater Victoria. He also speaks very strongly in favour of the Spencer Road interchange.

Martin does seem to be realistic in his estimates for the cost to built an LRT from Langford into town, a cost of $500 000 000 to $700 000 000. I think his estimates could be low depending on the route you would use, but he is at least in the ballpark.

What I find interesting is his assumption of a net benefit of $200 000 000 over 20 years from the the LRT. I would like to see how that number is arrived at. IF this true, the benefits cover 1/3 of the interest costs on the money used to build the LRT. If we took the same $500 000 000 and created a foundation to provide local benefits, that foundation would be able to grant about $25 000 000 a year, or half a billion in 20 years.

Even if someone is dumb enough to stump up the cash to build the LRT, there still is not the needed number of people to make the operation work at all.

The Westshore is still only home to a small minority of the people in this region. There simply are not enough people out there that want to go downtown each day to justify rail transit. For an LRT to make sense there would have to be a concerted effort to build a lot more housing in all of the western communities. We would need to see the population rise 30 000 to 40 000 in a few years. The community infrastructure in Langford and Colwood would not handle this growth - look at the troubles Bear Mountain is having.

The LRT idea also assumes that the primary transit if from Langford to downtown. This simply is not the case. Most of us in Greater Victoria live urban Saanich and the City of Victoria. The LRT makes no sense to the 2/3s of the people living at the core of the city.

The idea of a single downtown as a destination is also no longer true. Government offices are moving further out of the core - there is a nice sized cluster at Selkirk Water now. It also ignores UVic - the university is a single destination with a constant level of traffic that would make sense for rail transit. But note that Vancouver has not chosen to build a line to UBC yet.

IF one were to build rail transit in this city, I would argue a circle route would make the most sense. Start Downtown and follow Fort to Foul Bay, up Foul Bay to UVic, then out along Mackenzie then down Quadra, over to Blanshard on Cloverdale and Blanshard to Fort downtown.

This route would be about 16 km long and cost in the range of $800 000 000. Still very expensive. What it does have going for it is enough riders to make the route realistic from an operational view. It also gives the core municipalities the impetus to add density along the route and not to have more greenfield sites made into housing (as would have to be done in the western communities). More people live long this route that work downtown than on any other possible route of the same length. The route also has the advantage of having UVic and Camosum Landsdowne on it and the Royal Jubilee.

Still, would I build this route? No. The operational costs would still mean that the bus network would have to be gutted to make it work and the bus network is the heart of our transit.
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