First, what is the problem, what are we looking for a solution to? The issue the LRT is trying to address is the traffic problems between downtown and Langford. Does the LRT solve this problem?
For the LRT to make any impact on this problem it has to achieve several things
- Increased speed
- Increased capacity
- Cost effective
- Drive development
I do not think the LRT meets any of these needs.
The LRT is at best marginally faster during rush hour than buses are if you are going from downtown to Langford. It is not faster for people living in James Bay, Royal Oak, Broadmead, the Peninsula and most other parts of the CRD.
There are several reasons the LRT will not be faster than bus transit. The LRT will still be dealing with all the same lights that buses have now.
The LRT will require many people to have to transfer and this will increase their travel time. The reason for the transfers is that all the buses on Douglas will be removed and people will be expected to use the LRT for the part of the trip that is now on Douglas.
The LRT trains will not be able to pass each other or detour around a problem.
The LRT as proposed will have a capacity that is less than what buses on the length of Douglas can move now. In the peak hour of 4-5pm commuter buses passing by Uptown Douglas can currently handle 2600 to 2700 people. The LRT at first will have a maximum capacity of 2160 people that would be able to get to Uptown in the same hour. At full built out the LRT will be able to handle 3120 people past a given point in an hour.
BC Transit could add more buses if needed to meet higher demand. To give you an idea of how many buses can pass a given point in Victoria in one hour, between 4 pm and 5 pm 81 buses on Douglas cross Yates Street going north bound. These buses have a capacity of close to 7000 people, twice the peak capacity of the LRT if BC Transit were to operate 23 trains, three more than planned, it might be able to achieve 3600 people.
The LRT will actually restrict the transit capacity on Douglas.
The LRT is estimated to cost $350 per hour to operate, or $1.46 per person of capacity. BC Transit currently can operate their buses at a cost of $1.25 per person of capacity. The LRT is 17% more expensive to operate per person of capacity. Assuming no other changes and a reduction in the number of buses operated by BC Transit in this region, their is an unfunded liability of about $10 million - this is a ball park figure.
The $1 billion capital cost means something else will not happen. It is relevant to consider this because government spending in any given region is not limitless.
First of all the relationship between transit lines and increased development is a weak correlation. The research shows there is some impact but that it is not large one. The scale of the traffic is an important consideration.
Given that the capacity of the LRT is not as a good as buses and it has a hard upper limit on Douglas Street transit use, any transit oriented development should already be happening now if it is to happen with the LRT. It is not going to be a strong selling point for a development if the LRT is going to full enough that you will never get a seat.
The traffic chaos and problems that the LRT will bring to the Douglas Street corridor will drive away a lot of businesses and make it a very undesirable location for retail.
Is this even the problem that needs solving?
Everything says to me that the most pressing need for transit in this region is better and faster access to UVic. BC Transit should develop two B-Line bus routes, one running from downtown to UVic via Fort and Foul Bay, the second up Douglas to Mackenzie and then to UVic.
A B-Line bus would stop less often and it would require you to pay before you get on board. Not only would this make the buses run faster, but by running faster the buses could service more people in any given hour.
What needs to be done to deal with the Colwood Crawl?
There are several solutions that would have dramatic impacts. First is a bus lane inbound from Helmcken to Finlayson and an outbound one from Finlayson to Mackenzie. The cost of the lanes is not dramatically expensive, some tens of millions.
Second is an interchange at Mackenzie. This is important because of how the traffic splits at this location. The lights needlessly delay a lot of traffic because of the need of so many left turn lights. The interchange would likely cost in the range of $40 million
These two changes would likely reduce the Colwood crawl to something very manageable. Given the changing nature of work and the coming end of population growth, this is likely the final change needed to ensure the traffic flows well.