Friday, November 9, 2012

Waterloo Route Shakeup!

Edit 2013/02/23: GRT has released a "preferred option" proposal. You can read about it here.

Edit 2012/11/10: GRT has now released its official options and I have revised this article to use the new images and corrected for details that have changed since the council submission.

Big changes coming to GRT, mainly within the city of Waterloo. The establishment of the 202 "University Avenue Express" and the extension of 201 iXpress require some rethinking of existing routes. The region is looking for public input on a number of options at public consultation centres being held in November. Are you going?

It has taken me a while to process the east Waterloo options. And to my disappointment they still haven't been properly published. Everything below is pulled from the region's Planning and Works agenda document (warning: big PDF), starting around page 115. You can now see GRT's official options here. Note that they differ slightly from the P&W agenda.

There are three "east" options being presented.

In all options, the 201 Fischer-Hallmann iXpress is extended past the university to Conestoga Mall, and then on to Northfield & University. The University iXpress also terminates here, but how it gets there is different.

Also, 6 and 35 are "crossed": they swap their downtown endpoints, 6 goes to Uptown and 35 goes to Downtown. In doing so, they are much straighter than before, which helps them act as better grid participants. Presumably 6 will be linked to the western 5 route at Uptown, as 35 was before.

The Contenders

East Waterloo Option 1 showing route details.jpg
Option 1

Option 1 is probably the simplest. The University iXpress left-turns at Bridge St. Apart from the 6/35 swap, eastern routes remain largely unaltered (12 is tweaked.)

  • Bridge St. is well served, at least between Northfield and University.
  • 35 is now an (albeit slow) north/south route.
  • The future "minor node" at Northfield and Bridge is very well served, with access to it for much of the northeast area. (Disclaimer: I work here and this is personally important.)
  • Duplication of iXpress between Northfield/Bridge and Northfield/University
  • There are three ways to get from Northfield/Bridge to Conestoga Mall. Seems excessive.
  • 12 is almost completely pointless in this configuration. Only a fraction of possible trips on the 12 are not provided by other routes, faster and more frequently.
East Waterloo Option 2 showing route details.jpg
Option 2

Option 2 really shakes things up. The University iXpress stays on University. 35 is (partially) straightened out. 31 shortcuts along Bridge St.

I see this option as intriguing, but flawed.

  • 35 starts to resemble a legitimate grid participant along the east side.
  • 6 (presumably cross-linked to the 5 on the west side) is a nice east-west grid line.
  • An intriguing new route for the Lincoln neighbourhood.
  • Less iXpress duplication.
  • A more useful 12; Weber St. north of University finally sees some service.
  • 31 is a monumental waste. It provides some minimal value along Lexington and that's it (and there isn't much along that stretch, either). Short-cutting it up Bridge makes no sense: whose time are you saving? The people trying to reach Conestoga Mall, who could take 201 or the new Lincoln route instead?
  • 35 is half-heartedly straightened out. Its remaining neighbourhood wander diminishes its value as a way to get up and down the east side by adding substantial delay (close to 10 minutes.)
There is one small change that makes this option a lot more compelling: swap the Eastbridge detour from 35 to 31! Now you have a less useless 31, and a more direct 35. Everyone wins.

I would like to see 35 continue to adhere to 6's old Wellington St. route, too. That would help it remain useful to me, personally, as well as the rest of the Mount Hope/Breithaupt neighbourhood which is not well connected to the East side at all in this arrangement. One big change from the original council packet is that 35 serves Wellington like the 6 does.

East Waterloo Option 3 showing route details.jpg
Option 3

Option 3 puts 31 in the configuration it should have had in Option 2. 35 is bent and spindled past recognition. 12 is cut short

I'm not sure which of Options 1 and 2 are the Good and the Bad, but Option 3 is definitely the Ugly. This is a disaster for anyone trying to get up and down Bridge St.

  • Nothing that Option 2 doesn't already accomplish better.
  • Demonstrates the routing that Option 2's 31 should have.
  • Complete failure to provide a north/south grid route on the east side.
  • Big degradation of service for the Bridge Street corridor, accessibility to the Bridge/Northfield minor node.

Additional Thoughts on All Options

The new University iXpress provides a nice east-west route through the university district and it will be very valuable in either of its two proposed routes. In one configuration, it provides the Bridge St. corridor with good service. In the other, it ventures into the less developed University East area, but in doing so it might be a more "legible" route.

Of course, by doing that, people might start to ask "Why not make it University Avenue all the way across?" And why not? Combined with a sold Erb/Bridgeport limited-stop route through Uptown, we might have something viable. But that's not in the cards...

If we run the University iXpress up "around the horn" instead of Bridge St., it opens up a compelling routing for the 35 as an east-side north-south connector. But it needs to be more direct than Option 2 shows, sticking to Bridge and Lancaster all the way to Wellington or Victoria. (Though the short Auburn Drive detour at University is reasonable.)

While I would love to see 4 bus routes converge at Bridge and Northfield, and keep my current bus route to work, I have to say that Option 2 is probably the best starting point. Swapping Eastbridge detour duties from 35 to 31 is a no-brainer.

But what about what is possible, but not presented? TriTAG member Duncan Clemens has put together his vision of a restructured route network in this google map. He has some of the same ideas: Use Bridge and Lancaster as a corridor. Make 31 pick up the Eastbridge neighbourhood slack.

Hopefully the PCC will provide opportunities for some of these good ideas to bubble up to the surface. And hopefully we'll end up with something globally useful, and not deformed by competing self-interest.


  1. I believe that one of the missed opportunities of the proposed alternatives is the opportunity to serve the growing area of Bridgeport North/Kiwanis Park which is why in my alternative, I have extended Route 12 service to this area.

    I also believe it is important to develop a network of trunk routes that operate at all hours apart from the iXpress routes.

    1. Looking at Option 2, I wonder how hard it would be to extend the new "Route via Lincoln" to serve Bridgeport North?

      More and more I keep thinking that Option 2 is the best starting point. With a couple of alterations it could really serve the east side well.

  2. Hi Chris,
    I live in Eastbridge and work near UW. I know I'm just one person, but I think a majority of houses in Eastbridge are like me, in that a walk to Bridge St. is too far to be efficient or practical for commute time. We need that one route that cuts through the neighbourhood to have good service AND to go somewhere useful.

    I mostly would want to go down Lexington/Columbia to UW - and many Waterloo students and workers need the same. In small cities like ours, 10-30 mins of time lost due to uncoordinated transfer points are the main thing stopping me from using transit more. So it makes a big difference if I can get there in a single route. If they choose Option 3, which does this, I don't see why they would break up Bridge St. - they should find a way to cover that. Looking at it more from this point of view, the best is something you suggested: Option 2, IF they swap the 35 and 31 in terms of which goes through Eastbridge and which goes up Bridge.

    Secondary, I'd like to be able to get to Uptown Waterloo. Option 2 WITH the 31/35 swap seems best for this too. I can just go to King/Columbia like my primary route, and transfer once on a major route: high-service King St.

    Third, I'd occasionally like to get to Downtown Kitchener. With Option 2 WITH the swap, I can do this the same way as how I get to Uptown, and just keep going down King, OR I can get to the (swapped) 35 one of two ways:
    - extra walking to Bridge St. to be able to take a single bus to downtown is not bad, or
    - the single medium-service transfer from (swapped) 31 to 35 on Bridge is not as annoying when getting to a more distant destination.

    What's the best way to register my feedback? I'll drop by the UW session on Nov 20 (can it be anytime during the 4 hours, or is there a presentation first?), but can I also email somewhere?

    1. GRT is providing a link to an e-survey for opinions in their information page at . For sure fill that out, but the PCCs are a great place to bend the ear of representatives as well. They also tend to be great sources of information too, as you can find out a lot of the why's and the constraints and challenges that transit staff deal with.

      If the PCC is a drop-in style (and it probably is) then you can stop in at any time for as long as you want. Usually staffers are there ready to talk to anyone, and large detailed maps are provided.

      I'll be heading to the PCC at Lexington and Davenport, on my way home from work on the 21st. It's the only one I can make.

      As for your comments about the trips you take... this is useful stuff! Planners need to hear how real people use the service. For instance, the 35's wandering nature bugs me because the loops are so long you can practically walk between them along Bridge in the time it takes for the bus to return. As a "through" passenger, this really hurts. I have coworkers who could take 35 to work but tried, and rejected it as too slow.

      Of course route speed has to be balanced with providing reasonable coverage, too. Transit design fascinates me because it's a balancing act amongst competing priorities! It took me several days of thinking before I could move past the "well, what works best for *me*" stage and start asking myself what would be the best for the most people.

      And then, is that best for the people who currently use GRT, or best for attracting more people to GRT?

  3. Oh, AND they need some Sunday service, on the one that goes through Eastbridge!