The ION LRT construction extravaganza is starting to impact yet another section of our two downtowns. I feel sorry for the businesses whose bottom lines will certainly suffer. It hasn’t been great getting around in Waterloo’s uptown when the construction on Caroline began, but the mess that is on King will last far longer and impact many more people.

Is the ION progress? Yes, but I’m not so sure it’s necessary. In my opinion compressed natural gas buses would have worked just as well if not better at far lower cost. We could have easily mandated dedicated bus lanes at peak hours or even all the time, without the necessity of the massive infrastructure overhaul we are seeing now. Buses are also far more flexible routing wise as they can go anywhere there is a roadway, unlike the fixed track of the ION. As well, natural gas buses are no less green than our present energy infrastructure that would power the ION. Our electricity mix consists of natural gas turbines, hydro, solar, nuclear and wind turbines, none of which are exactly green despite the pundits’ claims otherwise.

ion lrt

The problem with buses is simply their lack of sexiness. They are a boring and ubiquitous form of transportation. On the other hand most everyone I’ve ever met loves trains! This ‘modern’ return to the old iron horse has caught the mind’s eye of the public, politician and developer alike. I like trains too, and one slowly passes my home twice a day, chugging away with thousands of horsepower barely above idle. I sincerely hope the ION is a huge success as I’m quite tired of seeing bureaucrats and politicians waste other peoples’ money. I’m keeping my fingers crossed too, that there won’t be huge cost overruns that will be borne by John Q Public! If they do get it right by remaining on budget and on time the ION should be great for all concerned, and as I said (for the third time) I do like trains!

For urbanites in particular the ION will bring increased value to our local communities in the form of accessibility, lifestyle and property values. Many of my neighbours walk everywhere simply because they can, and the ION will make these journeys that much easier for them. While I love driving, leaving the car at home is something I should embrace far more than I do.

My son and his wife and my next door neighbours hardly drive at all. In both cases their choices are strongly linked to a sense of community and the environment. In the case of so many young people a car is also perceived as a liability as the expense gets in the way of both lifestyle and home ownership. With typical house prices just under $400,000 it doesn’t make sense to fork out $10,000+ for a car each year when you are trying to either save up for a down payment or pay down the mortgage.

The ION and the urban communities of K-W have a synergy that will be hard to compete with. This explains the substantial development and investment along King St. and also the healthy rise in property values. If the present trends in intensification, concern for the environment, ever increasing costs of car ownership and fuel prices continue, we will see a vastly different urban landscape 20 or 30 years from now. Perhaps the visionaries are right….

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