NOW that Mayor Bill Norrie's conversion to rail transit is complete, attention should turn from which technology makes best sense to how widely it should be applied. It seems settled that this city's initial rapid transit leg will be implanted in the long-discussed Southwest Transit Corridor. What remains to be determined is which other quadrants of Winnipeg rate the same treatment.
Here, as a result of seven years of study of local traffic patterns and demographic conditions, is a hypothetical regional rail rapid transit network plan for post-1990 Winnipeg.
The scheme anticipates the expansion of rail transit to all the Winnipeg area. It displays the maximum bounds of possibility. All aspects of it need not necessarily be implemented, though five of the routes in this scheme are already included as transit lines in the city's official development plan. By putting this scheme up for detailed inspection, I hope Winnipeggers will be able to judge how useful the concept would be to them, were it to be adopted.
Several things about the local environment militate in favor of rail rapid transit generating a much more vigorous response from Winnipeg's commuting public than has been recorded in other cities that have recently adopted it:
The statistical case for whether a city is a realistic candidate for rapid transit rests upon three factors: intensity of use of the existing, surface transit system; traffic volumes within defined corridors and the increase in overall transit ridership the rapid transit improvements are predicted to attract.
Winnipeg passes on the first count with flying colors. Held up against Winnipeg Transit's unenviable distinction of continually logging the slowest average annual vehicle operating speed of any large transit company in Canada, the faithfulness with which Winnipeggers have supported their transit system over the years is impressive.
Criterion 2 involves the manner in which a region's transportation arteries channel traffic into sectoral corridors.
In Winnipeg, 12 such corridors exist, as shown on the table. Eight carry traffic between downtown and outlying areas; four facilitate crosstown travel between adjacent suburbs.
Corridors experiencing person-trip volumes approaching 30,000 per hour on weekdays during the prime-time travel period of 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. warrant high- or medium capacity rapid transit lines. Those recording between 8,000 and 25,000 trips during the same periods qualify only for medium-capacity lines.
Because of the considerable improvement in the quality of service that rapid transit will impart, substantial numbers of commuters who now balk at using public transit can be expected to "defect" to it. That could increase the overall proportion of travellers using public transit to 50 per cent from its current level of 30 per cent.
Under criterion 2, Corridors 4, 6, 7, 9, 11 and 12 qualify for high-capacity rapid transit. All of the rest would qualify for medium-capacity rapid transit links.
The physical and operational ramifications of this "scoresheet" are shown in the map, which indicates graphically all of the locations where rail rapid transit facilities could conceivably be justified to accommodate Winnipeg's foreseeable regional urban transit needs far into the 21st century. The virtue of the particular distribution of alignments, hardware, and people-carrying capacities which the map represents lies in the conscious attempt it makes to outfit every sufficiently-developed corner of the city with access to some version of rail rapid transit. The "heavy-rail" (ie., "subway") component especially has been arrayed so as to apportion the entire metropolitan area into relatively equally-sized and equidistant zones of service.
The scheme involves a hierarchy of services. Heavy rail would occupy the pinnacle of the service pyramid, followed by intermediate rail and then by light rail streetcars. At the bottom, buses would revert to the strictly feeder role for which they were, as jitneys, originally devised in the 1920s.
On many light rail routes, local bus service would be laid on during rush hours to supplement express rail vehicles.
A final strong point of this scheme is the degree to which it matches and thereby maximizes service to Winnipeg's established development patterns. Virtually every major shopping, health, sports and recreation, educational, entertainment, cultural, and employment attraction is to receive some measure of rapid-transit service.
Those whose memories stretch back to the original streetcar era may sense a passing familiarity with the service which other western Canadian cities have recently built and which I propose for Winnipeg. However, contemporary refinements are making these resemblances coincidental, at most. Although the vehicle is similar, traffic-flow arrangements are completely different.
Only a minority of streetcars will share the road with private cars, buses and trucks. LRT would often occupy the centre-median, as it did on Broadway and Portage Avenues in days of old. Stops would be farther apart than used to be the case.
Where LRT service was instituted along streets that were part of one-way pairings (e.g. Marion-Goulet), streetcars would be assigned exclusive use of a "contraflow" lane at left-hand curbside, as is now done by buses on Vaughan Street downtown.
The LRT would use streetcar-type units, coupled together into trains. Depending on conditions in the district it was passing through, it could operate either within the confines of a fixed guideway or could run along the streets of down their centre malls.
Criterion 3 asks how the new system would change the habits of people travelling in the city.
My own sample survey indicates that, if even only the heavy rail component of the plan were in place, 70 per cent of work- and school-related trips would be made by transit and only 30 per cent by car.
For the three remaining major kinds of trips (i.e.: shopping, recreation/entertainment; and visiting family and relatives) about half would take public transit.
One reason for the enthusiastic response was the proposal to include a circumferential line in the heavy-rail network. Such a line would give Winnipeg a rapid transit feature unique in North America. One of the prime impediments to suburbanites making greater use of urban mass transit (even in cities that do boast quite extensive rapid transit networks) is that transit in general makes almost no attempt to accommodate lateral movement between suburbs. Because of this, it alienates its single largest pool of untapped ridership.
In addition, a great many of Winnipeg's more important trip-attractors, such as the Polo Park Shopping mall; the Stadium/Arena complex; the airport; and St. James and Inkster industrial Parks, lie in a narrow band that encircles the city's geographic centre. The importance of bidding to win over the allegiance of these potential customers cannot be overstressed. Many interviewees who lived or worked in the suburbs took special pains to let it be known that they viewed the circumferential heavy-rail line as a singularly useful feature.
No responsible discussion of this topic would be complete without dealing with the issue of cost. Something with the technological complexity of what is proposed here will not come cheap. For the entire project, it is not at all outlandish to advance a cost "guesstimate" ranging between $2.5 billion and $6 billion in current dollars.
This sum, however, needs to be viewed in context. It is made to appear disproportionately inflated by the fact that rapid transit, in order to achieve maximum effect, must be built to full network dimensions in a relatively short time. Since none of the infrastructure now exists, it must, as well, be built from scratch. In a sense, we will be making restitution for our monumental historic gaffe in discarding electric streetcars when we already had them in place — and paid for.
The money that has been spent over the past 80 years on the consolidation of our regional arterial highway network is 20 times that which will be required for rapid transit.
The difference is that we had the luxury of building the roads in stages over the course of eight decades. The cost of acquiring and operating the cars on the arterial highway network is borne individually and thus tends to be overlooked.
On the other hand, the cost of buying vehicles for a publicly owned and operated rapid transit system is easily compiled.
Once one grasps the significance of this elementary lesson in global versus fragmentary accountancy, the virtues of committing the public money that will be needed to realize this dream come clear.
It will mean mass savings taxpayers, in the form of reduced personal outlays on automobile use made possible by huge enhancement in the convenience, swiftness, comfort and reliability of public transit.
Controlled densification of development in the vicinity of selected stations will (as it has done magnificently elsewhere) unleash a torrent of new investment, jobs, and entrepreneurial opportunities. The amount of funding needed for the further expansion and extension of regional arterial highways will be greatly reduced. Road congestion will be relieved through the deflection of current-day motorists to rapid transit to the benefit of those who continue to prefer to drive. Our environments will prosper in esthetic and human as well as in economic ways.
In return for our investment, we will have obtained a facility which by its nature is almost uniquely durable. It promises to be a generator of a net revenue surplus to the local and Manitoba economy on a scale that our present transit system cannot come remotely close to equalling. It will be this city's economic and transport lifeline for untold decades. It will be "Winnipeg's Conawapa".
If we can see our way clear to dedicate $5 billion to the power project without blinking surely we owe this province's flagship city no less.
Winnipeg transit Corridors