Does Kingston Need Light Rail Transit?

Light Rail Transit system, LRT, Kingston, OntarioIn January 2002, Kingston’s Transportation Master Plan reported that:

during the afternoon commuter peak hour, 82 percent of trips were made by car, 11 per cent by walking, 6 percent by transit (3 percent school bus and 3 percent public transit) and just over 1 percent by cycling. Over the next 25 years, Kingston is expected to grow by between 30 to 45 percent, and travel demands will increase concurrently.

Nearly a decade after the 2002 report, traffic jams and rush hour in Kingston may not be close to what commuters in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have to endure, but our traffic woes are nevertheless frustrating and time consuming. Our public transportation scheme has seen some improvements since the 2002 master plan, as bus routes have been expanded and optimized, bike lanes have been established along major arteries, and let’s not forget about the seasonal rack and roll program on board Kingston Transit buses.  While these developments may be enough to accommodate local commuters in the year 2011, what direction should our Transportation Master Plan steer us in order to ensure that our transit network remains rapid, reliable, affordable, accessible and sustainable?  Should Kingston be having the difficult talk that Ottawa, Hamilton and other smaller Canadian centres are having?  Accordingly, this week’s poll asks:
[poll id=”42″]

With current commute times and public transit volume in mind, I’m not convinced that a light rail transit system is a necessity for Kingston.  That said, according to the 2009 transportation model update, in 2019 we can expect a 23% increase in public transit ridership, and in 2029 at least a 35% increase over current rates.  Add to that the expectation that by 2019 many major roadways will have exceeded their capacity during rush hour, and we’ll be crawling to and from work in no time.  While some might argue that more buses are the answer, there comes a point a time when even articulated models can’t keep up with commuter demand.  Looking ahead to how Kingstonians will deal with increased traffic volume, the rising cost of fuel, and promoting future growth, should we proactively consider an LRT as a part of our strategic vision?

Thanks to camknows for today’s photo.

Harvey Kirkpatrick

Harvey Kirkpatrick is Kingstonist's Co-Founder. His features curiously explore urban planning, what if scenarios, the local food scene and notable Kingstonians. Loves playing tourist and listening to rap music. Learn more about Harvey...

30 thoughts on “Does Kingston Need Light Rail Transit?

  • Hello Harvey – I just wanted to let you know that you're poll isn't working correctly; I voted for option 1 and it counted it for options 1 and 2, and the counter went up by 2, not one.

    • Thanks for bringing this to our attention. After looking at the log for poll submissions, it appears as though someone else answered at almost exactly the same time as your IP. I suspect that's why you saw the counter jump by 2 instead of 1. More importantly, the log shows that your IP voted for poll option 1, rather than 2, or 1 and 2. Hope that clears things up.

  • Kingston is way too small. The smallest city to have one in Canada will be Waterloo, at over 500,000 population and growing faster then Kingston, and that has been very controversial on whether it makes any sense. Not to mention, if we ignore there isn't the population to make sense, the city isn't allowed to take on the kind of debt that would be required anyway.

  • As much as I would love to see light rail in Kingston, I don't think we'll have the density and population to make it cost effective and viable. I'd much rather see dedicated bus lanes on certain major streets and an expansion of bus routes and increased frequency before we consider light-rail.

  • Unless the LRT would go outside Kingston and the 1000 Islands area towards Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, I don't think it's worth it. It's too small a city to be worth investing in that infrastructure, especially given the already small widths of most streets in Kingston.

    I'd rather invest in a tramway/street car system on major arteries. It would be like a dedicated bus lane but more efficient and more environmentally friendly than buses, in my opinion.

    • Just so you know, LRT encompasses street cars / trams as those are considered 'light rail'.

  • Personally my (sarcastic) comment has always been that I wish that the city of Kingston would realize it is a CITY, not a town anymore, and that just because someone lives anywhere north of the 401 is no reason to think they must not need buses there.

  • The main problem is convincing people not to use their cars in favour of any kind of public transport. Seems to me that rather too many people wouldn't use such a bus or tram system, however swish, even if they had a stop right outside their house and right outside their workplace…

  • It might be prudent for everyone to check out the Transit Network Redesign done by the Waterloo Public Transportation Initiative for Kingston Transit (completed in 2009). It describes a number of recommended transit upgrades, including express bus route service. Currently, Kingston Transit is changing their services (routes, headways, catchment areas) and formulating their 5 year business plan.

    On a strategic level, keep in mind that transit service provision is just one aspect in dealing with transportation challenges that the City faces. Keep your eyes and ears open for the City of Kingston's Transportation Demand Management Strategy (currently in development) that will address how the City will meet and/or decrease current demands on Kingston's road network while maximizing existing services and infrastructure to alleviate congestion and increase travel choice.

  • LRTs doesn't work in reducing traffic congestion. Just take a look at Toronto. Street Cars (as they are called there) take up several car lengths and can't maneuver around road closures, or accidents. If there's bumper to bumper traffic guess what? You'll still be in the thick of it.

    They also make frequent stops which will also slow down traffic. Unless it gets it's own lane. That would open a whole new can or worms. Now you'll be taking up a whole traffic lane. Another headache will be during the construction of the rails. Traffic, local businesses, residents along the route will suffer for however long it takes to complete this project. Finally, LRT's can really make a street look ugly too. Do you really want to see a network of wires along the routes? The only good thing I can say about the LRT is that it will create jobs. Buses are more practical for moving a lot of people but are not the answer either.

    Kingston should look at what the other big cities are doing now. They're looking into "active transportation" and the "complete streets" idea. It may not sound very sexy but it does look promising. It can make Kingston into an even nicer place to live, work, or visit. This might not solve the predicted traffic congestion problem but it's probably the easiest and cheapest way to get people moving efficiently in the city while keeping it's charm.

    Just an opinion. =)

  • Our streets downtown are far too narrow for street cars. It's enough that we allow trucks to make deliveries from traffic lanes, we can't have street cars stopping constantly too. It would be crazy. I say monorail.

  • monorail is not the answer easy. monorail requires easements along a given path. you. the smallest footprint would be for the support structure and a larger footprint for stops. Downtown area does not have the space unless it is waterfront. the problem with rails and monorails is that the route is fixed and is hard to moditfy. For a city the size of Kingston the most logical mass transit is a bus. While some people may be unhappy with the service such as frequency or actual route, these are things that can be changed fairly quickly since tracks / support do not have to be laid. We have to be realistic what we can build here otherwise there will be a lot of property that will have to be expropriated. Did anyone think of that?

  • Doh!!! OK – Sometimes you just do not know.. I am not sure how long your have been in Kingston, but a while back ( at least 10 years ago) there was a guy running for either council or mayor that suggested that we build a monorail.

    • haha, it's all good. I would have just moved here at that time but I was trapped in the Queen's bubble so I didn't know there was anything beyond the hub let alone what was happening in local elections.

  • People should investigate the <a href="” target=”_blank”>Project for Public Spaces. I bring this up as light rail and traffic congestion all relate to a central item, which is the ability to walk around and get to places by foot. That comes down to larger scale urban design, and the Project identifies some current trends in this area.

  • Having lived in Toronto for a number of years, I treasured the TTC and saved myself thousands of dollars by not owning a car. When I moved here, I tried to use the Kingston Transit Trip Planner to map out my morning commute and the response I received?

    Sorry …
    We could not create a trip plan meeting your requirements.

    Because of significant obstacles in the likely path, it would be too difficult to walk from your starting location to a first bus stop.

    Kingston Transit can't even service the entire city, for shame.

  • Not sure if anyone is aware of this, but Kingston did have a street car system in place back in the early thirties to forties. Tracks are still in place along Queen St under layers of pavement. It was and Interurban railway serving downtown Queens Uni, the hospitals and Alcan. This would be a good system to bring back and with technology available today, the system could be implemented with no overhead wires. I propose KTram, and I would support a system that liked not only Kingston, but also the bedroom communities of Harrowsmith, Sydenham, Inverary, as these communities are one of the main reasons Kingston has a traffic issue. If not KTram then I would support a BRT system. Modeled after OCtranspo in Ottawa, to provide better access and frequency, as well as Park&Ride lots at 401 interchanges and in the for mentioned communities. Kingston need better access to transit as rising fuel cost will motivate people to use transit, one only needs to look at 911 and rising airline costs, drove via rail to record levels of usage and the infrastructure improvements now being implemented along the Windsor- Quebec corridor.

  • I have heard tell of Kingston's former street car system, but I've yet to come across pictures. If anyone in the community has access to these, please share them or send them along to me so that I can place them on our Flickr.

    Park and Ride, now there's a novel idea. Sure we have it, but as you've pointed out, locations seem to be few and far between, and the linkage with our current bus system seems to be insignificant. While an LRT may not be something Kingstonians are willing to support today, I think more Park and Ride locations, as well as better integration would be a great project in the near future. Great idea.

    • I'll be honest: We cheat and use the malls as park & ride lots when we want to go into areas we don't like driving/parking in. Like downtown.

  • Hey Harvey, if you go to and click on the Items Database do a search on streetcar and you get a few photos and some descriptions. also this is great source for historic kingston photos, might be interesting to feature some photos from time to time on the kingstonist…

    • Thanks for sharing that link/resource Tim. Some really cool archival photos there. Will have to look into whether or not there are any restrictions on posting them from time to time. Suspect their public domain.

  • Thanks for posting this.

    A common response is that Kingston doesn't have the density. Except such responses are never backed up by figures or any sort of research. As far as I know, streetcars are pretty cheap beyond the initial capital expenses. They're certainly cheaper than LRT which tends to require long stretches of open space, unless they're built on big avenues (see Calgary's C-Train – which simply can't be done in Kingston). See the UBC study on rebuilding Vancouver's once extensive streetcar system for the same cost as the proposed skytrain spur line to UBC.

    Some things we do know from the experience with Portland Oregon's new streetcars:
    1) Replacing a major bus route, the new streetcar saw its ridership rapidly surpass the previous bus ridership
    2) More people ride them because they're more comfortable than buses. They have more space, better seats and no lateral motion weaving around traffic and pulling over to curb-side stops.
    3) Their routes are pretty obvious because of the rails, whereas buses are never entirely obvious unless you're a regular bus user. Not knowing bus routes means a lot of people who occasionally need transit turn to a cab instead.
    4) Streetcars/LRT promote densification of development within a 500-800 metres because their routes are fixed, not flexible like buses. This means reinforcing a walking culture while acting as a counterweight to car-based urban sprawl.
    5) Quiet!!! No crappy diesel, grinding gears.
    6) No direct emissions

    As for Kingston, it seems obvious that Princess should have a streetcar running from Ontario or King all the way to Gardiner if not further, perhaps along Collins Bay. It could loop back downtown on Bath, reconnecting with Princess.

    The Princess stretch from Division to Ontario or King should be streetcar only. The sidewalks could be pulled out, attracting more walking traffic, quieter streetscape, with large outdoor restaurant and cafe spaces.

    Another streetcar route could be along Montreal, along Conacher, down Division to Union, jog on Barrie and then back up Bagot to reconnect with Montreal. It would of course go both ways.

    All streetcar routes would free up buses for elsewhere. The business community would probably be attracted by the tourism benefits, more people coming downtown.

    My only real concern is gentrification through rising land values and rising rents. This needs to be combated with a clear set of controls on rents, affordable housing, etc.

    Streetcars: more than possible

  • Building a tram system in Kingston is crazy. It is prohibitively expensive and buses can easily handle the capacity. Tram systems only make sense in medium-sized cities (e.g. Waterloo, Hamilton, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton). It is far more cost effective to run more frequent bus service to increase ridership. I propose that the following main bus routes run every 15 minutes or less all day 7 days a week: 1, 2, 3, 6, 10, and 12, with 30 minute all day service 7 days a week on other routes. These 6 routes are within walking distance of most parts of Kingston, so this will increase ridership a lot at a relatively low cost.

  • What if, instead of having an LRT system, we create HOV lanes, bus-only lanes, and increase the frequency of buses, while slowly reducing the number of lanes that are designated for personal vehicles. I read this book called "Green Metropolis" by David Owen, and he commented on how the only way to get people to take the system is to make the alternative extremely difficult. It's not about making the transit pretty or making sidewalks accessible if people aren't going to get out of their cars to begin with.

  • On the subject of Transit, does anyone if know if the city will ever expand the B or even 6 routes to go to the airport?

  • I would like to see light rail on collIns bay road Route b

    and eb.

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