A lot can change in a week or two. When TriTAG set better winter sidewalk maintenance as one of its priorities for the year, seeing political movement on the issue seemed almost beyond reach. But thanks to your letters to councillors, the path has been cleared to real public debate about where our community’s priorities lie with winter mobility.
Here’s a breakdown of the story so far:
On Tuesday of last week, The Record published a column by Professor Alejandro López-Ortiz calling on our cities to plow sidewalks like they do roads. This week, Kitchener Post columnist James Bow also called on Kitchener to investigate offering this service.
After seeing the positive public response to López-Ortiz’s column, TriTAG published its councillor contact form, allowing you to raise the issue with your representatives. Many of you did.
We also searched our past municipal election surveys to remind you of what your elected representatives promised regarding winter sidewalk maintenance.
In response, Mayor Berry Vrbanovic and Kitchener City Council voted to review its sidewalk clearing policy, and reconsider the possibility of plowing sidewalks as other cities like London and Mississauga do. Regular Record columnist Luisa D’Amato praised the move as part of the mayor’s broader approach to governing. Councillor Dave Schnider also invited feedback from the public:
— Dave Schnider (@DaveSchniderKW) February 24, 2015
Meanwhile in Waterloo, Councillor Brian Bourke put out an online survey to gauge public support for changes to sidewalk policy and how to pay for it. At the time of this post, more than three quarters of respondents support the city plowing sidewalks, with nearly two thirds in support of a tax increase of at least $20 a year to pay for it. Councillor Bourke also appeared on the 570 News Midday Show to discuss the pros and cons of the city taking on this responsibility. Waterloo has yet to direct staff to study sidewalk clearing, but it is encouraging to see members of council begin to open up the discussion.
We’ve only just gotten the ball rolling by getting municipalities to consider sidewalk plowing as a possibility. We need to continue to engage with our public officials and help them evaluate the options that municipal staff lay out in the coming months. Please consider taking a few minutes to write to your elected representatives and supporting sidewalk clearing as a Regional priority, so that this story ends with sidewalks that are accessible to everyone.
Last year, we surveyed municipal election candidates on a number of questions regarding transit, walkability, bicycling, and development. Below are what some of our current representatives had to say about keeping sidewalks usable in winter. If you’d like to get in touch with your councillors to talk about winter sidewalk maintenance, you can do so with our contact form.
“As our community ages, and from an accessibility improvement point of view, I am also prepared to engage our community and again look at city-wide snow clearing of sidewalks as a possible future service enhancement.”
- Berry Vrbanovic, Mayor of Kitchener
Democracy isn’t just for elections. Two weeks ago, we told you about how you can help the Region set its priorities for the next few years. But the Region isn’t the only one listening – there are opportunities to engage with your governments at all levels. Below are just a few:
Snowed out sidewalks
Momentum is building for municipalities to clear sidewalks in winter. In yesterday’s Record, Professor Alejandro López-Ortiz made a strong case for snowplowed sidewalks.
You can lend your voice to the growing chorus by contacting your representatives through our councillor contact form. You can also add your support to having sidewalk clearing (currently under the jurisdiction of area municipalities) considered as a strategic priority for the Region through the StratChat forum.
The provincial government is also seeking input as it prepares its budget for 2015. They’ve set up an online forum where ideas for service delivery, investments, and efficiency can be proposed, rated, and discussed.
One idea we’d like to highlight is funding for #CycleON infrastructure. #CycleON is the province’s cycling strategy, but investment in bicycle infrastructure is needed to carry it out.
Other provincial surveys and public input opportunities:
- Lowering default speed limits within municipalities (Ministry of Transportation)
- Climate Change Discussion Paper (Ministry of the Environment)
In early spring, the possibility of protected bike lanes with Uptown streetscape redesign is expected to come to council. Let your councillors know this project has your support with our contact form.
Even more opportunities…
To stay in-the-loop on opportunities to influence transportation-related decisions, you can join our mailing list, subscribe to our calendar of public meetings, like TriTAG on Facebook, or follow TriTAG on Twitter.
Headline photo credit: waldopepper on Flickr, 2012. Licensed under CC-BY-NC.
The Region is collecting public input for its 2015-18 Strategic Plan and conducting a service review. The choices made over the next few years regarding transit, active transportation, and land use planning will be important to the success of ION light rail and the livability of your community. This is your opportunity to weigh in and help shape the Region’s direction and investments.
The Region has set up a website called Strat Chat to collect input. On it, you can comment on or rate ideas, or suggest your own for topics such as transportation, your vision for the Region, services that you feel merit greater investment, and many more.
One idea shared on the site that we’d hope you’d consider supporting is greater investment in frequent transit. This would make transit a more reliable transportation choice and increase ridership ahead of ION service. On snowy days like today, you may also want to consider whether having municipally cleared sidewalks is a good idea.
We’ve written briefly about Grand River Transit’s proposed 2015 Service Changes, and we’d like to share a few observations we’ve had, both about how these changes will improve the transit system in Waterloo Region, and the challenges ahead as we move towards a fast, frequent, grid network.
With a consolidated route 7 appearing in both options for the 2015 service, it seems that GRT is strongly committed to the kind of service improvement that we have talked about on numerous occasions. Splitting the East/West service off of route 7 by removing the 7D/E branches and replacing them with increased University and Columbia service is an important change that will improve the transit experience along the full length of King St without increasing costs.
New Route 7
The new consolidated route 7 will allow for frequent, direct, service every 7.5 minutes to employment and retail on King St north of Columbia, and Weber St east of the expressway. Coverage goals around Fairview Mall would be served by the 1, 8 and 23. This keeps the most frequent service on the busier corridors without having to run through quiet residential streets, but keeps local service for the neighbourhood.
With the separation of the north-south from east-west services at King & University, this will mean transfers. Currently the 7 does not connect with the 202, and it is a long walk to the existing iXpress stop. As the major east-west route, the 202 will need a stop at King & University to support these transfers.
Removing the 7D/E branches will take away existing capacity on University and Columbia Avenues. GRT will need to evaluate service on these streets, to make sure there is enough capacity to handle the extra ridership on the remaining buses.
The 92 Loop route may need to be upgraded to be an all-day service, to provide enough capacity on University, while providing enough buses with staggered schedules on Columbia to give frequent service to support untimed transfers to the 7 at King & Columbia.
Today, protesters attempted to halt paving work on the Hillside Trail in Waterloo. The action and the rhetoric surrounding it would have you believe that the trail and park are facing some sort of existential threat, and the instigators’ narrative of having their park “destroyed” without consultation has become the dominant one in the media.
TriTAG has put up a vigorous defence in the past when it felt that a trail was under threat, but in this case, we are perplexed by the actions and words of some residents. When we spoke up in defence of the Iron Horse Trail, we were concerned that the safety and experience of the trail by all users was being degraded to satisfy private interests. In the case of the Hillside Trail however, it seems that a small group is trying to oppose improvements that would make the trail more accessible to everyone. (more…)
Today, Grand River Transit began public consultations on its 2015 service changes. They include the next phase of grid-based network restructuring with a new cross-town iXpress route, as well as the rationalization of Route 7 mainline service that we have long advocated for. We will have more analysis of these changes later, but we’ll start with a brief overview and encourage you to attend the consultations.
Some of the notable Kitchener network changes include a new Highland-Victoria iXpress route, modifying Route 20 to be a continuous crosstown route on Victoria and Frederick, and one option for launching part of the Ottawa iXpress several years earlier than planned.
GRT had planned to reconsider Route 7 after the launch of ION, but they are moving this change up earlier. One of the challenges of the current design is that each of the Route 7 branches is scheduled independently, making consistent headways very challenging, especially if there are delays. With the construction of ION on King Street starting in 2015, a move to a single, headway-scheduled service would allow GRT to provide more reliable and predictable service.
We do have some ideas for what might be worth considering for the 2015 plans:
- Adding stops at Queen/Courtland and Victoria/Frederick to the 204 iXpress
- Better serving St. Mary’s Hospital with the 204 iXpress
- Adding a stop of the iXpress 202 at King/University to allow transfers with the consolidated Route 7
And while the Route 7 restructuring is badly needed, GRT must be clearer about what service levels the consolidated Route 7, the upgraded iXpress 200, and University Loop will have to compensate for the removal of the branches.
That said, we are thrilled to see GRT continue to add cross-town iXpress service and to straighten out route networks.
Have your say! Attend the public consultation sessions or fill out GRT’s online comment form available on the consultation page alongside the detailed information and maps. Location and schedule are also in our public meeting calendar in the sidebar.
The votes are counted, the winners declared, and the dust has settled.
What to make of the election that was to be the “LRT referendum we’ve been waiting for?” If it truly was such a referendum, that score has been settled: despite an enormous budget to support of a candidate who made his name known fighting the region in the courts on LRT, despite a former MP and a former weatherman both with massive name recognition also championing the cause, no LRT opponent was able to muster the support they thought their issue deserved.
That’s not to say that the 76% of voters who didn’t vote for Jay Aissa are all pro-LRT, or that the almost 70% of residents who didn’t even come out to vote (come on, people!) are all ardent LRT supporters. Certainly not. But what the results clearly indicate is that overall, the people of Waterloo Region are satisfied with the direction we are moving in.
And why not? Over the last decade we have seen the resurgence of our community’s once-dilapidated cores, a resilient economy which (while not universally strong) has not only survived but thrived in the face of the decline of a headliner employer, and the emergence of this region as the most progressive small city in Ontario for tackling the challenges of growth, sprawl, and sustainability.
On the basis of our success so far, a majority of people are willing to accept that we must continue to plan for the future, and that we need continue to innovate. Many still reserve judgement on the most visible aspect of this plan (LRT), but they’re not interested in opposing it. Turning back now flies in the face of our community tradition of barn-raising and reinvention. Our no-nonsense progressiveness brooks no nonsense. This is the real reason the cancel-LRT crusade failed.
For those of us who have supported and advocated for LRT over the years, today is a very good day: it marks the end of activity to halt ION which will roll out in 2017. But it is not the end to the challenges our region will face as it grows up. Certainly, last night’s results do not guarantee the success of ION light rail transit.
Only you can do that.
Over the next three years, a very complex project will need to come in on time, and on budget… and it will then need to meet or exceed expectations. The early signs are good, but we have no certainty that it will continue. We have newly elected leaders who have committed to careful stewardship of what the previous council initiated, but that’s not enough. We all need to stay engaged and hold our regional government’s feet to the fire. We need to be the voice of conscience and of reason. We have to keep the pressure on council to make good decisions not just about LRT, but on transit as a whole, and the other complex issues that tie into it: growth management, affordable housing, and debt.
In June 2011, on the eve of the council vote on LRT, I wrote:
After last Saturday’s rally, Jean Haalboom, one of the few supporting councillors willing to stand up for rapid transit and LRT, said to a few of us that we can’t just drop this issue on Thursday if this vote passes. We have to keep on it. 2014’s municipal vote could become a last-gasp money-burning cancellation movement if we go silent again after the immediate fight is won.
Most of us support LRT because we’re thinking about the future, right? Well, it’s time we take the long view. LRT doesn’t get delivered if and when Council votes yes. In the years to come, we need to shepherd it home.
It’s amazing how close that possible future actually came to becoming reality. The immediate fight was won, and then had to be won again, and again. Now we can say with some finality that “yes, LRT will be delivered.” Now we can focus on making sure that what is delivered lives up to the vision.
After all, we’re not done yet: Cambridge has been left out in the cold, and one of the most meaningful gestures we can make to heal the rift and connect our three cities is to extend ION in Phase 2 without hesitation. Connecting Cambridge might take several years, but it needs to happen so we can start to think of ourselves not as three separate cities, but one region.
We live in the 10th largest urban area in Canada, but our own community self-image is still catching up to this reality. Over half a million people call Waterloo Region home, and we can expect another 200,000 in a couple of decades. Our region has some serious challenges to face in the coming years.
This election may have been a referendum after all. Will we confront the challenges that come with growth? Will we continue to plan and innovate to create a more livable, sustainable place to call home? Are we ready to invest in our future?
The result appears to be a resounding Yes.
Today, October 27, is Municipal Election Day in Waterloo Region. Because so much depends on the outcome of this election, please take this opportunity to let your voice be heard by voting.
If you don’t know where your polling station is, you can look it up by city or township using the links below:
Polls are open from 10am to 8pm.
Voter resources from TriTAG
If you’re still on the fence, TriTAG’s Election Candidates’ Survey will help you figure out what candidates will do to improve transit, walking, and bicycling. If you haven’t looked at the survey since we first released it, we now have responses from more than 2/3 of all candidates!
TriTAG has also created an election myth-busting series on issues surrounding light rail. Please share with family and friends who might have misconceptions about light rail transit.