Last night I presented to Regional Council on behalf of TriTAG regarding the plans for extending River Road across Highway 8 and Hidden Valley in south Kitchener. See the agenda (PDF) for the staff report and recommendation. Below is the text of my written submission. Other presentations focused on the environmental impacts, the cost, and alternative alignments. In a 13:2 vote Council went ahead with this step of the planning process, but several indicated reservations and there seemed to be some interest in the suggestions in my presentation and those of others.
I would like to express TriTAG’s disagreement with the direction being taken on the River Road extension project.
We do not believe that there has been serious consideration of alternatives for increasing capacity for east-west movement of people in that part of Kitchener. We do not believe that expanding capacity for the movement of vehicles in this corridor at great cost is appropriate – not to mention the environmental costs, both local and Region-wide. However, if capacity for vehicle movement has to be increased, we believe there are better alternatives which have not been considered.
Transit: The report claims that studies done have shown that transit cannot do much along this corridor. But just how well can we know this until we actually try? Right now, there is essentially no transit alternative to east-west travel in south Kitchener. There is no frequent transit service of any kind in Kitchener outside of the Conestoga Expressway. Currently there is some east-west service on the notoriously unreliable Route 12, but that terminates at Fairview Park Mall. East of that, the service is dreadful. And God help you if you want to travel by transit across town instead of to the terminal. Suffice it to say that there is no substantial transit alternative presently, and it is no wonder no one takes it.
The new Regional Transportation Master Plan and the Light Rail plans place much weight on the idea that good transit service will attract ridership, including people who have choice. Is this just an idea on a shelf somewhere? At some point we have to actually accept this as a principle, and start planning for people to choose transit – by designing transit that is competitive with driving, and making corresponding decisions about priorities. The simplest step would be implementing a south Kitchener cross-town iXpress line, as early as next year. Good transit gets people out of their cars. Building new roads faster than we improve alternatives keeps us in them.
Walking/cycling: A similar point applies for walking and cycling. Most Regional Roads in south Kitchener do not even have complete sidewalks. How can you expect anyone to walk if there is no place for them to do it? Short trips by bicycle could easily get people across south Kitchener, except, again, there is no place to do it. Fairway Road is incredibly hostile to cycling, and there is no complete corridor for east-west travel by bicycle. For a tiny fraction of the cost of a River Road expansion, we could complete the sidewalks in South Kitchener and build a network of safe cycling facilities. It is cheap transportation infrastructure, and good for public health and our air. This should be priority number one.
Driving: If congestion is the problem, a new road would not solve it thanks to the phenomenon of induced demand. Build it, and they will… move to fresh sprawl in southwest Kitchener to take advantage of a free-flowing Fairway or River Road. And soon enough, both roads will be clogged.
The report claims a River Road extension would result in less air pollution through reducing congestion. This is a nonsense claim for a project aiming to increase capacity for vehicle movement along this corridor. With two roads, substantially more vehicles will be travelling than with just one, and air pollution will be increased, not decreased.
Finally, if we must increase vehicle capacity, there are better ways to do it. We are, after all, in Waterloo Region. Both capacity and safety could be increased on the Fairway Road corridor by replacing the existing left turns and intersections with roundabouts. It would get more vehicles through, make Fairway Road easier to cross, reduce crash severity, and not require an expensive road through an environmentally sensitive area. As the project was started back in 2004, I believe roundabouts were never considered and thus have not been evaluated relative to other approaches.
In conclusion, I ask you to reconsider the direction of this project and to guide it instead towards practical, low-cost solutions to increasing east-west mobility in southwest Kitchener.