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.
The planned improvements to the trail include paving of the gravel or dirt surface, which currently is frequently washed out into the creek by the rain. The trail is part of the “WaterLoop” trail network, which has been identified by the City of Waterloo as a high priority active transportation corridor, and which is to receive improved surface treatments, crossings, and wayfinding. Hillside is also identified as a primary trail in the City’s Transportation Master Plan.
It may be a fair criticism that the City did not do enough to reach out to the neighbourhoods surrounding Hillside, but it is a mischaracterization to say there was no consultation. Public consultations on these improvements have been undertaken over the past few years. (TriTAG learned of these consultations through the City’s public announcements, and we did our best to spread the word and encourage participation.) To argue that consultation did not take place also delegitimizes the input of those who chose to participate in the process.
Protesters appear to be concerned about the environmental impact of a paved trail on a natural area. It’s true that non-permeable surfaces have impact on water run-off, but the status quo of gravel continuously eroding and silting the creek is also significant. A properly paved trail would stop this erosion and lessen its environmental impact on the creek and surrounding meadow.
What is most troubling about the protests and opposition is the attempt, both intended and unintended, to exclude certain members of the community from enjoying it. News coverage highlights fears of the trail becoming a “cyclist superhighway,” suggesting that opponents don’t want people to be able to traverse the trails by bike. But the City’s direction, reaffirmed by election of bike friendly candidates, calls for making it easier to choose sustainable modes of transportation, not harder.
Worse, by leaving the trail in its present state, which is treacherous to many bicycle users (and consequently the pedestrians with whom they share it), opponents would likewise exclude those who rely on assistive mobility devices from access as well.
Hillside Trail doesn’t belong to an exclusive group – it belongs to us all.
If you believe in the importance of a coherent active transportation network, and ensuring that it is accessible to everyone, we would encourage you to contact City Council and let them know that you support the improvements to the Hillside Trail.
- Mayor: Brenda Halloran, firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-747-8700
- Mayor-elect: Dave Jaworsky, email@example.com, 519-746-8643
- Ward 1 Councillor: Scott Witmer, firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-569-9949
- Ward 1 Councillor-elect: Bob Mavin, BobMavin@votebobmavin.com, 519-884-1523
- Ward 2 Councillor: Karen Scian, email@example.com, 519-807-7611
- Ward 2 Councillor-elect: Brian Bourke, firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-880-9216
- Ward 3 Councillor: Angela Vieth, email@example.com, 519-807-2111
- Ward 4 Councillor: Diane Freeman, firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-569-9955
- Ward 5 Councillor: Mark Whaley, email@example.com, 519-635-9436
- Ward 6 Councillor: Jeff Henry, firstname.lastname@example.org, 519-998-5883
- Ward 7 Councillor: Melissa Durrell, email@example.com, 226-808-6043
- Phil Hewitson, Director of Transportation, Philip.Hewitson@waterloo.ca, 519-747-8630