This corner shows what’s wrong with transportation planning in Waterloo Region

Yesterday, TriTAG member Mark Jackson-Brown shared a picture of the new corner of Queen and Charles:

If you can’t read the measuring tape, the sidewalk width to this corner, across the street from a future ION station and down the block from Charles Street Terminal, has been pared back to barely 1 metre.  One can imagine the challenge of trying to get past a group of people waiting for the light to change, or worse, trying to navigate this corner in a wheelchair.

Why create this uncomfortable, and likely dangerous corner? Because its designers have decided that moving cars quickly through this intersection is more important than pedestrians. Wide corners allow cars to make turns more quickly, especially for larger vehicles and buses that might otherwise delay cars behind them. (It should be noted that no bus routes have turns at this corner, nor is Queen a designated truck route.) But they also make it more difficult to safely cross the street, thanks to faster turning vehicles and longer crossing distances.

The National Association of City Transportation Officials recommends that in urban areas, corner radii of more than 4.5 m be rare. However, Waterloo Region’s Context Sensitive Regional Transportation Corridor Design Guidelines calls for signalized intersections to have corners with radii of 9 m! The Region’s guidelines, in standardizing wide lanes and wide corners, effectively favour fast-moving traffic over human life.

(The saddest thing is, even when over-engineering for cars in this case, it doesn’t actually need to be this way.  With the new ION tracks passing right there, motor vehicles have a much bigger effective turning radius and  don’t need to have a wide corner made in the curb. Consider the intersection of Duke and Queen, which provides wide, abundant space for pedestrians, while reducing crossing distances. Where would you rather be walking?)

So what can be done to help Waterloo Region get its priorities in order?

The Region is currently updating its transportation master plan in a process it calls Moving Forward. There’s coming public engagement opportunities, and they’re asking some really good questions:

  • An optimized transportation network can look very different for pedestrians, cyclists, transit passengers or car drivers. For whom should the network be optimized?
  • Making different transportation choices more competitive may mean causing travel by private automobile to be more expensive and/or less convenient. Would this be appropriate?
  • A movement attracting recent attention is Vision Zero, an international initiative based on the idea that no one should be killed or seriously injured within the transportation system… Moving Forward will be evaluating this new philosophy and what it would mean for Waterloo Region

There are two online surveys that the Region is currently running for Moving Forward:

The first is a general survey about how you feel about transportation and what you’d like to see the Region do to improve and prepare for the future.

The second survey deals with trade-offs – given limited space or resources in different contexts, should we prioritize active transportation, transit, or cars?

Please make every effort to complete these surveys and push for better transportation priorities, so we don’t end up with more corners like Queen and Charles.

2 thoughts on “This corner shows what’s wrong with transportation planning in Waterloo Region”

  1. Politicians never have the priorities of the average person at the top of their list.
    Hopefully enough people vocalise this problem to get some attention to it, though. The number of times I have nearly been run over at regular intersections in K-W is too numerous to count. I really don’t want those idiots trying to go faster.

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