Tag Archives: city of kitchener


ION – Walkability, Fences, and It’s Never Too Late to Fix Mistakes

ION light rail, well under construction, is going to tie our region together, promoting dense, walkable communities around each new station.

We may remember the panic at the thought of a “Berlin Wall” being erected through Waterloo Park. Cutting the park in two, and separating the sides. While we may have a fence after all, it is proving not to be a barrier at all, as plentiful crossings of the rail corridor at Father David Bauer and Central Dr keep the sides connected. When ION opens, it will be just as easy to get from one side of Waterloo Park to the other as was before.

However, while all eyes were turned to Waterloo Park, it turns out another part of town was going to be cut in two.

The Traynor-Vanier Neighbourhood

The Traynor Ave neighbourhood lies just north of the Hydro right-of-way that divides it from the businesses on Fairway Rd. “Divide” in this case, is a rather strong term. In fact, there are dozens of formal and informal paths connecting this neighbourhood to the dozens of retail businesses on Fairway. Restaurants, fast food, groceries, services, clothes, housewares, and much more are all accessible to this neighbourhood by a short walk on foot.

IMG_20160808_1918042But this is coming to an end.

While attention was focused on Waterloo Park, the alignment of LRT through Uptown Waterloo, station placement in the university area, and several other proposed improvements, plans were finalized for the Fairway Hydro right-of-way that would cut this community off from their local shops.

A 1 Kilometre Detour

Over the past month, installation of a fence next to the tracks began, sparking shock and surprise among locals. The Rapid Transit team has since confirmed that there are no planned pedestrian crossings between Courtland Ave and Wilson Rd, a distance of 1 km. What was once a 100m walk for Swiss Chalet is now to be a 1100m hike. Residents have now started a petition asking for a crossing to be reinstated.

Before construction began, there were dozens of paths connecting residents to the businesses. Here they are highlighted in red with some close ups:

Formal paths in green. Informal paths in red. Selected crossings shown with inset photos

Formal paths in green. Informal paths in red. Selected crossings shown with inset photos

These are not simply informal holes cut in fences. Most of these paths have even been legitimized by the businesses that they open on to. Fences have been properly framed to allow crossing. Other properties have never even bothered to install a fence, allowing customers free access.

Unintended Consequences

Much has been made of ION Light Rail’s ability to help make Waterloo Region a more walkable community. However here, we see a community that was already walkable, have their access removed. It’s unreasonable to expect residents to walk the 1km detour being imposed upon them, and this will directly lead to more trips by car. The exact opposite of the goals of Rapid Transit.

Residents crossing the LRT tracks through incomplete fences.

The residents of the Traynor neighbourhood already see little positive impact from LRT. They are at the midpoint of the second longest stretch of track between stations in the entire system. The line goes through their literal backyards without stopping. Now, to add insult to injury, LRT has cut them off from their own neighbourhood stores.

Not Too Late For Change

The good news is that it’s not too late to change this. There are 18 months still to go before ION’s opening day in 2018. The issue now has the attention of regional councillors. Whether a change is worked out with GrandLinq, or the Region does the work on their own after initial construction finishes in 2017, there is still time to fix this before it requires interrupting ION service.

There will be a cost to put this right, but the purpose of ION is to connect us, not to divide. Let the Region of Waterloo, and the City of Kitchener know about the importance of this connection by signing the petition, and speaking to your councillors.

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Photo credit: Nick Stanley on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/e9gKuq CC-BY-NC-ND

A potential game-changer for downtown Kitchener

Kitchener’s exemption from parking requirements for the first 10,000 square metres of floor space could drive a surge in walkable, transit-friendly, and affordable development downtown – without every new building needing to be a massive tower.

We’ve written at length about parking minimums found in the City of Waterloo’s zoning bylaw review. But the City of Kitchener is also updating its zoning bylaws, and we finally have a draft of their parking requirements. And while parking minimums aren’t exactly abolished, they’re a big step forward.

Embedded directly within the draft parking standards are provisions for shared parking spaces – for instance, an office building and a place of worship might have different peak times of use, and could probably share a lot of their parking. These rules acknowledge that without a developer needing to apply for a special exemption.

Generally, the car parking requirements are less onerous than those of Waterloo’s draft bylaw, but are greater for bikes. Outside of downtown and ION station areas, residential units only require 1.1 parking spaces each, compared to 1.5 in Waterloo, offices require just 3 spaces per 100 square metres compared to 4, and retail 3.4 instead of 4.  Bike parking for residential developments are about on par with Waterloo’s, but quadruple to 1 bike space per unit in downtown and station areas. For non-residential uses, Kitchener would require significantly more bicycle parking than Waterloo.

Parking maximums would also apply, not just in transit station areas, but across the city. These would be about 20-40% above the minimums.

The big game changer though, is found in this clause:

In a UGC-1, UGC-3, or UGC-4 zone, an exemption from the parking spaces required in Table 5-3 may apply up to the first 10,000 m2 of gross floor area of buildings on a lot for non-residential uses, and up to the first 100 dwelling units for residential uses.

Essentially, new or repurposed buildings downtown that have less than 10,000 square metres of floor space, (or fewer than 100 units), would see no parking requirements at all. Considering that structured or underground parking costs $20,000-50,000 per space, this could greatly reduce the cost of new development and consequently, housing. It could also lead to blocks with more active frontages, since there would be less need for driveways or garage entrances if a developer opts for no parking at all.

This change will open the door to transit-supportive density, without the need for every building to be a massive high-rises. Instead, the rules favour small and medium-sized buildings that require no parking.

Take action:

To comment on the proposed zoning bylaw changes, attend one of the public drop-in sessions on June 22 or 28 (City Hall, 4-8pm), or visit the Consolidated Review of the Zoning Bylaw website.

Photo credit: Nick Stanley on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-NC-ND.

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Kitchener’s Cycling Master Plan at risk: who owns the street?

Could a vocal opposition  prevent Kitchener’s cycling network from being connected and useful?

Kitchener City Council will be voting on whether to put bike lanes on Union Street (Margaret to Lancaster) on Monday, October 5 at 7pm. While Union has been approved as part of the bicycle priority network in Kitchener’s Cycling Master Plan since 2010, and a tentative design was approved last month at the Community and Infrastructure Services Committee, opposition from some residents threatens to overturn these plans, putting the priority network as a whole at risk.

Last month, in the face of vocal opposition, Kitchener City Council opted to shelve a staff-recommended design for buffered bike lanes on Westheights Drive in favour of a compromise design that preserves parking on both sides of the street. While the compromise design affords some improvement to the experience of cycling on the street and could contribute to safer traffic speeds, the decision has made those who advocate for a useful and safe cycling network concerned about future decisions.

The compromise decision was not made on technical merits, but rather on political considerations. Based on data collected systematically by City staff for on-street parking use, reducing parking to one side of the street would have been more than sufficient for resident needs. But to the residents who protested to Council, this wasn’t enough, so Council sought a solution that would satisfy them.

It may be easy to assume that Westheights was a good example of democracy at work: the people spoke, and Council listened. But scratch the surface a little, and you will find this interpretation problematic.

First, it assumes that the opponents who appeared at Council represent the actual majority view of the residents of the street. This is betrayed by the City’s own survey of Westheights residents which found greater numbers in support to the recommended changes than were opposed. (Dissenters claim to have conducted their own survey that showed the opposite, however it’s important to take this resident-led survey with a grain of salt. Given how some supportive voices were intimidated into silence by belligerent opponents during initial neighbourhood consultations, one can easily imagine many residents nodding along to an angry neighbour on their doorsteps for fear of that hostility being directed towards them. Additionally, given the charged rhetoric used to discredit the buffered bike lane design – the ‘super cycle lanes’ and the exaggerated ‘dangers’ of having to cross the street to park – it’s not surprising this survey solicited a more negative response.)

Second, even if the delegates were truly representative of the residents of the street, giving them final say over a street’s design privatizes the public realm and excludes many other important stakeholders. To be sure, those adjacent to a street are important stakeholders, and should be consulted. But a street does not exist merely for the benefit of the property owners along it, but for the public at large. In the case of Westheights and Union, traffic counts reveal that thousands more residents and visitors from surrounding streets and neighbourhoods use the roadway than just those from properties lining these streets. Unfortunately, the City’s own consultation processes, by engaging predominantly with residents from the street itself, feeds this perception that these collector roads are for their private benefit. It may be challenging, but future consultation efforts should attempt to reach out more to the broader cross-section of a street’s current and potential users to get a more representative view of public desires and needs.

In the case of Union Street, there simply isn’t enough space for a compromise like Westheights to accommodate parking on both sides and still have usable bike lanes. And reducing the parking supply to one side still leaves nearly four times as much parking as there is demand. But like Westheights, we anticipate opposition to this change to be fierce.

Fortunately, you can help to bring safe cycling facilities to Union and ensure that the priority network is not compromised. Probably the two most effective things you can do is show up in the Council chamber Monday night and be visible, and if you’re really keen, register to delegate. If you can’t make it, you can also write to your councillors and remind them that you too are a stakeholder in the form that Union Street will take.

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Westheights Drive

It’s been a quiet little while on the civic front. While construction season has been in full swing, the decisions and debates that guide the placement of buildings and the design of our streets take a bit of a summer vacation each year, as municipal councils take time off.

But within a week, the gears of local democracy will begin to spin once more, carrying us to Westheights Drive in Kitchener. On Monday, the City’s Community and Infrastructure Services Committee will consider a proposal to make Westheights less like a racetrack and more like a bicycle-friendly neighbourhood street. The proposal would not require any new infrastructure, but would take the current four-lane road and re-allocate the space to make room for bike lanes buffered from traffic, dedicated on-street parking spaces, and school bus loading areas.

As is often the case, thinking differently about how the space on our streets is used can be challenging for many, even if the street has been a ‘priority’ in the Cycling Master Plan for the last five years. Committee approval (along with final Council approval the following week) would ensure that the project is completed this year. We’d encourage you to contact your councillors or even come to the committee meeting on August 10 to voice your support for better streets.

On a related note, the decision regarding a similar design for Union Street (between Margaret and Lancaster) has now been deferred until August 31. Opposition has sprung up to the proposal, despite there being no changes in traffic capacity or risk of parking undersupply. It is important that councillors and staff hear your support for changes like these – please consider taking a moment to let them know you’d like better bicycling facilities and a safer environment for Union Street as well.

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A more perfect Union Street

On Thursday, a neighbourhood meeting was held to present design concepts and solicit feedback on a proposal for bike lanes on Union Street between Margaret and Lancaster. The proposed design would reallocate the existing pavement to designate parking on only the north side of the street, and include bike lanes on both sides. Display boards presented traffic and parking counts, planned and proposed cycling routes, and a diagram of a typical cross-section.

kitchener_cmp_mapA half-metre buffer would separate bikes lanes from parked cars – a marked improvement from other bike lane projects in the City, such as Margaret or Highland. Green thermoplastic markings, (the same material as the sharrows in Downtown Kitchener), would be used to mark conflict and transition areas. The route would transition to sharrows for the narrow curve through the woods, where speed limits are 30 km/h. Staff estimate that the current on-street parking of about 95 would reduce to 45 cars, but this shouldn’t be a concern, as their counts of parked cars has not exceeded more than about a dozen at any given time. This route is classified as a ‘priority’ cycling route under the City of Kitchener Cycling Master Plan.

Response at the meeting was mixed – while there were some who supported the bike lanes, others had concerns they expressed rather vocally.  Some took issue with the City’s parking counts, or feared forcing parking onto their side of the street would make it difficult for them to see approaching cars while backing out. It didn’t help matters that the City’s cross-section didn’t depict the tree-lined boulevards very well, leading some to worry about the look of the street radically changing. (The pavement width is not being changed, so we’ve tried to include the boulevards more accurately in the image at the top.)

It’s easy to assume that a project that’s been a ‘priority’ piece of the Cycling Master Plan for the last five years would be automatically approved, but when objections do emerge, it’s important for staff and councillors to know these changes have broad public support. Please consider taking a moment to write them in support of bike lanes on Union Street.

Also, be sure to come out to the drop-in consultation for East Ave bike lanes, at the Subscriber’s Lounge in the Auditorium, Tuesday April 21 between 7-8:30pm.

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Kitchener bike and trail projects need your support

The City of Kitchener is considering a number of trail and on-road cycling facility projects for 2015:

These projects, if completed this year, would implement important pieces in the cycling and trail networks for the City of Kitchener, but many have vocal opponents who could drown out the voices of those who want to enjoy better bike facilities and safer streets in these areas.

Members of Council and staff need to know these projects have public support. Please consider attending one of these public consultations and taking a few minutes to write a letter of support to your councillors.

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2015 GRT preferred service improvement plan

Beginning tomorrow, Grand River Transit will be hosting a series of public consultations on its preferred 2015 service improvement plan.  These new route designs, mostly centred around Kitchener wards 1, 2, 7, 8, 9, and 10, continue the trend of a more direct, grid-like frequent service network we saw for Waterloo in 2013. We encourage you to attend a session or submit your feedback online.

Notable changes include a new Victoria/Highland iXpress route, more continuos cross-corridor (east-west-ish) routes, limited service to Bingeman’s Centre Drive, and gradual shifts away from Highland Hills and Charles Street Terminal towards The Boardwalk and the future transit hub for certain routes. Many of these changes are in preparation for ION light rail. Certain route changes have also spurred investigation of a new highway crossing for people on foot and bike.

Some of the preferred improvements, especially around the central transit corridor, are scaled back from what had originally been proposed in the fall, in part due to the challenges and resource constraints during ION construction.

We’ve tried to summarize these changes in the post below. While not part of the plan under consultation, we’ve also included changes to Cambridge service and the announcement of funding for transit in Wilmot in our discussion.


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Supporting an evidence-based approach to cycling infrastructure

As many readers may be aware, Kitchener is proceeding with a plan to introduce sharrows to King Street in downtown Kitchener, along with new bike racks, public events, and other measures designed to make promote cycling and improve the understanding of sharing the road among cyclists and motorists.

Image courtesy City of Saskatoon

TriTAG supports the proposals in the Cycling Facilities and Downtown Branding report – the City staff responsible should be commended with such forward-thinking initiatives and thorough analysis. We would like to speak in particular about the plan to add sharrows to King Street in downtown Kitchener, and the critical importance of measuring the effect of this improvement.

In 2010, TriTAG saw an opportunity to measure the effects of new cycling lanes and markers in the city of Guelph. Over the next two years, we were able to gather evidence that showed: More citizens chose to cycle, and fewer rode on the sidewalk. This report has been of great use to the City of Guelph – all from a few volunteers taking time off of work to sit in brisk early morning temperatures at the side of the road with clipboards. If we’d had the right resources to allocate to further study, we would have been able to accomplish even more.

The “Kitchener Cycling Branding and Downtown Cycling Facilities” report draws from the experience of cities like San Francisco, Miami Beach, Seattle, and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Experience there suggests that sharrows can work well where space is at a premium and traffic speed is low – but we lack study of local examples. In light of this, Kitchener staff, in collaboration with TriTAG and the Kitchener Cycling Advisory Committee, have developed a plan to measure the effect of sharrows in the downtown. We commend council’s support of the study – to assign a few hours of staff and volunteer time to measure the impact of this modest but important investment – because we believe that the sharrows approved for King Street can have a big impact – and that the city should have the proof to back up the success of their initiative.

Why stop here? We would love to see Kitchener take a more rigorous approach to measuring cycling traffic. Plans to gauge the effect of new cycling infrastructure over time ought to be routine. Our city needs to understand cause and effect if we’re going to live up to the cycling master plan’s vision of doubling cycling trips every three to five years. Learning what works is important – without measuring, we cannot truly say what works and what doesn’t.

As this report shows, we can learn from the experiences of other cities; with the addition of better measurement on our part, not only can we learn from our own experiences as well, but we can provide Kitchener’s hard data approach to measurement as a gold standard when other communities come calling to ask how we built a more efficient and complete cycling network.

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A Better Vision for Car Free Sundays

Recent media coverage has been particularly critical of Waterloo’s Car Free Sundays, despite being hailed as a huge success when they were held last year. To counter this negativity, I want to cast a bigger, better vision of what Car Free Sundays could be. Based on my personal experiences from last year, here is what I’d like to see:

  1. Increased hours. A 4 hour time slot (which includes set-up and tear-down) is far too brief to enjoy the diversity of events offered as part of Car Free Sunday. Last year, my wife and I found ourselves rushed to leave church, eat lunch (more on this later), and then find our way to Uptown by bike and participate in many of the activities before things were packed up and put away. Increasing the hours would allow more people to find time to enjoy these events.
  2. Greater frequency. My wife and I tried to invite several friends to join us last year, and many had made other plans on these weekends. Kitchener’s single participation was spoiled by sweltering heat. Making Car Free Sunday more frequent and regular, to say, every one or two weeks, would give more opportunities for success. It would foster a greater sense of community to be able to see each other face to face out on the street more often, and hopefully inspire more cultural change. And nobody would be caught off guard or late for church if they could regularly expect King Street to be closed and plan their commutes accordingly.
  3. Food! You can’t host an event that covers lunch hour and not have something to eat! It was a major oversight last year that there weren’t many food vendors brought in. Where were the chuck wagons that surround Columbia Lake every Canada Day? I would like to enjoy food from all cultures, not just from Uptown’s one hot dog cart. (Arguably a culture all unto itself!) Selling food permits would also be a great way for the cities to recoup some of the costs.
  4. More participation from community groups and businesses. Clubs, churches, and other organizations often relish opportunities for exposure to their community. Many churches today are coming to grips with the fact that they sometimes need to sacrifice a few of their Sunday morning services to interact with those who’d never pass through the church’s doors on their own. It’s a good opportunity to connect with the community in a visible way.
    Businesses in Uptown could take greater advantage of the event with sidewalk sales and sponsorships. Care would need to be taken so that this isn’t overdone – it would harm the ‘do-it-yourself’ spirit of the event if it were to become overly commercialized. We should continue to invite local artisans to set up tables to promote their work.
  5. Reduced police presence. One of the most expensive aspects of last year’s Car Free Sundays was the presence of a police officer at every intersection. We don’t post an officer on guard every time we close a street for construction. I’m sure motorists can figure out on their own not to drive down a barricaded street.
  6. Promotion. A lot of friends we talked to had never heard about Car Free Sunday, but might have been inclined to go had they heard about it ahead of time. Perhaps put up road closure signs like they do for days or even weeks in advance of construction. This would also have the added benefit of alerting Sunday drivers to plan an alternate route or choose to bike instead.
  7. Encouragement for our representatives who are investing in healthy lifestyles, community, and civic pride. Our governments invest hundreds of millions of dollars locally on car-centric infrastructure that isolates us from each other. There should be no stigma for investing a comparably paltry couple thousand on promoting and celebrating a healthier lifestyle and future. As citizens, we should be open about supporting and thanking representatives who have the courage and vision to make these investments, and urge them to complement these events with more permanent active transportation infrastructure.
  8. Name changes if necessary, but only with good reasons. Arguing that “Car Free” isn’t inclusive is a bizarre twisting of reality. Clearing away the cars makes King Street a level playing field for everyone to enjoy equally. Contrast this with “Cruising on King,” where we exclude everyone from the street except those with pre-emissions standard automobiles. (Ironically, Cruising on King often gets held up as an example of how a successful event is run.) This isn’t to say that we might not want another name that promotes Car Free Sundays better. But we shouldn’t walk on eggshells, pretending that having King Street briefly free of cars is a bad thing.

I think last year’s Car Free Sundays were a fantastic start. But I want to see them be made better and become ingrained into our local social and cultural fabric. I want to be able to continue to enjoy Car Free Sunday for many years in the future, long after the canard of the “war on the car” has been put to rest.

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East-west Mobility in South Kitchener

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. (more…)

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