Tag Archives: region of waterloo

The Week’s News

It’s Committee week at the Region, which means lots is happening. But first, two other things. Our almost-monthly pub night is tomorrow evening, and you should join us!

Today, the Ontario Coroner’s Office has released its Cycling Deaths Review (HTML / PDF). I have not read through it yet, but it is supposed to claim that all the cycling deaths it looked at were preventable. It also recommends a mandatory helmet law for everyone, which is deeply problematic if the goal is making cycling a safer and larger part of the transportation system. We’ll have more on this later.

Tomorrow is Committee day for the Region of Waterloo. Agendas are always posted here at around 4pm on the preceding Friday. Typically, most issues and reports go to initially to the appropriate Committee, where motions are made, to be finalized at the full Council meeting on Wednesday of the following week. (See Council agendas.) As the standing committees are currently composed of all the councillors, the decisions are effectively made at the committee level, with rare exceptions. (more…)

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Ottawa/Borden LRT Alignment

Ottawa St, from King St to Mill St in central Kitchener, currently a two lane road flanked by driveways, single family homes, and some industry, is about to get a whole lot busier.

On the books for this 1 km stretch, according to the Region of Waterloo, are plans to:

  • Widen the road from 2 lanes to 4 lanes. (link)
  • Install dedicated biking infrastructure. (link and map)
  • Run the northbound leg of the LRT line. (link)

In total, 1 LRT lane, 4 car lanes, and 2 bike lanes (if not better, segregated biking infrastructure).

That’s an awful lot to fit in the 20 metre right-of-way (pg 7).  Comparing to road layouts planned for other sections of the LRT, it is apparent that this is a large amount to fit in the 30 metres between the front doors of the houses lining this stretch.

It is admirable to intend Ottawa St to serve all of these purposes, and there is no doubt that it is ripe for a rebuild and redesign, but there needs to be a holistic review of what we want to do with the corridor, and what we need to do with it, before we start digging.

If we blindly move forward with current plans for all of the road uses, it is likely that there will be great impact at great cost to the homes on Ottawa. At best, many homes will lose the majority of their lawns, and at worst, an entire side of the street will be expropriated, just as is happening on Weber St. Either way, this would be unnecessarily disruptive to an otherwise stable neighbourhood.

What can be done to mitigate this?  Something needs to move, and that should be the LRT which would be rerouted to Borden Ave.


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LRT Corridor Building Strategy

This weekend was the official launch of the Central Transit Corridor Community Building Strategy (CBS). (The launch was webcast, as other Regional proceedings now are, and should be soon available in the archive.) This Tuesday the 27th, there will be a CBS open house from 3 to 6pm at Knox Presbyterian Church (at Erb & Caroline in Waterloo); there will be a presentation from 5:30 to 6:15 and a workshop from 6:15 to 8:15pm. (Details from here.) We encourage everyone to attend the presentation and workshop.

Though the name of the project is daunting, the idea is both simple and rather important. The Rapid Transit / LRT project is designed to function as a regional transit spine and to attract and handle a large amount of development as urban infill along Waterloo Region’s central corridor instead of as sprawl. The CBS will set out the vision for land-use planning and street networks around stations.

LRT is already attracting development near station areas, but with the zoning currently in place and without a coherent strategy for LRT corridor development, those buildings may not be creating transit-oriented and human-scale places. The “Northfield Station” development is a likely example of a missed opportunity. It isn’t a given that LRT changes its station areas much by itself. For example, outside of Calgary’s downtown, its LRT appears to have primarily influenced the land-use around its stations through the copious provision of parking.

So that the line can create dense, urban, transit-oriented places along the line, the zoning needs to change so that it allows for density, so that it does not require off-street parking, and so it allows and encourages a built form that makes for pedestrian-oriented neighbourhoods. The attraction of a new light rail line is going to result in much development interest of various kinds along the entire line. The CBS should be a guiding mechanism to turn that interest into city-building along the LRT line.

It’s important stuff, and crucial to the Region’s reurbanization and growth management priorities. Attend the Tuesday workshop if you can, and if not, send your comments online or stop by the storefront the project will be opening soon in downtown Kitchener.

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LRT Communications Manager Needed

Waterloo Region has a position open for “Manager, Rapid Transit Community Relations” (main job site), and we’re linking it here because effective communication with the public and numerous stakeholders is one of the most important aspects of the LRT project’s success. If you have the necessary background and care about effective transit, growth management, and reurbanization, please consider applying.

Oh, and the perhaps also important position of LRT Project Director is now available (no listing). As is this interesting (and new?) position of “Coordinator, On-Street Passenger Amenities” for Grand River Transit.

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Recent Trends Favour LRT

We read with interest an opinion piece in the Cambridge Times by John Shortreed about a number of developments which, he claims, require us to reconsider our decision to proceed with the construction of Light Rail Transit in Waterloo Region. He raises interesting points.

However, he may be dismayed that we don’t agree with his conclusions. In fact, Shortreed unwittingly presents strong evidence which validates the LRT project.

He points out that a population shift is occurring right now, as condominium building has accelerated within our cores, and asserts that this trend makes LRT redundant as an intensifier. Unfortunately, he ignores the effect of LRT approval on this same process: now that plans are firm and station locations have been identified, development has picked up pace. The Red Condominiums, a second building proposal at 144 Park, a long awaited new “Waterloo Commons” development at the NCR property in North Waterloo and an accompanying development next to it– pointedly named Northfield Station— are just some of the developments unleashed now that LRT is in active planning.

It goes against common sense to view this as evidence that we don’t need LRT for intensification while ignoring the effect LRT is already having on them. But perhaps Shortreed has a point. Perhaps intensification is a natural force, driven by shifting demographics and the increasing cost of unsustainable sprawl, and rail transit’s proven effects on driving intensification are superfluous.

If so, we must plan for an urban form that will be well served by rail transit, and an aging population who will be increasingly unable (physically or financially) to get around by private automobile. We must also face the growing attractiveness of urban life to young professionals. These factors will continue to drive demand for transit.

Speaking of demand for transit, Shortreed also identifies rapid uptake of the iXpress system, as it continues to knock down ridership targets ahead of schedule. We agree with Shortreed that iXpress is an unmitigated success, but strongly disagree with his conclusion that it is sufficient for our future needs. This is like pointing at an increasingly busy highway and saying that all that traffic makes the highway a success, but we shouldn’t ever worry about widening it.

In fact, the success of transit in Waterloo Region and the shift in our urban form– driven both by demographics and the attractiveness of light rail along our densest corridor– translate into the kind of ridership numbers that won’t just validate LRT, they will demand it. iXpress in mixed traffic has some headroom left, but saturation is already in sight. It will be crushed under the weight of its own success. Higher-order transit is required.

Finally, we share Shortreed’s concerns about Waterloo Region census data and the economic difficulties ahead, though our still healthy growth rate is hardly a “Rust Belt”-like decline. Nor should we batten down the hatches in an exercise of damage control: we believe the communities that will weather this economic storm and come out on top will be those that invest in themselves to stay competitive and attractive to new growth, instead of being satisfied to wither away.

The case for Light Rail has never been so compelling.

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Regional Updates

Much of note was approved at last week’s Waterloo Regional Council meeting and at the one before that. Details for most items are available in the Planning & Works agendas and minutes for January 10 and 31.

Council decided to pursue a 30-year design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) public-private partnership (P3) for the first phase of the LRT project. At the public meeting, many delegations spoke against such a decision and its basis, while only the Greater K-W Chamber of Commerce spoke in support. Staff will be bringing back a report to Council on options for the length of the operating contract.

Urban Strategies was selected as the consultant to develop a Central Transit Corridor Development Strategy. This kind of explicit connection between transit, land use / intensification, and place-making is crucial to the success of the LRT line and to the Region’s goals of guiding growth to urban core areas.

Final approval was given to the Grand River Transit 2011-2014 business plan. It includes a plan for small service increases and realignments which are not ambitious enough to substantially improve the quality of the GRT network. However, new express routes from the promised iXpress network are to be rolled out every other year, with the University Avenue line coming next year. Instead of focusing on improving GRT’s route efficiency or ridership, the business plan includes yearly fare increases of 5-9% to reach an arbitrary 50% farebox recovery figure. U-Pass fees are also to be increased. There is some talk of providing new service to the townships at their own cost.

The plan includes as a focus the implementation of a smart card fare system, very likely based on Presto — which was given approval in this year’s Regional Budget for implementation by 2013. Interestingly, the GRT Business Plan also includes direction to work with other agencies and municipalities to improve inter-city transit and perhaps initiate new links — see below as well. (more…)

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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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Bringing Bike-Sharing to Waterloo Region

Washington, D.C.'s Capital Bikeshare (Photo: James D. Schwartz / Flickr)

Yesterday was a momentous day for cycling in Ontario — not because of the election, but because Ontario’s first modern bike-sharing system has launched in Toronto. The Toronto BIXI system hopes to replicate the success of Montreal’s original BIXI installation. Waterloo Region should be getting in on bike-sharing too.

Bike-sharing is a way of using bicycles as public transit for short trips. A system of stations is densely distributed across a portion of a city, with secured self-serve access to bicycles on demand at stations. The system is designed not for long-term bike rental, but for bicycles to be taken for trips from a point A to a point B. Near point B, the bike is returned to another station and back into circulation.

It’s a remarkably efficient transportation infrastructure, and is reasonably inexpensive to operate — often made cheaper or even profitable through advertising. The bicycles are sensible upright city bicycles and require no special gear to ride. Like transit, bike-sharing extends the reach of a person on foot but without requiring one to use their own vehicle or the same vehicle for every leg of a series of trips.

One of the best reasons to invest in bike-sharing is that it is an easy way to increase the number of people cycling. Bike-sharing breaks down some of the barriers to cycling in the city, increasing the number of people getting around by both the public bikes and their own bikes. That, in turn, helps to bootstrap support for putting in place high-quality cycling infrastructure on city streets.

Last fall Washington, D.C. launched a bike-sharing system similar to Toronto’s, which has proven very popular and is already expanding. Many cities are now developing bike-sharing systems or looking to start them. Locally, Research in Motion has its own small BIXI system. How about bike-sharing for Waterloo Region?

Several months ago, a group at the University of Waterloo led by Josh Joseph began advocating for a bike-sharing system on campus. Just recently they have shifted their sights to a Region of Waterloo bike-sharing system, which is something we fully support. Check out their website and the impressive support they have received, both from politicians and on a nearly 1000-strong petition.

Even prior to the UW-based initiative, many individuals and organizations have expressed interest in getting a regional bike-sharing system going. During the last municipal elections, one of our questions for Regional Council candidates was specifically about a bike-sharing system for Waterloo Region. You can see their responses here. Most of Regional Council looks to be on board with the idea.

So it’s not a matter of whether to bring bike-sharing to Waterloo Region, but when, where, how big, who’s paying, and how much. Let’s get the Region rolling.

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Comments on Rapid Transit Options

All the consultation centres for Rapid Transit implementation options have taken place, but you still have until tomorrow (Friday the 25th) to make your opinions count! The official Rapid Transit site has the information which was presented at the centres and you can find the comment form here.

We fully support a Light Rail Transit based approach. That said, there are two main issues of concern to us at this stage, and we encourage you to add your thoughts on them to your comments or to otherwise contact Rapid Transit staff to convey your own concerns. The issues are detailed below.

The first one is the routing of proposed Light Rail Transit through Uptown Waterloo. The plan has the two directions split, the southbound track going along Caroline and Allen and the northbound along King and Erb. We believe locating the stops on separate streets is problematic and a missed opportunity for a better, more consolidated design. Staff tell us that there are difficulties with right-of-way size, underground utilities, parking, and the BIA that have resulted in the current planned alignment. We believe a better option would run both directions up King Street and then turn near the current freight tracks, and that this could initially be done using a single track on a small piece of the corridor. This would allow a consolidated station right at the public square. Another option is to run both directions on Caroline Street, again using a single track to deal with narrow right-of-way (namely, at William Street).

Our other main issue is with the mid-block location of several stations in Waterloo: one is to be at Seagram Drive, one at UW Davis Center, and one at the R&T Park. We’ve been told that Wilfrid Laurier University insists on a Seagram stop, and that Grand River Transit and GO Transit are intending for a major terminal off Phillip Street, next to a UW Davis Centre stop. We believe these choices contradict the aims of creating a grid-based network which is understandable by users. A mid-block terminal between Columbia and University would either force buses on those streets to go out of their way or would force a poor connection between cross-corridor routes and the LRT line. We also do not believe Seagram Drive has anywhere near the potential of developing as a corridor that University Avenue does. In the not-too-distant future University Avenue is likely to be a candidate for Rapid Transit itself, so it’s important that we are planning for future connections.

Our preferred alternative would be to eliminate the Seagram Drive station, and to instead have stations at University Avenue, at Columbia Street, and at Bearinger Road. If a Seagram Drive station must be included, it would best be added to the above three, instead of forcing the other stations to mid-block locations. Finally, if stations cannot be changed, we propose that instead of the terminal being off Phillip Street, that a busway be constructed between University Avenue and Columbia Street to facilitate access to the terminal.

Finally, we would like to see consolidation of stations at Charles & Borden, an extra station at Mill & Ottawa, and curbside painted bus lanes on Hespeler Road for the iXpress / aBRT – to be implemented as soon as possible.

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TriTAG Asks Regional Council for Overnight iXpress in 2011

(Below is the statement I made at yesterday’s Regional budget input meeting. Please call and write your regional councillors expressing your support for these initiatives. Their contact information is at the following link: http://bit.ly/hvkN5t)

Hi, I’m Tim Mollison, I live in Kitchener, and I’m here to represent the The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group, or TriTAG. TriTAG was founded in May 2009 with the idea that people should be able to walk, cycle, and take transit to everywhere they need to go, with dignity. These modes should be accessible to as many people as possible, and made as useful as possible, because transit and active transportation are better for the environment, public health, and the form of our cities.

I’m here this evening to speak about the Regional Transportation Master Plan. (more…)

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