On Tuesday, Regional staff will be presenting a report to the Planning and Works Committee, recommending the widening of University Ave between Erb St and Keats Way from 2 lanes to 4, and the addition of a new sidewalk to the west side where none currently exists. However, while staff had considered some sort of protected bike lanes or cycle tracks, the report rejects them in favour of on-street bike lanes with a narrow buffer.
While these on-road buffered bike lanes offer slightly more separation than the existing lanes, and are similar to ones we have supported for Westheights Drive, the context of University Ave makes them less appropriate. University has a speed limit of 60 km/h (which means speeds are typically higher), and sees four times as much traffic during the day. Based on these characteristics, the Ministry of Transportation’s guidelines on bicycle facility design strongly recommends considering segregated bike lanes, cycle tracks, or in-boulevard facilities. The lack of intersections and driveways also makes this block a prime candidate for protected bike lanes or boulevard multi-use pathways (which are less expensive than widened roadways and sidewalks).
So why are staff recommending on-street lanes? The report states that,
“University Ave. both north and south of the project currently has on road bike lanes and it makes the most sense for this portion of University Ave to maintain an on-road bike lane for continuity with the adjoining sections.”
At WaterlooBikes, Narayan Donaldson calls this justification “the most absurd I have ever seen in a Canadian traffic engineering report.” Basically, we can’t do much to improve the cycling facilities on this section of University Ave, because we have lousy cycling infrastructure at either end – infrastructure where Tiberiu David was struck from behind and killed while riding his bike in 2010.
Donaldson goes on to give examples of where fully protected cycling facilities have been successfully transitioned with on-street lanes, demonstrating that integrating on-street lanes with fully protected facilities is in fact possible.
Why do recommendations like these happen?
Because no one’s paying attention.
The report notes that only three people attended the public consultation back in November. As much as we like to think we have a Regional government that somewhat ‘gets’ the need for good active transportation infrastructure, as with any large organization, change really only occurs when people stand up and demand it. It’s plausible that after the poor attendance, the staff responsible may have concluded residents didn’t consider this stretch of road to be all that important, despite whatever latent demand may exist.
The Region itself may no longer have the staff resources to keep an “eye on the ball” for active transportation projects like this either. The planner and engineer responsible for developing the Active Transportation Master Plan, along with both Transportation Demand Management planners have either transferred to different departments or to other municipalities, and to our knowledge, none of these roles have been replaced. This void may also be the reason why the Active Transportation Advisory Committee has not been consulted on this project. We hope that as the Region establishes its priorities for this Council term, it will ensure that it has the people it needs to oversee the successful implementation of the ATMP.
The good news is that there’s still a short window of opportunity to change the course of the University Ave project, as Regional Council has yet to vote on the recommendation. Why not reach out to your councillors, or speak up at Tuesday’s committee meeting, and let them know you’re paying attention, and hope they will too.