It’s been a few weeks since the municipal election and I’m ready to start talking about how we can get to work.  I’m excited to see what the new councils for the City of Waterloo, City of Kitchener and Region of Waterloo can do to make our community safer, healthier and happier. This January, I’ll have lived in Kitchener for three years. I go to the University of Waterloo, so I’m interested in what happens in both cities. To be honest, sometimes I don’t know whether I’m physically in Kitchener or in Waterloo. Accordingly, I think there is a lot of opportunity for collaboration between the cities (and especially the Region). I’ve said this many times before, but I think there is a lot of unactualized potential in the Waterloo Region. And, I don’t think that the actualization will require all that much work. The biggest factor in our transformation, as far as I see it, is political will.

Since moving here, I’ve seen some progress, but, frankly, it’s all a little underwhelming. We can’t afford to keep going at the pace we are, when it comes to cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. We desperately need to pick up the speed if we want to even compete with what other cities in Canada are doing. I have this running challenge to see if we’ll get a meaningful cycletrack network in Kitchener-Waterloo before I defend my dissertation two years from now. I guess we’ll see. In the meantime, though, I see some low hanging fruit that can really enhance the pedestrian and cyclist experience and, most importantly, make our community safer for everyone.

1. Pedestrian Scrambles

I was in Edmonton a few weeks ago and got to use their new pedestrian scramble pilot. It was wonderful. For those who may not know, a pedestrian scramble stops vehicular travel and allows all pedestrians waiting at an intersection to cross all at once. I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve almost been hit by a driver making a right turn while I’ve been given the right of way as a pedestrian. These sorts of experiences turn the joy of being a pedestrian into a stressful experience. It doesn’t need to be this way. Some paint and some reprogramming to traffic lights and we can get there. Pedestrian scrambles are nothing new, but I use Edmonton as an example because I think it is similar to Kitchener-Waterloo in that, when it courageously makes these decisions, it is doing so in a city that has traditionally been quite car-centric. We’ve got a nice case study with Edmonton, in how political will and risk taking can significantly improve things for people who don’t drive. Edmonton has also built out a cycletrack network quickly, but I won’t get into that 😉. There are so many places in KW that could benefit from scrambles. And, if the Waterloo Region’s brand is about innovation, that means we need to try new things and take risks. Here’s our opportunity to actually do that when it comes to urban design.

2. Trail Crossings

We’ve got two great trails in Kitchener-Waterloo that can play an important part of the aforementioned cycletrack network we need. The Iron Horse Trail and the Spurline Trail are wonderful multi-use paths that connect our two cities. They are both a joy to ride and offer a reprieve from the stress of having to deal with drivers on our streets. The only problem is that when they meet roadways, it all falls apart. Trail users are directed to “look both ways” and then attempt to cross when there aren’t any vehicles in sight. Cars have the right of way at these “crossings”. I use the trail every day, and on many occasions have almost been hit. Even when I think the coast is clear, cars come speeding around the bend, much higher than the posted limit, and I’m left scrambling to get to the other side. Luckily I can get around quickly, but not everyone can. I’ve seen kids have challenges. I’ve also see people using mobility devices struggle. It’s terribly dangerous, and I’m at a loss as to why it’s taking so long for our decision makers to do something about it. Someone is going to get hurt. One particular trail crossing, Spurline at Union, is particularly dangerous. Both the City of Waterloo and the Region of Waterloo are aware of the problem, but they aren’t doing anything – or, at least, they aren’t communicating their plan. At this point, the inaction is negligence. I wrote about it more than two years ago. More importantly, some KIDS wrote about how they find the crossing dangerous. They even got a speedometer to document the outrageous speeds people drive. Let’s not keep these kids waiting and build the crossing infrastructure that should have been there in the first place. Responding with silence to such exemplary civic engagement from these children is disappointing, and I think we can do better.

3. Bike Parking

There’s nothing like battling it out on the streets on your bike only to find there’s no bike parking when you get to your destination. It’s frustrating, to say the least. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to lock my bike to a tree or some other object that shouldn’t have a bike attached to it. Luckily a thief with a good handsaw hasn’t been around to make the easy snatch. Jokes aside, it’s pretty common for me to find no bike parking at all. Meanwhile, our cities are full of giant empty parking lots. Of the ideas I’ve listed, this seems to be the easiest do something about. If we are going to lag on building the infrastructure to keep cyclists safe, can we at least have the infrastructure to keep our bikes secure? It’s not a big ask and something that would make the lives of cyclists in KW easier, and can play a role in getting more people out on their bikes. We need to look at the pain points that stop people from using their bikes to get around. Not having a safe space to lock up is a pretty good way to deter people, and it’s a pretty easy thing for our cities to address. It isn’t rocket science. Luckily, not to far away, we can use Hamilton as an example of an approach to take. They’ve got a bike parking request form. Ultimately, it’s about execution, but giving residents an opportunity to share locations they need parking is a pretty good place to start. Something for decision makers to keep in mind is how this can also impact local spending. I’ve often just left a business because there isn’t bike parking, and I’ve taken my money with me. More bike parking is something we can implement quickly and is in everyone’s best interest.

I could go on, but I wanted to keep it short and sweet. These are three issues that I think can be addressed fairly quickly, and, if done well, can really improve KW for cyclists, pedestrians, and mobility aid users alike. I’m (somewhat) willing to accept that larger scale projects like separated bikelanes can take time, but there are simple things we can do in the meantime to demonstrate that everyone’s needs matter, regardless of how they choose to travel.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on ideas we can implement easily. Tweet me using #QuickWins4KW with your ideas, or comment below. And, if you don’t live in Kitchener-Waterloo, but think that your city could use some quick wins, make your own #QuickWins hashtag and share your ideas!

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