Thursday, April 26, 2012

Margaret Avenue road diet

I was tweeting away about news that the City of Kitchener is going to road diet Margaret Avenue, so the Kitchener Post ended up interviewing me about it. All they got was opinion, though. I had to wait until Wednesday night to get some fact.

The public information session was sparsely attended (maybe a dozen or so attendees?) and there weren't a lot of surprises either. In fact, it's pretty standard stuff:
  • Margaret's too wide, it drives up speeds
  • Margaret's traffic volume is fairly low (though significant for a road of its type)
  • To make the corridor safer and more usable, Margaret will be repainted to adjust lanes, provide parking and designate cycling lanes.
 And it's really nice to be able to say that's "pretty standard stuff", isn't it?

I spoke to city representatives and we pitched a few ideas back and forth. I've wanted this region to be building out more segregated cycling infrastructure, to grow the number of people on bikes from the vast population of those who are just uncomfortable in traffic. Margaret is getting plain jane cycling lanes though, on the outside of parked cars. And I will begrudgingly admit that given the low budget for the treatment, the high density of driveways and the width available, this is probably the best achievable option.

Still, they have to keep hearing interest about it. Tidbit that came up: Block Line is apparently getting some bike tracks of some sort.

Pictures below. Some last parting notes:

  • Sharrows were discussed for crossing points where the pictures show a gap in line painting. Hopefully they will be added: anything that emphasizes the presence of a cycling right of way to driveway and side street users would be beneficial.
  • Bike boxes were bounced back and forth. We saw no suitable point on this road given the lack of cycling viability of Victoria, and the low levels of traffic.
  • Road diet usually involves the removal of lanes. In this case, we have a road that is wider than it needs to be, but only in one or two small places (near intersections and especially over the bridge) are there any actual lane removals. Still, the principles stand.
And on the lighter side:
  • One of the reps wondered if I had a motorcycle, since I was carrying my new Bern bicycle helmet with me. I told him no, but it's a statement of what I think about riding in traffic. (Also, I love the style.)
  • Two elderly gentlemen were quietly grumbling next to me (and my bicycle helmet) about why the heck don't they just put in four lanes and let the traffic flow?? Those cyclists should use the back streets! Despite the fact that Margaret is a minor road and could triple its traffic level and still be well-served by 2 lanes, I bit my tongue. But it puts the generational attitude gap into depressingly sharp relief.

Please excuse the fuzziness in some of these photos. Crap cellphone camera + people in the way.

Union southward

At Guelph St. (in case you didn't realize)

Rounding the bend towards Wellington

Wellington, Breithaupt, Victoria

Traffic levels of ~6000 vehicles a day - road diet has been applied to 15-20K roads

High speed levels that we can bring down by tightening lanes.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A year of Waterloons

Didn't even notice it go by. A year of Waterloons.

Erin and I set this up in March 2011, to talk about our combined local interests. I've had perhaps more to say, but it's interesting to note that one of Erin's posts is the second most popular.

A year ago, we were in the thick of a community debate on LRT. My motivation was to have an outlet I could express (and sometimes sort out) my thoughts on those issues, but we both agreed there were plenty of interesting topics beyond just transit: urbanism, sustainable development, art and gardening have all graced these pages.

The culmination of the LRT discussion was in June, when with Erin's support I gave regional council our story and our support for the project. On the eve of the vote, I wrote up some reflections (titled, unsurprisingly, Reflections on the Eve) which Mike Farwell, then with 570 News, used as his opening for his radio show the following day.

In it, I made a point-- to others, sure, but really to myself-- that LRT has galvanized civic engagement, and there are some of us who it brought into the public discourse. And now that we were here, we could remain engaged.

It's something that I've kept in mind since then. I've been in touch with the city and regional councils about more issues than just LRT, and I'm now contributing some of my time to TriTAG. Twitter has put me in touch with a pretty wide assortment of like-minded (and sometimes not) people, as well as a number of our councilors.

So, that's a year (and change). Thanks for reading, and here's to another year!

By the numbers:

Total posts: 44 (counting this one.)
Total page views: 5508

Most popular posts:
Dec 8, 2011, 5 comments
483 Pageviews
Mar 25, 2011, 9 comments
217 Pageviews
Aug 19, 2011                  
207 Pageviews

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A sanctity of trails

The city of Waterloo has to ask itself, at what price intensification? Is it worth rerouting a critical trail whose unique right of way could never be regained?

Mady Development and the city are looking at a proposal for a second tower at the 144 Park development, to be called 155 Caroline. The proposal would consume much of the block north of the Sun Life parking garage, growing the green section below to encompass the orange section in one contiguous block.

View 155Caroline in a larger map

The purple represents the corridor set aside for an Iron Horse realignment. What could go in there is still up for debate, but the developer is proposing separate cycle path (2m) and  walking paths, with various improvements for walkers.

The number of units is set to more than double, as is the amount of parking on-site. The bulk of it would have access to Park St., while 62 spots at ground level (covered) would enter and exit from Caroline. (These spots are a requirement imposed on the Bauer lofts developer, who currently owns the gravel surface parking, and who wants to maintain that parking supply.)

At the informal meeting tonight with councilor Melissa Durrell and representatives from Mady and the consultants involved, some new developments came to light in response to concerns raised at a previous meeting. Focusing on the Iron Horse Trail, a 3m multi-use trail connection was added to the plan along Caroline St, and factors to mitigate the ugliness of a parking garage across the street from the thriving Bauer retail have been introduced.

So, the question needs to be asked: Is this worth moving the Iron Horse for?

To be sure, concessions have been made to make sure that the trail connects to Allen at Caroline. The point was made that a perpendicular crossing at Park St. may be safer. The functional connectivity is maintained.

But it comes in exchange for a main apartment pedestrian entrance, a townhouse entrance (at the Allen/Caroline corner) and a potentially busy parking driveway now crossing the Caroline trail segment. It eliminates a natural and historic corridor (reflected in the trail's very name) and replaces it with a canyon between a wall of windows inaccessible to the general public on one side, and an eyesore of a concrete parking garage on the other.

Worst of all, though: it sends a signal that the city of Waterloo is willing to sacrifice its trail corridors for development. At a time when the region is trying to build another rail-trail through the Waterloo Spur to connect downtown and uptown, the most popular cycling corridor in the city would come in second place to developer interest. If they can reroute Park to Caroline, why not the Park to John segment too?

Still, here's the rub: the corridor is owned by the city of Waterloo. The developer and the city are discussing a land swap. To make this happen, the city has to declare the lands surplus, and hold a public meeting. This needs to go through council.

There's a large number of local residents who are concerned at the scale of this project for reasons which differ from these, primarily traffic and parking. There are urbanists who see the ground-level presence of this development as lipstick on a pig at best, but more likely a terrible wasted opportunity for growing a vibrant uptown. And there are 144 Park condo owners whose great vista will disappear much faster than they could have expected.

This might be a situation where trail enthusiasts, urbanists, new residents and the old guard all have aligned interests. If you don't like it, talk to your councilors.

Personally, I think Mady is very close to making out like a bandit at the city's and region's expense. A land swap that turns an awkward piece of property into a large-scale development opportunity? Even if I supported this proposal, I think the city should be able to extract a lot more out of the developer for what they stand to gain from the city's concession.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Bridge/Northfield and the Poor Pedestrians

Addendum: After sending this letter I did receive a response. Most of the pedestrian concerns are addressed, including sidewalk access along the fronts of the development and to the bus stop/path access, and pedestrian refuge at that point-- provided by the developer.

It's still a very suburban development that in some places pays lip service to vibrant streetscape concepts, and there will be difficulty at the Labrador intersection, but the worst concerns for pedestrians are addressed.

I work very close to a proposed mixed-use development at Bridge and Northfield. As I'm a transit user as often as I'm a driver or cyclist, pedestrian access in the area is very important to me. And it's awful: impossible intersections, missing sidewalks, no lighting.

I'm hoping that the development will bring with it some improvements to the intersections and pedestrian infrastructure (like, you know... sidewalks) but I'm trying to drive the point home with Waterloo city council none the less.

The following is from a submission I put together this holiday morning:

To whom it may concern,

I work at a business near Bridge St. and Labrador St. in Waterloo. I am writing to express my support for the amendments to allow development of a mixed-use node at Northfield and Bridge. At the moment, this part of town has almost nothing commercial to support the many people who work and live in the area, and plans I have seen of the development are, if not perfect, at least working towards the goals of higher density and infill development.

As a driver, transit user and cyclist, I urge council to take into account transit, pedestrian and cycling access in this area when looking at the developers’ plans and the infrastructure needs they generate.

Most urgent is pedestrian access: there is no suitable pedestrian access to Northfield or Bridge along this property, despite the presence of GRT stops and pathway connections to residential neighbourhoods. The intersection at Bridge and Labrador is now extremely busy at rush hour, with dangerous left turns and aggressive drivers making Bridge almost impossible to get across for those on foot. The proposed development will only make this worse, so these problems must be addressed before the development is complete.

On transit, there are two GRT bus routes which serve this intersection now (31 and 35, connecting from Conestoga Mall to U of W and Uptown respectively) and in 2013 GRT plans to implement and extend 2 iXpress routes through this location, providing express access to much of the city of Waterloo and connections to future LRT.

Because of this, city council should push for more density and reduced parking for the buildings at this site. We don’t have a lot of open space to infill and this is a great opportunity to define an anchor for this area. It should not be wasted.

I have attached a map and photos to demonstrate some of the problems I have seen in the area. If the city addresses these problems promptly, this development would be a major benefit to the area. Without that support, however, I see the increased traffic becoming a major threat to my personal safety whether I am on foot or in car.

 View from Bridge St. bus stop, looking towards Labrador and Northfield.

Congestion on Bridge cuts visibility, and forces left turners from Labrador to turn blind onto Bridge. They routinely use the median as a merge lane. Southbound traffic often dives into the paved shoulder to avoid.

This makes pedestrian crossing at Labrador almost impossible, and crossing at the bus stop location necessary (but still dangerous.)

This intersection would see additional traffic from a new development and needs to be upgraded. Pedestrian access to the development needs to be addressed.