Thursday, September 20, 2012

Routes and Secrets of east Waterloo

Fall looms

It's that part of September that is still officially summer, but is fall in spirit. It's positively autumnal these last few days. And it feels good! Even if it's a tad wet. I admit that I wussed out of cycling through Tuesday morning's deluge and took transit instead.

I've not blogged much about #loabKW lately, because there hasn't really been anything very interesting to say. I bike during the week. It's normal. The Lexington expressway crossing still sucks, but that's normal too. Groceries get bought, places get visited, life is surprisingly unremarkable.

But I do like the ducks. And the bunnies. I see a lot of each on my rides. Flickers, too, for some reason-- you can recognize them by their white butts as they fly away.

That's one thing I haven't really talked about: the rides, and the routes that I'm on every day. I do try and explore as much of KW as I can on bike, but most of the time I'm going to and from work. Much of these rides are on quiet streets or trails (though some trails have only recently been reopened) and when you're on two wheels, you can take in the scenery a lot more.

Route secrets

If you need to move to and from north-east Waterloo, you move from embarrassment of cycling riches to awful choke points and back again. There is great cycling in the neighbourhoods around Bridge Street, north of University:

<<<< sorry guys, Google doesn't embed maps with the cycling layer turned on, because Bob returned late from lunch last Friday and didn't spend 5 minutes implementing that feature... please click the links to follow along. As for Google, they and I need to have a few words. >>>>

Snippets of trail, lots of cut-through paths (although not on Allenby Court), and cycling lanes on roads like Bridge and Davenport. Even the ward councilor, Diane Freeman, is an avid cyclist.
Unfortunately, you can't get there from here. Literally: if you don't have the intestinal fortitude to mix with speeding traffic-- or are willing to flaunt the rules and sensibility by biking a sidewalk perilously close to a low guardrail and a 30 foot drop to the expressway below-- this neighbourhood is entirely cut off from the rest of Waterloo. But we've been here before and we know the solution is: road-diet Lexington. Just waiting on staff and council to see the light.

Still: if you can stomach Lexington, the city is your oyster. Well, maybe not quite-- UW is a major high-traffic gap away (the Columbia/King mess), but you can get to Uptown and to Kitchener if you know where you're going. Dearborn Boulevard is your gateway off Lexington and away from the 80km/h traffic, and connects with the great trail system that is the Forwell Creek and Hillside Park. From here you can ride trails up to Manulife headquarters, over to Canadian Tire, or all the way down to University Avenue near a small street called Carter Avenue.

It's hard to get across University right now, but that will change in a year or two: reconstruction will add a refuge island here. And Carter leads you to Moses Springer Park and into the heart of the bike-navigable Lincoln neighbourhood.

Infill! Infill!

Last night I saw something that piqued my interest: a City of Waterloo planning map that shows a proposed trail extension from Lincoln Park across Weber to connect with a trail leading to Uptown, here at Mackay Crescent. Getting across Weber here is key. I hope discussions between city and region bear fruit.

If you can get across Weber right here (here's a hint: you can't. It's stupid.) then you have almost clear sailing all the way to Uptown Waterloo, the Laurel Trail, the Iron Horse, you name it. Otherwise, there are some options if you filter along Lincoln Ave and through the Sobeys plaza (pick up your groceries while you're there!) and then on down Devitt or Moore. Moore provides access to Duke, which is the best way to downtown Kitchener on a bike if you can't get to the Iron Horse... or it will be, until the Spur Trail is constructed.

(Do you sense a theme? A theme of being close to a great cycling network but for a few critical gaps? Talk to your councilors. Explain to them the wonder of infill. Tell them you're not willing to wait until the gaps get reconstructed.)

Of course, this also passes the Mount Hope cemetery, which is my stomping grounds (or... maybe a little less in the cemetery as near it.) From here you're on your own.


But if you want to make the same trip in a different way, you could try riding past the Canadian Tire, braving a short stretch of Weber and Columbia, and head down Regina. Not too bad, especially if you work the lights right. You still have to cross at Lexington though.

Or you could take a different plot and head down Bridge to Lancaster (possibly avoiding the roundabout by taking this dogleg). This is not pleasant cycling, as it's decades-old infrastructure with no cycling accommodation-- but the widths are generally good, and if you don't mind a brutal hill or two, you could do okay. Lancaster happens to lead right to Queen, which is a great gateway to Kitchener too. But it's a traffic lunatic asylum, so be warned.

Look, what I'm trying to say is that there's some great cycling in the City of Waterloo, especially on the east end. But to enjoy it, you have to deal with the fact that the City of Waterloo is in fact two cycling networks, disconnected by an expressway. Maybe this will be fixed soon, but in the meantime you should ask yourself if you really need to wait for that.

I can't. I have to be out there.

There's ducks, after all. And bunnies. And flickers.

See you on the trails.


  1. Is there really a Lincoln Park, or are you talking about Moses Springer Park? I've been living in the neighbourhood (well, okay, up the hill and around the bend) for over two years now and I don't think I've heard of Lincoln Park.

    I used to be on the Waterloo trails committee, and they understand the same problem of needing to make connections. There are a lot of them though, and they all cost money to build, on top of the cost of maintaining the existing trails. Jan d'Ailly had some good ideas of how to fill in the trail network, but I haven't heard much about it lately.

    Of all the Waterloo expressway crossings, the one at Lexington is the best. Yes, it's faint praise. I regularly cross at University as well as Northfield, and Lexington is a walk in the park compared to those menaces. I'm more confident than most, but it's still a bit scary to go over the bridge westbound on Northfield and then cross two lanes to make a left turn at Parkside.

    1. Yes, of course, it's called Moses Springer Park. Corrected.

      Connections costs money, yes. I would make the point that we have got great mileage by systematically adding cycling network segments over the last decade when reconstructing roads-- when those segments come at least cost. Kudos to Waterloo for that. But I would also argue that apart from a few problem areas, we are now in diminishing-returns territory for this "build opportunistically" strategy. We now need targeted infill. That is what stands between a collection of segments and a true network.

      I hear from people who would love to cycle, and have 90% of a comfortable ride to their destination. But the remaining 10% is beyond their tolerance zone. So, they don't ride.

      Me, I'm getting less risk-tolerant as I get older. I'm starting to think about how I'll cycle when I'm 40, 50, 60 or beyond.