Saturday, September 22, 2012

[Not] Solving Traffic Problems in Uptown Waterloo

I attended the Uptown Traffic summit last week. It was a success - over 120 people, lots of careful consideration of the problems that were posed.

In the promo for the summit, Ward 1 Councillor Melissa Durrell said, "When I was going door to door campaigning during the election, traffic was the Number One concern." Kudos to Melissa for holding the summit.

But. Big but.

The summit started with city and regional employees giving some presentations about the context. They described the Waterloo city Official Plan, city and regional Master Transportation Plans, the Complete Streets initiative (that's what is causing all our "roads on diets"), and the provincial Places to Grow plan that legislates intensification in Uptown Waterloo (among other areas). Everything they said emphasized that cars are not the priority; bikes and public transit are the priority.

Then we got into the summit, which consisted of four questions:
  1. How might we support Waterloo's desire to become a bike, pedestrian and public transit-friendly city while recognizing the significance of the car?
  2. How might we handle the increase in traffic while maintaining a neighborhood feel?
  3. How might we reduce the number of parking spots available while maintaining a strong, vibrant economy?
  4. How might we create safe streets while still enabling access for traffic?
Good questions all. But nowhere in there is a question that addresses what all those voters were talking about on the doorstep. Nowhere was there a question that would lead to solutions for how hard it is to turn left off of Alexandra onto Caroline in the morning; or the backup of cars on Bridgeport heading towards the Erb intersection in the evening; or the huge amount of traffic cutting through the Uptown on Erb, heading from the west side subdivisions to the expressway because there is no west side expressway.

There were no questions about how we're going to cope with the new traffic generated by the thousands of new residents who will move into the condos that are currently being built, many in a small area around King and Allen.

There were no questions about how we will cope with the huge impact LRT will have on Uptown traffic. John Shortreed estimates that the LRT will cause King Street to lose 60% of its capacity. He estimates that Weber can only take part of the load. Where will the other cars go? (Sidestreets.) I don't know if John has estimated the loss of capacity caused by the LRT on Caroline, but I do know that rush hour traffic is already heavy heading north on Park, jogging along William and continuing down Caroline. The Bridgeport-Caroline intersection is already very busy at rush hour, and the LRT will make it a total mess.

It seems that there is no awareness of the real traffic issues in Uptown, and no desire to fix them. What really slays me is that all these politicians and city employees who are fixated on "walking, biking and rollerblading" and who hate providing infrastructure for cars - they all have cars.

I am not an enormous proponent of the car. I never had a car when I lived in Toronto, and didn't buy a car till I was 40 (and even then, only because it was required for work). I wish Waterloo was designed in such a way that one could live conveniently without the hassle of owning a car. But it ain't. And I want my government to be based on reality, not ideology. This isn't a trivial issue. The health of the every aspect of the Uptown depends on getting this right.


Anonymous said...

Nonsense. If you truly wished Waterloo were designed so that car-free living were possible, you wouldn't oppose efforts to make it so.

I own a car too, but I welcome the push to restore some balance to our array of transportation choices.

Yappa said...

Where did I say I opposed that balance? My concern is that there are car traffic issues that are not being addressed.

Anonymous said...

I left before the end feeling disappointed but not sure why. I think you capture the main reasons: there was nothing specific to uptown, or even to Waterloo, about the questions and the discussion, and nothing immediate. Also, I was surprised that this is input for a study that will be done later - there are significant issues that need to be resolved right now.

Anonymous said...

Your last paragraph made it sound like you believe that dealing with walking and biking isn't dealing with reality. That really makes it look like you're opposing those things. If that's not what you meant, you should have said things differently.

Are you still suggesting though that making alternatives to driving more viable won't address traffic issues? Everything else is just coping with traffic, not actually dealing with it.

Yappa said...

Hi Tom,

I agree with what you say... and something else, which I have said before but wasn't the focus of this column: there is loads of lip service to improving things in Uptown that never seems to get beyond the platitudes. Like all the official plans and visions say we need wider sidewalks, but when they built the new strip of buildings on King (that has the LCBO), they didn't put in a wide sidewalk. And the new buildings on King don't have enough main floor retail, so pedestrians have to walk past too much "dead space", which keeps it from being a vibrant pedestrian shopping area.

One thing about this forum that I thought was way better than previous ones, though, is that we wrote our own words on the post-it notes: they used to have the moderators write the notes, and they never wrote exactly what people said.

But those questions just didn't get down to useful, needed solutions.

Yappa said...

Hi Anonymous,

In a climate where half the year it's very inconvenient to bike, and in a country with a rapidly aging population, more bike lanes is not going to decrease car use. That doesn't mean I'm against bike lanes: we should have tons more of them, and better trails.

If we were serious about reducing car use we would do things like put beer and wine sales in corner stores; and put a higher tax on gasoline.

Making it difficult to drive and difficult to park will just lead to people driving and parking somewhere else. Since all the reduction of car convenience is aimed at the downtown cores, it will just destroy the downtown cores and increase usage of malls, big box stores and subdivisions. It just drives me bananas that people don't see that. If city politicians want to remove parking spaces, remove them at the malls; or tax Wal-Mart for every space. Don't destroy my uptown.

Anonymous said...

I've been riding my bike spring, summer, fall, and winter here the past half-decade, and haven't found it the least bit inconvenient. The problems with winter cycling seem to mostly lie in people's heads.

Do you expect an ageing population to be able to safely operate cars? My hope is that the MTO starts tightening up the rules for elderly drivers - right now you need to be a tremendous menace to society behind the wheel before they consider taking your license away.

Yappa said...

Hi anonymous,

We haven't had much snow the last two years, which makes all the difference. I have biked in real winters and it's no fun. In a snowy icy winter you just fall over a lot. It's dangerous if cars are near. Sometimes you just get stuck and have to carry your bike. In Waterloo, the snow ploughs pile up snow in the bike lane so there's no lane for bike riders. Sometimes when you leave home the roads are passable but then they freeze up for your trip home and it's hell. If you're on the road in a heavy snowfall, your light and reflectors aren't going to make it safe in terms of cars seeing you.

Re the aging population: there's a big gap between the age when we don't feel up to biking every day and the day we have to give up driving. The amount of time differs for each person, but it's generally at least 30 years. For many older people a car is vital to independence and they are perfectly safe as drivers.

Anonymous said...

Well said Yappa. Encouraging cycling - great! Expecting cycling to significantly reduce auto traffic - delusional! Commuter cycling has it's obvious limitations regardless of whatever climate you live in - work has to be relatively close to home (<10k), the route has to be relatively flat, and the commuter has to be physically capable as well as willing. I am physically fit and tried biking 15k to work once - it took an hour, unnoticeable "hills" while driving became major obstacles and slow points, and I needed a shower once I got there. Compared to a 15 minute trip by car, made it an easy choice for future commuting. While driving may be an "ordeal" sometimes, it will be difficult to convince people to trade on ordeal for another whether it's the challenges of cycling or riding on over-crowded transit (rail or road).

EdtheTed said...

It is so true that planners love to talk about bike/walking/transit friendly cities, but ignore the hard work of dealing with conjestion. A relatively small number of people have the luxury of communting to work on a bike--it doesn't work for most of us (I usually take transit when I have to go into the office). It is surprising how Waterloo seems to have so many streets, yet there are so many blockages (University, subdivisions, etc.) that relatively few are used for commuting. In some respects it is like a "town" that ignored the fact it turned into a city.

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