Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Uptown Waterloo: Where trails go to die

The Iron Horse Trail officially ends at Caroline Street. A few years ago, the Trails committee managed to get the trail unofficially extended along the west side of Caroline as far as William Street: the narrow sidewalk was replaced with a smooth, three meter wide asphalt trail. But even that bit of the trail lacks any signage. And at William it peters out altogether. If you know what you’re doing you can carry on down Caroline for two long blocks and cross Erb Street, where the trail starts again and goes into Waterloo Park. What we urgently need is to:
  • Finish the part of the trail on Caroline, with trail signs and safe crossings.
  • Create a trail from William to Erb along the west side of Caroline, with at least three meters width of smooth pavement, and with signs.
See also: Laurel Trail Interrupted

The Iron Horse Trail in Uptown

There’s a minor uproar in Waterloo over city council’s decision this week to sell a portion of the Iron Horse Trail. I have some concerns about the sale, but I also see some positives.

In terms of the usefulness of the trail, this change offers some improvements:
  • The minor route change will not cause inconvenience. The new trail meets Park Street at the same point as the old trail, so there’s no need to jog along Park street. (See diagram.)
  • The old portion of trail between Park and Caroline is not great. Yesterday, for example, there was a huge puddle across the entire trail at Caroline Street.
There are some things I regret about losing the old trail:
  • The portion that is being replaced is a pretty, treed, curvy bit of the trail. The new trail will run alongside the SunLife parking garage.
  • It rankles that the developer (Mady) seems to have pulled a fast one on us. Had they announced both development proposals for the site (144 Park and 155 Caroline) at the same time, the city could have had some say in the site development to preserve the trail. By announcing 155 Caroline only after 144 Park was well under way, they forced our hand: either sell us the trail or lose the entire 155 Caroline development.
There are some safeguards that need to be in place:
  • The developer must not be allowed to do whatever they want with the new portion of trail. The new trail will be very close to a parking garage exit, and sightlines must be very safe (this is a trail used by children!). The trail must be clear of hydro poles, and must be a clearly marked, dedicated trail – not a section of paved space used by the building.
  • The trail currently continues along the west side of Caroline to William, with wide asphalt replacing the old narrower sidewalk. That must be continued to the 50 meter portion between the old and new trail. (Trevor Hawkins, the city planner working on this brief, assured me yesterday that that would be done.)
There are some process issues that really need to be fixed:
  • We need some protection for our parks and trails. City Council shouldn’t be able to sell off part of a trail. Now that the precedent has been set, who knows what developers will start angling for.
  • There was a time when developers were required to provide greenspace in consideration for getting zoning approval for large projects. Sometimes public art was required instead. We have now flipped to the opposite situation: they get to take over public greenspace. Something is not right here. The way some councillors were talking after the vote, they think Waterloo needs to lure developers to our core. Nothing is further from the truth: development is booming, perhaps even too quickly.
And there are some troubling related issues:
  • The Uptown is supposed to be a mixed-use development environment, with condo buildings having retail and commercial aspects at street level. However, both 155 Caroline and 144 Park are residential-only. That’s the case with all the other condo developments in the Uptown recently, with the exception of the Bauer Lofts – despite the recent adoption of the Uptown vision and Official Plan, which clearly state that new developments should be mixed use.