Saturday, November 09, 2013

King & University: Density node? Neighborhood? Mess?

The density at King & University has been a long time coming. When I was a teenager in the 70s there were already large apartment buildings on Regina Street North. University Avenue in the King-Regina area has been steadily growing with apartments and strip malls. WLU is building more and more student residences in the area.

We now have one of the densest parts of the region (perhaps the densest in Waterloo) located at King & University, and it's difficult to see any coordination or planning whatsoever. It's the node that Waterloo City Hall forgot.

The intersection at King & University is one of the most dangerous in the Region. In 2012 there were 41,000 vehicles and 6,000 pedestrians using the intersection each day, and there were 130 collisions, including 11 involving pedestrians. (link) City Council recently debated installing a pedestrian scramble there but decided not to, apparently because it would cause even greater traffic delays.

Both King and University are major routes for drivers going cross town. The intersection is a bottleneck, largely because of the lack of a right turn lane for traffic heading south on King turning west on University. Traffic backs up because those right-turners have to wait for all the pedestrians to clear the crosswalk.

It's a real problem that such a dense neighborhood lacks a grocery store. The area was recently reduced to just one corner store when Forwells threw in the towel. And there are other amenities that should be apportioned to neighborhoods, such as a park. For the student population, you'd think a beer store would be appreciated. For non-students, some sort of sports field or playground might be useful.

There are some student eateries in the area (notably Frat Burger, Burrito Boyz, Morty's, and a Starbucks), but the retail shopping is not aimed at the local population or pedestrians in general. There is an automotive repair place, a store that sells 20-liter bottles of water, specialty medical buildings.

For pedestrians, the area is inconvenient and unpleasant. The sidewalks abut against the street. The strip malls have large parking lots out front. The stores are widely spaced. And then there's that dangerous intersection, which is no fun at all to cross.

The City of Waterloo can't help that the Region decided to make the LRT bypass King & University: the Region was bound and determined to route the LRT through the UW campus so that its ridership numbers will be bolstered by students with free transit passes. But the city has to do something to improve the King & University neighborhood. For starters, it needs a name. Next, it needs a vision. Then it needs a plan.

Maybe we need to restrict cars from turning off of King and/or University. Add pedestrian islands in the crosswalks. The area could use a streetscape improvement plan with better sidewalks, planters, trees, and benches. A beer store could perhaps anchor a development with a grocer's. It's all going to be time consuming and expensive, but it's too important an area to overlook any longer. Just consider how much time and money Waterloo has spent on Claire Lake (a pond in a wealthy subdivision) or the Clay & Glass Museum (which practically nobody goes to except school children who have no choice).

And almost more important than anything else, if we built a proper hiway on the west side of Waterloo, we could hugely reduce the traffic that floods down University and Erb to the Conestoga Parkway - a hiway that connects major arteries like the 401 with the east side of town.

Before any decisions are made, we need a solid understanding of the neighborhood now and in the future. Think you know everything? This is being built just a couple of blocks away:

Update, January 10, 2014:
I drove down King from Columbia to William last Thursday around 10 PM. In the area from Hickory to Lodge there were masses of people on the snowy sidewalks. The uptown had less than half as many people, even including those at the skating rink in Waterloo Square.

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