An Open Letter to the Mayor of the City of Kitchener


I have been following the recent discussions on the proposed Waterloo Regional LRT, and I wish to thank you for your support and leadership on this project. I believe, if Waterloo Region is to effectively handle a population of 700,000 within the next twenty years, we have to get serious about mass transit. An LRT running along the spine of the region will not only encourage more people to get out of their cars, but it will enhance development along what is already a diverse corridor.

I also appreciated the most recent changes to the plan. Extending the line to Fairview Mall and terminating the northern end at Conestoga Mall makes the first phase of the project a lot more useful to more residents than the initial proposal, and the fact that we can do this for just $4 million more on the original plan is a remarkable achievement.

That being said, I believe there is room for improvement. While the basic route of the LRT is sound, stations are missing. There should be a stop between Conestoga Mall and the Tech Park, possibly between Weber Street and Old Albert. While the line connects several trip generators, these trips have to come from somewhere. The Lakeshore community has to travel far in order to access the LRT, and these are the very people we should be encouraging out of their cars.

Also, a stop in front of Kitchener Collegiate would be a good idea, since under the current arrangement, KCI students have some distance to walk, and as you know students are the best users of public transportation. We don't want to make the line inconvenient for so many future adult riders. Finally, I hope that the line maintains frequencies of every ten minutes or less throughout the day; LRT vehicles may hold more passengers than buses, but passengers will still be left fuming if they have to wait a long time between cars.

All of this aside, I encourage you to pursue provincial and federal investment in the line, and to lead the residents of Kitchener into embracing this worthwhile project. You have my support, and I don't believe that I am alone.

Sincerely Yours,
James Bow

Well, with my fingers crossed, Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge may soon become the latest cities in Canada to embrace rail transit. While Ottawa dabbles with experimental light-rail, planners in Waterloo Region have taken the bull by the horns and suggested a $260 million project to connect the major trip generators by a light rail line.

This has been at the back of Waterloo Region's mind for a while. The area is developing rapidly, looking forward to possible populations of 700,000 or more within the next twenty years. The roads are already becoming more congested and Grand River Transit is already working towards improving public transit throughout the region. The political will and the need is there for such bold steps.

It also helps that most of the region's major trip generators line up. Two of the region's major malls (Fairview Mall in the south and Conestoga Mall in the north) anchor each end of a potential line, with the region's de facto main street running between them. At Uptown Waterloo, an underused rail right-of-way cuts a path straight to the University of Waterloo, and continues north to a hydro right-of-way that's aligned to get the LRT back to Conestoga Mall.

Potential extensions also line up. South of Fairview Mall, Sportsworld, downtown Preston and downtown Galt can be accessed via underused rail-rights of way and arterial roads with wide centre boulevards. To the north, a branchline following the railroad right-of-way takes potential LRT travellers to the St. Jacob's Farmer's Market, the village of St. Jacobs itself, and possibly even the growing town of Elmira. All of these points are already connected by some of the best used and most frequent bus routes in the region and enhancing these services into a single LRT line is a natural next-step.

With the line connecting several area downtowns, the LRT would bolster development within them and between them. Not only would the LRT thrive on the traffic that's already there, but it would strengthen the surrounding land-use in turn, creating an axis of development that wouldn't be dependent upon the automobile to function, a rarity right now in Waterloo Region.

The first proposals for an LRT covered half of what most people saw as the first phase: a line running from Market Square in Downtown Kitchener to Uptown Waterloo, the University of Waterloo and the St. Jacob's Farmer's Market. It covered most of the bases, but avoided Conestoga Mall in favour of a seasonal attraction. Also, some of its $256 million cost was taken up by a new convention centre and relocated transportation centre (combining LRT, city buses, inter-city buses and VIA trains) at the north end of Downtown Kitchener. There were good ideas in this plan, but Cambridge was left out, and some raised eyebrows at the convention centre tacked onto this public transit project. However, planners held public meetings and redesigned the plan. The convention centre is gone, and the line extends south towards Cambridge, and terminates in the north at Conestoga Mall, all for just $260 million. The Region will cover a third of the cost, and the province and the federal government are making encouraging sounds that they will kick equal funds in.

I miss some elements of the old plan. Relocating the old transit centre to the north end of Downtown would improve things, and free up land that would help Downtown Kitchener connect with its central park (Victoria Park), but by keeping the current infrastructure, we get a lot more line. And the new line isn't perfect (as I've said). The length between some stops is long, and some neighbourhoods are completely bypassed. They'll still have access to bus routes feeding into the line, but will that encourage these people to leave their car at home?

So, it's a good start, and it's one other reason why I'm so optimistic about living here. While Toronto struggles to build piecemeal extensions to its underdeveloped subway network, Waterloo Region is forcing ahead boldly. We can build this line now, and control the development of the future, rather than letting the region just grow until our own success chokes us.

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