Why Waterloo Region Needs an LRT

Portland LRT

It was a decent turnout back on Saturday at the second Rally for Rails, organized by TriTAG and the good folks at Wonderful Waterloo. The event, which took place at Speaker’s Corner at King and Benton in downtown Kitchener, brought together at least two hundred supporters who braved heavy rains to get their point across to passers by, members of the media and representatives of the local and provincial governments.

Speakers came from many walks of life, from a young mother of three to university students to tech workers. I didn’t speak; I was just there to show my support and to show Vivian and Nora the importance of speaking up in a democracy. I was very grateful for the hard work the organizers of this rally put together, showing how much support LRT has within the Region of Waterloo. It gives me great hope that, on June 15, Waterloo regional council will do the right thing and commit to this important piece of infrastructure.

I moved to Kitchener in 1991 in order to attend the University of Waterloo. I’ve stayed ever since, and have raised a family. I spent the first nineteen years of my life in Toronto, but the last twenty have been spent here, and they’ve been good ones. I’ve seen this region grow and develop, from a small industrial town to a world class centre for technological development.

When I lived in Toronto, I didn’t need to own a car. I didn’t get my drivers’ license until I was twenty-three. Moving to Kitchener made it necessary. Unlike Toronto, Waterloo Region has been built for the car. I’ve spent many years in Waterloo Region car free, and I’ve seen great improvements in the service that Grand River Transit offers since I came here in 1991, but as the father of two young children, I have found that a car is a necessity in this city. And I object to that.

Don’t get me wrong: I like to drive. I like the luxury of being able to head out of town at a moment’s notice. What I object to, though, is that the way our cities have been built, the car is not a luxury, but a necessity. And if we continue along this path, we will be building neighbourhoods which will not serve us and our children well, especially as oil gets more expensive, and as a greater percentage of our aging population find themselves unable to drive.

We’ve made great strides in the past ten years in enabling a resident of Waterloo Region to live a normal life should he or she decide to leave his or her car behind. We finally have local buses that can take us from Kitchener to Cambridge. We have the iXpress to cut travel time, and many new routes to take us where we need to go. We’ve nearly doubled transit ridership in the past decade. We’ve done much, but there is more that we can do. There is more that we have to do as our region’s population increases, and as development pressures continue to threaten our farmland with urban sprawl. Light rail transit is the best technology that will allow the Region of Waterloo to increase travel capacity, and build up a dense spine of development along the central corridor, building up rather than out. In the long run, light rail has the capacity we’ll need, and the investment in our future is going to pay dividends.

Looking out at the crowd and seeing all of the people who have come here, passionate about light rail, I saw a lot of pride in this region. It’s pride that enables us to say that we should do more for our community. I see pride in our burgeoning tech sector, and I see pride in our industrial heritage. I see pride in our educational institutions, and the vibrant, diverse communities they have attracted to our area. I see pride in our Oktoberfest.

But, most of all, I see an identity. I see Kitchener, Waterloo, Cambridge and the Townships. I see Waterloo Region. We are not some bedroom community for Toronto, we are more. We’ve attracted investment from around the world, we’ve courted the world’s biggest tech companies and the world’s best scientists. We are not a suburb of Toronto. We should be a destination in our own right.

And light rail is the best way to get us to that destination.

Further Reading

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