Next Steps for the Uptown Streetscape Project

On Monday May 25, Waterloo city council unanimously approved the preferred option for the Uptown Streetscape between Central Street and the LRT tracks – which includes separated bicycle lanes.

Over 70 people showed up to ride King Street to city hall prior to the meeting, showing their support for the project.  It was a great event with a great variety of participants, from young to old, riding everything from racing bikes to omafietsen.  Check out Mark Jackson-Brown’s video the ride passing by, it’s an impressive sight.

Uptown streetscape ride participants gathered in front of city hall
Uptown Streetscape ride participants gathered in front of city hall

The Meeting

The council meeting was truly a demonstration of effective local government.  All participants – councilors, guest speakers and the public – were united in the goal to make the city centre a vibrant and successful urban area.  Of course not all agreed on the way to achieve this goal, but the tone was very much collaborative rather than oppositional.  It was a refreshing contrast to the state of affairs I have experienced in some other local councils in Ontario.

The primary areas of discussion were the construction phasing and the availability of parking.

The planned construction period for the project is the 2017/2018 season, which was a cause for concern.  LRT construction is occurring along King Street between Erb Street and Victoria Street  from now until 2017, and the Region is reconstructing the street between Central Street and University Avenue in 2018/2019.  That means that at least some portion of King Street would be under construction for five years straight.

My thought was that if we delayed the City’s project by a year to coincide with the Region’s project, to total amount of disruption might be reduced.  One councillor also suggested this to the to the business owners in attendance, but to my surprise, their general consensus was that construction should start and finish as soon as possible.  Well if that’s what works best for the core’s businesses, then it certainly works for me.

The issue of parking was raised by Graham Whiting, a BIA member and chair of the project’s EA taskforce.  He noted that limiting car parking to one side of the street would make for an imbalance between the businesses, and was concerned about the impact of removing some of the most convenient car parking to customers.  There was a brief discussion of repurposing the bike lanes as parking or snow storage spaces in winter, but this was strongly opposed by city staff, the traffic consultant and many councillors.

Next Steps

Now that the general design principles have been approved by city council, the project moves into the detailed design stage, where city staff and consultants can look into the details of the streetscape.  It is during this stage that we will decide whether the parking should only be on the east side of the street as in the functional plan, or perhaps alternating sides, or possibly on both sides of the street.

Several councillors identified intersection design as a key area of focus, and I entirely agree, given the potential for reduced visibility associated with protected bike lanes.  This issue is quite broad, so I’ll examine it in more detail in a future post.

A couple other issues I’d raise for the detailed design include the type of curb used to separate motorized from non-motorized traffic (vertical or angled), and the width of the bicycle paths (is it possible to overtake?).

Thanks to the support of countless engaged citizens, the City of Waterloo will be getting a main street that is safe to get to and and enjoyable to be, for everyone.  Now we just need to help the city to work out the details to make King Street the best it can be.