Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2017/ The LRT is Hostile to Active Transportation

The LRT is Hostile to Active Transportation

Like everybody else, I am grumpy about the LRT. The construction has been a hassle. The project is going to be delayed. It has become obvious that the route is mediocre. Transit ridership has been decreasing, and it is unclear that the LRT will make it rise again.

This post is a mea culpa. In my naive youth, I poo-poohed a lot of the criticisms LRT opponents were making. In retrospect they were probably more correct than incorrect. In particular I have been getting grumpier and grumpier about difficult the LRT and its associated construction have made it to walk or cycle in this region. Some of these inconveniences are temporary and some are permanent. On the one hand the Region wants us to engage in "active transportation" (walking or cycling) and on the other it is building infrastructure that makes it more difficult and more dangerous to do so. Here are some of my criticisms.

Narrower Streets

I used to cycle down Charles Street and/or King Street regularly. They were closed for a long time due to LRT construction, so I stopped. Now sections of each road are open again, but I am very reluctant to use them. Thanks to the LRT tracks the streets are so narrow that cars cannot safely pass me, which means that it is now a lot scarier for me to ride down those roads. My main north-south corridor has become Weber, which can be busy (and is intimidating for many cyclists) but which I prefer because (a) there is little on-street parking (which is absolutely terrifying because I do not want to be doored) and (b) the lanes are wide enough that cars will give me my space.

The region has explicitly declared that Weber is not supposed to be an active transportation corridor (for example, they oppose putting bike lanes in). So why has it become the most reliable and safest route for me to take?

The King Street Closure

For all intents and purposes, I can no longer walk from downtown Kitchener to the University of Waterloo. I used to walk to evening talks and then walk back, but since King Street closed at Victoria this has become infeasible. In addition to King Street being closed, the Region has also decided to close Waterloo Street, which means that if I want to traverse by foot I have to take Duke Street (which itself has been closed at the train tracks on several occasions!). Taking Duke Street adds 20-30 minutes to my walk, which makes it very difficult for me to get to university talks on time. Thus I have given up on walking from downtown Kitchener to the university or uptown Waterloo.

You might argue that this construction is not part of the LRT, but this is only partially true. The underpass itself is partially to accomodate trains and two-way GO (which is another disaster in the making). But I believe that the Waterloo Street closure is LRT related, and the underlying reason for all this construction is that the main transit hub is moving to King and Victoria, so that intercity trains, the LRT and local buses will all intersect. That is definitely LRT related. So this construction means it is less feasible for me to walk.

What really gets my goat is that the Region could have easily provided a pedestrian walkway to bypass the King Street construction. Often people would move the construction fences at King and Victoria and just walk through the construction zone. But this was unnecessary: all the Region had to do was negotiate a path through the University of Waterloo Pharmacy building. The Region explicitly cut this route off via immovable fencing. Thus the Region was making an explicit decision to cut off active transportation without considering the consequences for pedestrians.

Treacherous Tracks

I used to get to Waterloo by taking Ellis Avenue to Allen Street, and then cycling from Allen Street to Caroline. King Street and Caroline were closed for a long time, but now that they are open again I have discovered that the route is much more treacherous. In addition to the narrowing of Caroline (because it also hosts LRT tracks) the tracks turn from Caroline at Allen towards King Street. As a result the tracks take a 45 degree angle when you are trying to turn from Allen onto Caroline, and that is super-scary. When you are on a bike the only way to cross train tracks safely is at a perpendicular 90 degree angle, and as far as I can tell this is either difficult or impossible to do at that intersection. This makes the Allen Street crossing much less viable for cyclists.

Waterloo Park

Waterloo Park is a real mess. There is ugly black fencing along the LRT corridor, and as far as I know this fencing is permanent. As a result there is much less walking space. The stretch from Caroline Street to Seagram Drive has become treacherous. I tried the route one time and slipped on some ice. I used to cut through the Seagram Drive parking lot to get to the university, and I can no longer do this because ugly black fencing is in the way. Until/unless the route opens up and becomes wide again there is no way I would feel comfortable cycling down this path. Pedestrians and cyclists do not mix at the best of times, and they especially do not mix when paths are narrow. Thus Waterloo Park is cut off as an active transportation corridor.

Side Streets

The usual answer to my criticisms is that I should take side streets. There is a path of trails and side streets that is supposed to get me from downtown Kitchener to Fairview Mall, so that I do not have to take Weber. There are a number of problems with this approach:


TL;DR: I cannot get around town as efficiently or as pleasantly with the LRT as without it. Many routes have become infeasible or have been cut off completely. Once the construction ends a few routes like King Street will open up, but the experience will be worse and there are still many routes (such as Charles/King) that will remain dangerous. Thus far the LRT has been a bane for active transportation, and I see few upsides.