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The LRT's Toll on Uptown Waterloo

The Toll on Waterloo Park

I remember when we were arguing about the LRT for Waterloo Region. People in Uptown Waterloo were not happy. One argument I remember was that the LRT would travel through Waterloo Park, cutting it in half. I remember scoffing at this NIMBYish argument. There was already a rail line going through Waterloo Park, with a train that carried sulphuric acid each night. How would the actual LRT be worse?

Boy howdy was it worse. The contractors put ugly black chainlink fencing right through the park. You can no longer visit the llamas and ponies easily. Cycling through the park is a chore. Now there is a dead end because the makeshift wooden bridge they installed to go to Father David Bauer drive has been cut off. The path crossing at the LRT station is awkward to navigate too.

I have a difficult time believing that the ugly black chainlink fencing was necessary. It has ruined the park. The LRT opponents were completely correct, and I was completely wrong.

Crying Wolf About Testing

This is not limited to Uptown, but there are signs all over the place telling us that the LRT is testing, and weird posters comparing trains to moose. As far as I can tell, these are false alarms. The Region of Waterloo wants us to believe that the trains are testing and that maybe we will actually have a train system, but I was going to the University of Waterloo almost every weekday last term and I did not see trains a single time. I think I heard rumours of train testing maybe three times over the eight months I worked at the University. Does that justify all the brouhaha around trains being tested? No. No it doesn't. It is just aggravating and leads people to believe that they can ignore the signage and warnings.

Regional politicians ought to know they are in trouble because of the delays. Maybe all the regional politicians (and some of the city politicians too) will get kicked out in October's elections because of this, if no trains ACTUALLY start running. In the meantime this false signage is not helping one bit.

EDIT: Apparently testing is FINALLY starting in May, several months after we started seeing "Trains are testing!" signage everywhere. My point stands. There was a lot of "Trains are testing!" signage when trains clearly WEREN'T testing. Furthermore, there still won't be much testing. By the time there IS testing we won't need the signage any more. I remain convinced that this signage is more a public-relations ploy than a safety measure.

EDIT 2: On rereading this I should retract some sentiments. I should not imply that signage would have been completely unnecessary. Appropriate signage at the appropriate time would have been appropriate. But I am still plenty mad that there were "Trains are testing!" signs when the trains clearly were not testing, and I am angry that the programmable pixelboard set up at the front of the University of Waterloo was not changed to tell us the dates when testing would actually be happening. Instead it spread false alarms. I still feel there is a public relations aspect to this signage, and that public relations chicanery continues to make me angry.

(Meanwhile, the Region staff is brazenly planning routes through Cambridge for their "stage two" of the train. Could they have picked worse timing? Could they have been more tone deaf? How about waiting until Stage One has proven to be successful before imposing Stage Two on Cambridge residents who have seen what the LRT has done to Uptown? I should not call them "idiots" but there actions are idiotic.)

Uptown King Street Construction

Wow this was a disaster. The Uptown section of King Street was under construction for way too long, and discovering that corrugated log road certainly didn't help. Then the tracks were finally laid, and the shopowners of King Street were finally ready to breathe a sign of relief, when -- surprise! -- the City of Waterloo decided to implement their own renovations to King Street, making it an unnavigable "streetscape" where the bike lanes look exactly like parking spaces. Down goes King Street again, for more construction.

The City and Region staff would like us to believe that no businesses have been hurt by the LRT construction, and that nobody has gone out of business. Hogwash. OW Sports is gone, and so are a bunch of other businesses. Meanwhile Kitchener is doing its best to strangle Central Fresh Market by cutting off road access from the back (thanks, NIMBYs). Having King Street go down twice for two different projects was an idiotic move.

The Final Insult

It looks like King Street is finally finished its construction. Some businesses survived. Hooray! Unfortunately all of the businesses in one particular strip are leaving now, for some mysterious reason nobody is willing to say out loud. Mysteriously, they all had signs on their door telling us their leases expired at the end of March. So now a bunch of them are going to Frederick St Mall or along Victoria Street to try and eke out livings there.

I'll speculate out loud, because it is not difficult to read between the lines. The landlord of this commercial strip collected rent from these struggling businesses all throughout the construction. As soon as the construction was done the landlord decided these properties were worth much more than they had been before, so this landlord rewarded the struggling businesses for their loyalty: as soon as the coast was clear, the landlord jacked up the rents. Goodbye, struggling businesses!

This feels like a kick in the teeth. Yes, it is now capitalism works. No, it is not directly the fault of the Region of Waterloo. But it is exactly the kind of effect we should expect given the Region's goals. The LRT is not about transportation. Other than its politicians getting kicked out of office, the region really doesn't care if the LRT ever runs or not. They care about the development, and the LRT has been very effective at spurring high-density gentrified development along the route. If that gentrification requires the local businesses that added colour to Uptown to be gentrified out of the area, so be it. The politicians don't care, and neither does the Region staff.