Weber, Wilhelm and our meeting with Regional staff

Background info: 

As many readers will know, the Weber Street widening is posing several challenges in our neighbourhood. One issue is how pedestrian and bike traffic will cross the new 4-lane street and how we can encourage different parts of the neighbourhood to communicate, and keep in touch.

On Wednesday, November 21 members of the MHBPNA executive presented our concerns to Regional Council. We had been passing around flyers that described this issue and many councillors were impressed by the number of emails and letters they received from citizens of the neighbourhood.

The Kitchener Post wrote an excellent article about our presentation. Many councillors supported our position that we needed some kind of light at the intersection and certainly something more than the currently proposed “pedestrian refuge island”. In fact, Kitchener councillor Jean Haalboom is quoted as saying “I agree with the residents. I don’t think pedestrians have been given the full thought”.

At the November 21 meeting, council directed engineering and planning staff to meet with members of the MHBPNA executive and possibly modify the current plan to respond to residents’ concerns.

Meeting with Regional Staff:

On Wednesday, December 12, members of the MHBPNA met with city staff to address the issues that have been raised by neighbourhood residents.

Although we thought this meeting was intended to arrive at some compromise, as suggested by Councils’ directive, city staff seemed primarily interested in explaining to us why their original plan for the refuge island is correct, and why our idea of a pedestrian-activated stop light is wrong.

We were told that they have hundreds of requests each year for more pedestrian activated lights and that they had to be “fair” in their process. They said “what if we put a light in and only one person uses it?”. We were told that only that morning someone had called to request a pedestrian light be added on Fairway Road because of the increased traffic due to the newly-opened bridge to Cambridge. And we were given the example of the light on Frederick Street next to the courthouse: apparently this light is not used by many “courthouse visitors” as they run across the street to get coffee and food at the Tim Hortons.

Staff told us that they did not believe the Wilhelm Street crossing would have the 200 crossings a day they would require for a light to be implemented. They also admitted they have done no studies of pedestrian traffic in our area (several days after our meeting they wrote to us and claimed that they did have data which indicated 40 crossings per day, but did not reveal how and when this data was collected). Last week, on a cold and rainy day when few people would be out walking, a car from the Region was observed close to the intersection, apparently collecting more data to bolster staff’s view that we do not have enough traffic to warrant a light.

Staff also told us they believed a pedestrian refuge island was “safer” than a light and directed our attention to this page on their website. The statement they kept repeating was “Studies suggest a traffic signal generally does not improve pedestrian safety. Most pedestrian collisions in the Region occur at signalized intersections, most often while the pedestrian is in the crosswalk and has the right of way.” However, this statement ignores common sense. We all know that accidents do happen. If the majority of pedestrians follow the law, and cross the street at a signal, then where else would pedestrian collisions occur? Of course they will tend to occur where we have the highest concentration of pedestrians!

There are several issues we believe the current plan ignores:

1. If you walk or bike to the “new” Weber Street, with 4 lanes of traffic, would you prefer navigate all those lanes on your own, resting at the “refuge island”, or would you like a light that you could press and force traffic to stop? All of our discussions with neighbours have strongly indicated we prefer a light. What about our children walking across Weber to Margaret Avenue School, KCI or King Edward?

2. The traffic will only increase when the spur line trail is finished. It will “end” at Wilhelm and funnel more bikers and pedestrians to this corner. The current plans are for the trail to turn down Weber Street into the downtown. But a crossing light would encourage more west/east traffic to places like CITS, the Library etc.

3. We want to encourage more use of Lippert Park and believe a stop light on Wilhelm will do that. On a related issue, we were surprised that no one seems to have thought about parking at Lippert Park. Currently, there is a boulevard area where cars can pull over if parents with young children want close access. Although Lippert Park will gain a substantial amount of land when Weber Street is straightened, there are no plans to allow any parking. Staff were not prepared to discuss this at our meeting, but we think it is another important consideration.

4. Pedestrian traffic should be encouraged and prioritized in the downtown area. The Regional Planning staff talk about “safety” quite a bit, but all their plans promote moving more cars through our downtown and not having them slowed down by students walking to school, recreational bikers, or residents visiting one another.

NEXT: WHY WE ARE DIFFERENT (Blog entry to follow….stay tuned)

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