As I wrote in this article, members of the MHBPNA met with Regional Staff on December 12 to discuss the Weber Street Widening and the Wilhelm Street crossing. At that meeting staff told us that, despite all the concerns expressed by residents, their current plan with a “pedestrian refuge island” in the middle of four lanes of traffic was really the best option; they were not interested in our request for a pedestrian activated light. They told us they have several hundred requests for stop lights each year and they must be “fair” and our request did not match their paramaters. They said “what if only one person used that light?”
Meeting with Regional Staff, continued from this article.
We have had many conversations with neighbours and the overwhelming desire is for a stop light so the crossing is clearly marked.
Staff gave us a couple of examples to provide some context: they said there is an existing light on Frederick Street and Otto and that many people using the Courthouse cross Frederick illegally to use the Tim Hortons and ignore that light. Another example they offered was a recent request for a pedestrian stop light on Fairway Road which has become busier now that it crosses a bridge into Cambridge.
These two examples show a large gap between Regional Staff’s perspective and our lived community experience (for example, the first questions John MacDonald asked were “how do you experience your neighbourhood?” “Where do you walk?” The Region has never asked us those questions). Frederick Street is a busy downtown street and Fairway Road is a major commuter route in an entirely different neighbourhood. How could anyone think these examples are comparable? We are asking for a pedestrian activated stop light to maintain the “pedestrian friendly” nature of our area but staff’s position is “we have to be fair to everyone and your request doesn’t match our rules”.
Our Neighbourhood = Different, Unique, Pivotal, Vibrant
So here are some examples of why our neighbourhood is different from many other areas in the city:
1. We are a downtown neighbourhood where shopping, cultural performances and two urban centres are easily accessible through walking and biking. Many of the people living and moving into this neighbourhood expect to be able to walk around safely. People choose to live downtown because they want a bike and pedestrian friendly experience. If you live around Fairfield road you understand it is a commuting area and it has several “enclosed” neighbourhoods with parks and walking trails. In the Mt. Hope – Breithaupt Park neighbourhood you can easily walk to downtown Kitchener for the Blues Festival, or over to Centre In the Square for a musical or symphony concert. We wish to continue to encourage walking and cycling.
2. We have three schools in our area: Margaret Avenue, Kind Edward and KCI. Students from all these schools cross Weber, some alone and others with their parents. We believe a stop light at Wilhelm and Weber would make this crossing much safer for our children and that navigating four lanes of traffic, with an island in the middle, would discourage some families from walking to school. What crossing experience would you prefer for your children?
3. The Weber Street widening has many positive elements, but it is placing a huge divide in the middle of our neighbourhood. It will make it more challenging to maintain our West/East contacts and the region owes it to us, the taxpayers, to make this multi-million dollar project as friendly as possible. Despite the increased traffic, we live here and want this area to remain friendly to walking and biking and true to the philosophy of Kitchener’s Pedestrian Charter.
4. We have a neighbourhood with a rich history; it was Kitchener’s original “industrial suburb” and is currently being reinvented with the Tannery, Breithaupt Block, Victoria Common and other developments. It is so interesting and amazing that we have led four years of Jane’s Walks to share our area with ourselves and others!
5. Wilhelm street could become an exciting pedestrian and biking hub. We believe a stop light will encourage people to cross here and direct bike traffic eastward towards the library and CITS. There will also be hundreds of additional neighbours living at Victoria Common who should be encouraged to walk westward. The current plan for the Rail Trail is to funnel cyclists southward along Weber and into the Kitchener downtown. Let’s be a little visionary and think ahead to what our neighbourhood will be like in five years.
The Road Ahead:
Regional Staff will release their report on our request for a stop light on January 25th and it will be available publicly. The MHBPNA Blog will provide a link to it. The Regional Public Works committee meets on the morning of January 29th and members of the MHBPNA executive are planning on attending and presenting our perspective.
Adding a pedestrian activated stop light to this crossing does not add very much to the cost of the project and there are many opportunities to pursue this goal in the months ahead. It would be a lot easier if staff would be persuaded by the arguments and wishes of the residents who know how we use our streets. But if this is not the case, then we intend to continue pressing this issue. Thank you to everyone who has contacted their Regional Councillor to express their opinion.