As followers of this Blog know, our Neighbourhood Association has talked with many people in our area about the proposed Pedestrian Refuge Island at Wilhelm and Weber streets. Almost everyone preferred a pedestrian activated light. Our executive met with regional staff who released a report on Friday, January 26, 2013 that favoured an island over a light. Their report takes our concerns into account only in that they proposed adding the infrastructure for a stop light in the future.
Today (January 29, 2013) Lane Burman and Ted Parkinson presented our Neighbourhood Association's response to this report to the Regional Municipality of Waterloo Planning and Works Committee. We intended to create a much longer written report because there were several problems with staff's logic and numbers. But we wanted to address this committee and explain our main points in person. We worked over the weekend with other members of the executive to produce our short presentation of our main arguments.
Ted Parkinson (MHBPNA Communications Director) discussed how we had been given conflicting information about the number of people crossing (initially staff said they had no numbers, then they said 40 crossed per day but did not give the study information, then they said 70 crossed in 24 hours; they stationed a car there in December when the temperature was 2C and rainy to do a traffic count). He mentioned the vision of our neighbourhood growth and how we were missing an opportunity to encourage pedestrian and bike traffic at an important intersection. The number of crossings will only grow when the rail trail ends there and people start walking from the Victoria Common development. This is an opportunity to think ahead and encourage pedestrian and bike exploration of our area.
Lane Burman (MHBPNA President) discussed school walking patterns and how are area is under-represented with stop lights. He discussed how several pedestrians had been hit by cars while at refuge islands and how we had been given many reasons for not having a light which were misleading. For example, we were told at one point it would cost $250,000 when it is much closer to $50,000. Lane also pointed out we have been given no accurate visual representation of what the island would look like (the diagram in their report is much narrower that we were told it would be). We included the photo below as part of our presentation to show how refuge islands are regularly damaged.
After our presentation we thought council would move on to other business but Mayor Zehr spoke and clarified that the cost of the currently proposed refuge island and infrastructure for a future light would be around $25,000 and the cost of the light would be $50,000. Other Councillors questioned our delegation about the location of Victoria Common, our experiences in the neighbourhood and they asked for supplementary information from staff.
Mayor Zehr eventually proposed striking the first two paragraphs of the report and changing it to recommend putting in a light now. Many councillors spoke in favour of this. Councillor Geoff Lorentz said "if you build it they will come" in response to staff's contention there was not enough traffic to warrant a light at this time. Councillor Rob Deutschmann was the only one who spoke against the proposal. He seemed to feel our association should have stood at the intersection for a few days and provided detailed crossing statistics. However, other councillors praised our delegation and said gathering statistics was not our job. There was a general feeling that the whole Weber Street Expansion has been about getting more cars through the city and that we needed to balance that with the rights of pedestrians.
After about 15 minutes of discussion it came to a vote and a Pedestrian Activated Light was approved! All councillors, except for Rob Deutschmann voted in favour.
This is a great victory for our neighbourhhood. We were expecting much more work ahead on this, and it was remarkable that councillors listened to our presentation and were swayed by it. We also believe all the letters, emails and phone calls of support by you residents made this happen as well. The councillors knew what the residents wanted.
Thank you for all your support and the MHBPNA sincerely thanks all the councillors who listened to us, spoke out for us and voted for a pedestrian light now.
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.
The meeting of the Neighbourhood Mobilization Alliance is Wednesday, January 16th at 7:00 pm to approx. 8:00 pm, in the Conestoga Room of Kitchener City Hall.
The group was formed 13 years ago by a group of neighbours concerned with the illegal activities then going on in the area. It continues to meet every second month, on the third Wednesday of the month. Our agenda now covers a wide range of topics that concern the neighbours. It’s a very informal meeting which include representatives from bylaw, police and fire as well as our ward councillor.
On Dec 28th, 2012 our Mount Hope - Breithaupt Park Neighbourhood Association organized and sponsored a Much Video Dance at the Breithaupt Community Centre on Margaret Ave.
We had times separated for kids 9 and under, then 10 and older. The younger group were treated to such hits as Elmo singing "I'm Elmo and I know it" and other age appropriate videos.
The older group showed a lot of talented dance moves and won t-shirts provided by Much Videos. We had approximately 50 - 60 "youngsters" in attendance throughout the night and the Breithaupt Centre gym proved to be an excellent venue. The event was supervised by centre staff and several volunteers from our neighbourhood. Many parents stayed to enjoy the sight of their kids having fun and to chat with other parents and volunteers.
Everyone had a great time and it was nice to give back to the younger community in a way that they really appreciate. The energy of youth is contagious!
It was our first dance but hopefully not our last. We have learned a great deal about organizing and advertising and event like this and hope to plan more.
Thanks to the volunteers for sharing their time and thanks to all the kids and parents that came out.
See you next time!