Bike lane makeover for King St.

Allison Leonard

Cyclists and advocates alike gathered in Waterloo City Hall on May 29 for a public consultation of the proposed introduction of segregated bike lanes on King Street.

Delegates from the Region of Waterloo and IBI Group, a consulting firm hired for the project, circled the room, explaining the artists’ renderings that lined the walls.

“This could really brand the city,” says Eric Saunderson, project manager at the Region of Waterloo. “There is a movement in place. Cyclists have been very vocal in that sense.”

Between Erb St. and Central St., the initiative will reduce the current four-lane section and introduce two travel lanes with a centred, two-way left turn lane. North of Central St., a two-lane section with left turn lanes at major intersections will be implemented. This revised streetscape accommodates pedestrian islands and an elevated, segregated bike lane.

“King St. isn’t functioning as a four-lane road today,” said Saunderson. “It has some of the highest collision rates in the region and you’ll often see a vehicle straddling both lanes.”
Attendees’ concerns stretched beyond urban design and focused largely on safety.

Jonathan Baltrusaitis, who made his way through the bulletin boards of information with one son on his shoulders and another in tow, expressed his support for the revised streetscape.

“I’ll be advocating for the most separation we can get. Luke here, [pointing to his son] who is five, got his training wheels off and he’ll start earnestly biking now. The raised curb looks good but a physical separation is even better.”

This sentiment was shared by a cross section of attendees.

“I’ll ride beside traffic without being worried, but [segregated bike lanes] are important for younger people or less experienced cyclists,” said Stephen Denault, 20, a student at the University of Waterloo. “A segregated lane gives physical security from vehicles and especially buses.”

Safety for cyclists, however, does not come without some losses for uptown Waterloo’s current transportation culture. Twenty-two street-side parking spots will be removed from uptown Waterloo, presenting some concern about parking near business fronts.

The Uptown Waterloo BIA was contacted and said they could not provide a comment on the sentiment of King St. businesses due to a lack of information.

David Worsley, co-owner of Words Worth Books located at King St. and Willis Way expects an increase in foot traffic from the changes.

“What’s not to like? If anything, I’m more concerned about LRT, for which the main concern is getting people to malls on time. Every business on King St. is concerned about the ION.”

Though the timing of construction has yet to be determined, Saunderson explained that the Region aims to maintain pedestrian flow at all times by working outside of peak hours and business hours.

“Bike lane advocates say traffic to businesses will increase, that people stay longer,” said Baltrusaitis. “Sure, there will be a few less parking spaces, and that will have some impact, but it was walkability and bikeability that brought my family to Waterloo in the first place.”

The revised streetscape is the second recommendation from the Region and IBI consulting, following a version released in November that had a non-segregated, street level bike lane. Saunderson said next steps include reconvening as project team to evaluate information, look at areas of improvement and develop a third recommendation to present to both city and regional council. The public consultation process will be open for a two-week period. Further input can be submitted online.

Beginning such an initiative in a city centre was described as progressive movement by attendees and Region representatives.

“This will take [cycling] from a subcultural thing to actual part of the city’s culture,” said Denault. “Everyday people on their bikes, getting from point A to point B, having eye contact with people on the street, hearing people talking, interacting – it’ll be a more human city.”