The LRT is scheduled to start operating by the spring, and with that comes concerns about safety for residents who either walk, cycle, or drive around the Region.
“Half the roads around me were redone without a thought to cyclists, or cyclists were an afterthought,” said Emily Slofstra, chair of CycleWR, a community group that promotes cycling and advocates for its safety in the Region.
“I think an extra mode of transportation could be a challenge. Currently I see people biking in the tracks which is very dangerous, because even now the trains are testing.”
Slofstra mentioned that there has been slight improvements for cyclists in the Region since the LRT route construction began.
“Biking through Waterloo along the LRT line has gotten a little bit better. There are some alternative routes,” she said.
“In Kitchener there hasn’t really been anything. They have done some Iron Horse improvements but those are pretty far away from the LRT.”
According to Slofstra, one of the reasons why CycleWR was created was because of how much worse the roads and safety for cyclists has gotten. And so, earlier in October, CycleWR created I Bike, I Vote — a pledge that asked candidates in the Fall 2018 municipal elections to commit to prioritize better safety for cyclists in the Region.
“We actually had 18 of the people who were elected sign the pledge,” she said.
Of those 18, five of them are councillors from Waterloo, five are councillors from Kitchener, as well as Waterloo Regional Chair Ken Seiling and two other candidates from the Regional level. Mayor Dave Jaworsky, Mayor Berry Vrbanovic, and former mayor of Cambridge, Doug Craig also signed, according to Slofstra.
“The biggest difficulty is at the Regional level,” Slofstra admitted. “Regional roads tends to be where the problem lies; the roads are just not built for cyclists.”
The Region’s Manager of Community Relations for the ION Rapid Transit, TJ Flynn, explained that with new technology, it will take a little bit of time for residents to get used to how we move throughout the Region once the LRT is operational.
Flynn said that the Region has been in the works of promoting transit safety to its residents since as early as 2017, before the system and vehicle testing began.
“We kind of kick started it [with] some media releases and messaging online,” Flynn said. “[As] we’ve advanced our [LRT] testing, our safety campaign has advanced as well.”
As of now, some of the initiatives that the Region has done to communicate with its residents about the safety campaign include creating safety booklets — which can be found online — advertise in local media, mass social media campaigns, implementing ION safety posters and signage along the LRT routes, and interacting with residents at community outreach events at schools, community centres, libraries and so on.
The Region has also received input and expertise from local community groups for their safety campaign strategies, according to Flynn.
“We have staff and transportation and [groups like] TravelWise [who] have connections to the various cycling groups in the community,” he said.
Right now, the biggest priority for the Region is making sure that residents become more familiar with the LRT being present.
“We’ve been testing for a number of months now,” Flynn said. “I think it’s beginning to seep into the public conscience about trains in the community and that it’s not something to be afraid of. It’s definitely something that deserves respect and it’s something that we need to be aware of.”
But, Flynn stressed that ultimately, nothing has changed. He also encourages residents to provide more suggestions to the Region to help promote ION safety.
“Our messages are sort of clear — stay off the tracks and stay alert,” he said. “These messages are not new but it’s really important to continue to reinforce those rules.”