Initially developed in the Netherlands, woonerfs are designed as “living streets” that promote walking and cycling while slowing vehicle speeds.
The City of Waterloo celebrated the Larch St. woonerf project’s opening on Oct. 28, 2022 with an official ribbon-cutting ceremony. Dave Jaworsky, mayor of Waterloo; Jeff Henry, councilor for Ward 6 in Waterloo; Bardish Chagger, MP for Waterloo and other city officials spoke at the event.
The Larch St. woonerf is part of the North Dale streetscape master plan to offer solutions to improve public spaces and encourage the use of active transportation.
The woonerf streetscape also includes bike racks, landscaping and seating areas to encourage people in the neighbourhood to gather and enjoy the space.
Kyle Bossie, project manager, said the street is designed to slow vehicle traffic. The woonerf uses a combination of concrete seat walls along the vehicle portion of the road and a serpentine alignment to make the road feel narrower to drivers. The road portion is composed of two different colours of concrete and pavement to show that the road is more than a thoroughfare for cars.
“The alignment of the road breaks the line of sight and forces vehicles to turn. There’s street furniture to encourage pedestrian usage and flight tracks to encourage cycle usage. All of these features were designed and installed with sustainability in mind, making a better space for those who come after us,” Bossie said.
The Government of Canada provided funding for the project through the Canada Community-Building Fund. MP Chagger said the investment of $484,000 for the project brings an innovative urban design to life that keeps pedestrians and cyclists safe and encourages active transportation.
The woonerf project is the result of over a decade of work. In 2010, Waterloo city council approved a motion to study and recommend a plan for the Northdale neighbourhood. The neighbourhood was transitioning from post-war single-family homes to student housing for the growing enrollment at Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.
The 2010 motion led to the creation of the Northdale Land Use and Community Improvement Plan Study, which was approved by Waterloo council in June 2012.
Today, Northdale has a mix of apartments, condos and houses with a combination of families and students.
As councillor for Ward 6, Henry said the community consultations showed that residents were looking for a different approach to envision the neighbourhood.
“We convened a community task force and for the next year and a half, the city, university administrators, students, local neighbourhoods and people in the housing industry worked together to create a new vision for Northdale—a place that would be a sustainable urban district with diverse housing options,” Henry said.
Larch St. runs between the Lazaridis School of Business and the Northdale Campus of Wilfrid Laurier.
Henry said the current plan is for the Northdale Campus to be demolished and replaced with a community hub with a new Waterloo Collegiate Institute, Laurier campus and a community space.
Ron Ormson, commissioner of integrated planning and public works for the City of Waterloo, said that the opening of the woonerf demonstrates the city’s commitment to innovative solutions.
“This is the opposite way of thinking about a street, with cars being secondary to pedestrians and cyclists. It’s easy to do the same thing we’ve always been doing, and this is a little risky, but it does feel good,” Ormson said.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.