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Getting us from behind the wheel

The future of transportation in Waterloo Region is transit – or at least, more of it.

Making a presentation to Wellesley council Monday night, regional planner Paula Sawicki acknowledged that the car will continue to be the primary mode of transportation in the region for the foreseeable future.
However, more alternatives to automobile transportation are needed, especially as roads in the cities reach the limits of widening.

The new regional transportation master plan – designed to update the last plan completed in 1999 – has been in the works since 2007. The new plan puts more emphasis on transit and alternatives like walking and cycling.

Sawicki explained that the region splurged on building roads in the 1960s and 70s, but what was once excess capacity is rapidly being used up. Some 210 kilometres of major roads in the cities are at or over capacity in the afternoon rush hour. Without any improvement to the road system, by 2031 more than 500 kilometres of road will be congested.

While some roads will be widened to increase capacity, others can’t be; adding more lanes would bring the road right up to people’s front steps, or require removing houses. Building new roads or bypass routes on the edges of urban areas will promote sprawl and make it difficult to restrict growth beyond the countryside line, the study cautions.

Rather than focus on roads or transit exclusively, the draft report opts for a transit-oriented plan with strategic road improvements. The report calls for transit to carry 17.6 per cent of afternoon commuter traffic by 2031, up from four per cent now.

The report acknowledges the difficulty of convincing people to leave the comfort and convenience of their cars. In addition to more transit service, the quality will have to be high and future development planned with transit in mind. The report also proposes limiting the supply of parking and charging for it, so drivers face an immediate out-of-pocket cost.

Whether the emphasis on transit extends to the rural areas depends on the success or failure of the pilot bus route to Elmira that is now in its second year. If bus service to the townships is deemed worthwhile, the logical destinations for future routes would be New Hamburg and Baden, Sawicki said.

The draft report also calls for growth in active transportation like walking and cycling. The 2006 census found that 43 per cent of residents in the Kitchener census metropolitan area (all of Waterloo Region excluding Wilmot and Wellesley townships) live less than five kilometres from their workplace.

While most of the plan’s provisions apply to the urban areas, it was drafted with the rural areas in mind, Sawicki said. Easing congestion while preventing urban sprawl are underlying goals.

“That’s what we were aiming for – to stop the spread.”

The plan will be brought to the region’s planning and works committee for approval June 22.

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