From driverless cars to the increasing abundance of ride-sharing services like Uber, big changes are coming that will have a significant, if unclear, impact on how the Region of Waterloo plans future roadways.
Those changes are being taken into account as the region updates its transportation master plan, which guides how transportation would be handled in the region until 2041.
Speaking to Wellesley councillors last week, Steve van De Keere, director for transportation in the region, said the region expects the most significant changes in the cities, while for the Township of Wellesley, the plan was to stay the course for the next several decades.
“Driverless cars are coming,” said van De Keere. “They’re already testing them on Ontario highways, they’re being tested heavily in the U.S., and so they are coming whether we like them or not. There’s good things and there’s potentially some challenges with driverless cars.”
Potentially, the use of driverless cars could see fewer cars owned per family as members share the same vehicle. However, how this would affect road traffic and congestion in the area remains to be seen.
“There’s some thought that they will actually create more traffic congestion rather than less,” van De Keere noted. “Because of if everybody had one, they could have it drive them to work and the car potentially could drive back home back by itself. So now that’s two trips at the same time in the morning instead of one trip. Instead of driving to work and parking.”
In the township, the plan was to continue to maintain the rural roads as they are, while increasing the amount of bicycling routes.
“In Wellesley, there aren’t any expansion projects in the master plan because there’s no significant growth identified that would require expansion of the roads, new roads or widening existing roads,” said van De Keere.
“So basically the plan for staff with respect to Wellesley is to keep an eye on traffic volumes, look at strategic intersection improvements, where they’re warranted. To keep an eye and make sure we accommodate special vehicles, whether they be horse-drawn buggies or large farm equipment.”
In response to a question from Coun. Peter van der Maas, van De Keere said that the region was considering ways of implementing a public transit route in the township. One possibility, he said, was to subsidize a ride-hailing service in the township, such as Uber, rather than provide a dedicated bus or train route.
“It’s been tried in other cities in Ontario, I think Innisfil has implemented a subsidized ride-hailing. So let’s say you want to take a ride to the GO station, the municipality actually subsidizes the rider so they get a break on the Uber costs to take a ride to the GO Train station. Rather than providing a transit service at great cost to fulfill that same need. So that’s an innovative way to supply a service without investing heavily in infrastructure,” he said.
Other possibilities included an on-demand transportation service by Grand River Transit (GRT).
Mayor Joe Nowak questioned if the Kiwanis Transit bus service could be expanded to Wellesley, which van De Keere said was an option.
“That could be possible,” van De Keere. “It’s certainly not going to be as fast and convenient as a regular route but it’s a good start.”
Nowak also questioned van De Keere on four intersections in the township that he said were a major concern to residents. Those were the intersections between Hergott and Lobsinger, Gerber and Queens Bush, Gerber and Nafziger, and Nafziger and Queens Bush. Nowak added that the Lobsinger intersection in St. Clements was more of an immediate concern with the addition of a factory in the area.
Van De Keere noted that the intersections had been assessed but did not have sufficient traffic to warrant signals. However, he said they could perform another count in St. Clements next year to take into account the traffic from the factory.