Every time someone makes an unsanctioned crossing of the LRT tracks between Traynor-Vanier and Fairway Road, they are protesting the lack of the quick access their neighbourhood had previously enjoyed and has been promised to be restored. These acts of civil disobedience are almost certain to continue into 2020.

While some progress has been made since renewing my advocacy efforts in March, the result remains the same. There are no firm plans in place for a quick, safe crossing to be ready for use in 2019.

Residents held a rally a year ago because they had anticipated a crossing to be in place in 2018 but learned it would not be built until July 2019. They were told that the CAOs of the Region and the City had been requested to expedite the project and staff were targeting spring 2019. Yet as we enter August 2019, the rally has produced no concrete results.

My efforts this year have been to ensure the crossing was ready to use this year. While there is still a slim chance, I have pretty much given up any hope that it will happen.

Here’s why.

Region running out of time

Despite assurances in mid-June that the Region of Waterloo had a near final design ready and a plan to implement it quickly, by mid-July the design had not yet been finalized and there is still no timeline for implementation.

On the upside, staff continue to target fall 2019 for construction of the actual crossing.

But even if it is built, don’t expect anyone to use it this year. I’ve been told that it is “likely that systems integration, testing and commissioning (and opening to the public) will take us into next year.”

A timeline is expected in August but given that as of a week ago the Region had only received “very preliminary feedback” from GrandLinq, I consider it highly unlikely that enough time remains to build, test and open the crossing this year. From my perspective there’s no point building the crossing built this year (presumably before December), if it can not be used until sometime in 2020 (presumably after the winter).

I have asked how the Region plans to enforce that no one uses the crossing for months after it is built but have not received a response.

City still does not own the land it requires

Despite Council approving purchase of the land it requires for a path from the LRT tracks to Fairway Road in mid-June, conveniently just before the LRT launch, the City of Kitchener still does not own the land. Negotiations on associated agreements have continued and are not yet signed.

The city has indicated it is targeting for the path to be built this fall. But without a signed agreement that I had expected to have been in place months ago, I do not believe that is possible.

Why the pessimism?

Staff and elected officials repeatedly assure me that they are working hard on this file and committed to getting it done in 2019. They honestly believe that is what they are doing and one individual indicated they don’t like that I question the sense of urgency. I agree that there does seem to be a concerted effort since the spring to move the project to completion as quickly as possible.

Still I am pessimistic because key project milestones I had expected to be in place in March, are still not in place. So while theoretically it could still happen, it requires the pieces to align perfectly in a way that has not been happening. Nor does there seem to be a plan in place to expedite the project to happen quicker than normal processes would achieve. For example, the preliminary feedback from GrandLinq was received later than I would have anticipated.

Where’s the sense of urgency?

Maybe we have different definitions of what a sense of urgency means. For me, it means making the project a time-sensitive project in the way the unexpected replacement of the Margaret Avenue bridge was. If that was the case, feedback from GrandLinq on what is required after construction before it can be open would have happened before July if construction is to happen in 2019.

Other examples:

  • When city council approved negotiating the land purchase in late August 2019, staff could not do so as a survey was still required to determine exactly which land. Two months after having the CAOs involved and a month after the rally, that should have been in place if spring was being targeted. And even if it wasn’t at least negotiations could have begun in general terms as I am certain the agreements holding the purchase up did not depend on knowing the exact land being sought.
  • The city took the lead on solving the lack of a crossing in August 2016 yet a public consultation was not held until six months later at the end of January 2017.
  • A year later, a report had not gone to Council but residents expected that to happen in March 2018 with construction later that year.
  • The report on the consultations with proposed solutions never went to Council.
  • After the Mayor got the CAOs involved and working towards construction in the spring 2019, they identified the steps that needed to happen but to the best of my knowledge there was no timeline on when each step needed to be accomplished to achieve that goal.

So that is why I have wondered about the sense of urgency. And despite the concerted attempts to get the project done this year, my sense is that the process still is not being treated as urgently as required to be done this year.

SUVs do not belong on the community path

Over the launch weekend, I was disappointed to learn that the private security was posted beside the recently repaired fences that gave access to an informal crossing. There had been no communication with residents by staff or elected officials on the change nor how it was to be enforced.

Note: To the best of my knowledge, there still has been no direct communication with residents on the status of the project.

I was saddened to learn that the security was enforcing the ban on crossing by chasing down people by driving at high speeds along the community path–and in at least one case putting the person inside the vehicle. Thankfully that approach was ended shortly after the launch weekend.

But now security paid for by the Region are driving SUVs on the community pathway to enforce the ban. I understand that the city has given the Region permission for security to regularly drive on what is meant to be the safe alternative to crossing the tracks and is used as a play area for children. I’m told there is a maximum speed of 20 km/h but that still seems to be inappropriate.

These security SUVs do not belong on the community pathway between Wilson and Courtland. If patrolling is necessary, it should be done on foot or using bikes. Just as residents are expected to do.

Get the crossing open ASAP

I’m still hearing people say that the need for the crossing was missed in the planning stages but that the municipal governments have recognized the need, are working on the solution and in the meantime there is a safe alternative. That may have been a valid statement three years ago when residents went public after two years of behind the scenes advocacy but it no longer stands up. There may be lots of good reasons why after so much time the crossing is still in the planning stages but a month after the trains began their much delayed start of passenger service, there is no excuse for why the crossing is not in place.

As the Record stated in an editorial on May 7, build this LRT pedestrian crossing ASAP. And that means having it open for use shortly after it is built.

I’m pessimistic this can happen in 2019. I’d love to be proven wrong.

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