Iron Horse Trail at risk

Proposed relocation of the Iron Horse Trail to accomodate new condos and parking

A development is being proposed at the north end of the Iron Horse Trail. The proposal includes changing the alignment of the trail connecting Park and Caroline Streets around the buildings such that the trail lies between two parking garages. Others have attempted to share their concerns (see A sanctity of trails, Building a place to go, not go around, and Designing to improve the Iron Horse Trail). I have recently described my reservations about this development in an email to Uptown Waterloo councillor Melissa Durrell. I have included these concerns here. To voice your own, please use the Council contact form provided by TriTAG.

I am deeply concerned about the impacts to the Iron Horse Trail. Speaking from experience, the present connection between the Iron Horse and the Laurel Trails make it far too easy for new residents to lose their way. Relocating the trail further back and behind a tower will only further exacerbate this problem. If any relocation of the trail needs to be done, it should be to restore its natural alignment to connecting directly to the corner of Caroline and Allen. This would make it more visible, direct, and would make a natural connection between the trail and the future Allen LRT station. I believe there is open space around the future 144 Park development to facilitate this connection. 

'Art walk' and anorexic bike path.

I have other concerns about the trail. The proposed drawings show a 2.0 m wide cycling path. This is simply unacceptable. Conventional standards for bicycle paths require 1.5 m in each direction, which would mandate a 3.0 m minimum width path. The drawings also show trees and bushes located directly adjacent to this path. I’m not certain of the City of Waterloo’s standards, but the newly adopted Kitchener trails plan calls for a horizontal clear zone of 0.6 m on each side for primary and secondary trails. And what if pedestrians deviate from their designated area onto the narrow bike trail? There is hardly any room to pass. At Caroline, the trail turns sharply, with a turning radius of what appears to be maybe 3 or 4 m. Again, I don’t know Waterloo’s standards exactly, but the minimum turning radius for Kitchener is 15.0 m. If this radius cannot be met, it would be expected that the trail be widened by at least an additional 1.2 m for this particular curve.

Artist's rendering of 155 Caroline and 144 Park. Parking garage to the south-east conspicuously absent.

The walkway by the Bauer shops acts to channel gusts of wind and runs in the same direction. While there are geometric differences between the two, a re-aligned Iron Horse Trail, squeezed between two parking garages and a tower, the possibility of similar issues worries neighbours. (The wind study concludes that wind speeds will be pleasant, but fails to provide numbers that would back that claim up.) Worse, the trail, which is used year-round, is in line with prevailing winter winds from the southwest. While there are benches in the pedestrian area, I’m not sure why anyone would want to spend time in a dressed-up parking canyon. The few interactions between the building the trail are a private entrance or two and a door to the parking garage. Some windows will face the trail, but at least half of these at the ground level will look into a parking garage. It seems that the natural green beauty of the trail will be torn out and transplanted into a private leisure area up above. The developer is proposing planting new trees in the relocated trail, but these will have to be of a variety capable of surviving with limited sunlight.

A busy parking lot entrance will cross the Caroline Street trail.

The lack of consideration for the trail is made further evident by the obstructions shown in the diagrams. On the Park St side, a tree lies directly in the path of the cycling trail. The trail running along Caroline also has potential obstructions. Placing the entrance to a parking garage across the trail is an accident waiting to happen. I can only imagine an attempt to mitigate potential conflicts at the driveway by putting up ‘stop’ signs for the trail users – an insulting and fatiguing proposition, especially such a short distance from an intersection. More recent site plans reveal on-street parking in front of the second tower entrance, directly adjacent to the trail.

Pedestrians also get short shrift by this proposal. It’s hard to read the drawings, but sidewalks along Park and Allen appear to only be designed to be 1 m wide. Waterloo’s own standards would suggest the minimum should be 1.5 m, but considering the proximity to rapid transit, uptown, and the trail, these streets should be classed as high pedestrian traffic areas and be given a minimum of 2.5 m or greater. Given the plethora of free (i.e. taxpayer subsidized) parking in uptown, the on-street parking on Allen could easily be sacrificed to help accomplish this.

What's next to the proposed trail relocation.

Aside from 3 or 4 new townhomes, I see very little positive interaction with the street, let alone the trail. I recognize that the space is zoned residential, but I feel like you could make the area more of a destination with street-facing shops, instead of merely parking and a vertical cul-de-sac of residences. Mixed use is a very important catalyst for place-making. It would be great if the development could somehow also leverage the trail. I see no reason why you couldn’t have shops or cafes accessible from the trail itself.

Parking is a major concern. I’ve already mentioned the conflict zone crossing the Caroline trail. It seems wholly inappropriate to be putting so much parking in an area that should be able to facilitate car-reduced living. Many amenities are within walking distance, and the site is mere steps away from rapid transit. If we continue to develop with primarily cars in mind, we will hinder our efforts to facilitate travel by healthier modes. If, in spite of this, we succeed in reducing car use, we will still have missed out of the potential of a vibrant, active street space. I realize municipal parking minimums are a driving factor in why this development requires so  much, but they act as a public subsidization of automobile use. If we are serious about transit- and active transportation-oriented development in this area, we should be seeking to reduce, if not abolish, these minimums. The need for parking can also be mitigated by the inclusion of amenities such as car sharing.

Compounding the parking concerns are the traffic concerns that neighbourhood residents no doubt share. Park and Caroline are not designed for heavy traffic.

In summary, I don’t believe the developer’s assertions that 155 Caroline will benefit trail users, nor do I believe mere transit proximity can overcome the inevitable pitfalls of car-oriented development. 

For those of you still with me, I encourage you to help TriTAG preserve and improve the trail and the neighbourhood by proposing better designs for use of the parcel of land in question.