Waterloo Region's Light Rail Transit- A Missed Planning Opportunity?
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Higher levels of public transit, like the Region of Waterloo's iON, are being introduced throughout South-western Ontario not only to support Provincial Growth Plan legislation, but also to reduce demands on road infrastructure that has reached its capacity during peak periods in many cities. Through legislation like the Places to Grow Act, specific cities are required to meet employment and residential density targets. To do this, the Region of Waterloo concluded that a two-staged Light Rail Transit was the correct path after they reviewed different options. The purpose of this major project, in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters in Environmental Studies, was to see if there were missed opportunities in improving station locations and rider experience because the route was impacted by political, financial or existing infrastructure constraints? Four sections within this major project are dedicated to determining if there were missed opportunities, and if there were, how the Region could have improved the iON. The Region stated within their various promotional materials that their three goals are to move people, limit urban sprawl and protect farmland. Each of the nineteen stations were catalogued and reviewed to see what the Official Plan requires, what is present and finally, its redevelopment potential. Through this analysis, it was determine that the Region wants intensification and mixed-use development along the iON, which is within the Central Transit Corridor. This is a commendable goal to have, but the Region needed to do more to satisfy their goals. If the Region wanted to move people, they needed to have stations that further penetrated residential areas, and most importantly, stations located at both universities. After reviewing Official Plans, Master Transportation Plans, Environmental Assessments and published promotional materials, the Region's true goal with the iON was to spark economic development along the iON route. This is commendable to have, as it will create jobs, but if this was the Region's true goal, their goals should have accurately reflected this. There were missed opportunities in improving the iON in regards to station locations and the rider experience, as the Region's main focus was economic development and not whom will be using the iON. The Region should have clearly explained how the iON will benefit people of different demographics, all of which have different needs, but they did not. Some citizens are confused as to why a LRT was the preferred solution instead of adding more busses to the already existing Grand River Transit, why the City of Cambridge is only receiving trains in Phase Two, funding issues at Provincial and Federal levels, and why the iON has a capital cost of $818 million dollars. These major project questions were important to undertake and answer, as citizens are still confused, some are outraged, and the iON will have an impact, hopefully positive, on the Region regardless of its issues for many years to come.