Still no answers for stranded residents
LRT fences cut off vital shortcut to employment, shopping
KITCHENER — More than three years after residents in the Traynor-Vanier neighbourhood learned the LRT would cut them off from nearby stores and services, the low-income neighbourhood is still pleading for a solution from Waterloo regional council.
“In some neighbourhoods, walkability is a hobby, a luxury. In this neighbourhood, walkability is survival, and now people are suffering,” resident Sam Kamminga told regional councillors this week.
The neighbourhood includes seniors, people with mobility issues, students and refugee families from Syria, Nepal, Congo, and elsewhere, most of whom don’t own cars and get around on foot or by bus.
The five-foot fences that line the tracks have turned what used to be a five- or 10minute walk to stores, services and jobs on Fairway Road into a half-hour walk or a trip on two different buses.
Access to Fairway is vital for residents to be able to get to the grocery stores, pharmacy, banks and other services there, and for kids who go to McDonalds or Tim Hortons to access Wi-Fi to do homework, Kamminga said.
“It’s created a big problem for our neighbourhood.”
Hundreds of people used to walk on about a dozen informal paths between the neighbourhood to the commercial strip on Fairway.
Some people are still crossing, and will likely to do so after the trains start running, Kamminga said, showing council a photo of pallets propped against the fence that people use to clamber over it.
“The reality is the residents find ways to make transportation work. They’re not safe. They’re less safe than they were before, and nothing that we will say or do with stop that, short of actually finding a solution,” Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said. “I think it’s incumbent on us to work with the residents group to help find such a solution … We can’t underestimate the need in this community.”
Several councillors worried that a level crossing might be dangerous, since trains will be going by every four minutes on a high-speed section of the LRT. “I think a pedestrian crossover certainly has merit,” said Coun. Geoff Lorentz, who suggested the region has been slow to respond to resident concerns.
“It’s a shame to say it, but it really is an afterthought,” Lorentz said. “It was brought to our attention a couple of years ago and it seems like we haven’t really got very far on it.”
A study by the City of Kitchener is almost complete and the preferred option is a level crossing, said Thomas Schmidt, the region’s transportation commissioner. Hurdles include the need to put in safety gates, and to get an easement, since the properties on Fairway are privately owned.
Schmidt estimated the cost for the crossing could be $1.5 million, adding there’s no funding in the region’s budget for such a crossing. However, the project would meet the criteria for federal infrastructure funding available next spring, he said.
There might be a way to work with businesses to provide a shuttle service from the neighbourhood, suggested Coun. Sean Strickland.
Kamminga said he had mixed feelings after the meeting. He felt that many councillors heard residents’ concerns, but he was frustrated that it seems to be taking so long for a solution.
Since a public meeting in January, residents have had no communication from either the city or the region about the issue, and weren’t notified before a second fence went up last week. He wonders if the issue would have got prompter attention if it had occurred in an area where people were well educated and more comfortable in speaking out.
“The people who live in this neighbourhood, they feel they don’t have a voice to speak out,” Kamminga said. “They don’t have influence.”
Fences line the LRT tracks behind Traynor Avenue in Kitchener, making it difficult for residents to get to Fairway Road.