The City of Waterloo is a lower-tier municipality in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo approximately 100km west of Toronto. Having key staff and Council members champion Complete Streets made Waterloo a pioneer and the second municipality in Canada to adopt a Complete Streets policy.
In April 2012, the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT), a project of Clean Air Partnership, released the Complete Streets Gap Analysis: Opportunities and Barriers in Ontario. The report included a case studies on three Canadian municipalities that have made progress towards adopting Complete Streets: Thunder Bay, Waterloo, and Calgary. These case studies highlight that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to achieving Complete Streets, rather a variety of different strategies may work depending on community context. This research was made possible with funding from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.
Transportation Policy Context
Since 2010, the staff at the City of Waterloo have been capturing some of the key elements of Complete Streets when working on individual projects. For example, Caroline Street, Bearinger Road, and Davenport Road have all received a Complete Streets makeover in some shape or form at varying degrees of cost. Changes on these roads include but are not limited to, the addition of pedestrian islands, new and improved striping for cyclists, boulevard landscaping, traffic signal adjustments, lighting improvements, and new multi-use trails.
Coordination between the Regional Municipality of Waterloo and the City of Waterloo as well as integrated policy documents at the municipal level has created a strong environment to enact Complete Streets in the city. For example, without adopting the actual term ‘Complete Streets’, the Regional Municipality of Waterloo (which includes, among other municipalities, Waterloo, Kitchener, and Cambridge) has clear language supporting the adoption of a Complete Street approach. Furthermore, the City of Waterloo has put emphasis on aligning its major policy documents towards a Complete Streets approach to encourage uniform adoption across the City (e.g., aligned language and goals between the Transportation Master Plan, Cycling Master Plan, Official Plan).
Communication with the public and productive dialogue between City departments and key stakeholders (such as the City’s Advisory Committee to Council) were critical to Complete Streets policy in Waterloo. The ability to present its policy at conferences and forums, such as TCAT’s 2011 Complete Streets Forum, and the opportunity to work with the Complete Streets Advisory Committee, set up by the City of Waterloo, have been important factors in Waterloo’s Complete Streets policy development.
Barriers to Complete Streets
Despite all of this impressive progress, Waterloo still faces barriers when trying to turn Complete Streets policy into common practice. For example, insufficient resources and limited capital and operating budgets restrict opportunities to develop and implement much-needed programs and sub-policies the city needs to support the wider adoption of Complete Streets.
Waterloo’s successful road diet retrofits ranged between $100,000 and $3 million (e.g., Caroline Street, Bearinger Road, and Davenport Road), but were taken through recent Infrastructure Canada stimulus funding programs. City capital funding sources remain limited, therefore a focus on securing more municipal funds while enacting other measures to reduce costs, such as lane width reductions to create more space for bike lanes, must be explored.
Opportunities and What’s Next?
After passing a Complete Streets policy, understood to be the first in Ontario, the City of Waterloo is now moving forward with putting this policy into practice. Over the next few years, Waterloo is poised to provide some of the best policy-to-practice examples of what well-written and well-implemented Complete Streets policy can do to transform a community.
Waterloo’s Transportation Master Plan (TMP) was officially approved by Council in April 2011 and uses Complete Streets as the overarching policy direction for transportation in the City. Building upon this major policy achievement, the second draft of the Official Plan review contains Complete Streets language to support the TMP and will head to Council for approval later in 2012.
Waterloo’s approach to Complete Streets includes many of the necessary elements of a strong Complete Streets policy including planning, design, operations, implementation, and maintenance prioritizing pedestrians’, cyclists’, and transit users’ needs in all seasons. A key recommendation of the TMP was the hiring of a staff resource to manage various aspects of the Complete Streets policy and associated programs, such as data collection, monitoring, and reporting to determine success, where, and by how much. The 2011 Transportation Tomorrow Survey results will be published later in 2012, which will help Waterloo identify what changes have occurred in active transportation over the past 5 years, including Complete Streets, by helping to measure the actual impacts of street changes.
Statistics Canada (2012). Waterloo, Ontario (Code 3530016) and Waterloo, Ontario (Code 3530) (table). Census Profile. 2011 Census. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 98-316-XWE. Ottawa. Released May 29, 2012. http://www12.statcan.gc.ca/census-recensement/2011/dp-pd/prof/index.cfm?Lang=E (accessed August 22, 2012).
Davenport Road in Waterloo, Ontario was one of nine Complete Streets projects profiled in Complete Street Transformations.
Before the redesign, Davenport Road was in poor condition (it was built in the 1970s). The layout contributed to speeding and car accidents. At the same time, pedestrians and cyclists commonly used the road to reach Conestoga Mall and nearby neighbourhoods. A traffic study completed in 2006 recommended a number of traffic calming solutions as well as bicycle facilities to address the problem. In April 2006, Waterloo Council gave their support to the recommendations. Two public information sessions were held for this study to provide the community and area stakeholders input into the final outcome (City of Waterloo, 2011). The Davenport Road redesign was made possible through the Build Canada Fund. The goal of the redesign was to: reduce automobile collisions, implement cycling infrastructure as directed by the cycling master plan, encourage active transportation by connecting two residential neighbourhoods and a regional shopping mall by installing multiple crossing opportunities, and provide transit improvements through bus pads and shelters.
- Painted bike lanes and bike box for safer cyclist turns
- Four traffic lanes converted to two with a median sometimes giving way to a centre turn lane
- Landscaped centre medians, pedestrian refuge islands, and a roundabout
- Improved pedestrian crossings at intersections
- New curb ramps to improve accessibility
- Over 300 trees and other vegetation planted
- New bus shelters and transit pads
- Collision rate declined from 16 per year from 2004 to 2008, to 12 collisions per year from 2012 to 2014.
- Automobile operating speed (85th percentile) has dropped from over 70km/h in 2005, to between 62 to 66 km/h in 2015. Average speeds have dropped as well, and are now closer to the 50km/h limit.
Transportation Plan | 2011
Complete Streets was adopted by Waterloo City Council as the overarching policy within the Transportation Master Plan, April 2011, intended to support the City’s strategic vision of a “City that is truly accessible to all”.