Back in the very early days of this blog, I wrote an article outlining my concerns with the hiking and cycling infrastructure in Kitchener-Waterloo (read the full post here). My perspective did generate some negative feedback from my readership; the gist of my concerns being the unsafe conditions caused by multiple roadways dividing up the Iron Horse Trail, the limited extent of this trail, and the negative visceral reaction that I have to the trail’s aesthetics.
Although I do not want to rescind these comments entirely, I think that I need to return to the subject with fresh eyes. When I wrote this post in September 2013, I was freshly returned from a great summer in Woodstock, Ontario, where I was spoiled by the closely-knit, small-town atmosphere. The Region of Waterloo, as it is known, is quite a different beast and has very unique challenges as a result.
The Region of Waterloo is comprised of the cities of Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, all of which are part of a larger, fast-growing Census Metropolitan Area (CMA); including Barrie, Guelph, Dufferin, and Simcoe regions, this CMA represents 9.5% of the provincial population (Ontario Chamber of Commerce, 2014). Economic drivers for the Region of Waterloo include a large high-tech sector, auto manufacturing, and agriculture (Ontario Chamber of Commerce, 2014). To manage the influx of people and wealth brought in by the over 1,000 technology firms settling in the area, growth management plans and monitoring reports are regularly commissioned (e.g. Kitchener’s Growth Management Plan) (Ontario Chamber of Commerce, 2014).
These changes are occurring within a pre-existing urban form; consequently, there is relatively little that can be done to directly improve the state of hiking and cycling infrastructure within the Region of Waterloo. Instead, research reports (e.g. Urban Form, Physical Activity and Health, 2005) focus on taking full measure of citizen’s activities, behaviors, and attitudes surrounding walking and cycling in the region. Recommendations can be drawn out of these research reports for creating small improvements to transit connectivity, neighbourhood cohesion, and aesthetics (Fisher, 2005). The CMA is also attempting to meet urban planning standards set at the provincial and national level – in particular, the Ontario Place’s to Grow policies have had a significant impact on regional planning (see the Visualizing Densities, 2007 report, for example).
Between the substantial population- and industry-related changes occurring within the Region of Waterloo and the impact of past urban planning decisions, it was erroneous of me to compare the Iron Horse Trail to any other hiking/biking trail in a Canadian city without the proper background context. I’ve also had a cognitive shift from expecting beautiful, untouched nature (or at least mature trees) along the trail, to enjoying the grunge and ‘urban’ feel of the Iron Horse Trail. There have even been some recent structural improvements to the trail, which I feel bode well for its future usage levels by pedestrians and cyclists (see also details on active transportation plans in the region here).
My pictures of the Iron Horse Trail, taken on Wednesday, April 23rd, 2014, are below.