LRT supporters take to the streets

“What do we want?” “Light rail!” “When do we want it?” “Now!”

On June 11, about 200 citizens of Waterloo Region loudly took to the streets at Speakers’ Corner in Kitchener to raise their voices in support of Light Rail Transit (LRT). The second event of its kind, Rally for Rails, drew a large, energetic crowd of families, students and local politicians.

The event was essentially a final push before councillors come together on June 15 to vote on the proposed transit options for the Region. Protest signs such as “Trains are sexy, I’d ride one” and “On LRT, you’d be downtown by now” were dispersed throughout the spirited crowd.

One attendee of the event, Melissa Bowman, was asked why she came out to support the rally, Melissa said she wanted to capture the attention of those who will be partaking in the upcoming vote.

“I think they’re hearing a lot of negative comments about it [LRT], and I wanted them to see there really are people who want this and are showing their support for it here today,” she explained.

As was acknowledged by speaker John Milloy, the MPP for Kitchener Centre, the ongoing discussion on rapid transit has been at heart “… a debate about the future of our region.”

As an open supporter of LRT, Milloy outlined the perceived benefits of the system.

“It’s about linking our region to the rest of the province,” he said. “It’s about making sure that we have an important piece of infrastructure so that we can grow and evolve and prosper.”

A common theme through the speeches that afternoon, dealt with accommodating for the projected growth of the region. Andrew Hilliard, the owner of Wonderful — a website designed to update readers with what’s happening in Waterloo — noted that recent statistics have placed Waterloo Region as the 10th largest community in the country.

“Do we want our new neighbours to take over and increasingly sprawl over our farmland?” he questioned the audience, “Or do we want them to move into our increasingly vibrant cores and create new retail opportunities, new cafes, and new shops?”

Such growth however, cannot come without a price.

The cost of the project, estimated at approximately $800 million, has politicians hesitating and tax payers recoiling. Jan d’Ailly, a former city councillor and Waterloo mayoral candidate, felt that the cost needed to be “put in context of the total regional budget.” He added, “Everything’s been presented as if it’s got to be a tax increase, but if you look, it should really be about a re-prioritization of existing spending.” In comparison to other transit options being considered, LRT is projected to increase property taxes the most.

Community member and mother of three, Daisy Arseneault, was a speaker at the event, and pleaded with councillors to consider the alternative costs of maintaining a car-centred lifestyle.

“What [LRT critics] won’t tell you is the cost of car dependency on our health and wellness,” she began. “What they won’t tell you is the cost of car dependency to our health care bill due to a lack of physical activity, traffic-induced daily stress, and fossil fuel-induced pollution.”

Supporters were strongly encouraged to continue voicing their opinions to local representatives in the final days before the decision, and push less vocal proponents to do the same. With only three days until the vote, it’s remains to be seen whether this open advocacy will be able to sway those in opposition to the LRT.