Why the bike lanes in Waterloo are problematic

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Image by Sidney MacDonald

The summer of 2019 meant many changes for the Waterloo community — one of the biggest and most well known being the road changes that occurred.

King Street from the intersection of Columbia and King to Bridgport Road used to be two car lanes, but during the summer months the City of Waterloo changed to make the road one lane with space between cars and bike lanes. Other bike lanes have also been added onto other major roads like Albert Street and University Avenue.

The idea of having bike lanes around the universities is something that makes a lot of sense, but it does not come without faults, as a driver and a pedestrian, I think I can speak to the things that I see on a daily basis travelling around Waterloo.

Since the changes on King Street have occurred, new and old drivers might not have noticed them, I know it took me by surprise when I got back after summer.

There is not a time where I am stopped at the lights at the intersection at King and University where a car is not parked in between the lanes because they are unaware of the changes.

This then gets messy when the lights change and both vehicles that were stopped side by side try to go through the intersection.

This is something I see as rather dangerous — if both cars do not notice each other, than an accident is bound to happen.

Within the last month, the City of Waterloo has also been adding other objects to block cars from being able to pull into the bike lanes. On Albert, we see the addition of empty flower beds.

On Columbia, there are poles with the city’s logo on it, and on King Street and University, we see the addition of curbs to separate the lanes.

I see these barricades being an issue for two major reasons: one being just something that annoys me and the other being more legitimate.

With the addition of these mechanisms, it makes it more difficult to do right-hand turns, especially on one-way streets.

Let’s use the intersection of Albert and University as an example. The road is one lane for its majority – at this intersection it does have a designated left-turn lane with the normal lane allowing for cars to continue going straight or turn right.

Since cars are not able to move closer to the right curb when turning and we live in a city where people are always walking, a traffic jam is caused as no one is able to get through the lights with great timing.

The other thing that these dividers do is make it more difficult for people to pull over for emergency vehicles. Again, using Albert as an example, there is literally no room for any car on either side to move slightly over to let emergency vehicles through. And if there is an accident, I see that this is likely to become more difficult.

Also now that the first snowfall has happened, I’ve felt the more unsafe driving in Waterloo than ever before.

Just yesterday I was in the right lane on University Avenue and one of the cars in the left lane was going faster than me and was halfway in my lane. Without the barricades, I would have just shifted slightly into the bike lane (since its a snow storm and I didn’t believe many people would have been biking), instead I thought I was either going to get sideswiped by a minivan or crashing into the barricades.

It’s dangerous to have these mechanisms right now, as people still are not used to them and it’s now snowing, which causes people to become worse drivers.

It’s not only cars that I see having an issue with the new lanes and such — as I routinely see bikes using the sidewalk as their lane since they know that cars are not used to the new changes or do not know about them, leaving the bikers to be vulnerable to accidents.

I know that this plan is something that Waterloo wanted to implement a while ago, and I’m not saying that it was a horrible idea.

I believe that a better design would have helped to improve the issues I see.  Also, I understand that these changes occurred during the summer when a lot of the students were not in Waterloo, but there should be more of a focus on letting the community know that there are changes being made, so student drivers are made more aware.

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