With 400,000 vehicles for 535,000 people, Waterloo Region has the second-highest rate of car dependence in the country.

king stI love looking at old pictures of Kitchener’s downtown. Depending on the decade the mode of transportation is foot and tram, then car and sometimes bus. In the old pictures, the de-evolution of our city started taking place in the 50’s, and by the 70’s King Street was completely clogged with cars. At one point, there was angle parking along a large part of King Street! It’s hard to imagine how quickly – in two generations – car became king. Suburban shopping malls were built, businesses moved. The core died.

It’s not all bad news. It seems like we’re on the verge of going full circle. I hope so. Kitchener downtown is slowly becoming a city friendly to pedestrians, cyclists and with good sense – a reliable public transportation system that we will love to use. “Slowly” is the key word in that sentence. We’re still building parking garages, have cheap or free street parking – encouraging more cars.

Although, light rail hasn’t become the election issue that some hoped it might, there’s a good political reason for that – it won’t get anyone any votes. Generally, there is a higher voter turnout among older people and they mostly don’t want it. After the election, common sense will prevail, I predict.

Jan Gehl, a world-renowned architect and former University of Waterloo school of architecture instructor says, “the perspective of the pedestrian moving along a street at five km/h is the most important when new developments are planned and approved. In the past 10 years, the paradigm has shifted from city building for cars to cities for people”.

Jan Gehl loves pedestrians, bikes, light rail, city centres for people to gather and live. He says when you make a city pedestrian friendly, streets become busier and safer, cities become more economically sustainable and healthier and residents become more fit.

Some people think that the automobile industry has long conspired with government to make us reliant on the automobile. I don’t know about that, but our perspective has to change sooner or later.

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