Hespeler Road is Among the Worst Places in the World for Pedestrians

March 23, 2010 at 7:09 pm Leave a comment

I agree 100% with Planning Pool regarding their recent recommendation that Hespeler Road be named the third worst road in the world!

Oh the ugly chain store strip!

When the site called the Planning Pool put out the call for nominations Hespeler Road was selected as number three on a list of five.

The most unwalkable places are: Eagle Bend in Jacksonville Florida, Amman, the capital of Jordan, Hespeler Road in Cambridge, Tysons Corner in Fairfax Country Virginia, and Arlington Texas.

Denis Agar nominated Hespeler Road. Agar, who studies urban planning at Ryerson University in Toronto, got to know Hespeler Road while attending the University of Guelph. “It is built for the car not for pedestrians and that’s the problem,” Agar said in a telephone interview. It is a stunning landscape of unremitting sprawl, strip malls, big box stores and parking lots, Agar said.

Hespeler Road carries on average 11,000 to 40,000 vehicles a day, depending on where you are on this long stretch of arterial road. Between 2004 and 2008 there were 45 people struck by vehicles on that roadway. In terms of volume it is in the top 10 per cent of regional roads, Bob Henderson, the region’s manager of transportation engineering, said.

“There is a real move afoot to improve walkability on all our roads—the philosophy has changed,” Henderson. The region did not want to create another Hespeler Road when it recently considered changes to Franklin Boulevard, which runs parallel to Hespeler Road. Drivers called for more lanes and traffic lights at intersections along Franklin. The region rejected that and opted for 11 roundabouts that are safer for pedestrians, and move more vehicles through intersections at slower speeds than traffic lights. When writing about Hespeler Road for the Planning Pool, Agar called it an urban form that we are all familiar with—the chain-store strip.

“I chose Hespeler Road because it has a feeling of endlessness to it. It’s the primary retail centre for a city of 120,000 and it is entirely devoid of public space or atmosphere of any kind,” wrote Agar.

“In 1973, the three towns of Hespeler, Galt, and Preston were merged by the provincial government into what is now Cambridge. All three continue to be small, pleasant walkable communities. But the triangular area between the three became wide open for development, and now we have a city centred around five kilometres of unadulterated sprawl,” Agar wrote. Cities and developers have no more excuses and nobody should be approving and building more Hespeler roads, Agar said in an interview. “We can blame developers from the past, we can blame municipal politicians from the past, but they thought they were doing what was best for their city,” Agar said. “We know better now.”

The City of Cambridge is now reviewing its Official Plan—a massive document that governs land use in the city. And the Ontario government will require all cities to focus at least 40 per cent of new development within existing neighbourhoods by 2015 with its anti-sprawl legislation called Places to Grow.

These provide opportunities to make Hespeler Road a better place flanked by high-density-mixed-use communities serviced by rapid transit, Ken Hoyle, a landscape architect and urban planner, said. “The opportunity is there but I can’t see the City of Cambridge taking advantage of that opportunity,” Hoyle said. Hoyle, who owns a private firm, concurs with the planning students who selected Hespeler Road as one of the most unwalkable places around. “It is a classic example of bad planning,” Hoyle said. “I think it is one of the ugliest roads in North America. From a sustainability perspective it is one of the most unsustainable roads in North America,” Hoyle said. For the most part cities react to proposals from developers, Hoyle said. “We leave it to the developers,” Hoyle said. “There are no initiatives to begin to transform Hespeler Road through a planning process.”

Can the next generation of urban planners, those who currently in university correct the multi-lane blunders of the past?

Agar wants to.

He decided to study urban planning after watching a 2004 documentary called The End of Suburbia — a scathing critique of car-dependent sprawl in an era of declining oil supplies. “In high school I had no idea what urban planning was,” Agar said. For Agar urban planning embraces a lot of his interests — geography, politics and the environment.

But Agar said urban-planning students get mixed messages from university faculty. High-density, mixed-use developments that are walkable and supported by public transit use less land, save energy and are easier to service, they are told in theory classes.

But most developers and municipalities approve new car-dependent suburbs with mostly single-detached homes. “On one hand we are being prepared for the job market and places that are building Hespeler Roads — that is planted in our minds,” Agar said.

Source: TheRecord.com & PlanningPool.com


Entry filed under: Cambridge, Waterloo Region. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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