A year ago, I was at an event hosted by the Economic Development Department for the City of Kitchener. At a “the sky’s the limit” session, I suggested that the King and Ottawa intersection should be the new King and Victoria. By that I meant that it was another major downtown intersection that was underutilized and had the same potential for the kind of exciting developments that have transformed King and Victoria from down and out to the crown jewel in a revitalized downtown.
King & Ottawa parallels King & Victoria in importance
Earlier, this month I was invited to a session on creating great places along the central transit corridor when I had a eureka moment.
I saw on the map plans for a north-south iXpress on Victoria. As one of the few streets that goes across the city in that direction, it made perfect sense why King and Victoria has become so important to our downtown and central to our new approach to transit.
The only other downtown Kitchener street that plays a similar role connecting Kitchener from Lauckner to Trussler Road? Ottawa Street.
An iXpress route is also planned for Ottawa Street. Staring me right in the face was that King and Ottawa was equally important to the future of downtown Kitchener as Victoria and King. Both play critical roles in connecting Kitchener’s suburbs to its downtown and its downtown to its suburbs.
Put a true people place at King & Ottawa
The coming of the LRT is sure to help transform east downtown Kitchener but I have been trying to get my head around how having two LRT stops on Charles: one at Borden Ave. S. and one at Ottawa St. S. would affect this area. Until one direction of the LRT was changed to Borden Street, I had anticipated the stations to be opposite each other as the current iXpress routes do and looked forward to how that would transform Ottawa Street from Charles to Weber. But I wasn’t as sure this would happen with them at opposite ends of a very long block.
As I sat in the space-making session, I became concerned that Charles Street E. might become the focus of LRT related development to the detriment of King St. E.
Then it hit me! The block bordered by King. E., Ottawa S., Charles E. and Borden S. should be redeveloped in such a way that it includes a successful people place .
Doing so would help make King and Ottawa the next King and Victoria and help promote positive change all along King St. E. from Montgomery to Cedar Street.
How to make King & Ottawa a people place
I learned that the consultants and planners had earlier the same day been giving that area some thought because it will be a key transfer point between buses and the LRT. They were trying to work within the existing infrastructure and I believe having a tough time.
I suggest that the Region of Waterloo look at how this block can be a part of the solution–possibly working with the existing property owners or developers.
There is for example a clear path between King and Charles behind the buildings along Ottawa Street. To my eye, this looks like an excellent opportunity for a mini-bus terminal.
Another, and I suggest a better opportunity, is the paved area in front of the historic Onward Manufacturing building. It could possibly be supplemented by a new street to the west of the building. Adding this street, even if it was just for buses would help break up the long block and make the area more pedestrian friendly as Jane Jacobs would suggest. I’d see a the Borden end of the block to feature a mixed use development of commercial, office and housing.
On the eastern block, I’d look for the office portion of the Onward building and the bank building at King to be incorporated into some sort of public square or park featuring lots of open space.
More than a utilitarian transfer point
Taking this direction would help to ensure the transfer point was not just serving a utilitarian purpose. It would help make this experience more pleasant. Done right, it might even encourage people to decide to spend some time in this area before they carry on to the next part of its journey. In a best case scenario, people would make Ottawa and King/Charles a destination.
Station area can play key role in getting people to Ranger games
The latter is not such a far-fetched scenario as long as the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium complex continues to be the premier indoor spectator facility in the region. Getting this transfer area right can help ensure that public transit plays a significantly greater role in getting people to Ranger’s games and other events at the Aud.
Making this new block a successful people place can help shorten the perceived distance from Charles Street to the Aud. In turn having people walk from Ottawa and King/Charles can help to spur the development of restaurants and sports bars along Ottawa Street towards Weber Street to serve the crowds before and after going to the Aud. The area is close enough that even if you did drive you might prefer to walk to the nearby options. I’d also have a special shuttle to help people who might not want to walk especially in the winter.
With any luck, you’ve had your own eureka moment. Let’s make this happen!