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News - All - 17 Jul 2019

News Item 100 of 4672 

Miscellaneous: 17 Jul 2019
Fairway station ‘an absolute disaster’ for disabled

Paula Saunders, who is on the Grand River Accessibility Advisory Committee, says the Fairway station in Kitchener is difficult to navigate for someone with mobility challenges. - Peter Lee , Waterloo Region Record

KITCHENER — Looking around the Fairway station, Paula Saunders spots endless obstacles for people with mobility or vision issues.

"It's an absolute disaster," Saunders says.

Long before light rail's launch, Saunders helped audit the accessibility of Ion stations as a volunteer with the Grand River Accessibility Advisory Committee, which provides advice to local municipalities on removing barriers.

Because it was then under construction, Fairway didn't get checked out until the morning of the June opening ceremony at the Kitchener terminus.

Saunders wasn't impressed when she visited this week.

"No direction, no indicator as to where you're supposed to go," said Saunders, looking across the station from one of two bus areas flanking the Ion line.

The intended way between the transit areas is unclear, with many pedestrians walking on the roadway beside the Leon's store where Grand River Transit buses and delivery trucks drive instead of using a painted crosswalk at the far end of the Ion platform.

The path gets even tougher to discern for those going to Fairview Park mall, as the crosswalks are disjointed or disappear where pedestrians need to navigate several lanes with vehicles coming from all different directions.

"It's not just an issue for a person with a disability," Saunders said. "Really when you break it down, it's not safe for anyone."

For people with mobility issues like Saunders who requires a wheelchair, the shortfall of curb cut-outs further limits the routes they can take and often keeps them on a roadway.

"There is nothing dedicated," Saunders said.

Buses used to stop at a bank parallel to the Hudson's Bay entrance. Passengers going to the mall only had to use a crosswalk over two lanes. Now the transit station is closer to Fairway Road, making for a longer — and indirect — route to the mall.

"I do agree it's not a straight line," said Peter Zinck, director of transit services for Waterloo Region.

The region plans to make some adjustments to the station, including adding a pedestrian connection between the Ion platform and the area closest to Fairway where there are bus stops and parking.

Now those are separated for a long stretch by a glass barrier and grade difference. The region is finalizing a design for a walkway that creates a more direct route.

"We're trying to put this crossing in right in your line of sight," Zinck said.

The region was aware of the issue during the design of the area, but the separate components of the station and the available space made the design a challenge. Light rail trains also need much longer platforms than buses.

Zinck said the mall is undergoing renovations and the owner plans to put in a pedestrian crossing where buses used to stop to help make the path simpler and more straightforward.

"It is a bit convoluted how you get from one to the other if your destination is the mall," Zinck said.

He added that for people headed to the mall, bus stops on nearby streets are closer to a mall entrance.

Zinck acknowledged it is now more of a trek for mall visitors.

"It was hard to beat the location before," he said. "Our ability to make that shorter is somewhat limited."

Other changes to transit since the launch of Ion have created new challenges, says John Schreiter of Kitchener.

"They've taken quite an effective system and made it longer to get anywhere and more complicated," said Schreiter, who has low vision and depends on transit.

Many bus routes and stops changed after the launch of light rail, when the transit system switched from a hub-and-spoke model to a more gridlike network connected to Ion stations.

Schreiter finds it takes longer to get to a destination. Instead of one bus he now has two or three transfers and often a lengthy walk.

"Who they're hurting are the disabled," Schreiter said.

Zinck said the changes have improved routes for some people, and made other routes less direct, though he believes overall the changes are an improvement.

"I certainly can't say everything is better than before," Zinck said.

People can contact the call centre to speak with someone who will offer help with planning a route, and guidance through the changes.

One big wrinkle is major construction projects which are causing many detours for the new routes — adding to the confusion and delays.

Zinck said the region is always trying to improve its transit system and appreciates feedback about routes and the online trip planner. Now that the realigned routes are up and running, transit staff hope to increase service and adjust routes as needed.

"Our plan is to build on this change."

Twitter: @WeidnerRecord

by Johanna Weidner Waterloo Region Record/AA

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