View Full Version : Rethinking the Hespeler Road strip - 2005 Concept Plan

Feb 1, 2008, 7:15 PM

Feb 1, 2008, 7:48 PM
Man, that would be so cool. However, in order to make it work, I think you have to consider the historical context of Hespeler Road and how it evolved.

The main factors that led to the development of the strip were:

1) Growth in the suburban population, between the three original downtowns, which were at the time, vibrant retail centres that served each part of Cambridge.

2) Car-oriented development of housing and industry led to the car-oriented development of Hespeler Road. The pedestrian and transit were an afterthought.

3) Now that Hespeler Road has become the geographic centre of Cambridge and contains the lion's share of the city's non-neighborhood level retail, the downtown cores have become obsolete. Yes, there's been some recovery in downtown retail, but much of it is either specialty retailing (independent cafes and restaurants) or neighborhood serving retail (barber shops, convenience stores) within walking distance. Without gentrification and housing growth, things would have deteriorated further. Hespeler Road is Cambridge's "suburban downtown", so to speak. Not only that, but it's a regional retail centre for the whole Golden Triangle area.

4) A convenient stopover for people travelling along the Windsor-Quebec City corridor. Rather than going to the next service centre, people can take the Hespeler Road exit, grab a bite to eat (there's a ton of options), and put themselves up in a hotel for the night. It makes for lots of tax revenue coming into the city. Far more than any of the downtowns bring in.

Understanding this, we have to work within these limitations. Hespeler Road is a major throughfare the city, which means it still needs to be kept fairly wide. We can't limit parking entirely. One idea I have is a transit terminal at the Power Centre. Out-of-town shoppers have the option of parking there and taking BRT between the 401 and downtown Galt. On each side of Hespeler Road, we could have a BRT lane, 2 lanes of regular traffic, and a grand median in between them. Since neighboring areas to the strip are industrial, NIMBYism is not a concern. I say we really go highrise on this one.

Another thing to take into consideration though (mostly in the mall and power centre), is that some of the larger stores (the Bay, Zellers, Wal Mart, Future Shop, etc) work on a volume basis and simply will not work without massive parking lots. Also consider the expropriation process...the only part that might actually spark a lot of temper with business owners.

All of this said, I still think the LRT should be going down King Street, not Hespeler Road.

Feb 2, 2008, 12:24 AM
^Very well put Waterloo Cambridgite, however, I don't want Hespler road to gain the image as another Mississauga, dominated by generic highrise developments and expansive parking lots. There is no doubt in my mind that big box stores will be reluctant to give up their parking lots, as you mentioned, and that it will remain a car dominated atmosphere, but something needs to be done to improve pedestrian friendliness along the corridor. The main long term way I see of solving this is to physically grade separate local traffic from through traffic, and the implementation of bus lanes.

Feb 2, 2008, 1:11 AM
Yikes!; Rethinking the Hespeler Road strip - It can be done, planners say
2958 words
19 February 2005
Kitchener-Waterloo Record (javascript:void(0))
Copyright (c) 2005 Kitchener-Waterloo Record.

Everyone seems to have a reason to complain about Hespeler Road. It's a traffic mess with too many stoplights. It's an ugly place where pedestrians must watch their backs. It's an embarrassing example of automobile-centric planning that paints the city as a suburban backwater.

Some local visionaries, however, hope to transform this urban wasteland to an urbane centre that will be home to thousands of people. Hespeler Road could be a vibrant neighbourhood, they say.

Some day.

On desks in the planning departments of the City of Cambridge and Region of Waterloo, the first steps to remake Hespeler Road are being sketched out. Whether the dreams become a reality will depend on political will, getting changes to provincial planning rules and convincing businesses and land owners to put up money to make it happen.

"I think it's a great idea we do something. In my opinion, it's become a bit of a blight," says Paul Spencer, president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce.

"It's really a gateway to the city . . . you're intimidated with a sear of bright lights, confusing signs that go on forever. Just in general, I think it's an eyesore."

Cambridge council has started its five-year review of the city's official plan. Included in the process is something new: the beautification and reurbanization of Hespeler Road.

At Waterloo Region's administration centre in Kitchener, planners see Hespeler Road as a key part of a vision for growth across the region.

Today's sea of stores and sterile parking lots could be transformed by 2040 with homes for tens of thousands of people and with more shopping and entertainment options than exist today. It could all be supported by a light rail transit line down the middle of the road.

Hespeler Road is administered and maintained by the regional municipality, but Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig is pushing a co-operative city-region vision. The city controls land uses along the six-lane road, but its development rules must dovetail with the region's plans.

"I want it to be the prototype for the rest of the region," Craig says.
Regional planning commissioner Larry Kotseff shares Craig's optimism that Hespeler Road could be much more than it is today.

Starting points for discussion of Hespeler Road's future -- and some computer-generated images showing the possibilities -- should be ready by spring, so they can be considered at public meetings as the Cambridge official plan is reviewed over the next 18 months.

Even as Craig promotes the future of Hespeler Road, he is careful to say its transformation won't be at the expense of the city's historic core areas, which have long fretted over the growing commercial dominance the Highway 24 strip.

The Galt, Preston and Hespeler downtowns have historic ambiance that should be envied by developers along the strip, Craig says.

"The core areas offer that sense of stability and longevity. I think Hespeler Road will achieve that some day," he says. "This is not something to fear.

It's something to embrace because it's only going to make property values higher and make the (Hespeler Road) area more of a magnet for the entire area."

Cambridge is home to a gleaming new touchstone of community design. The University of Waterloo School of Architecture opened last fall in a converted textile factory building beside the Grand River in historic old Galt .

But many visitors have to endure Hespeler Road to get there.

"We have this extraordinary environment of a heritage building, yet we're surrounded by sprawl city," says Rick Haldenby, director of the school.

"People have never failed to mention the ugliness of Hespeler Road."

Some colleagues from Toronto who regularly visit the architecture school spurn the strip, Haldenby says.

Instead of exiting Highway 401 at Hespeler Road, they drive two interchanges west to exit at Homer Watson Boulevard. From there, they take Fountain Street to Blair Road and enter Galt by the back door.

Haldenby says the school is ready to help eliminate the embarrassing welcome that most visitors to Cambridge endure.

"We're interested in it and quite self-interested in it."

It was easy to be an urban planner in Ontario 15 years ago.

People were having enough babies to keep the population growth rate climbing. Everyone wanted to live in single family homes in subdivisions at the edge of town.

The only challenge was to keep building enough schools and arenas to serve the growing tax base.

Not any more.

Today, the population is aging, the birth rate is dropping, and the cost of repairs to the hundreds of kilometres of roads and pipes built over the last four decades has become a ticking time bomb for taxpayers.

Then there are the proposals at Queen's Park to tighten planning rules, to reign in suburban development sprawl and to encourage denser development and redevelopment. There is talk of cities getting powers they never had before to push public transit over cars.

"We can't plan like we did before. Where that leads as we're looking forward . . . it's a guess. Hold on," says Kevin Eby, a community planning director for the Region of Waterloo.

All of the competing demographic and planning issues have planners trying to make better use of the wasted space in suburban developments.

"There's a huge number of Hespeler Roads waiting to occur," Eby says.

Ken Hoyle hates Hespeler Road.

"It's one of the ugliest roads in southern Ontario," he says. "The more I drive it, the more I find it offensive."

A landscape planner, Hoyle came to Cambridge and opened an office downtown in 1996. He has long dreamed of ways to make better use of all the land that's wasted on parking and strip plazas, land uses that choke traffic.

Yet instead of seeing local governments take control, he sees opportunities lost.

If Hoyle had his way, Hespeler Road would be transformed into a people-oriented district over the next 30 years. It would be a place to live, work and play, a place with the amenities of a downtown, a place connected to expansive greenspace and a place with rapid public transit.

Hoyle would dearly like to have the job of designing an overall plan to reinvent Hespeler Road. Nobody, however, has put that job out for tender.

"It's not going to get better. It's going to get worse," he says.

He points to Waterloo Region's proposal to widen Hespeler Road from four lanes to six this summer between Dunbar Road and Munch Avenue.

That's the last thing Hespeler Road needs, Hoyle says. All it will do is encourage more vehicles in the area, causing more congestion, he says.

"The engineers would argue they're making it better. For what?"

Hoyle voiced his complaint about the widening project last month. The region subsequently budgeted $10,000 for extra design work to include trees and landscaping. The project is so far along that little more can be done to improve it before constructions starts in May, says Eby, the regional planner.

Hoyle scoffs at the window dressing. Instead of spending $3.1 million on more asphalt, the project should be scrapped and the money spent finding ways to get traffic moving north toward Highway 401, he says.

Ripping out some stoplights and closing mall driveways would be a good start and would allow the road to move vehicles as it should, he says. Then synchronize the remaining stoplights to give traffic a green wave.

In response, Egerton Heath, the region's traffic systems supervisor, says having fewer stoplights might well improve traffic flow, but there's no simple solution to so busy a road.

All 12 stoplights between Pinebush Road and the Delta intersection are there because traffic flows show they're needed, Heath says. Then there's the reality that the Pinebush and Delta intersections act as taps to let Hespeler Road traffic in and out of the commercial strip.

It takes more than two and a half minutes to give all traffic at the Pinebush or Delta intersections a green light. That's far more than is needed for the intersections between them.

So Heath sets those signals to work together to give motorists as many green lights in a row as the time of day allows.

"We do get compliments about (traffic) progression on Hespeler Road. We also get complaints," Heath says.

In Hoyle's view, local traffic should be pushed into connected parking lots or a service road system owned and operated by developers. That would leave Hespeler Road to function as the arterial road it is, he says.

That concept was pushed by the region in the 1980s, but municipalities don't have the power to force that kind of change on landowners. So today, a few parking lots are linked and motorists fume in traffic jams.

At no time does Hoyle suggest public money be spent to buy properties.

There's no need for that, he said, if public money is spent correctly inside the road allowance and if land-use rules are restructured to reward the right kind of intensive development.

With rapid transit and the addition of residential units to provide the customers, there would be much more money for developers to make along Hespeler Road, Hoyle says.

"You provide the carrot. It would be a financial incentive."

After 30 years of concerns about Hespeler Road killing the Preston, Hespeler and Galt downtowns, Hoyle says, transformation of the Hespeler Road strip can't come soon enough.

Provincial planning rules are about to curtail subdivision developments at the city's edge.

When that happens, developers will look for opportunities in areas where housing is already allowed. Right now, that's in the historic cores, says Hoyle, a member of Cambridge's heritage advisory committee.

So unless residential growth is encouraged along Hespeler Road, he believes, grand old buildings in the cores will start to come down within five years to make way for big projects to satisfy demand for apartments.

There are many ways in which Hespeler Road could be transformed, says Alain Pinard, Cambridge's director of policy planning. The most important piece of the puzzle, he says, is whether light rail transit goes down the road.

With rapid transit, Hespeler Road could support more housing and commercial intensification than it could without it.

"You don't want to go in with a certain design that you have to tear out later, when the LRT comes through," Pinard says.

A $2-million study to determine the best kind of rapid transit for Waterloo Region will get underway this year. Half of the cost of the study will be covered by Queen's Park.

The study will assess the best type of vehicle and best route for a rapid transit line that would run from Conestoga Mall in Waterloo to the Ainslie Street bus terminal in Cambridge. Until details are confirmed, Pinard says, it's premature to plan for a train to come down Hespeler Road.
Pinard, who is in charge of the Cambridge official plan review, says he agrees with Hoyle that there are huge opportunities for redevelopment of Hespeler Road.

For Pinard, the vision process is one of a series of steps in the official plan review.

Hespeler Road will be considered alongside other issues including heritage protection, scenic roads and redevelopment of contaminated industrial sites.

"The (official plan) is not a hammer type of document. We try to steer development to look certain ways, certainly design elements," Pinard says.

"You really need to know what the road is going to look like over time . . . it's not going to be easy."

Scott Snively looks out the front window of his A&W Restaurant on Hespeler Road and doesn't mind what he sees.

It may not be beautiful, but all that traffic streaming by is what pays the bills.

"I love the idea" of sprucing up the six-lane road to make traffic move better and look more appealing, he says.

"I think anything that puts a focus on what's nice to look at representing the city is fantastic."

Talk of encouraging housing units, however, raises questions in his mind. Nor is he warm to the idea of more planning rules.

Like other business owners, it's the traffic that convinced Snively to invest on the strip. His two-year-old drive-in has a 30-year lease. He worries what might happen if the landscape changes while he's locked in.

"We have long-term leases. When you look at property, you don't want to make a long-term commitment and plans and lease for five years."

Mayor Doug Craig wants to involve business and property owners in the transformation of Hespeler Road. Sometime soon he wants to pitch a new vision for the road and to suggest the business interests form an association that becomes part of the process.

Snively likes the idea of a meeting with the city.

"Any time you have people from council and businesses working together is fabulous."

Coun. Karl Kiefer likes the direction Craig is pushing for Hespeler Road, which forms the eastern boundary of his Preston ward. He says any redevelopment plan must include safety improvements for pedestrians and traffic.

"How far can we go with beautification? At what cost?"

Kiefer was first elected to council in 1991, at a time when the city was trying to bring more stores to Hespeler Road. He is unsure now if there's political will around the council table to transform Hespeler Road to something that brings pride to the city, but he feels it must happen.

"You can't not look at Hespeler Road. It's an important part of the city. It's certainly the core."

Karl Innanen, vice-president of the Colliers International real estate office in Kitchener, says he is "intrigued" by the idea of transforming Hespeler Road into a residential-commercial district.

"It's really going to take leadership and foresight. I think people are really going to have to be shown the way," the Cambridge resident says.

Governments may have to offer incentives to encourage the first developer or landowner to take the risk and build something different along Hespeler Road, he says.

"This business is a sheep business. Until someone sees somebody else do something, nobody is going to move."

1827 -- Year that Absalom Shade won a contract to build a dirt road linking Galt to Hespeler and the new settlement of Guelph.

2 - Number of lanes on Hespeler Road until the 1960s.

6 -- Hespeler Road lanes today from Pinebush Road to Dunbar Road.

12 - Number of stoplights on Hespeler Road from Pinebush Road to the Delta intersection.

180,000 - Square footage of the John Galt Centre (now Cambridge Centre)
on Hespeler Road when it opened in 1973.

2.6 million - Estimated square footage of retail space on Hespeler Road today.

56,000 - Number of vehicles that daily use the Hespeler Road intersection at Pinebush. It's Waterloo Region's busiest corner.

Source: City of Cambridge and Region of Waterloo

from factiva..

Feb 2, 2008, 3:13 AM
Thanks for the article, Waterloowarrior.

Can't wait for this....

Starting points for discussion of Hespeler Road's future -- and some computer-generated images showing the possibilities -- should be ready by spring, so they can be considered at public meetings as the Cambridge official plan is reviewed over the next 18 months.


Feb 2, 2008, 9:43 AM
Keep us posted. :)

Feb 2, 2008, 3:52 PM
There are a few things that could be done to significantly improve the pedestrian atmosphere on Hespeler Rd., some of what the Grad student suggested are important. For starters, planting trees creates a barrier between traffic and pedestrians. Planting trees in a median also makes the ROW seem narrower, making it seem less intimidating and also slowing traffic down. On street parking is also highly effective for traffic calming, but not really practical with the current urban form in the area.

Consider something like this:

This would segregate local traffic, and create a smaller, safer, and more intimate streetscape for pedestrians. Obviously something like this would have to be scaled. Perhaps one block at a time in the vicinity of somewhere like the Cambridge Centre where the retail on the one side already approaches the roadway, and where there is plenty of space on the other to construct more. The ROW would widen probably on the order of 30ft or so, which would bring the sidewalks to many storefronts, or near them, allowing a wall to begin to develop.

Obviously the likelihood of anything like that happening is slim, but it's interesting to ponder the possibilities for redeveloping suburban ROWs so that they have a more urban appeal.

Mar 11, 2008, 12:21 AM
I find it ironic that people describe Hespeler Road as the new Mississauga when its appearance has changed little from twenty years ago while Hurontario and Mavis look nothing like they did twenty years ago. Highway 10/Hurontario was a two-lane road when we moved out here. Not any more!

For any sort of rethinking of Hespeler Road, major surgery will be required. About half the strip malls would have to be replace by mixed or residential developments, a forest of trees would have to be planted, the city garage would have to be moved to make room behind the smaller buildings across from Cambridge Centre, and that dumpy flea market near Can-Amera would have to be obliterated from the face of the earth (just my opinions, you may not agree). They're trying to bring some residential building to Conestoga Boulevard, but I find it to be too little and too bland. The completed apartment building still looks like it's under construction. More needs to be done.

Mar 11, 2008, 2:44 AM
I find it ironic that people describe Hespeler Road as the new Mississauga when its appearance has changed little from twenty years ago while Hurontario and Mavis look nothing like they did twenty years ago. Highway 10/Hurontario was a two-lane road when we moved out here. Not any more!

Yeah, even when I moved here in '96, Hespeler Road was pretty much full. However, it's definitely transformed over the years. It's become more "sophisticated", busier, and lower-end establishments have been intensified into newer plazas. Not to mention, Cambridge Centre has been expanded, the Bridgecam Power Centre has been built, two new hotels near the 401, and now an office building.

They're trying to bring some residential building to Conestoga Boulevard, but I find it to be too little and too bland. The completed apartment building still looks like it's under construction. More needs to be done.

Their is some residential development along Conestoga Blvd, but it's all slabs...yuck. :yuck:

Another issue is that most of Hespeler Road is surrounded by light industry, so there's no residential neighborhoods for it to plug into.

Mar 11, 2008, 3:57 AM
That's what it needs--more residential, some office/institutional, and different styles of commercial to give it a swift kick in the end.

And it might just be me, but apartment buildings should have a bit of character to them, not just look like they were made with grey Legos. It CAN be done; it just hasn't been.

May 12, 2008, 2:58 AM
Just had a wild idea this weekend about what some of the land surrounding Hespeler Road could be used for. Assuming Jim Balsillie succeeds in obtaining an NHL team, but fails to move it to Copps Coliseum, what would everyone think of putting an NHL stadium on Hespeler Road? It's one of the only places I can think of in Waterloo Region where enough space will be available once developers clear buildings that nobody will miss.

May 12, 2008, 4:01 AM
Perhaps, but with Pittsburgh and Nashville not leaving anytime soon, where is said team going to come from? As much as I'd like a team here, I think Hamilton would get them first.

But back to Hespler. Major surgery indeed. The fact that none of the buildings built at a pedestrian distance from the street, and that the parking lots are privately owned and in-front of businesses as opposed to behind... it will be a very long and slowly transformative process.

May 12, 2008, 5:46 AM
The Record suggested teams from California, Florida, or Arizona could be possible targets due to the slump in both housing markets and in ticket sales. I know he was said to be interested in the Sabres recently.

Once larger buildings go in on Hespeler Road (and possibly a Square One-sized Cambridge Centre), I would like to see the Hespeler Road-Pinebush-Franklin-Can Amera area become the new 'Downtown Cambridge.' It would make sense, as this is the only area that can really be called Cambridge, since it was virtually all farmer's field pre-1973. Galt, Preston, and Hespeler can be our versions of Rosedale or Streetsville instead.

May 12, 2008, 1:37 PM
I've also heard a lot about the Florida and Arizona teams. Not only because of their slumping housing market. But plain and simple, hockey isn't that popular there.

Average Attendance since 2000 (rough estimates by me)
Phoenix Coyotes - 14000 /game
Atlanta Thrashers - 14700 /game
Florida Panthers - 15700 /game


This is my issue with Balsillie and him getting a team. (and for the record, I REALLY want it to happen). He needs to just shut his damn mouth. Don't say a word about anything until he owns a team. Then, and only then, can he even say the word "relocate." By talking relocation too soon in the past, it's cost him ownership. I have a feeling if he wants a team, he's going to have to be ok with them staying in the city for a few years to see how they do.

May 12, 2008, 1:50 PM
That's what's going to make it hard--he spoke too soon. Now that's going to be kept in mind for most of the teams because NHL Commissars have long memories. If he'd left it as just fulfilling every red-and-white-blooded Canadian boy's third dream (after playing for a team and coaching a team), he would have been set.

The question remains, where would it go? Hespeler Road is a good option, especially with the 401 access, but they could also do to the Aud what they did with Old Trafford football field in Manchester and expand the life out of it.

May 12, 2008, 2:05 PM
There was also the talk of the land he bought out near the 401 when he was in talks with Nashville. Although I'm not exactly sure where it was located. Anyone know?
Or maybe was it bought for RIM or another business venture of his to use?

Should this be moved to a new thread in Culture, Dining, Sports and Recreation? Not sure if the Mods can move the existing posts?

Aug 31, 2008, 1:12 AM
Can we start popping champagne corks yet?

Cleaning up a 'chaotic mess' (http://news.therecord.com/Life/article/407192)

Draft bylaw proposes end of 'esthetic blight' of signs along Waterloo Region's busiest roads
August 30, 2008
Barbara Aggerholm

We Fix Leaks. Fireworks. We also Braid and Weave. Live Life. Pizza Corner. Hip Hop Clothing. Is your head buzzing yet?

The days are numbered for the clutter of advertising and other signs planted helter-skelter along Waterloo Region's busiest roads.

A draft bylaw is proposing to boost safety and reduce the "esthetic blight" that plagues regional highways.

You know the roads; the ones with a mess of sandwich boards, portable signs, illuminated signs, open house signs, inflatable signs, poster signs, event signs and other "unofficial" signs -- all screaming for your attention.

The proposed bylaw, which could go to council for approval this fall, would limit which signs can go up along regional roads, and where. Some, like the inflatables, won't be allowed at all.

"There are more and more signs out there every year," said Nancy Button, the region's manager of transportation engineering.

"There's growing evidence that the look of a road has a significant impact on how drivers drive," she said. Drivers on neat, well-maintained roads tend to drive "with more respect" than if they're cruising along a cluttered, messy road.

The region has never had a sign bylaw, except to govern election signs. The draft bylaw places limits on the plethora of signs that advertise, announce, direct or promote ideas, events, activities, products, services or facilities, identifies a business or gives a message.

It will change the look of a busy highway like Hespeler Road, for example. "It's not physically possible to read all the signs on Hespeler Road," Button said.

Good thing Benjamin Franklin isn't cruising down Hespeler Road.

In 1778, when Franklin was walking down the streets of Philadelphia, he said: "Surely commercialization has reached its zenith. It would be impossible to find any other location to put up advertising." Brad Davis, associate professor of marketing at Wilfrid Laurier University, tells that story to his students.

So in 2008, when there are so many outdoor ads along a roadway that we need bylaws to limit them, how effective are they?

Not very, says Karen Hammond, an urban design lecturer in University of Waterloo's School of Planning. "It's like a chaotic mess," she said. "When there (are) too many signs in a row . . . you reach a perceptual threshold point where you can't distinguish one from the other."

Many cities are taking steps to attack the "visual blight" that plagues some of their main streets, Hammond said. "Most cities have them and unfortunately they're gateways to the city."

The result? "You get this negative impression because you have to run the gauntlet through this kind of commercial schlock that is generic," she said. "It's a stressful way to enter the place."

Davis says our brain couldn't handle the 3,000 to 5,000 commercial messages it encounters each day without filtering the information. "If we were actually to see all of those ads and think about it, our heads would blow up." Instead, "we'll notice things that we're interested in. If I'm in a market for a new car, I will notice car billboards. If not, I'll drive right past without noticing what it was."

And you thought those inflatable signs along Hespeler Road were annoying. It could be worse.

A Texas company put video ads on tombstones, Davis said. "You'd go to pay your respects to late Uncle Arthur and there's be a little video screen on the tombstone, saying: "While you're here, order that dozen roses for the special person." And years ago, it was proposed that lasers would project ads on the surface of a full moon.

"Those are the extreme examples of this kind of advertising frenzy that says we have to find fresh space to get our ads out in front of all this clutter."


I just have one question; since when did the Region limit election signs? Those noxious weeds grow faster than dandelions!

Sep 5, 2008, 9:54 PM
The plot thins; The Cambridge Times reported on this today, saying that only signs on regional property are being affected. So all property owners have to do is move their signs back ten feet and they're not breaking the law.

What's the point?!