What Is the LRT?
Light Rail Transit is relatively new: after streetcars were forced from cities by the growing automobile industry in the ‘50s and ‘60s, a new idea surfaced to serve as a possible alternative. First referred to as LRT in the early ‘70s, the new mode of transportation would resemble a train, be capable of holding quite a few passengers, and run quickly and quietly through urban areas.
Kitchener-Waterloo’s LRT system is officially called Ion (or ‘iON ,‘ as it appears on the signage), and it will be part of the greater Grand River Transit (GRT) network. Ion will consist of 14 Light Rail Vehicles (LRV’s), running from northern Waterloo to central Kitchener. In the years to come, there are plans in place for the LRT route to extend all the way to southern Cambridge.
Note: we’ll be using LRT and Ion interchangeably: Ion because it’s the official name, LRT because it’s the way locals typically refer to it.
Which Areas Will Be Impacted?
First of all, the truth is that all of Kitchener-Waterloo will feel the impact of the LRT, particularly once the LRV’s hit the tracks and it all becomes operational. Even areas physically separate from the LRT route stand to reap the rewards of greater interconnectedness.
But it is true that the neighbourhoods along the LRT path will see the most immediate effects. So, which Kitchener-Waterloo neighbourhoods will the LRT run through? Let’s start with Waterloo.
LRT in Waterloo
The Ion starts its journey at Conestoga Mall, in northern Waterloo. The neighbourhood to be aware of here is Colonial Acres. Conestoga Mall is the City of Waterloo’s largest mall, and the Conestoga Mall Transit Terminal is one of the city’s most important transit hubs. Already, numerous bus routes pass through here (including several iXpress routes, and service to the Township of Woolwich).
Because the Conestoga Mall Transit Terminal will serve as the northern terminus of the LRT, an already important area will become even more important. The area around this LRT stop stands to see much more activity and foot traffic, and due to this, and the important transit links converging here (for example, this Ion stop will serve as the portal to St. Jacobs Farmers’ Market), it is a great time to find a home in one of Colonial Acres many residential areas.
The next Ion station, Northfield, is slightly more removed from densely-populated, residential areas, but the neighbourhood to be most impacted here is Lakeshore. The benefit of Northfield station is its close proximity to the Conestoga Parkway (Highway 85). Its Park and Ride facility makes it a great option for commuters. We’re not quite done with the Lakeshore neighbourhood yet, though.
As the LRT proceeds south, the next two stations (arguably the next three) will serve the Lakeshore community. Research and Technology Station, close to the David Johnston Research and Technology Park, and University of Waterloo Station are both on the cusp of Lakeshore’s residential areas. Adding in the next station, Laurier-Waterloo Park, this is a vital little corridor for Kitchener-Waterloo’s university student population.
Lakeshore’s close proximity to both Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo already made it a popular place for families, faculties, and students alike; the nearby LRT stops will make it even more so.
The next batch of stations are all part of Uptown Waterloo: Laurier-Waterloo Park; Waterloo Public Square; Willis Way; and Allen. Uptown Waterloo is already an incredibly popular place: both to visit and to live. Its unique mix of activity and refinement make it popular with young and old alike. Once the LRT is running, it is poised to become even more impressive.
With robust public transit serving Uptown Waterloo, the potential for residents (and students) to live in and around here and the Universities without vehicles will increase. Likely outcomes: the LRT will enable denser urbanization within the Uptown core, independent businesses and restaurants will be able to rely on greater foot traffic, and Waterloo Public Square will become quite the hotspot.
LRT in Kitchener
Moving on to Kitchener, first we pass through the Grand River Hospital Station. This station, of course, stands by Grand River Hospital – a convenient location for the thousands of people who work here, as well as the patients and family who have dealings here.
From here, the LRT heads straight through Downtown Kitchener. Central Station; Kitchener City Hall; Victoria Park; Frederick; Queen; and Kitchener Market are the Ion’s six Downtown Kitchener stations. That’s quite a few, but two things to consider are that two of them are northbound-only, and two are southbound-only.
Secondly, something we’ve gone over many times: Downtown Kitchener is absolutely soaring. With the City’s revitalization efforts; a burgeoning boom of big, bold condo developments; and the impressive Innovation District’s tech and startup industry (Communitech, Google, etc.), Downtown Kitchener is the place to be, lately.
As the new condos are completed, thousands more residents will come to call Downtown Kitchener home; the LRT is a major part of why this will be possible. As noted in our discussion on Uptown, the LRT will allow for greater urbanization, and it will enable businesses and restaurants to flourish throughout the downtown core. Check out our Downtown Kitchener article for details on individual downtown neighbourhoods (or read this if you want to know more about Downtown Kitchener Tech).
The next Ion Station, Borden, stands in a more industrial area, so the effects may not be as immediate as in already populated or commercial areas. However, due to the LRT’s presence, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that the intersection of Ottawa Street North and Charles Street East, where Borden Station stands, will be the site of much future development.
The next two stations (Mill Station and Block Line Station) are both near or within residential areas: Mill Station in Southdale and Block Line Station on the threshold between Country Hills and Kingsdale. Again, look for these areas to prosper and attract new residents.
These stations are perfect for people looking for the ease and convenience provided by the LRT, but who don’t want to live downtown or near a major shopping hub. A distinguishing feature of Mill Station is its proximity to the Concordia Club, a major Oktoberfest site.
Last, but certainly not least, we come to the current terminus of the LRT: Fairway Station. Fairview Park Mall is the largest mall in the entire Waterloo Region, and the Fairview Park Mall Transit Terminal has numerous bus routes running through it. This is already a thriving area, with numerous restaurants, shops, and a mixture of suburban, residential areas, and more densely-populated, apartment-oriented areas.
This is one of the most important areas in all of Kitchener-Waterloo to keep your eye on: whether you’re looking to buy a home, you’re an investor, or you’re simply keen to watch the effects of the LRT in real time. The area around Fairview Park Mall has seen rapid development alongside the construction of the LRT’s terminus, and there are many more developments slated down the line (particularly in the part of the mall that once housed Sears).
By living near the LRT, you are, in effect, ensuring that you’re part of something bigger. Kitchener residents are more closely-connected to Waterloo, and vice versa; residential neighbourhoods have a quick link to Downtown or Uptown; businesses, restaurants, and developers all have a new range of areas to explore along the LRT corridor.
In short: Kitchener-Waterloo is sure to flourish along the tracks of the Ion – and who doesn’t want to be in a flourishing area? If you’re interested in buying a home in Kitchener-Waterloo, or if you’ve got any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Written by Will Kummer