Last Spring, I was lucky to be able to travel to a number of great cities across Asia and Europe with my girlfriend. In several places we were able take the time to study how these rapidly growing cities are innovatively working to address urban sprawl, environmental issues, global warming, energy challenges and provide the highest quality of life to their citizens.
One city in particular – Strasbourg, France we travelled to specifically to see how a city in steep decline in the 1970’s has been transformed into one of the most progressive and desirable cities in the world. Their transformation has taken place by converting more than two dozen streets to pedestrian priority zones – limiting vehicular traffic and prioritizing for pedestrians, bicycles and LRT’s – thus ensuring their city is dominated by people, not cars. They have built five LRT lines over the past 17 years that cover their core and branch out far into the suburbs (and even countryside in some places), they have built an amazing 500 kilometres of bicycle trails with dedicated lanes and encouraged people to bring their bikes and strollers on the LRT.
Strasbourg is also working to ensure desirable destinations converting former roadways and parking lots into town squares, wider sidewalks for cafes, encouraging shoppes and tourism. Even little details such as ensuring citizens could buy high quality little wheeled carts to wheel home groceries easily on low floor transit (also highly handicapped accessible) and ensuring lots of easy to find public washrooms has been integral to their success.
The result has been an incredible transformation from a city in decline, challenged by dramatically increasing crime rates and an exodus of citizens, to a thriving community of 650,000 people (just a bit bigger than Waterloo Region) that is now the location of the EU Parliament, a booming economy, one of the highest qualities of life in the world, and a city that has one of the lowest carbon footprints and rates of energy use despite a winter climate equivalent to that here in Waterloo Region.
You can see from the photos below the resulting city is fantastic, every LRT is full of riders, their suburbs and most places in the city (even neighbouring Germany) is easily reached in just a few minutes on any LRT and transit route.
Strasbourg also focused on creating strong railway connections to neighbouring cities and despite being more than 500km and almost the full width of France distant, Paris is only two hours away on their high speed rail line with more than 10 trains each direction daily. Few people feel the need for an automobile and bike-sharing and car sharing programs are widely available throughout the city.
More than 60% of their LRT lines run on grass and most are lined with trees – creating wide strips of green through the city – replacing vast stretches of concrete and even further reducing the quiet noise and vibrations of the passing LRTs.
It is so important to the future of our community here in Waterloo that Kitchener Council vote in favour of the investment to improve our local trail networks. It was wonderful to see the recent City of Waterloo trails endorsement and the ongoing progress of our own LRT system. One can hope that in the coming years we can be as successful and create as great of a quality of life in our community as Strasbourg.