A walk from Waterloo to the University of Waterloo

Waterloo is a small city that has owed much to the rise of the University of Waterloo over the last half century. Uptown Waterloo is the thriving, if small, downtown area. Waterloo has 100,000 residents and the University of Waterloo has 30,000 people. It’s less than 2 km between Uptown and the main UW campus. Let’s take a walk from one to the other.

That’s King Street in Uptown, viewed at William. We’re looking north.

King & William

Walking north to the new public square.

First Gulf Development

King St and Willis Way, parkade on right, square on left.

Public Square and Parkade

This is the new public square, with everyone’s favorite rusty bell. We cross the square.

Public Square

Somewhere in here a path begins.

Leaving the Square

The path doesn’t last very long before we’re in a larger open space in front of the mall.

Spur Line and Parking

I guess the yellow line indicates the path. CIGI is the building up ahead.

Waterloo Town Square and CIGI

Parking Entrance

Uh. This is not very nice. We need to go in the same directions as the rail, but we’re getting sidetracked.

Meanderings of the path

Caroline and Erb is a large and unfriendly intersection. The one-way aspect does not make for the most pleasant drivers, and we need to cross twice. Not that anything makes clear that that’s where we need to go.

Caroline & Erb

Here we’re on our cobblestone path. With some unfortunate raised path crossing ours.

Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery

Except that’s not even a path, just decoration. Though if it weren’t raised above the paving stone, I wouldn’t mind.

Clay and Glass Gallery Plaza

There are some treacherous points for cyclists.

Cobblestone Ruts and Ends

The Perimeter Institute is on the right, and the paving stones change over to asphalt with a bump.

Perimeter Institute

And just that quickly, the asphalt gives way to dirt.

Dirt path

Straight ahead is Waterloo Park. If we turn left here, we can get to Father David Bauer Drive, go through the woods or a parking lot, then across some fields, and over a dam that’s apparently not supposed to be used as a bridge. Then we walk along the edge of a large UW parking lot, cross both directions of often busy University Avenue, climb over a hill, and then end up at PAS and Hagey Hall. During the winter there are more obstacles. We’ll go straight.

Laurel Creek bridge

Keep going straight.

Waterloo Park

It’s hard to see here, but there’s a nasty pothole in the dirt/gravel.

More ruts

Behind the fences on the right are various animals, and so this section attracts many strollers.

Wateroo Park crowds

Another dilemma. Somewhere to the left there is a path that goes through the woods and can empty out onto Seagram Drive, which doesn’t have a sidewalk. Also, we could cut through the parking lot, which is nice and level. But we’ll follow the proper path and go straight.

Divergent paths

Which means we get to go down.

Going down

The asphalt slopes downwards to the left, for runoff to go into the creek. That probably means this isn’t the nicest spot in the rain.


This pipe has become a rather unpleasant bump for cyclists.

Speed bump

Now we get to come back up. Most cyclists seem to go through the parking lot instead. [Update: So do most pedestrians.]

Going up

The path continues on the other side of the road and the tracks.

Tracks and Seagram Drive

This is Seagram Drive, which — for cars, cyclists, and lost pedestrians — leads to the main UW entrance. A sidewalk is sorely lacking here.

Seagram Drive

If we keep going straight, we’ll get to University Avenue, cross at a special light (or be impatient and jaywalk), and end up at the engineering and math buildings. But we’ll turn left, as that leads to ostensibly the main UW entrance.

Laurel Trail and Parking Trail

This looks promising.

Parking Trail Gate

Meadow and Tim Hortons cup

Welcome to UW parking lot A.

Grand entrance to parking lot

The yellow striped area is for crossing between adjacent parking lanes.

Parking lot expanse

Help I am in a parking lot


This is not a pedestrian friendly crossing.

Parking lot access road

One more lot to go

Safe zone

Almost there

Almost there!

Home stretch

This section scares me, as there is very little visibility around the corner and you need to traverse a lot of space.

Blind corner

Path out of parking lot

This is University Avenue and Seagram Drive. It’s pretty clear now where UW is.

University & Seagram

Main UW entrance

Future campus plans call for this being a grander entrance, with a large open path traversing the campus from here.

Ring Road

As it is, South Campus Hall stands in the way, and many people climb the stairs just to go through to the other side.

South Campus Hall

To get to the library (back right) and the science buildings, we can go instead along this path.

Path to co-op building and library

All parts of the above route are quite well-travelled throughout the year. And yet, the path from Uptown Waterloo to the University of Waterloo is haphazard and planned either poorly or not at all. The main things wrong are the inconsistent and poor quality surfaces — dirt is not acceptable for paths that get used by commuter cyclists; the lack of sidewalks along Seagram Drive; and the need to traverse a very large and busy parking lot. It also has very little signage, none of it useful to the casual passer-by. Considering that the walk is barely 20 minutes, and that it goes from a university campus to a reasonably fashionable downtown, there is every reason for this path to be made a deliberate and planned thoroughfare.


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11 responses to “A walk from Waterloo to the University of Waterloo”

  1. Rebecca says :

    I totally agree with you on the lack of good paths. Especially for cyclists, only small portions of roads seem to be bike-friendly. I’d rather not get run over by cars. For example, only starting from the train tracks on Columbia (heading toward King) does the bike path start. What if you’re biking from MKV? You’re on the road getting run over by cars or on the grass avoiding pedestrians.

    The City of Waterloo should have no issue with good cycling/walking paths, since there is so much space to work with around here.

  2. kwinsider says :

    Oh the times I’ve gotten my shoes/socks/feet wet in the huge muddy puddles that form on the dirt path!

  3. kscian says :

    Good piece – I’ll share with my colleagues. Thanks.

  4. Kathy says :

    Thanks for doing this. I have wanted to do the same for a while. I usually bike through the western side of Waterloo Park (by the grandstand and the baseball diamond) and there are some other great features there — either go cross-country or through the dirt parking lot (across from the Recc Centre) to get your bike in to the park. Then you cross the creek and enter the second half of the parking lot on the west side of Seagram Drive. The second half does *not* have yellow-lined spaces between cars for bikes and pedestrians to get through — I have no idea why. The first half (nearer University) does, but it’s not safe riding bikes in parking lots, I find. We need to encourage better bike access, and discourage people from using their cars all the time.

    • Michael D says :

      Waterloo Park planners would like the path over the dam to be a proper one, but apparently the University of Waterloo will have no part of it. So the dam is not officially a bridge, and UW makes no provision for those needing to cross the parking lot, or go alongside it. I would like to see them do so and acknowledge that as a legitimate connection to Waterloo Park.

  5. Kat says :

    Wow – you are so negative! I think its great that to get from uptown waterloo to the university you walk mainly through a park. Its not nearly as terrible as you make it out to be!

    • Michael D says :

      It is a pretty nice walk through the park in good weather. Not so much in the rain (especially on a bicycle), and when you have to traverse parking lots. My concern is with walking and cycling as transportation, and so I have pointed out aspects of the experience which may be hindering that. The positive aspects of the path’s location are evident in the photos.

  6. Ashley says :

    I am so glad someone has finally decided to point out all the flaws along this path. When I first came to UW I got lost so many times wandering around from UW to the park and uptown. It would be so much easier if the path was marked clearly. The city really does need to get on this!

  7. Jason says :

    I’ve been cursing that dirt path since 2002! If people don’t like the aesthetics of a paved path through the park, I see no reason it can’t be cobblestone or interlocking brick. Dirt is just plain dumb and obviously decided by people who only walk through the park in fair weather. Great to see you are taking up this small but important cause.

    Did you hear about the Ontario Bike Summit? Waterloo was host to a conference with the goal of improving Bicycle access in Ontario ( http://www.sharetheroad.ca/ ). It’s a shame they didn’t advertise it well locally.

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