The world according to David Graham
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Auto bailout lacks vision, imagination
My column in today's Mercury addresses the strange circumstances we now find ourselves in with regards to spending about $360 per Ontarian on one of the most heavily subsidised industries in the world. To put it mildly, I am not impressed.
In one of the newscasts covering the US' debate on the auto industry bailout, a US congressman in debate asked if we should have bailed out the horse and carriage industry when the car was invented. It is mildly alliterative, but it makes the point.
There are plenty of successful auto manufacturers left in the world, many of them manufacturing their vehicles in North America while making cars that consumers actually want, instead of asking consumers to want the cars they are making*. Moreover, if we are going to bail out American auto manufacturers, what bang are we going to get for our buck? If we invest the roughly $17 billion in the US and $4 billion in Canada to keep them afloat, what will we accomplish? Will we remain world leaders in the construction of SUVs, or could we perhaps exercise just a little imagination and use these billions of taxpayer dollars that, in Canada alone, add up to around $10,000 per affected auto industry employee to become world leaders in something that needs a little leadership?
Through part of the fall, I saw one wind turbine head up Guelph's Highway 6 just about every weekday afternoon. They were offloaded in Hamilton harbour and sent north by truck. Why? Because they had to be imported from Europe; they are not manufactured in Canada.
During the Second World War, North America's industrial might was very quickly changed from the manufacture of consumer goods and vehicles to the manufacture of war machinery including trucks, tanks, aircraft, ships, weaponry, and ammunition. Is our failure of imagination so total that, in an age when technology allows us to contemplate a manned mission to another planet, we can not re-task our manufacturing sector to prepare us for a more sustainable future?
The whole process of bailouts has been broken from the outset. The US' $700 billion bailout package is largely being used to buy up bad credit from creditors so that they can once again lend money. Had the same money been used to pay off the huge consumer and mortgage debt in the US, consumer confidence would have returned in spades, the credit markets would have been re-invigorated, and millions of people would not have had their homes foreclosed. If we are going to spend taxpayer dollars to that phenomenal extent, we should at least be helping people live rather than only ensuring that bankers' profit margins are not hurt too badly.
The big concern for me is that the failure of imagination is so comprehensive that the current governing generation is taking a huge debt-load, and doubling it for my generation -- those of us born well after the war in Vietnam -- to pay off. Recent policy in Canada has been to "give back surplus tax dollars to Canadians" in the form of huge tax cuts, but only during boom times. All it serves to do is bankrupt the country so that proper, forward-thinking investment is impossible.
Canada has a long history of building itself up only to sell itself short. It is a cycle we need to break. From being world leaders in the aviation industry until the cancellation of the Avro Arrow, a crime for which I will never forgive Diefenbaker, to turning from the most prosperous country in the G8 to essentially bankrupt under another Conservative government, Canada has a long history of getting to the top of its game, and then backpedalling with apology to those that we had outshone. The bailout Canada and the province of Ontario are offering to the auto industry here, measured as a simple function of how much the US is offering in their bail out multiplied by the percentage of the industry that is in Canada, is yet another example of how we are failing where we should be leading.
The ideas are out there. A report in the Mercury a few days ago related a new study proposing a high speed rail network for the greater Toronto area, stretching from Waterloo to Orillia to Peterborough to Niagara Falls. According to the study, the network could cost as little as $4 billion -- the amount we are giving to the auto industry.
With the prospects for my generation being as dim as they are with what we are inheriting, I feel I have to call attention to the existence of the future to those currently in power, as nobody at the top seems capable of seeing beyond the tips of their own noses.
This lack of vision and foresight extends to Guelph, which at a recent council meeting voted unanimously to ask GO Transit to set up a single station in the downtown core, not setting aside any other land for use as a future station, and committing downtown to building vastly more and more expensive parking -- no doubt at the expense of further increased transit fares. To council's credit, only three members voted in favour of a motion calling on GO never to consider any additional stations in Guelph. While the "Stone Rd extension" right of way connecting one of the main east-west strips at the south end of the city with highway 24 has been set aside for generations, preparing our transit infrastructure even a few years in advance is beyond the capability of our politicians at any level. Why are we so chronically incapable of planning ahead? Is it too much to ask that we plan as far ahead for our transportation infrastructure as we do for our water usage? We do have abstract plans, but without action, it's essentially meaningless.
With that, here's today's column.
Bail-out places a second mortgage on my generation
My generation is in for the surprise of its life.
We have never endured a recession. Sure there was one in the early 1990s, but when your parents tell you at nine years old that they are on their last
$20, your reaction is "that's more than I have!" So as we head into this period of economic uncertainty, what do we have to consider?
I am a firm believer in the role of government. For the economy, government's responsibility is to eliminate debt and build a reserve when times are
good. When times are bad, taxes can then be lowered and we can rely on those reserves and short-term debt to invest in our national infrastructure,
stimulating the economy.
Government's role is to reduce the peaks and troughs of the economic cycle. The bigger the boom, the bigger the bust, and by taxing the boom, we can
mitigate the impact of the bust.
U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal and president Dwight D. Eisenhower's Interstate system demonstrated this. Both took the economy out of
recession through massive investment in the future. We almost had it figured out on this side of the border this time, too.
For 10 years we paid down the debt of the previous two recessions. We were making headway, but a new government came in and opted to cut taxes when
the economy could actually afford the level of taxation we had.
Both Paul Martin and Stephen Harper brag about the amount they cut taxes: Martin by $120 billion, and Harper by another $200 billion. Between them, we
could have almost completely paid off our debt and could have had the money to invest in public infrastructure during this recession without
mortgaging my generation.
We pay in excess of $30 billion a year from the federal pot just for interest on the debt we have.
Without any debt that would be $30 billion more per year that the federal government would have to work with before going into deficit.
Our deficit is projected to be $30 billion in 2009, all of which will be borrowed to pay interest on what we have already borrowed.
The trouble is, we called our financial situation a "surplus." There is no such thing as a surplus as long as there is a debt.
Surplus is a bad word: it implies the government is taxing more than it needs.
That way of thinking considers only the here and now, it does not account for the spending done yesterday that we could not afford. Ultimately, it
means we are measuring our government's financial health in terms of cash flow, not in consideration of the long term.
You and I would not reduce our income if we still have a mortgage to pay off and a retirement to plan for. Why should we do so collectively?
Government is not some mysterious institution that robs from us. It is our way, as a society, to manage ourselves and share communal costs and
If we, as a society, are spending more than we can afford, it is our collective responsibility to pay off the excess just as it would be for us to do
personally. When governments at any level have a debt-target that is not zero per cent of GDP, we have a problem, just as much as if we abuse our
credit card, or refinance our homes simply because we can, with the deliberate intention of carrying a debt that we could have paid off.
After having quickly squandered our reserves when times were good, the governments of both Canada and the United States are now preparing to give the
American auto industry thousands of dollars per manufactured vehicle to keep their inefficient business models afloat. Meanwhile, their foreign
competitors continue to clean up the market with better, more efficient vehicles, built for less money that cost less to maintain.
This bailout is wholly uninspired and does nothing to invest in our infrastructure or our future.
The $23 billion being spent by the governments on the two sides of the border could be put into our national infrastructure in a way that is truly
meaningful while stimulating our economy.
Canada's $4 billion figure, just to bail out one industry in one province, along with all the other money governments around the world are giving to
save dated business models, could instead have been invested in rethinking our approach to infrastructure.
Why are we not refocusing the industrial might of the auto sector on redefining how our cities are built, how we move around, and how we power it all?
Why are we not taking this opportunity to invest in becoming world leaders in sustainable technologies?
The auto industry has the potential to do it. We would be better served investing our billions of dollars to convert these failed manufacturers to the
construction of technologies largely made elsewhere today including buses, passenger trains, wind turbines, solar panels and the like.
Purchasing the results would improve Canada's infrastructure. This would turn our automakers into world leaders in those fields, saving hundreds of
thousands of jobs, and truly preparing us for the future. All it takes is vision.
Cars are not going anywhere, but they do not need to go everywhere.
Instead of paving over my generation with poorly considered short-term fiscal policies from unnecessarily emptied federal coffers, this recession
could be our chance to invest wisely in our rapidly changing world.
At least then my surprised generation could contemplate a better future.
As an aside, Guelph spends a huge portion of its annual budget building and maintaining our 538 km of public roads. Mayor Farbridge's recent State of the City address confirmed this. 538 km represents approximately 4.5 metres or 14' 8" of road for each of Guelph's approximately 120,000 residents. It is 6.1 km of road per square km of city. All of those km are funded by the taxpayer and exclude the provincial highways in city limits, bridges, boulevards, traffic signals, and the other expenses we pay for to allow our cars to run. The level of subsidy for the automobile includes all these factors. By contrast, the City of Guelph turns an actual, real profit that is returned to city coffers on its railway operations. The subsidy for cars and trucks on our roads is so ingrained in our governing attitude that, in spite of the Guelph Junction Railway's profit, Guelph has, in the past, tried to convince its rail customers to switch to trucks. I suppose, given that, it is not that much of a surprise that we would seek to bail out the least profitable or visionary auto makers in the world.
* - Although I am unable to find a car I want to buy from any manufacturer to replace my venerable 1993 Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser 8-seat wagon as it approaches forced retirement. No car on the market today can seat more than five people aside from a fuel-thirsty Mercedes C350 7-seat wagon, which is a tad outside of my price range. Vehicles built on car frames rather than truck frames with a large capacity rather than the wasted space of a sedan, and bench seats up front allowing three occupants per row (something I use more than you'd think), simply do not exist any more from any manufacturer, with half-hearted attempts to correct a decade of SUV/Minivan obsession by building slightly smaller SUVs nicknamed "crossovers." Sorry folks, they're still SUVs.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:56 on
December 30, 2008
Assorted thoughts on leadership, recessions, and highways
Today is the 79th anniversary of Black Thursday, the first of three miserable days on the stock market that signalled the start of the Great Depression. With that, rules for the Liberal leadership race about to come forward, and new developments on the highway construction front, there's lots to talk about these days.
First off, let me say that, given the choice, I want this man to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party.
With that out of the way, down to business.
This week, Ontario posted a deficit of $500 million for the first time in a few years. I have never made any secret of my disdain for deficits, and when I see a provincial government spending more billions on building new highways than you can shake a stick at go into deficit, I really have to scratch my head.
As I have noted many times before, Guelph is currently subject of, or is close to, four major highway projects: new Highway 24 (Cambridge-Brantford), new Highway 7 (Guelph-Kitchener), new GTA West corridor (Guelph-Brampton), and realignment and upgrades to Highway 6, in four separate sections each with its own EA, from south of the 401 to north of Guelph city limits.
Last night was the 4th Public Information Centre for the first of the four sections of Highway 6 to be upgraded. I am disappointed to, again, see no consideration whatsoever for the need to connect the Hanlon industrial park to the nearby rail network, which would involve crossing the Hanlon near one of the interchanges being proposed and therefore would need at least some level of planning or preparation within this environmental assessment. The changes proposed in PIC #4 for the Hanlon in their latest "preferred plan" call for a two-way service road to run between Stone and Downey Rd on the west side of the Hanlon, connecting up to Woodland Glen Dr., and the associated construction of a large retaining wall through several back yards along Old Colony Trail.
From a traffic flow perspective, it's definitely an improvement over previous plans, but from an environmental and social perspective for that area, it's a definite setback. This never-ending balancing act is frustrating to me.
I maintain that the investment in highways is a colossal waste of money if we are not also investing to at least the same level in transit infrastructure, which here and now necessarily means rail. If the as-yet unbuilt Hanlon industrial park were to connect to rail, which could be accomplished for the cost of one or two interchanges on the highway, the highway improvements would have a net long term benefit. The rail access would allow businesses to come to this industrial park to get material out of their trucks and onto the tracks, not just move it between trucks. I am all for road infrastructure improvements that help people and businesses get off the roads, but against highways for the sake of highways. Similarly, if passenger service were restored to the line between Guelph and Hamilton, some of the car pressures on Highway 6, which runs parallel to the nearly unused tracks for the entire affected area, would be reduced.
I found out just yesterday that there is an environmental assessment public information centre on Tuesday the 28th from 5-8pm at the Springfield Golf and Country Club on Gordon discussing upgrades to Maltby Rd, which would be an ideal right of way to connect the Guelph Junction Railway to the Hanlon industrial parks with minimal cost or disruption. Tracks could easily run on the edge of the road within its right of way.
With the recession coming very much as I predicted a couple of years ago, dead-end highway projects like the Halon may finally be put on hold. Given half a moment of reflection, if we are going to go into deficit to finance infrastructure and create jobs, then we should be doing so in such a way as to have high capacity, low environmental impact, low cost transportation solutions running at the other end of the recession. It remains my belief that our existing road system would be adequate if we invested properly in rail transportation rather than heavily subsidising roads while leaving rail to fend for itself.
The reality is, though, that we will continue to rip up rails in Canada and build highways nearby. This week, work began in ripping out the Kinghorn subdivision, a 195-mile railway line that was abandoned in 2005 connecting Longlac to Thunder Bay. The track itself was primarily used as a detour route in the event of problems in northern Ontario, but its removal demonstrates that we, collectively, have still not learned our lesson in rail removal. While difficult to prove, I believe Canada remains one of the few countries, if not the only one, left in the entire world still ripping out more railway lines than we are putting in.
Earlier this week, the first federal leader of a party to meaningfully recognise this reality and put it in a platform, was pushed out of the leadership of his party in a victory of politics over policy. The Liberal platform this past election included huge sums for infrastructure, and a plan to ban the removal of railway lines like the Kinghorn sub. While this horse has largely left the barn, the Kinghorn sub demonstrates that it is never too late to close this barn door.
This leads me to my next point, which is about the leadership of the Liberal party.
We should have rules handed down soon about the structure and length of the third Liberal leadership race in recent years within a few days. While pithy, Jamie's assessment is bang on and I hope some of the suggestions in his post are reflected in the rules.
Personally, I would like to see 50% of all donations to each leadership campaign be handed over to the party in lieu of a deposit, and no spending cap coupled with a ban on coming out with any debt whatsoever. We need a leader capable of fundraising as much as any other skill, and that is one way to weed out poor fundraisers. The debt lesson is a hard learned one as some of the last round of leadership candidates still have not finished paying theirs off, and I would suggest that to enforce such a no debt requirement, any candidate who still has outstanding leadership debt by the time they reach the convention be excluded from the ballot.
And on the topic of enforcement, you can read my latest presentation, this one to the Guelph Police Services Board on Thursday the 16th on behalf of the Community Volunteer Patrol, an organisation you should get involved with.
And by the way, why do so many drivers not normally get winter tires that requiring them in one province could cause such a massive shortage?
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:35 on
October 24, 2008
Community service like no other
Here's my column in today's Mercury on the Guelph by-election.
We need a strong advocate for transit
London North Centre MP Glen Pearson was once described by Maclean's magazine as the last decent man in Ottawa.
His years of tireless work on issues he cares about, and his humble mission to accomplish rather than to take credit, looking for accomplishment rather than attention, has earned him this respect and reputation.
Frank Valeriote, the candidate for the Liberal party in Guelph's federal byelection, is another man cut from the same cloth.
Decades of community service, both at home and abroad, have earned him an enviable list of accomplishments and enormous respect. He has served the public in Guelph since the early 1980s.
With a budget comparable to the city government and equally difficult decisions, Valeriote sat on -- and for several years chaired --the local Catholic school board, forging unprecedented co-operation with the public school board. His list of volunteer commitments, overseas mission work, and unheralded contributions to Guelph is extensive enough to fill its own page of a paper.
Valeriote has never worried about his profile or his image in the city. He just does what needs doing without fanfare, and feels no need to brag about it outside of the context of an election.
He is not asking to go to Ottawa for himself. He is not looking for glory, and as a long-practising and successful lawyer, he is not going for job stability. He is asking to go to Ottawa very simply to represent Guelph, Guelph's needs, Guelph's issues, and Guelph's residents, not himself.
Valeriote is all about principle, not about power for the sake of power.
As I have made clear many times, my number 1 issue for the future of this region is transit.
When considering the land-use demands, energy requirements, tax-dollar strain, and general economics of cars and trucks as compared to buses and trains, it is hard to see how our current path is really sustainable. Shifting our way of thinking about our way of moving will take serious, long-term leadership and the placement of principle ahead of politics.
While none of the candidates is making a point of sending his or her sign crews out on city buses, all claim to support transit.
The NDP, the party whose provincial wing cancelled GO train service to Guelph 15 years ago, even brought Leader Jack Layton here specifically to tell us how they would fund city transit. Their solution is simple: tie transit funding to car use through gas-tax based funding.
If we drive bigger cars more, we will burn more gas, pay more gas tax, and fund transit better. If we drive enough to fund transit properly, we will no longer need to drive, and transit will lose its funding. It's not quite how I envision the future of transit.
The Conservative candidate here also made a point of saying she supports transit, but it does not take much digging to find evidence directly contradicting that. Apparently Gloria Kovach believes 40-minute bus service is preferable, as earlier this year she voted against instituting 20-minute service in the city as a member of city council.
So the question for me is pretty straightforward. If I want a candidate who will be in a position to support transit, who can I look to?
Valeriote fits that bill, too. As a candidate for the only party that has a serious and immediate plan for the environment, that recognizes that environmentalism is primarily an economic argument, Valeriote, who has stated his own support for the future of transit, will be in a position in Parliament to push, and push hard, for increased transit planning and funding.
If you are trying to decide who to vote for on Sept. 8, and like me you believe that the country needs to move forward with real, honest new policy and not power for the sake of power, Frank Valeriote is your man.
I want a member of Parliament who cares about Guelph, cares about the environment, and will be in a position to do something about both. Only one candidate fits that bill.
Why settle for anything less? I recommend a strong show of support for this man of character, accomplishment, principle, and vision on Sept. 8. We owe it to ourselves.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:35 on
August 23, 2008
Liberals don't know how to oppose and Conservatives don't know how to govern
To a Conservative, governing means three things: destroy the nation's finances by cutting taxes to below the government's spending, attack basic privacy of citizens, and throw all of our money at the military, an organisation that they seem to believe will at some point say "ok, we have enough now." To a Liberal, being in opposition means allowing the government to govern while proposing to Canadians the alternatives that they could have had juxtaposed against each Conservative policy, on the rare occasion that one exists. We see it again now with the proposed Greenshift.
Whatever you think of the Greenshift concept, the fact is that Stéphane Dion and the Liberal opposition is taking its role as a "government in waiting" more seriously than any predecessor opposition ever has. While the Conservatives use an oil spill as their environmental mascot, the Liberals are putting forward detailed new policy that would change the way we do business as a country. Canadians are, by and large, of the opinion that the environment is a serious issue that needs addressing and the Greenshift concept takes the best of both a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system to begin to prepare to start to do something about it.
The fact that people are complaining that some particularly egregious environmental behaviour will become more expensive to do shows exactly why this is the way forward. If using unclean energy costs more, then people will use unclean energy less, a result tacitly admitted by the opponents of the Greenshift. The gradual but relentless increase in cost will give people time to start considering their alternatives as their bills begin to rise faster than their taxes are cut for some activities. In essence, the Greenshift gives Canadians an opportunity to put our money where our collective mouths are.
The Conservative Party of Canada, our current opposition-in-waiting, continues to brand Stéphane Dion as "not a leader" which is increasingly showing itself to be patently false. No previous opposition leader has ever led the country and our national debate the way Dion has managed to. The Conservatives themselves have shown no leadership whatsoever on any file. Even on the Residential School apology, Harper admitted to the entire country that it was brought about by the NDP's leadership on the matter, not his own, before turning around and putting in policy to address concerns about the apology raised by CPC MP Pierre Poilievre.
To cap it off, Dion has challenged Harper to have a televised "adult" debate on the Green Shift. No doubt Mr. Harper will be in a great hurry to take up the challenge and defend his record on leadership and the environment.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:56 on
June 23, 2008
Banning drive-thrus won't solve the real problem
A movement in London is seeking to place a moratorium on new drive-thrus. Guelph's debate on the topic is getting under way, and it is no doubt on the minds of many more communities across the country. But drive-thrus are a symptom of the larger problem, not a problem in their own right. What is the difference between a car going through a drive-thru and the one stopped at the traffic light beside it? Banning drive-thrus is like pinching your nose to get rid of your cold.
Drive-thrus are more of an optical problem than anything. A busy drive-thru might have a constantly changing 15 or 20 cars idling at it for hours on end, but the traffic light beside it does, too. As does the one on the next block. And the next. The drive-thru is nothing more than a symptom of the true problem we have in today's cities: our car dependency. If we resolve that problem, the drive-thru will go away. Without many cars to drive through them, they will be redundant and disappear from our landscape. Eliminating drive-thrus, on the other hand, won't even begin to address the car culture problem.
Cars are a problem for all the reasons enumerated in anti-drive-thru screeds. They pollute the air, they take up space, they are an eye-sore, they are a major contributing factor to smog days and to pretty much every other environmental problem we are facing, and they make people who live next to them particularly unhealthy. A lot more people live next to traffic lights than drive-thrus. Drive-thrus are turning into little more than a proxy fight over our car culture.
That said, I would not miss drive-thrus if they all disappeared tomorrow. I may use a drive-thru bank machine as much as once or twice in a year. Their disposition does not affect me a great deal one way or another. But fighting drive-thrus is a distraction. Banning drive-thrus would not even establish a beachhead in the war against car-culture. Land use demands at the facilities that provide drive-thrus would go up, not down, as people park and go in. The number of cars on the road would not change in the least. Resentment toward environmentalists would increase from people who miss their drive-thrus and when the real fights come along, those people will be more ready to fight it out to preserve our car culture.
Ontario is planning to build a new highway corridor from Kitchener to Guelph, another from Guelph to Brampton, another from Guelph to Fort Erie, another through Windsor, another off the east end of the 407, and three more north-south highway corridors between Guelph and Peterborough linking the new northern/407 corridor to the 401. And that's before we count highway realignments and widenings. Yet more people show up to a City Council meeting in London to demand a ban on drive-thrus, based on this morning's local radio newscast, than at any of the provincial workshops, hearings, advisory groups, and information centres about any of these highway projects. Which one is the real problem? Where are the activists on the common cold called the automobile, rather than on its runny nose the drive-thru?
When we build and maintain roads, we are subsidising automobiles and all that that entails. In essence, the construction of all these new highways is a direct subsidy to the drive-thru industry, along with many other industries. If we are serious about solving drive-thrus, why don't we start by placing a moratorium on the construction of new highways? There is plenty that we can do for travelling in our society for fewer tax-dollars using mass-transit solutions, an approach as old as Confederation itself. Were transit solutions funded as well as cars and drive-thrus, we could sell coffee, donuts, and burgers on board, and it would even be safe to drink or eat them while travelling.
Let's address the real problem, not the symptom. Roads, not drive-thrus, are the problem. Solve our car culture and drive-thrus will solve themselves.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:52 on
June 18, 2008
Thoughts on meeting Elizabeth May
On Monday, I joined fellow members of the Guelph Mercury's Community Editorial Board in an hour-long interview with Green Party leader Elizabeth May, her predecessor Jim Harris, and local Green candidate Mike Nagy.
With 12 people in the room, 7 of which were asking questions, no single one of us had a lot of time to ask much. Elizabeth May proved herself very adept at answering questions in sufficient detail to keep follow-ups to a minimum, while making the questioner feel like their question was being taken seriously.
The purpose of her trip to Guelph, she said in her opening remarks, is two-fold. One reason is to get Mike Nagy elected as the MP in Guelph when our by-election shows up. The other is to get Elizabeth May a spot in the federal election debates during the next election. I agree with one of these two goals.
She took several jabs at our electoral system, advocating for proportional representation, during her opening remarks and in answers to several questions. When I got my chance to ask my questions, I went after this issue. First, I asked, does she believe that our politics work because of, or in spite of, political parties? Without reservation, she said that our politics indeed work in spite of political parties. So I asked, why, then, do you support proportional representation, which enhances the role of the party? She said that proportional representation reduces partisanship because everyone can vote the way they want. I asked her why she wouldn't support a compromise position like preferential balloting? To this, she did not disagree, but said what she would like to see is a nation-wide Citizens Assembly with the result being a two-part ballot. One: do we want to change our electoral system, and two: if so, which of these systems would you prefer? She said the MMP proposal in Ontario failed because people were getting caught up in the details of the proposal, rather than the concept.
I had more questions on other matters, but the time did not allow for much else. She did assure the room that about half of her travel around the country is by train, with all internal Ontario travel being that way, and said that the Green Party plans to lease a train from Via Rail in the next election to do the first rail-based campaign in Canada in generations. This is a concept I support and would like to see all parties do. Support for our rail system needs to be a non-partisan issue.
Another interesting bit of the meeting was when Mike Nagy, in explaining why the Green Party should be taken seriously for the leadership debate, commented that the Green Party is "not accountable" for the federal funding they receive because they don't have a seat. I don't think it was entirely what he meant, but it's an interesting point. The Green Party does receive $1.82 of federal funding per year per vote they received in the last election, which gives them about a million tax-dollars per year to operate their party.
More interesting to me was when friend and fellow community editorial board member and blogger Cam Guthrie, a local Conservative, asked Are you ticked that Stephane Dion stole your Carbon Tax platform? Her answer was as unequivocal as it was enlightening. No, she said, she is thrilled. More parties and more people should steal the Green Party's platform. She said that after their last policy convention, the Green Party distributed their policies to all the other parties with a cover letter inviting them and encouraging them to adopt the policies as their own. It is this role as a party of ideas and not one of power that makes the Green party relevant in Canada. But I wonder if their idealism will remain once they have seats in the House, or if partisanship will prevail as it has so completely for the Green's predecessor protest party, the New Democratic Party. If their push for a back-door into the House of Commons is anything to go by, partisanship will indeed prevail.
She took a lot of swipes at Stephen Harper for his made-in-Washington policies and at Jack Layton for putting partisanship before principle while defending Stephane Dion, during the interview. She said that in Dion's one year as environment minister, he did more than anyone else on that file. She worked with him in her days at the Sierra Club and seemed to have a lot of respect for him. She commented that she told Dion that he was her second choice for Prime Minister, to which she said he responded, "oh, who is your first?" "Me, of course". "Oh, ok then." She also expressed surprise that Dion was willing to go along with her suggestion of following the long tradition of leader's courtesy in not running someone against her in Central Nova.
Not surprisingly, Mike Nagy answered the question about what the important local issues will be by discussing environmental issues. He noted, for example, that Guelph has one of the highest concentrations of ground-level ozone in the country, and that Asthma has risen to a rate of 1 in 4 children locally. Indeed.
May also stirred a little post-interview controversy by commenting that she was ready to slit her wrists by the end of the last leaders' debate, something that others clearly found more offensive than I did. Politicians and hyperbole are virtually synonymous, and it did get her point across about how bland and pre-packaged leaders' debates have become.
I'm hoping the video, audio, or transcript of the whole meeting is posted soon. In the meantime, coverage of this meeting is here:
- Guelph 'vibrant green' (Guelph Mercury article)
- Green leader ready for prime time (Guelph Mercury editorial)
- . . . then again, maybe not (Guelph Mercury editorial)
- Greens hope for by-election success (Guelph Mercury video)
- Demanding fairness (Guelph Mercury video)
- Too colourful for prime time? (Guelph Mercury blog)
- Interview with Green Party Leader - Elizabeth May! (Cam Guthrie - Green Guelph)
- Elizabeth May "out of bounds" (Christian Conservative, based on second-hand accounts)
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:28 on
May 28, 2008
Every day should be Clean Air Day
The biggest expenses we have in our private lives are, for the most part, our mortgages, our food, and our cars. Tax-wise, our biggest expenses are health-care, education, and roads. If we made our transit systems as free as our road systems, how much money would we each save in both our personal expenses and our taxes? I argue this point in today's column.
We are, generally, perfectly willing to spend as many tax dollars on our roads as we are willing to spend after-tax dollars to buy the cars to run on them. Highway 7 from Kitchener to Guelph will cost $22,000 per commuter. The new parking garages downtown will each cost $30,000 per parking space. The city roads to connect the two will cost several thousand more dollars per user. The emissions from all of the construction and vehicles will send hundreds of people to hospital and cost millions more of our tax dollars.
Real transit solutions will save us plenty of both tax and after-tax dollars. Cars will have their uses for a while yet, getting kids to the doctor and sports practice, buying groceries and large items, getting somewhere in that hurry we always seem to be in. However, if we can address commuting with transit solutions, the automobile's total cost to our society will drop considerably. We are a society that likes getting things for free and we're willing to pay a lot for the privilege.
Our roads are free, but we pay as much as half of our municipal and provincial taxes to build maintain them. Our health-care is free but we pay a significant portion of our federal taxes to fund that, too. We complain about our high taxes, but do nothing to lower our own use of those tax dollars. Making our transit systems free will address all of these.
Transit systems, whether rail, bus, community bicycles or communal cars and taxis, reduce the total number of vehicles on the roads, the total amount of roads needed to handle them, the total effect on air quality and our quality of life. It reduces our total costs at all levels of government, from road and parking maintenance, highway construction, and health-care costs. As we worry about our modal shares and concentrate on a modal shift away from the car, we must try something new. Free transit is better than $.25 transit or $2.00 transit because there is no requirement to have change, tickets, or a bus pass. A major psychological barrier to taking the bus is taken away.
Guelph is currently going in entirely the wrong direction. On July 6th, our bus frequency will increase to 20 minute service, incidentally the level of service we had in 1895, which is good, but our fares will rise by 12.5%, which is bad. At the same time, the city is acknowledging that lowering bus fares encourages ridership by actively encouraging the city's large employers to get bulk bus pass rates of 15% off for their employees. Why? To encourage ridership, decrease costs to the employers for parking, and the city for roads. We already admit that lowering transit fares will save us money, yet we continue to raise them to cover "operating costs". Roads have no such fees. And in case you're thinking it, no, gas taxes don't even come close.
While we're on the topic of increasing bus fares, I must again point out that the amount of revenue raised by increasing transit fares in Guelph will be roughly equivalent to the money the city is losing in revenue from making downtown's street parking free, on an annual basis. Why must we ask our transit riders to pay for downtown parking?
Indeed, the more I think about it, the more I realise that cars are one of the most destructive forces in the history of our society. I say that as a car owner and driver, as lazy as they come, barely willing to walk beyond the end of my own driveway, whose eyes have opened only recently. That's the crux of the issue, really. Why is it that the only place modern man is willing to walk is the gym? And I don't mean to get there.
The automobile has broken us. It is a device I am slowly weaning myself from. I haven't quite figured out how to do it cold turkey, and as the most heavily subsidised means of transit around, there's very little incentive to break away from it. Although neither I nor my wife use a car to get to work -- I work at home, and she takes the bus, we depend on it for everything else. This past weekend I finally bought myself a new bike to replace the one I've had since 10th grade, which has been sitting in my shed since -- you guessed it -- the day I got a car. My project over the next while is to use my bike to help eliminate the need to own a car, though I suspect the need to use it, with the help of short term car rentals, will be years yet to completely resolve.
If we make our transit systems free to use, my contention is that we will save money as taxpayers and as individuals in nearly every industry and aspect of life. The city of Guelph spends nearly 7x as many tax dollars on its roads as on its transit, and around 4x as many tax dollars on roads as Guelph Transit gets in ticket and advertising revenue. That is to say, Guelph spends 4 years of free transit on roads every year. One transit operator I proposed free transit to warned that busses would become full of homeless people, but could give no other arguments why it might be a bad idea. Making transit free is all about providing options for transit that are, quite simply, better than the options for driving.
We start this trend by addressing the most significant replaceable use of cars: commuting. While I believe that people have a moral obligation to live as close to work as practical, addressing the 10,000 people or so who pass each other to work next to each other's homes between Guelph and Waterloo region is a much longer term project. Transit is something we can implement in the short term.
We have already proven the viability and usefulness of making transit free. Every year, Guelph celebrates Clean Air Day by making its busses free for all to ride. That day is approaching. This year, it lands on Wednesday, June 4th, in the middle of our Commuter Challenge. If making transit free contributes to clean air on Clean Air Day, why wouldn't it year-round? Making transit free could make every day Clean Air Day.
Driving costs us. It costs us car ownership, maintenance, fuel, insurance, road construction, road repair, parking structure, land use, health concerns, accident recovery, and environmental impacts from particulate and emitted matter in the construction, delivery, and operation of our cars and our roads. I would estimate that 1/3 of every dollar you spend in your life will have something to do with driving. Transit pools all of these costs for all of us and reduces them all around. Really, moving away from the automobile is more an economic argument than an environmental one. Like businesses "going green" save money, so too will our society.
On a closely related issue, drive-thrus have recently surfaced as an important issue to local residents. Many residents swear by drive-thrus, stopping on their way to or from work for a coffee or burger fix, or at the drive-thru bank machine for cash. Many other residents warn of the environmental consequences of idling vehicles. But my perspective is different from both of these. I believe drive-thrus are a symptom of a problem rather than a problem in their own right. On her excellent new blog, Mayor Farbridge recently asked for feedback on this issue. I replied: "the only real difference between the pollution and emissions from a car idling in a drive-thru and one passing it on the road is the optics of it. On the whole, the one driving is the problem. Solve that and the one getting coffee resolves itself." That is, if these transit solutions are implemented, drive-thrus will be as obsolete as the cars that drive through them.
For those concerned about the loss of jobs in the auto sector with a shift toward transit, I would not worry too much about that: a transit-based society's only unemployed people will be auto industry lobbyists. The auto sector's employees will be needed in a big way to build and operate our transit infrastructure. Yes, infrastructure, not service.
Here, then, is my column on the topic from today's paper, which started its first draft as a "what changes would I try to push through if I were on city council". The half not about transit will become another post.
Public transit: if you love it, make it free
Is our public transit system a service or is it really an integral component of our infrastructure?
Without including provincial investment in such projects as the new Highway 7 or the Hanlon Expressway upgrades, Guelph currently spends nearly seven times as many tax dollars on road maintenance and parking as we do on our public transit network.
Road and parking construction and maintenance will cost Guelph taxpayers more than $46 million in 2008 alone. This is the true culprit behind our constant tax increases, like next year's projected 6.5 per cent rise.
It's not the fault of the paltry investment of a few hundred thousand extra dollars into our bus system.
Our city councillors can fix this disparity, but they have to know that we will not turf them and return the Reign of Error to office if they take bold, necessary, but hard-to-sell measures.
That means you and I have to make it clear that we are ready. The most bold measure Guelph should try - and it is not without precedent around the world - is to make Guelph Transit's buses free for residents to ride. As radical and simple as the idea sounds, it should save tax dollars in the long run.
Free transit would increase ridership and alleviate stress on our road network, eliminate the need for huge new parking structures, and encourage developments built around transit instead of around the car.
The one day that transit was free last year, on Clean Air Day, ridership rose to 22,000 from 15,000. That represents a lot of cars not driving on our roads.
Our transit system should be considered and treated as infrastructure rather than as a service. As infrastructure, extending our transit system to new developments would be a cost associated with development charges as is the case for road construction, sewer and water lines, and our power grid.
Funding transit expansion through development charges would encourage transit-friendly developments as developers seek ways to save money. Public transit is no less an integral part of our city's operations than any other aspect of our infrastructure.
If the Toronto Transit Commission's recent strike and Queen's Park's rapid response -- including a rare Sunday sitting and back-to-work legislation by the start of the next rush hour -- is anything to go by, public transit is clearly a form of infrastructure, not just a service.
Public transit is as important to our infrastructure as our electricity, our running water and our roads. All these elements together are what allow our community to function. We should declare public transit as part of our infrastructure, even if no one else has.
While we are getting that sorted out, we must focus on intercity transit and the importance of the former Lafarge property in any vision of our transit future.
City staff assured a business audience at the city's recent Transit Forum there is no legal reason we cannot run our city buses beyond city limits. Having our transit system connect to Waterloo's by bus, and eventually by light rail, is essential to the future viability of Guelph as an employment centre.
Highway 7 and the Hanlon upgrades from south of the 401 to north of Guelph will likely cost more than $600 million provincial tax-dollars over the next few years.
That huge sum does not even count the billions that the GTA West highway corridor proposal will cost, which proposes to connect the top of the Hanlon directly to the 407.
If we put that kind of money into inter-regional transit infrastructure, we would likely eliminate the need for those new highways altogether.
Guelph has to lead this charge, no one else will do it for us.
With GO Transit's recent announcement it's exploring a return of GO train service to Guelph that may not initially extend to Waterloo Region, the former Lafarge property will show itself to be essential as our transit terminal area for car connections, with the Carden Street transit hub for bus and pedestrian connections in and out of the city.
Securing this land, now in private hands, will take leadership, guts, and investment on the part of our city. It will require us to consider public transit as a critical part of our infrastructure rather than being viewed as little more than a service that other people use.
Making public transit free will ultimately reduce our taxes.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:50 on
May 26, 2008
Final Hanlon workshop and related thoughts
Last night marked the third and final MTO Hanlon workshop studying the proposed improvements to provincial Highway 6 through Guelph. I am a bit disappointed with the results, but happy that changes are likely to be made to the official plan. My position on the upgrades remains that if we had adequate investment in non-road infrastructure, road infrastructure wouldn't be in such dire need of upgrades, but I'll get to that.
The evening started at 6pm with the usual collection of sandwiches, drinks, and cookies piled up on a table at the end of the rather small room. In the initial and final socialising time I was playfully chastised by my several of my elders for my comment last week about being "far and away" the youngest person present. I welcome the news that so many of my peers are reading these entries, but I digress.
During the session, each of the four tables was provided with the plans that each of the four groups came up with last week and given some time to look over and comment on each of the other's proposals.
All four tables' proposals had two basic features in common: Stone Rd interchange was substantially reduced and turned into a single loop on the west side, and a diamond interchange on the east side of the Hanlon, and a service road of some form was present to Kortright/Downey. College Ave was not provided with an exit or service road on any of the proposals. My table's proposal of a roundabout under the Hanlon at Kortright was coolly received by our peers though I believe it is the best approach, eliminating one set of traffic lights completely, and smoothening traffic flow at that interchange. Traffic there is mostly limited to local traffic, so getting used to a roundabout is not a significant problem, as some people believed, though it is more expensive than some other approaches as it requires a significant span over the interchange.
Ultimately a consensus formed between the tables and I predict that the resulting "preferred plan" will contain a two-way service road tacked onto the 90-degree curve on Woodland Glenn from Downey to a reduced interchange at Stone Rd. I am not sure whether we accomplished this as a workshop, or if MTO was planning this scale-back regardless. I don't expect ever to know the answer to that. At the start of workshops two weeks ago, we learned that the Stone Rd extension to Highway 24 has been nixed by the city, negating the need for a huge 6-lane overpass at Stone and full interchange. That change allows for Stone to not be diverted southward, and the interchange ramps to be fewer in number and smaller in scale. That in turn allows for the service road that was nearly universally desired.
I am not really satisfied with the results of the workshops, though I accept them as legitimate. Not everyone is going to be happy with such a process, but MTO can say, accurately, that the community was consulted and this is the result that they were given. I note that repeated questions throughout the workshops about air quality were never satisfactorily answered by the MTO. I am told that the city's air quality monitor is in Exhibition Park, a large park set well back from the Hanlon in a relatively low density part of the city, and that air quality baseline studies for the Hanlon have not been done to ascertain what effect the Hanlon changes will have on the air we breathe.
The biggest question for me remains: when is a highway finished? At what point will we look at this highway and say: it doesn't need any further work. One of the gentleman from the MTO at my table was politely annoyed by comments at another table that we needn't save room to eventually expand the Hanlon to 8 lanes, which would force MTO to look for a new corridor sooner. I challenged him on this point, saying more capacity would be necessary, but more highway capacity was not. Once we are done this upgrade, we are going to upgrade Clair to the 401, 401 to Freelton, Wellington to Woodlawn, and Woodlawn to highway 6 well north of town. 2 of those sections require entirely new rights of way to construct. When will we call it finished?
We are going to have to change our approach to highway construction to divert more travellers to mass transit sooner or later. To do that, we have to start somewhere, and the collective resistance to starting that process is troubling to me. We will never accomplish it by injecting millions of dollars into highways when the alternative solutions are a small fraction of the cost. GO Transit's recent announcement to work toward all-day service in Guelph is refreshing and definitely the right track, but the level of investment of that compared to the GTA West highway corridor proposal, Hanlon upgrades, new highway 7 and so forth is essentially insignificant.
My challenge, for the moment, to us is this: let's call transit "infrastructure" instead of a "service", and let's put one tax-dollar into transit for every tax-dollar we put into our roads, parking, and highway systems. In Guelph, from our city budget -- excluding these upgrades -- that looks something like this...
The 2008 operating budget of the City of Guelph is $143,454,237 net.
The 2008 capital budget of the City of Guelph is $32,464,901 net.
Of that $175,919,138, $7,840,051, or about 4.5%, is our net expenditure on transit in the city's budget.
Our net expenditure on roads and parking is more difficult to ascertain.
A chart in the city's capital budget suggests that we are spending $117,718,000 over 10 years on new road construction, mostly funded by developer charges, and $128,720,000 over ten years, entirely funded by the taxpayer on capital investment in current roads, for a total of $246,438,000 on capital road investments in that time period, of which $155,537,000 is directly funded by tax-dollars. The 2008 specific numbers with development charges removed show $8,680,000 tax-dollars for expansion and $12,870,000 for non-growth capital investment in Guelph roads. The parking budget shows a capital expenditure of $16,910,000 on parking in 2008. Together, our capital investment on roads and parking is $38,460,000 in 2008. The keen eye will note that that number exceeds 100% of the capital budget for the year. That is because the parking investment of $16,910,000 shows up as a capital expenditure in a separate document called the "user-pay" budget as opposed to the "capital" budget. I am no accountant so how all these things glue together is not entirely clear to me.
Our operating budget for roads consists of $3,740,800 in roadway maintenance, $1,621,300 in boulevard maintenance, $748,200 in roadway drainage, $2,010,000 of traffic signal maintenance, and $113,100 in traffic investigations which mostly consists of adult crossing guards and traffic counters. Our operating budget for roads and directly related expenses is thus $8,233,400 for 2008.
Therefore the total cost to the City of Guelph taxpayer for roads in 2008 is $46,693,400. The total cost to the City of Guelph taxpayer for transit in 2008 is $7,840,051. That doesn't count provincial road investment in Guelph, namely highways 6 and 7.
My bet is that road costs will drop faster than transit costs rise, if we start shifting where we spend our money. As such, aside from the environmental benefits, it should be possible to lower our taxes by raising our investment in public transit. By calling transit "infrastructure" rather than "service", new developments can and should be responsible for paying for the extension of transit systems into their development areas as part of the development charges. Having development charges provide for transit would also encourage transit-friendly development as that would be a way of minimising that cost for a developer.
So there you have it. I am happy that the community was able to come together on some kind of agreement for the Hanlon improvements at Kortright, Stone, and College, but I am disappointed that we are not, collectively, looking at the bigger picture and looking for ways to get us out of our cars rather than facilitating this addiction we nearly all have.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 18:36 on
May 14, 2008
Charles Caccia, RIP
Last weekend, Charles Caccia, a 36-year veteran of the House of Commons and a strong advocate of environmentalism ahead of his time, passed away. Here is a collection of the tributes to him, in chronological order, from Hansard from this week.
Mr. Bernard Bigras (Rosemont--La Petite-Patrie, BQ):
I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to a colleague who passed away over the weekend, the former member for Davenport,
Charles Caccia. He was the environment minister a few years ago. He first came to the House in 1968 and, as an environmental warrior, he spent
36 years in this House trying to convince as many voters as possible that we need to protect the environment. A real fighter, in 2001, he introduced a
bill for mandatory labelling. We must not forget that Charles Caccia, who died this past weekend, had been trying since 2001 to convince
parliamentarians here to bring in this mandatory system. Unfortunately, the House rejected his bill, 126 votes to 91. This bill thus has a history.
Hon. Maria Minna (Beaches--East York, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, it is with great sadness that I rise today to acknowledge the passing of a dear friend and former Liberal member of Parliament, the
Hon. Charles Caccia.
Mr. Caccia was first elected to the House of Commons in 1968 to represent the riding of Davenport and was subsequently re-elected nine times,
where he served as minister of labour, minister of the environment and Liberal opposition critic on environmental issues.
After leaving Parliament, he went on to serve as Senior Fellow at the Institute of the Environment at the University of Ottawa.
Mr. Caccia was more than a respected member of Parliament. He co-founded COSTI, Canada's largest immigrant service agency and was cherished and
respected by his community. He was a great Liberal who dedicated his life to building a better Canada. His many accomplishments and his longstanding
commitment to the people he served as an MP will not be forgotten. His passion for environmental and social justice issues was a great inspiration to
On behalf of the Liberal Party of Canada and our caucus, I wish to extend my sincerest sympathies to Mr. Caccia's family and friends. He will be
Hon. Jim Abbott (Kootenay--Columbia, CPC):
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to pay tribute to the Hon. Charles Caccia, who passed away this weekend.
In 1993, as a veteran parliamentarian, Charles must have been bemused when 201 rookies, myself included, came to this place. I clearly recall
turning up at Charles' environment committee without a starting point of a clue what committee was about.
Charles took me through the steps, always exhibiting the highest sense of respect and patience. He encouraged my participation in parliamentary
associations. He emphasized the importance and the significance of members of Parliament attending on the world stage.
Charles Caccia was a man who proudly marched to his own drummer frequently leading the way where others had not gone. Although he and I had little
in common politically or philosophically, it is an honour for me to have this opportunity to pay him tribute.
Charles Caccia was a man who made this Chamber a better place in his 36 years and into the future through those of us who remain. In that respect,
Charles Caccia lives on in our Parliament today.
Hon. Joseph Volpe (Eglinton--Lawrence, Lib.):
Mr. Speaker, I, too, would like to honour Charles Caccia.
[Member spoke in Italian and provided the following translation:]
He was an accomplished Parliamentarian and former Minister of Labour and the Environment. My heartfelt condolences are extended to his family, his
friends, but above all to the community.
As a student, I involved myself in his first federal campaigns. At the time, he, like no other, succeeded in personally expressing the collective
character and personality of the people he represented, people from other countries, with abundant energy and resources adaptable to the creation of a
new and "just society"; as it was defined by the new Prime Minister of the period.
We, Italian Canadians, saw him as a vehicle for change, and integration into a society that emphasized civic responsibility and concerns for
In Davenport, his dedication became iconic and for new arrivals, a role model. Thanks Charles.
Hon. Bill Blaikie (Elmwood--Transcona, NDP):
Mr. Speaker, today I rise to pay tribute to the life of the Hon. Charles Caccia, a distinguished former colleague and my predecessor as Dean of
the House of Commons.
Charles was the member for Toronto--Davenport for 36 years and, while he was here, he established a reputation as one who practised politics with
dignity, with principle, with civility, with independence of mind and with a deep, abiding and well-informed concern for the environment.
It is not an exaggeration to say that had Charles Caccia been listened to more often over the years by both Liberal and Conservative governments,
many of our ecological problems would be far less difficult than they are today. Unfortunately, he was the minister of the environment for only a very
His concern for the environment was part of a larger ethic of care that made him an advocate for peace and social justice in general and a mentor
to many in this place. I worked with him in the mid-eighties when we were our party's respective environment critics, on the environment committee, on
the special committee on acid rain and on many issues of mutual concern over the years.
Many others will also gratefully remember the excellent work he did more recently as chair of the environment committee for over a decade,
producing critical reports that challenged his own party and government.
Parliament could have used a lot more Charles Caccias. May his memory be instructive now and in Parliaments to come.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:49 on
May 09, 2008
MTO/Guelph Hanlon workshops show divisions, unity
Yesterday's MTO Hanlon workshop lasted around 7 and a half hours, which is a long time for any citizen to be locked up with any government ministry other than perhaps Correctional Services.
We started off by individually organising flash-cards into our orders of priority. They were, in no particular order: Applied Environment, Social Environment, Cultural Environment, Access, Traffic Flow, Cost, Constructibility, and Natural Environment. After extensive discussion and game-like activities, the whole room came to a sort of consensus that Social Environment, Natural Environment, Access, and Traffic Flow were the priorities, with Constructibility, Cost, Cultural Environment, and Applied Environment not being major considerations.
The sharpest division at my table in the early going was between making Natural Environment or Traffic Flow the highest priority. My preference was for the environment for the simple reason that roads are kind of irrelevant without a functional environment, and any changes to the MTO's plan has to take the environment as a key consideration. To that end, of course, I registered my objection to upgrading the Hanlon at all, when we have far more cost-effective alternatives. For the cost of these few interchanges, for example, we could more than double passenger rail service through Guelph, or make Guelph Transit free for half a decade, without counting the three other sections of the Hanlon that are being upgraded as part of this plan but not yet on the table for community feedback.
The current "preferred plan".
Red = new construction.
A gentleman at my table told me that he commuted to Waterloo for work for 20 years. If he had to take transit, he said, it would take 3 hours each way, while a car takes only about a half-hour. I told him that we have to build up the transit infrastructure so that businesses move closer to transit because that will be the best thing to do for their business. He replied that we have been doing it this way for fifty years and it will take a long time to undo the car culture we have. I agreed with him, and said to the effect: so let's get going! We have 50 years of car culture damage to undo, but we have to get started. My objection to these upgrades is that we are continuing this 50-year old way of thinking rather than even beginning to fix or undo it.
There seemed to me to be a lot of denial about the declining usefulness of the automobile at the workshop. There is a widespread belief that oil will be replaced by some sustainable alternative fuel and our car culture will be saved. While I think it is possible, if unlikely, I think it entirely misses the point. Even the cleanest cars will have serious emissions in their construction and initial transport. Importing a hybrid from Japan, for example, generates significant emissions from the bunker oil trans-oceanic ships use. The particulate from brake-shoes, tires, windshield washer fluid, and other components of vehicles will still be causing pollution as well.
Far more of a concern to me is the land use demands of a car-based culture. As our population continues to explode, we are eating up some of the best farmland around with the world's most profitable cash crop - single, detached houses, serviced by paved roads and accompanied by chemically dependent lawns. While single detached houses are very attractive to people, including myself, they are in no way sustainable with a growing population. The flip side to that is that if our population stopped growing completely, our existing way of life would probably be completely and permanently sustainable and at that point I would be perfectly willing to support highway improvements because they would not lend to increased traffic, only increased efficiency for the existing traffic.
Each new development brings with it more cars. More cars bring more demand to the highways. More demand to the highways bring us to more congestion. More congestion brings us to improved highway design. Improved highway design without any foresight brings us to these workshops. The Hanlon was built with 4 lanes and intersections at grade, with plans to build full interchanges and upgrade the highway to at least 6 lanes. The right of way itself is wide enough for quite a few more lanes than even that.
For myself and the few other members of the workshop who would actually admit it, how to go about suggesting highway improvements is a difficult balance. The balance is between being a driver, a local resident, and a thinker. As I have said in the past, as a driver, paving over the entire province to allow me to drive anywhere in a straight line has its appeal. As a resident, gut-reaction NIMBYism strikes where there is a desire to have fewer cars go through my backyard, as opposed to the thinking side of the balance, where there is an implicit understanding that highway construction as we currently do it must end. There must be fewer cars in all our back yards -- not just mine.
So as a participant in the workshops, what does one do to balance this?
For me it was fairly simple. I made it clear to the participants at my table, at least, that improving our highway will only serve to give us more cars. The improved highway will facilitate more transient traffic, obstructing Guelph residents' own ability to travel within the city. I noted, as I have many a time before, that the MTO, city staff, and other such planners do an excellent job within the parameters they are given by our political leadership, who in turn are given direction by you and me, the voter. Change away from these highway improvements and toward real improvements has to start with us telling our politicians to direct our planners accordingly. But I also conceded that this highway is likely to be upgraded and, with my objections on the record, I would do what I could to propose an alternative design for the highway beneficial to the goal of improving the highway.
In my view, if the highway is going to be improved anyway, the best thing we can do is:
1) Keep its speed down -- although as a driver that irks me. As another participant noted: how fast do you drive through other peoples' communities? Having an 80 km/h limit instead of a 100 km/h limit on our city's internal highway shortens exit ramps, and allows us the possibility of not cutting off as many parts of our community. It also allows improved fuel efficiency, something that is going to become a very serious issue in the short term, as it was shortly after this highway was originally built in the first Energy Crisis
2) Ensure access to all roads that currently connect to the Hanlon. The MTO's plans call for creating a commuter-only interchange at Kortright, that is, an interchange that only points away from the city, and cutting off College Avenue completely. While the right of way is large enough for a service road that would rectify this, there are no such plans to do so. The workshops gave us the opportunity to put those back on the table.
3) Minimise land use and the expropriation of peoples' homes. One resident of Old Hanlon Rd. whose house is scheduled to be expropriated and demolished to make way for an exit ramp was in attendance largely to get a sense of when his period of limbo would end, a position I cannot even begin to imagine myself in.
As each group presented draft plans, I was given a chance to present my idea, which differed, as it always seems to do, with that of everyone else present. But unlike the consensus plans reached in the room by day's end, which essentially looked like the MTO's preferred plan with two exit ramps removed and a service road added between Stone and Kortright, completely eliminated the Stone Parclo ("partial cloverleaf interchange") without endangering pedestrian crossings or cutting off any roads.
My approximate proposed alternative plan.
Green = new construction.
Red = existing Hanlon.
Blue = existing relevant roads.
My plan, seen here (click on the image to show the enlarged version), is to have an exit ramp between College and Stone heading southbound that either climbs over or dives under the Hanlon to cross over to the east side of the highway to meet up with the northbound on-ramp in a 4-way intersection on Stone. The ramp would continue as an entrance ramp onto the Hanlon by crossing back over the Hanlon south of Stone and re-merging on the west side, with the lane forking and connecting up to a grade-separated roundabout under the Hanlon at Kortright. This construction would allow north-side access to and from Kortright, which would be eliminated under current MTO plans diverting a good deal of traffic over roads that can't handle it, have a traffic-light free flow allowing reduced sight lines and a smaller land use footprint at Kortright, and more importantly, would allow Old Hanlon Rd. to not only be not expropriated and overrun with a cloverleaf, but to be reopened at the Stone Rd. end to act as a service road to connect College Ave to the Stone Rd exit and take traffic off all the curvy residential streets in the area that would otherwise be getting the College Ave and Kortright local traffic. Stone Rd interchange would function essentially as it does today, without backing up the highway. As the Stone Rd extension to highway 24 has been nixed, there was general agreement at the workshops that the Stone Rd interchange could be simplified dramatically from the substantial Parclo A4 that had been planned.
The over/under concept for a service road exit ramp to the opposite side is not without precedent. The idea comes from the document "Protecting The Option For Future Interchanges And Grade Separation In The Hanlon Corridor City Of Guelph", Report #10 of the Guelph Transportation Plan of 1974. According to Plate 2 of this document, this exact setup was originally intended to create a service road between Speedvale and Woodlawn along Lewis Rd.
The only drawback to this plan is the construction of two additional single-lane overpasses or underpasses, which is expensive, but the reduced land use, improved pedestrian safety from altogether avoiding a Parclo, and the elimination of all residential expropriation, as well as allowing essentially full access to all three roads instead of only one, makes it an attractive solution to me, as both a driver and as a resident. If the highway remains the same and the minimum $50 million is put directly into undoing 50 years of damage from this type of construction in the first place, I will be just as happy. As far and away the youngest resident present, I suppose, I am concerned about a longer-range future.
My conclusion from this exercise is that the MTO and the city are concerned about the views of the residents along this corridor. These workshops must have cost the project, and by extension you and me, in the area of $150,000 between the staff time, document preparation, food and facilities, and other expenses. That they would spend that much time and money and not have some intention of listening is somewhat unlikely. Whether they will listen to the proposals, all of which scaled down their plans, demanded a lower speed limit on the highway, and opened access to Kortright, or they react by poking holes in all the proposals, will be clear on the 13th, when the third and final workshop session will take place.
The organisers have promised to take all of our proposals back to their offices and return them to us at that time, drawn to scale, with their assessments as to their feasibility. It took 34 years to get to this point, so I am not entirely sure how they can get that done in just 10 days, but I will be sure to let you know if and when I find out. Meanwhile, I hope the MTO staffers who told me yesterday that they read this blog "to see what the other side is saying" continue to enjoy the dialogue.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 22:09 on
May 04, 2008
The March of the Hanlon Freeway
Last night, I attended the first of three workshop sessions put on by MTO, Guelph city staff, and their design consultants on the topic of the building of interchanges on the Hanlon expressway.
The night was long but is nothing compared to how long tomorrow will be, when the two dozen residents and the planning staff spend the day locked in a room together to allow residents to propose alternatives to their plans for 7 hours. Whether we will be listened to or humoured through this process, only time will tell, but one attendee last night cautioned the organisers that he was not interested in participating in a "dog and pony show". While organisers emphatically denied that this is what it was, the "8 assumptions" put up on the screen at the end of the night seemed to suggest otherwise.
The Hanlon upgrades are most controversial because of the effect they will have of changing the Hanlon from an intra-Guelph highway to an inter-city highway. Of the three interchanges that we are being talked to about, only one and a half will remain under what the designers call their "preferred plan". Kortright Rd will have a commuter-only exit and entrance, facing south. College Ave will have no exit whatsoever and be converted into an underpass. The adjacent roads to the Hanlon expressway that are unable to handle significant traffic and were not designed for the purpose will have to handle the domestic Guelph traffic between the remaining interchange and the city streets that will be cut off.
The general consensus among the residents is that this is not necessary, that interchanges can be built without cutting off all the roads, and that noise levels and particulate levels can be reduced, if the speed limit on the highway remains 80km/h as it is today. There is also a feeling that as gas heads for $2 a litre, the highway upgrades should not be the priority so much as alternate modes of transportation.
In their three hour presentation, the staff told us that the province has put $3.4 billion into transit solutions in the province over the last few years, although they didn't mention how much is going into highways. $1.6 billion had been announced earlier in the day to build a 12 km stretch of highway in Windsor, half a billion dollars are about to be spent on highways in Guelph, and there are a lot more cities with a lot more highway projects throughout the province. Another staff member showed an (incomplete and not completely accurate) rail map of the region with GO lines depicted saying that we are investing in transit, which is true, but that it was a subject for another day, which is not.
A representative from the MTO asserted that there has been no modal shift away from the automobile, and none is projected. Therefore, he said, this highway is necessary. While I will concede that if there are more cars, there will be more roads to accommodate them, I will also note that as we have more roads to accommodate them, there will be more cars. The logic that because there will be more cars there needs to be more highways is both shortsighted and self-fulfilling.
The plans for the highway are not only about upgrading the section near where I live to remove my neighbours' access to it, but it is about extending the highway across the 401 to connect up to Highway 6 south of the 401, to connect it north of Woodlawn to highway 6 north of Guelph, and to connect it to a new divided Highway 7 and GTA West highway corridor at the top of the city. This will turn the expressway from a short highway that helps Guelph citizens get around and in and out of Guelph into a freeway designed to bypass the city. There is a growing sense in the community that the MTO and the province see Guelph as little more than a speed bump on the way to Waterloo region.
I have it on some authority that the organisers of these sessions did not want the press in attendance at this event. Naturally there is nothing more attractive to members of the press, and Magda Konieczna, the Mercury's intrepid city hall reporter, attended the event. At the start of the session, the organiser went around the room getting everyone to introduce themselves. At the end of the introductions, she announced rather unhappily that there was a reporter from the Guelph Mercury in the room. It sounded to me more like a warning to staff than any kind of introduction. About half of Guelph City Council were in attendance as well.
Over the course of the evening, questions were occasionally taken from the floor. The most critical question was about speed limits. There is a near-universal desire to keep the highway to 80 km/h (100 km/h design speeds) through Guelph as I mentioned a moment ago, to allow for more useful interchanges and less noise and air pollution. The question was asked: is lowering the speed limit on the table? Yes of course it is, assured the moderator, while being countermanded by the 5-pound briefing package we had been given and by MTO representatives who seemed to suggest that it was only on the table insofar as we would be told why it was not possible.
Why is it not possible? Well, according to one of the last presenters, it is not possible because drivers are too stupid to handle an 80 km/h speed limit. That's not how he phrased it, but that's essentially what he said. Drivers see a freeway, they expect a 100 km/h speed limit, and therefore that's what we will give them. And so they will continue to expect it. When I asked if the MTO would consider left-hand exits, the reaction was swift and decisive: it's too dangerous to have a left-hand exit. Drivers, I assume, are too stupid to handle those, too, notwithstanding the 403 eastbound to 6 northbound exit or the 40 eastbound to 15 northbound exits in Montreal, or any of the dozens of forks in highways all over the place, all of which are perfectly usable left-hand exits. If he is right and drivers are too stupid to handle our roads, why are we encouraging more of us to drive, anyway?
I also had the opportunity to ask last night when the Hanlon would be finished. That is, at what point will everyone be satisfied that the highway is big enough, long enough, fast enough, and sufficiently inaccessible that we can call it completely and totally done? My question was met with a blank stare. Indeed.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:42 on
May 02, 2008
Growing without growing
In Ontario, since the advent of the Places to Grow legislation, there has been a lot of talk about absorbing the 30-50% population growth in the province anticipated over the next quarter century. The legislation requires at least 40% of new growth to be in currently built up areas, with "only" 60% of the growth taking place through sprawl. I have a simple regulatory proposal for all municipalities in Ontario affected by the Places to Grow legislation, and anyone else who wants to prevent Canada's built up area from stretching from sea to sea to sea as we pursue the myth of sustainable growth.
My idea is simple: require any developer or builder who wishes to build any kind of building in the limits of the municipality to first tear down an existing building within that municipality.
There should be no restrictions on the size of either the torn down or new building, with the necessary caveats to avoid the destruction of historically significant buildings. That last bit can also be used to tell a developer that if they adopt and preserve such a historic building, that would then count toward their one-to-one building replacement quota.
The immediate effect is that the economics of building small, detached homes as massive developments flies out the window. One would be required to purchase and tear down one detached home for each detached home they planned to build. Purchasing one small, detached home to build a 100-unit apartment building, on the other hand, makes the small, detached home a rounding error in the math. This type of approach should work toward intensification, and the demolition of buildings to make way for new buildings should also help to slow the rate of sprawl. The 60% sprawl factor in the legislation is a target we should not be aiming to meet.
Can we grow sustainably? According to Gord Miller, Ontario's Environment Commissioner, who I met at the OPIRG conference in Guelph yesterday, there is such thing as "sustainable growth", but not when it comes to population. Some parts of Europe, he points out, are growing their economies without growing their population in a sustainable way, by increasing productivity rather than population.
Sustainable growth when it comes to population, on the other hand, is a complete oxymoron. With population, we can either sustain, or we can grow. Doing both is a technical impossibility. With a sustained population that is not growing, it is possible for every family to live in a single family detached dwelling without contributing to urban sprawl. With an ever-growing population, it is possible for every citizen to live in a string of 20 storey high-rise apartments that stretches from Lake Erie to James Bay, with more under construction. Intensification therefore only slows down sprawl, it does nothing to stop it.
But slowing sprawl down is the only option available to us for the moment. Places to Grow won't bring people to Ontario -- they are coming anyway. What it does is try and limit how much of an impact that growth has, and where that growth goes. Cities like Guelph that are in the cross-hairs of this legislation must act quickly and decisively to handle this incoming population. Places to Grow gives us targets for growth and an approximate structure for how to grow, with the 60% sprawl factor and the 40% intensification factor, but I see no reason for us not to try to exceed them.
Forcing developers to tear down one building to build a new one should serve to meet or exceed our intensification quota nicely. While I do not, and most of my friends do not, have any particular desire to live in an apartment building, with growth numbers like we have, single detached dwellings will have to go the way of the dodo sooner or later, or there simply won't be any farms left to feed the cities we end up with.
Even as the population growth in the rest of the world slows and perhaps even stops as we reach the carrying capacity of our planet, I have little doubt that Canada will continue to be the recipient of millions of immigrants from other parts of the world for several generations to come.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:39 on
March 31, 2008
An Inconvenient Truth
I was finally able to watch Al Gore's documentary on global warming called "An Inconvenient Truth" last night. It is probably one of the most important documentaries of our times to hit the big screen, but I fear most people will never see it.
The theatre we watched it at is the Bookshelf, a bookstore with a small ~150-seat theatre. The crowd was clearly in agreement with the documentary the whole way through, leading to the depressing realisation that it is accomplishing nothing more than preaching to the converted.
The structure of the film was primarily a glorified version of a well-practised presentation former US Vice President Al Gore regularly gives on global warming. It cut occasionally to scenes outside of lecture halls and theatres, but it avoided getting into fluffy sensationalism. Gore kept it to a simple hour and a half long discussion of real, hard evidence of the existence of and problems created by global warming, offering a few minutes of solutions at the end.
In the movie, he compared the world's ability and willingness to react to problems with a frog. A frog, he showed with the help of an animation, jumps into a pot of boiling water, and immediately jumps out, sensing the danger. But if it gets in warm water, and then it is brought to a boil, it will just stay there... and stay there... A hand then entered the water and removed the frog in the animation, and Gore said "until it is rescued." It's kind of powerful, but I suspect that people who watch the documentary without really understanding it will interpret the scene as: "oh good, we'll be rescued."
I am concerned that An Inconvenient Truth is not playing in mainstream theatres, and that its mass market appeal is effectively zero. It does what it is meant to do, but the majority of the people who need to see it never will, namely the voting public. The people who are going to see it are doing so because they already understand that global warming is a significant problem.
As the documentary drew to a close, I expected Gore to look into the camera and say "... and this is why I am running for president in 2008". He didn't, though the consensus outside the theatre after was that he should. I do hope he throws his hat in for another crack at the presidency in the post-Bush era. A strong, well-funded presidential campaign around the environment in the US could, at the very least, force all candidates to address the issue.
I'll even provide Gore with his catchy slogan for his 2008 bid: "It's the ecology, stupid."
Imagine, for a moment, a world where Stéphane Dion is Prime Minister of Canada, and Al Gore is President of the United States... we could be rescued like that frog, after all!
Go watch this film. Especially if you believe global warming is a myth.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:59 on
August 24, 2006
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