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All stories filed under guelph...

  1. 2006-06-09: A ten-lane 401?
  2. 2006-10-05: Bring GO train service to K-W/Guelph/Cambridge!
  3. 2006-11-01: GOKW.org gets excellent response from the community
  4. 2006-11-10: Public transit dominates municipal election debates
  5. 2006-12-19: The future is rail
  6. 2007-03-14: Let's get Guelph back on the GO
  7. 2007-09-12: Dalton McGuinty responsible for 7200 deaths, says tory candidate
  8. 2007-11-28: We're band-aiding our highways again
  9. 2008-01-15: Highway 6 improvements a waste of money
  10. 2008-01-20: Guelph's former LaFarge property an opportunity not to be wasted
  11. 2008-02-04: Guelph official plan city council presentation
  12. 2008-03-02: New Highway 7 a total misallocation of funds
  13. 2008-03-03: Guelph city council presentation on the former Lafarge Lands planning application
  14. 2008-03-07: Stop paving over my generation!
  15. 2008-03-20: Evidence mounts in favour of Silvercreek Junction Park-and-Ride in Guelph
  16. 2008-03-24: Guelph Blogs
  17. 2008-03-25: Guelph's Imico property -- our other major transit opportunity
  18. 2008-03-26: On Guelph's Wilson St Parking Garage
  19. 2008-03-28: How I came to believe in better public transit
  20. 2008-04-12: $15 million parking lot a curious approach to planning for the future
  21. 2008-04-15: Free bus service, and a transportation forum
  22. 2008-04-18: More broken thinking on parking
  23. 2008-04-21: Conservative party does not want Guelph represented
  24. 2008-04-25: Guelph to rail using industry in 1974: can you move to trucks?
  25. 2008-04-29: Guelph throws another $126,000 at free parking
  26. 2008-05-01: South-end Guelph finally getting a firehall
  27. 2008-05-02: The March of the Hanlon Freeway
  28. 2008-05-04: MTO/Guelph Hanlon workshops show divisions, unity
  29. 2008-05-12: GO notices Guelph
  30. 2008-05-13: Guelph Transportation forum
  31. 2008-05-14: Final Hanlon workshop and related thoughts
  32. 2008-05-26: Every day should be Clean Air Day
  33. 2008-05-28: Thoughts on meeting Elizabeth May
  34. 2008-05-28: GO official announcement of service to Guelph
  35. 2008-06-03: Letter to Guelph City Council re: Lafarge property
  36. 2008-07-02: Thanks and Congratulations
  37. 2008-07-09: Municipal tax revenue issue has been very badly framed
  38. 2008-07-21: Guelph-Horizon Hydro merger debate
  39. 2008-07-25: Guelph by-election called
  40. 2008-07-30: Gloria Kovach's love-hate relationship with deficits
  41. 2008-08-20: What the ....
  42. 2008-08-23: Community service like no other
  43. 2008-08-29: Vandals threaten the lives of Liberal supporters in Guelph
  44. 2008-09-07: 45 days down, 37 to go
  45. 2008-09-24: GO trains to run to Guelph and Kitchener by 2011
  46. 2008-10-06: There is no morning-after pill for federal elections
  47. 2008-10-24: Assorted thoughts on leadership, recessions, and highways
  48. 2008-11-30: Frank Valeriote off to a good start in the House of Commons
  49. 2008-12-12: GO train service not to reach Kitchener?
  50. 2009-02-01: Lafarge-Howitt deal an improvement, but still hampers transit future
  51. 2009-03-26: Disrespect won't win you any points
  52. 2009-03-30: Celebrating our heritage
  53. 2009-04-28: City Council decision on the Hanlon upgrades
  54. 2009-05-11: Police Week
  55. 2009-11-01: Transportation planning leaves a lot to be desired
  56. 2010-05-15: Keeping Track - The Rails of the Royal City

Displaying the most recent stories under guelph...

Keeping Track - The Rails of the Royal City

On May 2nd, I led one of the many Jane's Walks in Guelph on a route I called "The Rails of the Royal City". Not everyone wants to do a seven kilometer wet-weather walk, so my column for this month is the written version of the same tour. I hope you enjoy this little taste of Guelph's rich rail history.

History haunts Guelph's railways

Thunderstorms and miserable weather were predicted for that first Sunday in May. Still, a small group of dedicated people showed up for the Jane's Walk that morning.

It was my task to lead the walking tour of Guelph's rail network - and how great it would be, I thought, if I could show everyone this poorly understood bit of our city.

As we gathered at the Guelph railway station, the Via train pulled out of the platform on its way to Toronto. The station, once part of the Grand Trunk system, was once serviced by the streetcars of the Guelph Radial Railway. It served as a transit hub, and retains its strong heritage and functional value.

Via Rail train No. 85 departs for Sarnia in this March 16, 2008 photo. CN Locomotive 6167 is visible in the top right corner of the image.

Via Rail train No. 85 departs for Sarnia in this March 16, 2008 photo. CN Locomotive 6167 is visible in the top right corner of the image.

Across the tracks from the station, we looked at the soon-to-be-demolished cotton mill. Removed from the city's register of historic buildings, the site will instead serve an essential heritage and functional role in Guelph's restored transit hub.

We walked along Carden Street to the pedestrian overpass at Norfolk and along Kent Street, straddling the Guelph subdivision - better known as the north mainline - just west of downtown. We may never see another street quite like Kent, with its lane-rail-rail-lane configuration.

When we got to Edinburgh, we took Crimea to Alma Street. Just Alma Street - not Alma North or Alma South, because it is the tracks that are the north-south divider for street names.

There, the tracks leave the intersection of Alma and Crimea in four directions - to Cambridge, Kitchener, Georgetown and toward Fergus.

The tracks to Cambridge once led to a point near Brantford known as Lynden Junction, allowing Guelph residents a north-south connection to Brantford on the Great Western Railway.

Today, the same track in the direction of Fergus goes only as far as Woodlawn Road to the north, but once continued to Palmerston, which was a major passenger rail junction connecting much of the Bruce Peninsula and giving Guelph rail riders access to Owen Sound and many other communities.

The tracks to Kitchener and Georgetown still carry six passenger trains per day.

As we continued our walk, to the west lay Howitt Park and the Lafarge property.

We followed the tracks along Edinburgh northward as far as London Road.

Called the Guelph north spur, these tracks allow the Goderich-Exeter Railway to reach the industrial railway tracks in the Edinburgh-Speedvale-Elmira-Woodlawn roads block, which are shared with the Guelph Junction Railway. We hung a right and got on CN Spurline Park at London Road, walking along what used to be a connecting track between the Guelph Junction Railway and the Canadian National network.

This park, one of two former rail lines that now serve as walking trails in the city, runs from London Road along the south side of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic High School, across the northern tip of Exhibition Park, and curves sharply back to the Guelph Junction Railway at Clarence and Dufferin. The tracks along this alignment were pulled up nearly half a century ago, but the right of way remains clearly visible, a silent testimonial to the durability of rail.

While other tracks connected Guelph to Brantford and Owen Sound, the Guelph Junction Railway once continued north-west through Elmira all the way to Goderich.

We followed Dufferin and Cardigan streets along the Guelph Junction Railway as far as Eramosa Road. There, we were able to join the walking trail at John Galt Park along the side of the tracks, by the site of the old CPR station, now an apartment complex, and the Priory, the predecessor station. Along the way, we found a milepost: 32. I asked those along for the walk if they had any idea what we were 32 miles from. Nobody was quite sure. Hamilton, I told them, is 32 miles away. Railways still use miles

Hamilton, a city from which it is virtually impossible to visit Guelph without a car, has a direct rail line to our wonderful little community, but no service.

As we approached the River Run Centre, we noted the tourist trains. The Guelph Junction Express operates tourist and dinner trains along the Guelph Junction Railway. Waterloo, Tottenham, Orangeville, and several other communities in the area have similar services. Why has passenger rail been largely relegated to the status of a tourist attraction?

We approached the intersection of Macdonell and Wellington streets. There, the North main line has a large viaduct passing over the Guelph Junction Railway and the Speed River. The viaduct was built wide enough to support two tracks, showing excellent advance planning - far more than the 20 years we plan ahead for now.

The transit hub will have a platform that comes nearly all the way to this intersection. Why not build it just a bit longer to connect it to a platform along the Guelph Junction Railway? That would be planning for the future.

The last stop on our journey took us to CN 6167, the steam locomotive nestled in next to the Greyhound station. The locomotive will be moved to make way for the restored transit hub. Like the cotton mill, 6167 stands as a silent witness to our past successes - and will need to be removed in order for us to repeat them.

columns guelph transit 972 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:33 on May 15, 2010

Transportation planning leaves a lot to be desired

Tuesday's column appears in yesterday's on-line edition, so here goes. It's an expession of my annoyance that we have become so obsessed with a downtown railway station for outbound Guelph commuters that we will now risk entering GO service in two years without having one single parking space for those commuters in the entire city. Somehow, tying up our remaining already overcrowded city lots with commuters' cars is considered good for our downtown businesses. The lack of clarity in our vision for how to build our infrastructure if it isn't a simple road is truly mind-boggling.

Anyway, here it is...

Stimulus opportunity fails to hit the rails

Transportation planning leaves a lot to be desired

With two years to go before leaving the hatchery, our chickens are already on their way home to roost.

The proposed Wilson Street civic parkade, Guelph's answer to a proper commuter rail station, will be deferred years past the arrival of the trains it was meant to serve, and, for the second time in as many decades, GO trains will visit Guelph without providing a realistic option for its passengers to park and ride.

The decision to defer the lot may be the right one, if made for the wrong reason. Its main purpose, by design or otherwise, would have been to service the train station, drawing more cars into downtown outside of business hours and contributing only parking fare to the local economy. But by requesting only a single station in our downtown, and by settling with a particular set of developers whose vast, vacant land lies between two railway lines and three highways, Guelph has effectively cut off its nose to spite its face. When GO trains arrive two years from now, we will have neither a proper station downtown, nor an alternative location conducive to getting drivers out of their cars.

Once again, we will be encouraging our commuters to use the ever-expanding highway network while pondering why our GO trains are leaving Guelph with almost only Waterloo region passengers aboard.

The 401 is among the busiest highways on earth. Stretching 16 lanes across at its widest, it is also among the slowest. With all that, you would think that the GTA is one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. But it only makes the top 50 if you stretch it to include Hamilton.

Our solution to our never-ending congestion problems is inevitably to pass up golden transit opportunities, build another highway, and enlarge the freeways we have until there remains no room to grow.

We have an extensive network of buses and trains of various descriptions, speeds, and routes. And if you don't mind going through downtown Toronto, you can get pretty well anywhere in under a day. Guelph to Hamilton, with the end of direct CoachCanada service, is a mere four hours by bus, and we can even make Brantford on overnight service.

Among the many studies taking place in the area is one called "GTA West." It looks at transportation problems from the Hanlon in the west to the 400 in the east, from the 401 in the south to a fuzzy line north of the GTA. Every few months, the GTA West study's Community Advisory Group meets to hear about the latest developments and offer input to the planning team. The fifth such meeting will take place in Mississauga on Thursday.

GO has already run an environmental assessment from inception to completion, albeit largely based on city parking plans that won't come to fruition, since the GTA West study got under way for much of the same territory. GTA West, delimited by highway rather than developed boundaries, remains focused on all modes of transportation, with a likely outcome of a new super-corridor stemming off the interchange of the Hanlon and the as-yet unbuilt new Highway 7 to an unclear easterly terminus.

Coupled with the grade separation of the Hanlon and the pending expansion of the four-lane Highway 6 south from the 401 toward Freelton, such a highway would make a clear means of coming up from the Niagara Peninsula and bypassing Toronto to get straight onto the 400, via Guelph. However the planners have acknowledged the loud and clear message from the community advisory group is that a new highway, at least on its own, is not an acceptable solution to our transportation woes.

For the past year, we have been in recession. In an attempt to jump-start the economy, roads across the country are being rebuilt at a frenetic pace. And while our governments at all levels are borrowing heavily to pay for it, one has to ask what we are actually achieving.

There is no better time than a deep recession to rapidly and comprehensively rethink national infrastructure. Labour is cheaper and more abundant than during a boom, and the work can create jobs. We have figured it out to an extent, with the largest pothole-filling project in history, but what we are lacking is the vision required to turn this economic bust into a true infrastructure boon.

Now is the time we should be mapping our country and drawing a new transportation infrastructure on it that does not focus around our insatiable demand for highways. We need to be building new railway lines and stations and improving existing ones. We need to make our different means of transportation interconnect. And we need to provide a place for people to put their cars to ride into the future. Projects such as GTA West provide us an opportunity, at least in our little corner of the country, to push for transportation strategies that offer meaningful alternatives where only another highway and a parkingless commuter station are envisioned.

columns guelph transit 961 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:24 on November 01, 2009

Police Week

With Police Week under way today and tomorrow, I thought it would be a good opportunity for my column to leave the usual track of pushing for rational transit solutions in a land where such concepts sound wonderful but are truely completely foreign to all of us, and focus on the people who enforce our laws for a few moments. While policing addresses crime head on, it doesn't make any effort to address the root causes of crime in the structure of our society, but that's a different column. So here's this one.

Police Week a chance to show our appreciation and get involved

Today marks the start of Ontario's annual Police Week. What better time to stop and really appreciate the contribution that our police department makes to the peace and well-being of our community?

Our media outlets are usually looking for problems -- scandals, disasters, or epidemics -- to catch our attention. As the saying goes, "If it bleeds, it leads." National news coverage sometimes sounds like a soap opera, reporting murders and crimes until we become inured to them and no longer even notice, except to wish they would announce good news more often.

Even so, we rarely take the time to notice when something is working properly. The fridge, the hot water tank, the car -- all are taken for granted until they break. In the same way, for most of us, the Guelph Police only come to mind when we realize we have been speeding, or have just made an illegal left turn.

The rest of the time, though, they are performing their real tasks.

Policing is among the most thankless tasks in any community, yet year after year, crime rates are substantially lower in Guelph than in other comparable cities in Ontario in every category except traffic violations.

There, we rate as the second highest, arguably a sign of the zeal of our men and women in uniform who monitor and patrol our roads.

"This year's theme is Policing Possibilities: Inspiration for the Future. This theme focuses on heightening community awareness and promoting collaboration between young people to keep our communities safe, through crime prevention, preparedness and social development," The Guelph Police Service said in a statement.

Policing services are not all performed by the active members of the force.

There are also groups of volunteers that strengthen links with the greater community.

One of these groups is the Community Volunteer Patrol (www.guelphcvp.ca). The volunteer patrol was started by residents of Guelph's west end in the mid-1990s. It grew quickly and serves the entire city, feeding information back to the police service's dispatcher as warranted, and helping to keep Guelph's crime rate down. Many similar volunteer services exist in other Ontario communities such as Kingston, Belleville, and Halton region.

Some forces, such as the OPP, have a more hard-core group of volunteers in their auxiliary units. All of these groups share one thing in common: they are all ways for the community to volunteer with the police services and contribute to our collective well-being.

The Guelph volunteer patrol is an eyes-and-ears extension of the Guelph Police Service. Usually at night, its members patrol parks, schoolyards, churches, and other neighbourhoods, institutions and businesses that request their presence.

They report directly to the police dispatcher while on duty and record everything that happens. You may also have seen them in their red shirts helping out at events such as Canada Day.

Guelph is a city rightly proud of its strong volunteerism, as seen during the recent National Volunteer Week.

If you want to get involved and help out with policing in Guelph, but the volunteer patrol is not your cup of tea, there are other opportunities to volunteer, with organizations such as Guelph Neighbourhood Watch or Block Parents.

If you want to learn more about these local opportunities, about the police service in general, or just want to show your appreciation to our Police service, Police Week is your big chance.

Today and tomorrow, you are invited to an open house at the Guelph Police Station any time between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. to meet the people of our police service, and the volunteer community groups attached to the police that help to make Guelph a better place.

Guelph works because people like you take an interest and show their appreciation. Successful policing requires community involvement.

columns guelph 733 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 00:50 on May 11, 2009

City Council decision on the Hanlon upgrades

It was a long night in Council's new chambers last night. The session lasted a full six hours, which I suspect gave most people the impression by the end that thy had always met in that room, even though it was the first meeting there since new City Hall opened. On the agenda was the construction of a new organic waste processing facility, upgrades to the Hanlon, approval of budgeting for money under a $135.5 million Infrastructure Stimulus Fund, and other topics that were ultimately deferred.

On the organic waste plant, also known as the 'wet plant,' several impassioned local residents rose to demand a full environmental assessment be done of the $26 million facility's construction. The small rural neighbourhood nearby the facility on the outskirts of town reported that the last, rather unsuccessful, such plant resulted in the deaths of four of the local residents from aneurisms as air and water quality were allegedly tainted by the facility.

Ultimately the new plant was approved by council without an EA and that project will be going forward over the next few years. I found it interesting in the lengthly discussion on this item that the City currently sends 8 trucks per week of organic waste to a Niagara Falls, New York incinerator to be burned. It perplexes me that so much of our waste leaves by truck when waste is by no means a high priority commodity, and the so-called "Waste Resource Innovation Centre", or our trash collection facility, is right next to the city-owned Guelph Junction Railway, albeit separated by a narrow river. Eight truckloads of trash is around two freight car loads of trash. Part of the plans for the new wet facility also include importing wet waste from nearby municipalities to process, which will also be done by truck. Were we to build a small rail spur into the Waste Resource Innovation Centre, we could both import and export our trash by rail at minimal environmental and economical impact rather than moving all the trash by truck, a vehicle designed for priority.

On the agenda, there was also another curious item: Guelph's distribution of money from the Infrastructure Stimulus Fund. It breaks down like this:

  1. Organics Waste Processing Facility - $26.5 million
  2. Guelph Transit Terminal, Bridge Rehabilitation and Related Road works - $16.4 million
  3. Eastview Community Park and Pollinator Initiative - $7 million
  4. Civic Square Skating Rink/Water feature - $2 million
  5. Municipal Facility Rehabilitation, Energy Conservation Upgrades and Accessibility Improvements - $10.3 million
  6. Major and Minor Road Reconstruction - $17.1 million
  7. Norfolk: Norwich to Quebec Road Reconstruction - $5.4 million
  8. Sidewalk Rehabilitation - $3 million
  9. Parks Rehabilitation - $3.8 million
  10. Road Reconstruction Projects - $24.9 million
  11. Road Pavement Deficit - $5 million
  12. City Bridge and Structure Upgrades - $2.1 million
  13. New Sidewalk and Bicycle Lane Construction - $2.5 million
  14. Intersection Improvements - $6.2 million
  15. Storm Water Infrastructure - $2.3 million
  16. Railway Crossings - $1 million.

Road investment (6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 14) $60.7 million
Walking/cycling investment (8, 13): $5.5 million
Transit/rail investment (2, 16): $17.4 million

That is $17.4 million for transit and rail projects, and $60.7 million for roads -- and that's counting rail/road crossing upgrades for rail. The $16.4 million for a Guelph Transit Terminal raises another whole host of issues, not least of which is that there is no evidence yet that Via Rail has actually agreed to have its station parking lot ripped out and turned into a bus/train interchange terminal. Even if it is, because Council elected not to save the Lafarge property as a park-and-ride, the project will devastate downtown parking no matter how many $30-$50,000/stall parking lots we build.

Anyway, in the context of all that happening, Council's other major decision last night was weather or not to support the Ministry of Transport of Ontario's recommendation to upgrade the Hanlon between Maltby Rd and Wellington.

Here is the text of my comments to Council on the topic:

Madam mayor, members of council,

What is our global vision for transportation?

While the Hanlon was being built in the early 1970s, the prevailing attitude was that any problem could be solved with another hunk of pavement. In 1974, while the Hanlon was under construction, a survey conducted by the City of Guelph asked industries, essentially: can you move away from trains and switch to trucks so that we can abandon most of the profitable Guelph Junction Railway? Surely our attitude has improved since that time.

The Hanlon was built to allow Guelph residents to bypass the downtown. Before the last section was even finished, Guelph had a save-the-downtown committee. This lesson is one we are continuing to fail to learn. The Hanlon already allows motorists to bypass Guelph's commercial centre, but its main purpose is to connect the different parts of Guelph to each other. Chopping out College and Claire, and making Kortright's Guelph-side access a residential service road, turns the Hanlon from an intra-Guelph highway to a Guelph bypass.

As importantly, we don't even know what the MTO has in store for the other half of the Hanlon, but we do know the highway is eventually intended to connect to Highway 6 south of Morriston, new Highway 7 north of Guelph, and we can safely assume it will connect to the GTA West project which still pretends to be something other than a highway project. These upgrades are not a project by, about, or for Guelph, but about finding a way around Guelph.

While the proposal before you went through extensive public consultation, the question asked was always: how should we upgrade the Hanlon. It was never: should we upgrade the Hanlon. It was never: where do we want to be in 20 years? We have no global vision for transportation.

If we go ahead and upgrade the Hanlon, we will see increased traffic volumes with better flow, pat ourselves on the back, and congratulate ourselves for planning for the future. If we do not, we will see increased congestion, and we will regret not doing the work. Why? Because that is the shallow view of the world we take, where highways are the answer but nobody knows the question.

There are four major highway projects currently ongoing in the vicinity of Guelph, of which the resolution before you covers only one quarter of one. If we divert the hundreds of millions of dollars of our money these highway projects will cost to mass transit, and give people a useful way to get around, we may start making headway.

Most of us probably drove to this meeting tonight. I, frankly, would rather not have. But parking downtown is free. Taking the bus, round trip, is $5, and takes approximately five times as long as driving, plus waiting. In all likelihood, the last bus will have left before I leave this meeting tonight. Counting generously, one out of every twenty trips in this city is done on a bus, and we are proud of the "five percent modal share" busses enjoy. We call it our goal, and we sleep well at night knowing that only ninety percent of people use their cars exclusively.

This evening's resolution includes a request to study further transit opportunities, but it does not go far enough. These have been studied over and over; what we need is actual investment in improved mass transportation opportunities for both passenger and freight, as part of a global vision for transportation that sets out how, not whether, we will move toward mass transit over the next decades.

While passenger trains have been largely relegated to the status of quaint tourist attraction, railway tracks parallel the Hanlon and Highway 6 from Guelph to Hamilton, where they continue parallel to the QEW all the way to the US border. Abandoned railway lines parallel Highway 6 north of Guelph all the way to Owen Sound. There is no reason for us not to invest in moving our people and goods on these economical, environmental railway lines, rather than once again upgrading our highways. These are just some of the options we can evaluate, but applying more band-aids to our highways should not be among them.

The auto industry does not have the money to fight transit projects at the moment. This is the time, as US President Barack Obama has figured out, to invest in mass transit, rather than highways. The Hanlon's time to upgrade has come and gone. Now is not the time to build bigger better overpasses at taxpayer expense, it is the time to come up with alternatives so that all of us can come to council meetings by public transit if we choose, with a reasonable expectation of being able to get home after, for less than the cost of driving.

Madam mayor and members of council, while the Hanlon was built forty years ago, the decision of whether to think like forty years ago or think about forty years from now rests in your hands for this small corner of the world. Do not approve this highway project until we have planned what we are really doing with transportation, not only to get us to the year 2031, but for the indefinite future, as time will not stop when our highways and our city reach their planned capacity.

I appeal to you to show the leadership that is needed in these times to formulate and implement our part of a true global vision for transportation.

Thank you.

Following my presentation, Councillor Piper asked me to expand on the construction cost difference between road and rail. I pointed out that Highway 7 will cost in the order of $30 million per kilometre to build, while rebuilding an abandoned railway line costs approximately $1M/km in each of parts and labour.

After hearing delegations for more than two hours, some in favour, more opposed, all with one problem or another with the plan, it was approved in a disappointing 12-1 vote, paving the way for one more albatross around the City of Guelph's neck and leaving me and many others scratching our heads about the vision our leadership claims to have.

guelph presentations transit 1697 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:20 on April 28, 2009

Celebrating our heritage

Today's column ties Guelph's rail history to Guelph's rail future through Guelph's rail present. The message in it applies to communities all over, though. Waterloo residents can drop in Waterloo Central where Guelph Junction Express is mentioned, Orangeville and Brampton residents can look toward the Credit Valley Explorer, and the further away you go, the more of these tourist railways you find viably running on railway lines that could be hosting real passenger service.

Rail transport is not just a thing of the past

On Election Day, last Oct. 14, a teenager playing with fire destroyed the restored historic railway station in the Quebec town where I grew up. A few short years ago, Strathroy's station, too, was torched. The River Run Centre was built on the site of the original Guelph Canadian Pacific station, which was the Priory. Our Great Western station, once near the former Lafarge property, has been gone for generations. The Grand Trunk station remains in service as the city's Via Rail station, soon to be joined by GO transit and the city's bus system. This is the sole survivor of at least seven train stations built in Guelph since 1827.

It used to be that the Guelph Junction Railway was part of the Canadian Pacific network as a passenger and freight line, connecting Goderich to Hamilton through Guelph. The line was abandoned from Guelph to Goderich some years ago, and passenger trains have not run on the balance with any regularity for over four decades.

Now that has changed. Last year, a local business person started the Guelph Junction Express, a tourist railway running between downtown Guelph and Guelph Junction, which is just west of Campbellville, on weekends.

Guelph residents have an opportunity to see this passenger train as it goes by the site of the old CPR station at the River Run Centre. The symbolism cannot be overstated.

The Guelph Historical Railway Association, which has been an active participant in the Guelph Junction Express project and has provided volunteer labour for many aspects of its preparation and operation, is putting on a special trip on April 25, running the Guelph Junction Express passenger train over most of Guelph's railway tracks. It will cover all of the tracks from Guelph Junction to north of Woodlawn Road, and into the industrial tracks that cross the Hanlon Expressway between Speedvale Avenue and Woodlawn Road, off of Edinburgh Road. This is an opportunity to experience Guelph's existing, and still active, rail network.

The tracks on which the Guelph Junction Express operates represent a huge opportunity for Guelph, if we have the courage to rise to the challenge. While studies looking at transportation in the region see tracks that run from Guelph to nowhere, and studies in the region south of us see tracks that run from Hamilton to nowhere, we must see that these tracks do not go nowhere, but connect Guelph to Hamilton.

Imagine a direct train from here to Hamilton. When Guelph had 20,000 people, passenger trains regularly ran that route. Now, with over 120,000 people, we have settled for a tourist train, celebrating rail transit as an exotic form of transportation that only our grandparents used.

While we treat passenger trains as a tourist attraction rather than as a practical way to get around, a ride on the Guelph Junction Express will challenge that assumption. Short-, medium- and long-distance travel are all possible by rail. All we lack is the imagination and courage to invest and restore our service to the level it was a century ago when taking the train got you some place other than Front Street.

Could we run a light-rail transit system south from Guelph's downtown to Hamilton's? Could we run one from downtown Guelph to our northwest industrial park? The Guelph Historical Railway Association excursion train will operate on one of the two potential routes for that service, which exist today as freight lines.

Integrating a Guelph light-rail system with a Waterloo Region light-rail system can be accomplished along two existing, serviceable routes, one that goes from Guelph to Cambridge (that appears as a desired route on Guelph's walking-trail master plan, in spite of being an active railway line) and the other, which goes from Guelph to Kitchener. But even if we do not connect to Waterloo, we can provide meaningful service within Guelph city limits, connecting some of Guelph's residential areas to its industrial ones by rail.

While our train stations continue to be burned or torn down, whether through malice or planning, the opportunities along the railway lines that pass those stations remain untapped and unexplored. Take a moment out of your weekend, take the Guelph Historical Railway Association's excursion, and imagine the possibilities as you ride a passenger train around Guelph.

Now is the time, with more and more of us looking for work, to invest in improving the underused rail infrastructure that we already have, an approach that could truly make us stronger for when times improve.

columns guelph transit 834 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:49 on March 30, 2009

Disrespect won't win you any points

I attended the Guelph Civic League's Hanlon Creek Business Park community discussion this evening and have a little to say on the matter. There were six panelists, though five of them didn't really need to be there. Peter Cartwright, the City's General Manager: Economic Development and Tourism, fielded nearly all of the ninety minutes of questions from the floor.

The Hanlon Creek Business Park is something I do not fully grok. I understand the need for employment lands as long as we subscribe to the theory of sustainable growth. While I believe "sustainable growth" is a total oxymoron -- something can either be sustained, or it can be grown, but to sustain growth requires infinite resources, itself an oxymoron -- growth is coming to this area and some accommodation needs to be made for it.

Not to belittle the environmental concerns, my objections to the plan are less environmental than they are pragmatic. I think it is crazy to be tearing down one of our few remaining virgin growth forests and paving it over, but I also think that if we are going to develop the land, it needs to be done in a way that minimises environmental impact on a wider scale, well beyond the 500 acre plot. It is imperative, therefore, that any such development be designed to maximise employment per acre, and be set up around public transit for commuters, and around rail for freight.

At the moment, the development is at the outskirts of town, where busses would be seriously stretching their legs to reach. The entire development is centrally located three to five miles between three different railway lines, two of which connect back to downtown Guelph and could be used for LRT as well as freight, and all of which connect to Canadian National and Canadian Pacific's national networks. No plans are even being contemplated to make any of those lines reach this industrial park, meaning all the heavy industry planned for the south end of the park will have to move by truck, further increasing the environmental impact to that part of town, to our road system, and our environment in general.

The points made by some panelists and those speaking from the floor were generally valid and important: namely that paving over wetlands isn't generally good environmental policy. But I have serious issues with the people who attend these events to disrupt them and argue their point in an unhelpful manner.

In their efforts to make their point, activists applauded questions and ignored answers, some swearing at the panelists and heckling. One questioner even went so far as to accuse Cartwright of conflict of interest for doing his job. Matt Soltys of Land is More Important than Sprawl sat on the panel and insisted that his views are not radical. Indeed, the ideas are not, but the disrespect shown by supporters in the room for those with whom they did not agree is radical, uncalled for, and completely counterproductive.

More information is needed for the community on the Hanlon Creek Business Park, that is evident. The City has promised that a website with up to date information on the project is forthcoming. But if the opponents of the project would rather shout down the planners than listen to them, what, really, is the point?

Showing such blatant disrespect won't win you any points. If anything, it will only serve to alienate people who would otherwise agree.

guelph 580 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 02:18 on March 26, 2009

Lafarge-Howitt deal an improvement, but still hampers transit future

Howitt Park Neighbourhood Residents Association, the city, and the developer of the Lafarge lands have come to an agreement on use for the lands that sees the retail space nearly halved and the addition of high density residential. This is an improvement from my point of view, because it allows the potential for my future dream of having the land used for walk-to-work out-of-town commuters as GO service progresses toward Guelph.

As I face the prospect of commuting to Kitchener myself, a new development in my life, the idea of having a station there that allows me to take the train westward to work is ever-more important to me.

The city has asked for only the downtown station to be used, but necessity will eventually require the Lafarge site to host a parking area for a station, even though the city government has acknowledged that westward commuting is as important as eastward commuting and a downtown-only station does nothing to help that. Having 340 residential units on the property should reduce the number of spaces needed. With trains, transit, and residential, the number of cars needed by such commuters should also be reduced.

It isn't an ideal situation, but it is a vast improvement over a nothing-but-commercial development as had been proposed. Armel's continued objection to the project and continuation of the OMB process is a plus, allowing GO Transit's environmental assessment to get out ahead of the development on the property and assert whether or not GO intends to use a portion of the land for a station, something I have long believed is essential to the future intercity transit system that Guelph is currently making no realistic plans for.

With the worst recession in three generations upon us, the province is in a hurry to shovel money at ready-to-go transit and infrastructure projects. With that in mind, GO's next Environmental Assessment Public Information Centre for Guelph service is coming up:

Kitchener:
Thursday, Feb 5, 2009
18:00-21:00
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
54 Queen St N

Guelph:
Thursday, Feb 12, 2009
18:00-21:00
Evergreen Seniors Centre, Room 4
683 Woolwich St N

Georgetown:
Tuesday, Feb 17, 2009
18:00-21:00
Halton Hills Cultural Centre
9 Church St

Interestingly, the Kitchener meeting directly conflicts with the next GTA West Community Advisory Group meeting (which is open to the public). It will be Thursday, Feb 5, 2009 at:

Four Points by Sheraton
2501 Argentia Rd
Mississauga

Anyone interested in the future of transportation in southwestern Ontario should go to this meeting. Visitors can observe the proceedings and do have time at the start and end (if I recall correctly) to comment. GTA West is, in my estimation, a project to build a highway between Guelph and Brampton connecting new highway 7 to the 407, but is disguised as a holistic analysis of transportation problems in the region. If there is enough community interest in solving our transportation problems with something other than steamrollers and asphalt, then it may actually become that holistic analysis that really is needed.

guelph transit 511 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:07 on February 01, 2009

GO train service not to reach Kitchener?

GO has released its 2020 plan, and according to the 65MB document, Guelph is to get rush hour train service, but Kitchener, Cambridge, Brantford, Niagara region, and Peterborough are only being considered for possible future expansion. Such a move makes the need for a site like Lafarge for parking and route origination much more urgent for Guelph's service, as it would be the nearest GO train access for the entire Waterloo region market. At the junction of 6, 7, and 24, Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo commuters would need a place to park in Guelph to park and ride. Refer to page 20 of the linked PDF for the GO 2020 rail service map.

The whole document is rather interesting. Page 24 of the PDF outlines operating ratios for comparable commuter services across North America. In the text, the document states "GO Transit will maintain a sustainable cost-recovery ratio of 75%." According to the chart on the same page, GO's current ratio is in the area of 90%, well ahead of second-place MTA Metro-North, New York City's system, which operates at about 62%. Page 34 outlines the plans for each of the lines on the GO system. Among the interesting tidbits, this chart shows GO considering the electrification of the Guelph line, and outlines the expected service for Guelph.

See GO's press release on the topic.

guelph transit 232 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 19:02 on December 12, 2008

Frank Valeriote off to a good start in the House of Commons

While all hell breaks lose in Ottawa as the Prime Minister acts too clever by half, and rumour spreads (by tories) that he is planning on sending Canada toward its constitutional minimum of one Parliamentary sitting day per year, new Guelph MP Frank Valeriote has been settling in to the House of Commons. Here are Hansard transcripts from his first interventions in the two weeks since being sworn in. Valeriote, the rookie Liberal MP for Guelph, is the Associate Critic for Industry (Automotive).

Question period, November 20th:

Mr. Francis Valeriote (Guelph, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, the auto sector has greatly suffered from the government's poor management of the economy and chronic neglect.

Guelph's economy is dependent upon the good jobs that come from a prosperous automotive and auto parts industry. Under the Conservatives, tens of thousands of good jobs have been lost, a situation that could have been avoided if they had a plan.

While the minister is on the road without a plan, auto workers are on the streets without a job. When will we see some real action?

Mr. Mike Lake (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, Canadians know that the global auto industry is facing unprecedented circumstances and the North American integrated automotive industry is no different.

The situation is changing daily. The minister is down in the U.S. right now talking to stakeholders. He has met with stakeholders here in Canada over the past couple of weeks.

The solution here needs to be a carefully considered one with a long-term view to the interests of Canadian consumers, Canadian workers, Canadian businesses and Canadian taxpayers. Any decision taken will be carefully considered in that regard.

Question period, November 26th:

Mr. Francis Valeriote (Guelph, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, what our auto industry needs is a coordinated, concurrent effort with the United States. Anything less than that will result in the protection of U.S. jobs at the expense of Canadian jobs. Anything less than that is only going to worsen the new Conservative deficit.

Will the Conservative Minister of Industry tell us exactly with whom in the Bush administration and in the new Obama economic team he has met to ensure that Canadian jobs are protected and not siphoned across the border?

Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Industry, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I would remind members of the House that the president-elect, the premier of Ontario and the Prime Minister of this country are all saying the same thing. We need long-term sustainability. We do not need back of the envelope plans. We need a business plan and a business model that will work for the future. Barack Obama is saying that. Dalton McGuinty is saying that. The Prime Minister is saying that, and we are proud of our Prime Minister.

Mr. Francis Valeriote (Guelph, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, the Conference Board of Canada stated that Canada will lose up to 15,000 more auto assembly jobs, which means 100,000 lost jobs in total by the end of 2009, 100,000 Canadian jobs. The U.S. Congress on its own will not protect Canadian jobs. That is the responsibility of the Conservatives, but all we hear from that minister is empty rhetoric.

How much longer will workers and their families have to wait before that ineffective Conservative minister finally acts to protect the auto jobs in this country?

Hon. Tony Clement (Minister of Industry, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, we on this side of the House are serious about our auto sector and indeed the entire economy. We are not part of the ready-fire-aim gang over there. We are methodically working on the best economic strategy for this country. We are working with our stakeholders. We are working with the auto sector. Members on that side of the House have no plans, no promises, except a car tax and a carbon tax which people in Canada could not afford to pay. That is not good enough anymore.

And later on the 26th, during the debate on the throne speech:

Mr. Francis Valeriote (Guelph, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga--Streetsville.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to rise in the House today to highlight some of my thoughts on the government's agenda outlined in the Speech from the Throne entitled, "Protecting Canada's Future".

It is indeed a distinct honour and privilege to have a seat in Canada's Parliament. I am profoundly grateful for the confidence that has been placed in me by the citizens of Guelph, a city in which one could not be more proud to live. It is a tremendous opportunity and privilege to serve one's own community in public office.

I want to take a moment to extend my appreciation to those individuals who devoted their time, resources and energy during my extensive 82 day election campaign. I am humbled by their contribution and inspired by their conviction.

My family has always been a source of love, guidance and support for me, and I am grateful for, and often feel undeserving of, their continued support. In particular, I want to thank my wife, Catherine, and our children, Olivia and Dominic, for their steadfast love and support as my young family continues along this journey into public life and public service.

In meeting my new colleagues from all parties, I am mindful that while we are divided geographically and politically, we are bound by a desire to serve the citizens of our constituencies and contribute to a better quality of life for those we are entrusted to represent. It is an ambitious goal, one that is essential for all of us to achieve in co-operation together.

I respect that Canadians want a Parliament that will work together to overcome the challenges that are on our doorstep. I have been successfully serving Guelph for 27 years as a lawyer, assisting people through the best and worst times of their lives. I have also had an opportunity to serve my community through many community boards and foundations. The people I have met and the organizations I have worked with along the way in Guelph have always had the foresight and commitment to face challenges, accept responsibility and plan a strategy to move towards a brighter future.

The people of Guelph and I are concerned about, even disapproving of, the Conservatives' lack of vision. In response to calls for economic prudence, we saw the Prime Minister irresponsibly eliminate the $3 billion contingency fund. In less than three years the Conservative government has become the highest spending government in Canadian history, after squandering the $13 billion surplus left to them by the previous Liberal government.

The Conservative minority government increased federal spending by more than $40 billion a year and, despite all respected economists' opinions to the contrary, cut its own vital source of revenue. In doing so, the Conservatives failed to stimulate meaningful economic growth and failed to be prepared for the slowdown they saw coming.

This economic crisis is an opportunity to embrace and invest in bold ideas and strategies that are going to translate into the jobs of tomorrow. I invite the Conservative government to take a look at Guelph for inspiration.

Maclean's magazine consistently rates the University of Guelph as Canada's foremost research university. The university is dedicated to maintaining this reputation through its intensive research-based programs, such as making plastic from non-food agricultural products, plastic that becomes car parts or packaging. Imagine farmers around Guelph feeding cities and feeding raw materials to industry in Guelph and elsewhere. Imagine the benefit for the economy and for the environment.

Innovation is exciting and full of economic opportunity. We need to make more meaningful investments and create strategic partners with those engaged in innovation and research in order to contribute to the kind of growth that will have our economy thriving. Governments need to play a more meaningful role in sponsoring university research and helping turn that research into jobs in Guelph and throughout Canada. There is little doubt that investments in university research yield significant social and economic returns. For example, Canadian economist Fernand Martin estimates that the cumulative dynamic impact of universities' contributions to the economy through research and development was at least $60 billion in 2007. We need to invest in talent, knowledge and innovation to continue to fully participate in today's competitive global and greening economy.

When I think about the next generation, a clean sustainable environment stands side by side with a prosperous economy. We have a responsibility to be mindful of our environment.

Again, I turn to Guelph for a stunning example of environmental sustainability. Last year, Guelph became a North American leader on energy management with its commitment to a 25-year community energy plan. Through the plan's challenging but realistic targets, Guelph could use less energy in 25 years than it does today, even with expected population growth of 53,000 people, and cut its annual greenhouse gas emissions by nine tonnes per person. This will put Guelph among the top energy performers in the world, reduce our environmental footprint and make my riding one of the most competitive and attractive communities in which to invest.

Liberals have been saying it for years, and I repeat the message at the risk it falls on deaf ears: Sound environmental policy delivers economic prosperity.

We cannot talk about the economy of tomorrow without paying heed to Canada's struggling auto sector. Communities right across this great country were built on the back of a thriving automotive industry. Today, with the industry in crisis, we see communities rightfully distressed about the loss of the good jobs provided through automotive assembly and parts manufacturing plants and the hundreds of thousands of spinoff jobs, from office cleaners to accountants and restaurateurs, to mention a few. It will negatively affect even the charitable contributions made in our communities.

Government has a role to partner with the industry to enable this sector to survive its credit limitations and emerge an industry that is committed to transition to greener and more efficient technologies.

Guelph is an auto town. Canada is an auto country. I call on the government to send a clear message to the industry and Canadians that the Government of Canada stands shoulder to shoulder with our auto industry to protect Canadian jobs.

The people of Guelph are disappointed that the funding promised to Canada's cities and communities has been delayed. Sound infrastructure is the link between healthy cities, productivity and competitiveness. I implore the government to move forward with vital and more meaningful infrastructure investments to create jobs and address the infrastructure deficit.

It is simply unacceptable for Canada to have an infrastructure deficit that exceeds $123 billion at a time when we are depending on our cities and communities for business growth and development and jobs. Guelph needs more meaningful help to repair its infrastructure, invest in public transit and for affordable housing.

My friends across the floor have asked us for ideas. I invite my Conservative colleagues to meet with me in Guelph and talk to those in the child care and early learning profession. The experience of 35 other industrialized countries, more committed than the Conservative government to early learning and child care, tells us that early learning is designed to take an entire generation out of poverty and into prosperity, better prepare them for the knowledge based economy, help children be better adjusted and less likely to be involved in crime and allows their parents to return to work or pursue their education. The Conservatives' $100 a month has left Guelph's early childhood education and child care in crisis.

Our children deserve more. I would have thought that my Conservative peers would care more about our children.

I respect the choice that Canadians made on October 14. I look forward to working in opposition to hold the government to account for the commitments it has made.

We need a bold vision that will lead us to a larger, greener economy that will restore Canada's place in the global economy.

We live in a complex, demanding, diverse nation. We govern not only for today, but for tomorrow and beyond.

Mr. Bruce Stanton (Simcoe North, CPC):

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate the member opposite for his comments and intervention this afternoon.

I want to go back to his earlier remarks with regard to the surplus and so-called lack of capacity. I wonder if the member might comment on the fact that Canada, of all the G-7 countries, has the greatest fiscal position and the greatest capacity to deal with this, partly because the government over the past two and a half years has reduced debt by some $38 billion.

The $13 billion surplus that keeps being heralded here by the other side has been reduced to put in the pockets of Canadians and help put Canada's fiscal position in a better light. I wonder if the member would not agree that this has improved Canada's position to address the very situation that confronts us.

Mr. Francis Valeriote:

Mr. Speaker, the member is right. I do not agree that it puts us in a better position.

If he has seen the reports from the OECD, he will know that Canada is headed for a deeper recession than we predicted and a far deeper recession than was denied by the Conservative government.

Had the Conservatives not squandered that surplus, had they paid attention to where we were headed and had they acknowledged what was clearly in their vision, which was a deficit and a recession, they would not have reduced the GST and we would have been in a better position right now to respond to the needs of all Canadians and respond specifically to those industries that need our help right now.

Mr. Wayne Marston (Hamilton East--Stoney Creek, NDP):

Mr. Speaker, I am little confused when I hear the member opposite talking about fiscal capacity when it was his leader who spoke to the Canadian Club and demanded that the government lower corporate taxes even further than it was planning on in the last budget.

Which side are you on?

The Deputy Speaker:

I would just remind the hon. member for Hamilton East--Stoney Creek to address comments through the chair and not directly to the opposite member.

Mr. Francis Valeriote:

Mr. Speaker, I am not at all against lowering corporate taxes to spark industry but lowering taxes alone is not enough. Lowering taxes for an ailing industry, all the ailing industries that are suffering right now, would be like refusing to throw a life jacket to someone who is drowning but telling them that if they get to shore they will be treated to a good meal.

I agree with lowering taxes but it is not enough. More must be done and more could have been done had the Conservative government prepared better for this deficit and for what is looming on the horizon.

Mr. Rodger Cuzner (Cape Breton--Canso, Lib.):

Mr. Speaker, I congratulate my colleague on his maiden speech. I want to assure the people back in Guelph that the member has made an impact not only in a very tough situation in his own riding but an impact already not just in our caucus and as a member of our auto caucus, but in the House as well. He has brought some important issues to the House so early in his career.

We stand in this place and we talk about issues and we debate legislation and bold ideas but it is important that, as members of Parliament, we have an understanding of how these issues impact on the real lives of those back home.

As the member's community continues to wrestle with those challenges within the auto industry, how is the inactivity on the part of the government impacting on those back in his riding of Guelph?

Mr. Francis Valeriote:

Mr. Speaker, today and yesterday I have been in communication with those who are being severely impacted. Linamar Corporation has already lost 800 jobs. It has had to freeze wages and benefits. I have received letters from dealerships in Guelph that have indicated that the wheels have stopped rolling.

We are getting absolutely no response from the Conservative government. It is not coming at all to the table with a meaningful effort.

guelph politics 2731 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:25 on November 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?

elections environment guelph highways leadership money musings politics transit 1155 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:35 on October 24, 2008

There is no morning-after pill for federal elections

In the five days since I submitted my latest column for today's Mercury, a lot has changed. Stephane Dion owned the French debate, Harper has been accused of plagiarising no fewer than three speeches, Liberal supporters in two Toronto ridings have had their homes vandalised and their lives endangered through damage to their cars exactly as happened in Guelph six weeks ago. But one key thing hasn't changed: Harper and the Conservatives, in spite of all evidence that they are permanently unfit to govern, still lead in the polls.

While Vote for Environment, a website dedicated to helping people reconcile split votes into a non-Conservative MP, warns that Guelph is one of the hottest ridings in the country, some people in Guelph point to an obviously bogus poll released by the Green party during the by-election showing themselves a distant second as evidence that this is not the case.

During the leaders' debate last week, Elizabeth May stated that her top priority for the country is electoral reform. We need proportional representation, she asserted, preempting any policy issues like the economy or the environment. I can understand the sentiment, but not the priority. Under single-member plurality, the proper name for what we have today, we have this problem with vote splitting. But it is the system we have, and the system that we will have on voting day next week. I am in favour of electoral reform, although against proportional "representation," and look forward to that national debate, but it is not the number one priority of this country.

While I am generally sympathetic to the Green Party and believe they have a major role to play in our democracy, their push for proportional representation irks me greatly. The notion was soundly defeated with nearly identical margins in referenda in PEI and Ontario and will be nationally if presented nationally. The electoral system we should be turning to is the one used by the lower house in Australia known there as Alternate Vote, or Instant Run-Off vote. It is, or is similar to, the system all parties use to select their candidates and leaders, and benefits the voter first, the party second. It gives constituents the right to choose their MP without worrying about vote splitting, without giving MPs the right to choose their constituents as proportional representation does. I also believe in other reforms, such as the banning of candidates from running in ridings in which they do not live, and the elimination of much of the role of the Party Whip.

My latest article to the Mercury bears this disclaimer: Editor's note: Community Editorial Board columnist David Graham is a member and supporter of the Liberal Party of Canada. He has volunteered with the Frank Valeriote campaign in this federal election.

It is true. I am a Liberal, and I put my money where my mouth is. I have never made a secret of that. I joined the Liberal party and volunteer for it because I believe it is the party best suited and most capable of governing this country, and I believe by being a member of it, and serving on its policy committees and in elections, I can help steer it toward the most productive policies, something I cannot do from the outside or by working against it.

Anyway, my column...

We can't afford another Conservative government

There is no morning-after pill for federal elections.

With the very real threat that we will wake up Oct. 15 to find ourselves tied to Stephen Harper, we have to ask ourselves: do we want this man who violates his own laws, while denigrating his opponents, to be in charge of our country and our economy?

Aside from the disdain he has shown for the rule of law by suing Elections Canada, the world-renowned organization responsible for ensuring our democracy, he is the leader of the first governing party in Canadian history to have its headquarters raided by the RCMP and has called this election in violation of his own fixed election date law.

Under that law, we were not scheduled to go to the polls until October 2009. As we know here in Guelph, our byelection was cancelled the day before we were to go to the polls, as Mr. Harper evidently feared losing here.

There are few countries in the world where elections are cancelled when the leader fears the result. Canada now counts itself among the members of this exclusive club.

Harper inherited a booming Canadian economy and a well-balanced federal budget from the Liberals less than three years ago. At the time, our economy was stronger than that of our neighbour to the south, and was the strongest of the G8.

Now, as the United States prepares to bail out an economy on the verge of collapse, we find ourselves with no more budget surplus in Canada and an economy no stronger than theirs.

This Conservative government has raised billions of dollars through the wireless spectrum auction and by selling off government assets to lease them back. The effect of this is to put extra money in the budget now, from the sale of our assets, and increase our expenses later by having to pay to lease them back.

It is a budgetary time bomb.

The claim that our federal budget is actually balanced is highly dubious. If we count the assets the Harper government has quietly sold, we are likely already in a substantial deficit.

Harper's actions are the equivalent of selling your house to pay off your mortgage.

This fits the pattern of federal Conservatives through this country's history.

By the end of Brian Mulroney's government, Canada's debt-to-GDP ratio had achieved its worst peacetime level since the Great Depression, something Jean Chrétien's Liberals had to remedy in their first term in office.

Before this current Conservative government squandered the healthy budgetary surplus left to them, the last time a Conservative government balanced a budget was in 1912, the year the Titanic sank.

Since then, not a single economic boom has taken place in Canada under a Conservative government, and that trend is set to continue under Harper.

We have seen this movie before.

The job losses in Ontario since Harper came to power in 2006 add up to more people than there are working in Guelph, after a decade of unprecedented growth under the Liberals.

We cannot afford Harper for the next four years. The last time we made the mistake of giving the Conservatives power, the result was a $40-billion deficit and a strong separatist movement in Quebec.

We sent a clear message and soundly rejected this approach to managing Canada then by leaving only two lonely Progressive Conservative MPs in the House. We should learn from our mistakes.

In Guelph, our choice is clear. We have a city councillor who claims she will take our voice to Ottawa, but she has already demonstrated that instead she will be Harper's voice here in Guelph.

Asked by this paper for her opinion on Guelph resident Steven Truscott's compensation for his wrongful murder conviction, she referred the matter to Stephen Harper's office to answer for her.

As a long-time member of council, one would expect her leadership on council to bring about the support of her colleagues, but at this time not one sitting member of council has endorsed her candidacy.

Voting for the Green candidate in Guelph, who does not live in our riding, does nothing to push Green values forward. As Elizabeth May herself said recently, she would "rather have no Green seats and Stephen Harper lose, than a full caucus that stares across the floor at Stephen Harper as prime minister, because his policies are too dangerous."

The reality in Guelph is that this riding is a swing riding, not the safe Liberal seat that some seem to believe. Voting for the Green candidate only helps ensure that the Conservatives carry this riding on the split environmental vote, and that the cause of environmentalism and good government is set back for years to come.

When you cast your ballot next week, consider the true ramifications of your vote.

You cannot take it back if you do not like the result.

columns elections guelph politics 1377 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:26 on October 06, 2008

GO trains to run to Guelph and Kitchener by 2011

Last night I, along with at least 75 other interested citizens, attended GO Transit's public information centre for its proposed expansion to Guelph and Kitchener. It is an accelerated EA and trains will be here under the plan at least 4 years earlier than I predicted just this January. There are a number of comments to be made about this plan.

The good news is that GO is willing to consider two stations in Guelph, and as many in Kitchener. The proposed station locations are (not all will be used, these are just possibilities):

Layover facility (no passengers) at Petersburg, a few miles west of Kitchener
Layover facility and station at Ira Needles, immediately west of Kitchener
Kitchener downtown VIA station
Layover facility and station at Breslau, just east of Kitchener
Guelph former Lafarge property (park-and-ride), at the Hanlon
Guelph downtown VIA station
Guelph Watson Road
Acton downtown
Acton East (Hide House)

My position on which stations should be used in Guelph is well documented. I believe the Lafarge property, which is readily accessible from highway 6 with minimal surface street driving, is the ideal location for Guelph's park-and-ride. Guelph downtown's invaluable connection to downtown residents, city busses, Via trains, and inter-city busses is also a necessary stop. Connecting to cars at Lafarge and busses at the downtown station would be ideal, given the lack of any sensible or economical parking options in the downtown core.

I am told that the Guelph downtown business association does not agree with my assessment, and I can understand their concern that the Lafarge station would be built at the expense of a downtown station. I strongly believe both are needed and that it is not an either/or scenario.

There is talk of building as many as three parking garages downtown. Wilson and Baker street lots would be 500 stalls each, a net gain of only 700-800 stalls, and for the first time I heard last night reference to a possible third lot of comparable size on the south side of the tracks in Guelph specifically to accommodate commuter train service. I do not personally believe this solution makes sense. GO wants at least 800 to 1000 stalls to start out with. That volume would eat $30 million of parking garage space off the bat, when a 1000-spot lot could be made at either Lafarge or Watson Rd for a fraction of that price, and it would deprive downtown business of nearly all of the freshly built parking. Commuters parking to take the train to leave the city will get there well before commuters arriving in Guelph by car, using up all of that downtown parking. Let us not forget the lessons of Barrie, whose 480 spot lot was full within two months of the start of service, massively exceeding projections, or the Lakeshore line whose 2000+ stall lots are so full that GO is preparing to build parking garages at several stations.

I prefer the Lafarge option over the Watson Rd option for a number of reasons.

While Watson Rd will serve the new developments around Grange Rd, the bulk of commuters in the city live in the south end off Downey and Kortright, and Claire roads. The Hanlon is the fastest way downtown for most of the city, and for our dramatically under-serviced neighbours like Cambridge. The sensible thing to do is build a station as close to the major highway as humanly possible so that drivers are not sent down surface streets. Having the station at Watson Rd means that the bulk of commuters will either go down the Hanlon, through downtown and across York Rd, or across Stone and up Watson.

The Lafarge property is also approximately geographically central to the city of Guelph, while the Watson Rd site is not even within city limits and is outside of our development territory as Guelph tries to conform with Places to Grow. Lafarge property also exists at the junction of two tracks, one which connects Kitchener and Guelph, and the other which connects Cambridge and Guelph. I see long-term opportunity in preserving Lafarge property as the major park-and-ride station for Guelph-Cambridge and Guelph-Kitchener commuters. Such LRT service could stop there and at the Guelph downtown station, but stretching its legs another 4 miles out to Watson Rd to connect to parking is not sensible.

That all said, while Lafarge property has most of the advantages, Watson Rd does have a couple. First, commuters who do live in the east end of the city would not be backtracking through town to get on the train (though they could proceed eastward to Acton, which would be faster anyway), and second: the proposed station parking lot off Watson Rd is at the end of the runway of Guelph airfield. If that were to be used, Guelph's airfield would be the first airport in Canada to have its own train station, beating Pearson with the 16 passenger trains per day that pass it without stopping. Dorval airport in Montreal does have a Via station, but you have to be taking the train from the Toronto side, not the Montreal side, to make use of it, so I don't count it.

The proposed plans call for GO trains to be running to Guelph by 2011, with the Guelph subdivision -- the name of the track that runs from Georgetown to London -- to be double-tracked within the study limits no later than the year 2031, with immediate upgrades to CTC (centralised traffic control) and welded rail to get us started. I suspect that the double tracking will take place far sooner than that, as traffic builds on the line.

One thing that struck me was a chart weighing relative values of road expansion versus rail expansion. As this project is run by GO, rail is recommended, in contrast to the MTO's various studies on road expansion which say that roads are better. It will be interesting to see if GTA West's study takes the same values on the same chart for the same corridor and gives "new roads" strong recommendation when GO's study gave that option the least possible preference.

While a copy of GO's 10-year plan I acquired last year did not even mention Guelph as a site to expand rail service, this EA which has come out of nowhere recently is great news for this region. I am very encouraged by the proposed plans, the timeline, the dedication of all the members of the EA from Burnside and GO who were in attendance last night, and by the number of people who came out from the community to see it all. I am looking forward to seeing progress as this environmental assessment moves forward. Transit is the future and our region is finally leading that charge.

guelph transit 1142 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:11 on September 24, 2008

45 days down, 37 to go

Well, as everyone who doesn't live under a rock by now knows, Harper has seen fit to cancel four byelections whose results he was afraid of in violation of his own fixed election date law. Here in Guelph, that means we're 45 days down, 37 to go. Tomorrow was meant to be election day. How symbolic for Mr. Harper to take a fleet of SUVs across the street to Rideau Hall to run over us all.

elections guelph politics 82 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 02:24 on September 07, 2008

Vandals threaten the lives of Liberal supporters in Guelph

The escalation in Guelph is dramatic. Last night, over night, someone, or some group, went to all parts of the city vandalising homes with Liberal party by-election signs out front. Houses were spraypainted with slogans on the brickwork, garage, doors, and windows. But worse, much worse, is the fact that these cowards keyed the cars in the driveways with 'L' and cut the brake lines in the cars in the driveways. At least six cars are known to have had their brake lines cut. This is wreckless endangerment. Disabling the brakes on cars is a direct threat to life and limb and is way beyond the realm of acceptibility.

graffiti1 brakeline1

This is completely beyond the pale. The night of my post last week about my lawn sign walking off in front of my nose, my own car was tagged with whipped cream. The intimidation level in Guelph is getting to an incomprehensible point.

Tagging homes and cars with an 'L' is clearly an attempt to label people in a deragatory way, reminiscent of many an oppressive régime.

graffiti2

elections guelph politics 185 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 02:33 on August 29, 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.

columns elections environment guelph politics transit 726 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:35 on August 23, 2008

What the ....

I just glanced out the window a few minutes ago in time to watch a long, loose-haired caucasian guy in his twenties pass my driveway, pick up my lawn sign, and nonchallantly walk on. By the time I got out to the road to see where he went he was gone, along with my sign, in broad daylight. Unbelievable.

elections guelph politics 62 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:29 on August 20, 2008

Gloria Kovach's love-hate relationship with deficits

Monday night at City Council, Guelph Conservative party candidate Gloria Kovach went on and on about how the city using deficit funding for capital investment is a bad thing and should be stopped. I just about choked on the hypocrisy as this came within days of her party admitting to a $517 million federal deficit in just 2 months, after more than a decade of Liberal governance and balanced budgets. For a party that preaches fiscal responsibility, they wouldn't know a balanced budget if it hit them square in the face.

We know that the Conservatives have been selling government assets that they will have to pay to use after, likely in a vain effort to mask their deficit. The Canadian Wheat Board hopper fleet has been sold, though I have yet to see any official announcement about it. The government has also sold at least $1.41 billion of government buildings to lease them back. And that's just what I know about. Before the GST was cut another percent at the beginning of the year, we were already posting huge monthly deficits. Last October, for example, the monthly deficit was $2.7 billion.

The GST cuts since the tories have come to office are costing the federal treasury on the order of $1 billion per month, money that could be used to begin to fix the country's estimated $123 billion infrastructure deficit, something Kovach, as a city councillor, should be keenly aware of. If she were serious about helping Guelph, her press releases would be demanding more infrastructure money for cities, rather than criticising others for making those needed demands.

If she isn't willing to stand up for Guelph's interests while on City Council, how can we expect her to in Ottawa?

As she said to the Mercury about Truscott's settlement, "The issue of funding is not a local issue and those questions are best directed to the PMO press office." So, Mr. Harper, what's Ms. Kovach's opinion today?

guelph politics 334 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:22 on July 30, 2008

Guelph by-election called

I'm in Ottawa attending a conference, far from the action in federal politics. How ironic. At any rate, the Guelph by-election is on. I wish Ms. Kovach a long and continued career on Guelph City Council! More when I'm home in a few days.

guelph politics 47 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:05 on July 25, 2008

Guelph-Horizon Hydro merger debate

Tonight, Guelph City Council is holding a meeting mostly to discuss a proposed merger between Guelph Hydro and Horizon Hydro, the company formed out of the merger of Hamilton and St. Catharines Hydros. Below is my statement as a delegation to council this evening on the topic.

Madam mayor, members of council,

I come to you as a citizen concerned about some aspects of the proposed Hydro merger. Any time someone tries to sell me an amazing deal that expires if I don't act now, I get just a bit wary. So I have a few questions. Why the rush? Are the reasons for the rush substantiated? Is bigger always better? And what, exactly, are these economies of scale we keep hearing about?

There is an inherent contradiction in all we are being told. On the one hand, Hydro's board tells us that if we don't do this merger, we risk being merged against our wishes at a later date in less favourable circumstances. On the other hand, we are told that this merger needs to be approved before the tax holiday window slams shut in October. In between is the statement that the Ontario government is looking to reduce the number of local distribution companies to around 10 from the hundred-odd we have now, a claim for which there is not a shred of evidence.

If councillor Wetstein is right that Guelph Hydro will be merged eventually, and it is best to do it while we are in a position of strength, and if the Ontario government is serious about wanting mergers, then at some point, if we have a truly excellent merger proposition, and a sense as a community that it is the right thing to do, we can take it to the Ontario government and ask for this tax exemption at that time. If they are not willing to give it to us, then we can safely assume that the province is not, in fact, serious about promoting the merger of utilities. It is worth pointing out that Guelph Hydro achieved this position of strength on its own, not as part of any MegaHydro.

If councillor Laidlaw is right, and small local utilities are the way of the future, then we have to ask ourselves what we accomplish by even considering merging. Is it a business case or is it a community case? Is this proposal to help us save a few dollars in the short term, or is it to help us build a better community?

The BDR consultants last week asked us to give different values weights, and also suggested that we have to ask ourselves if we consider Guelph Hydro a business that can be sold or an essential service like our police or fire services. Those two points are inextricably connected. It goes without saying that both our police and fire services are inherently dependent on Guelph Hydro, as is every other aspect of our community.

What are these economies of scale we keep hearing about that a merged -- but not interconnected -- utility would provide? Will we need fewer power lines, transformers, and transfer stations, or will we get a bulk rate discount from Guelph Utility Pole? Surely the 30 or so employees that we would cut between the two utilities will not add up to the much touted and unproven 20% savings we are told of over the next few years. If they do, I wish I had one of those evidently very lucrative jobs.

While we are looking at numbers, what is the line between transactions that require shareholder approval, and ones that do not? Why is this threshold not public?

I believe that all of us have more questions than answers. Have we considered some kind of strategic partnership, something that we can get out of? Why would we merge with another city's utility when that city - Hamilton - would retain a 59% stake, able to buy and merge with as many small companies as it pleases without any input or veto from Guelph? I recommend we take BDR's advice and assess values to each consideration ourselves. We should value our utility as an essential service, not as a business, and consider it in terms of our community first.

Thank you for your continued leadership.

guelph presentations 722 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 00:00 on July 21, 2008

Municipal tax revenue issue has been very badly framed

If it were up to me, every politician in the country would be forced to read a copy of Warren Kinsella's book, "The War Room" before being allowed to seek office. Getting an accurate message out early and clearly is terribly important, lest your opponents define the issues for you. Locally, this is evidenced by a raging debate over a proposed 6.5% "tax increase" for 2009 in Guelph. As I argue in today's column, with ever rising propertly value and the end of MPAC's evaluation freeze, calling this a tax increase is at minimum a misnomer. Had it been phrased, far more accurately, as: "We anticipate that tax revenues will rise approximately 6.5% on rising property values, which is in line with our increased costs", the necessary rise in revenue would be logical rather than controversial.

I don't know my exact tax rate right now. My tax bill does not show my taxes as a percentage of property value, which is something that should be corrected. Based on my total tax bill (municipal + education) for this year, and my property evaluation, my effective tax rate for 2008 appears to be 1.36%. With MPAC's evaluation freeze gone, I can expect my house to rise as much in value on MPAC's rolls as it has on the open market. Based on that and a conservative estimate of what my house will be worth under this year's MPAC numbers, and a 6.5% increase in how much the municipality needs from me to provide me its services, my tax rate should drop to 1.21%.

You know what that is? It is a tax cut of 12% for 2009. And that's ignoring population (taxbase) growth, which would make that cut even more dramatic. If we had never had the evaluation freeze, our evaluations would have been rising at about the same speed as our tax revenue demands for the last few years, and that trend would be continuing. Is that not what sound fiscal management by our city leadership is?

There seems to be a feeling among some residents that tax revenue should never go up. Had we instituted such a policy, say, 30 years ago, what services could we still afford as a city? Our population was somewhere around half its current size and the city's tax revenue would be a fraction what it is today, but today's city would still have today's demands. Would we have a municipal water system, with our 30-year-old tax revenue freeze? Not likely, that's increasingly expensive as we overburden the water table that feeds us. How about a police force? Well, there's the provincial police nearby... Fire service? What's the point, we don't have any water. Trash collection? Forget it! Potholes? Leave them there, they're the best part of the roads that have not been upgraded since 1978! City Library? Well, we'd need to keep that so people could read about what the City was like before people got the idea that it could function without any tax revenue.

It seems to me that the people demanding no tax revenue increases whatsoever are the same people who complain bitterly when their city parks are not maintained, potholes are not filled, or community-damaging developments are not approved. There is this disconnect prevalent where people fail to understand that the purpose of a tax is to allow our city, and our society, to function. It is how we pool our ever increasing shared costs. Taxes are not a sinkhole into which our money falls, never to be seen again. Taxes, as unpleasant as they are to pay, are the grease that keeps our society moving. I pay my taxes with the same pride with which I use the services they provide me.

When people demand that the city "sharpen their pencils" and look for numerous small cuts to the budget, what they are really asking is for services to be cut. But ask which ones should be cut, and suddenly they go very very quiet. More importantly, even if we were to cut our services by, say, 10% this year, the cost for the remaining services will still rise by however many percent next year and we will be in the same place we are today, with fewer services to show for it.

The proposal from staff is to raise revenues by 6.5% to keep up with expenses rising at the same rate, they are not proposing to raise our tax rates.

Anyway, today's column.

Municipal tax a function of value

Are city staff proposing to raise taxes by 6.5 per cent, or are they proposing to raise revenue by 6.5 per cent? There is an important distinction.

As our property values continue to rise throughout Guelph, our taxes as a percentage of our property value may in fact be dropping. Federal and provincial tax revenues rise as the economy grows, yet no one claims that those taxes went up. Tax rates on income and spending remain the same, but the value of the economy rises, and so do the revenues and costs associated with providing tax-supported services.

Outside my home in south-end Guelph I have a passable road. It was kept clear of snow through the winter. It is equipped with a sewer system. My trash was collected last week and will be again tomorrow. Potable water flows into my home. Police patrol and firefighters respond to my neighbourhood.

There is a well-maintained public park across the street from me. City buses now pass three times per hour.

What do all these things have in common?

They all require the use of motor vehicles. All of those vehicles require fuel. All that fuel has to be paid for. And, of course, the cost of fuel has gone up as much for the municipal government as for the rest of us. Why, then, are some citizens upset at the city for proposing to increase tax revenue by 6.5 per cent for 2009 to keep up these services?

Have our personal expenses gone up any less? The price of fuel has more than doubled over the last few years while the price of crude has quadrupled. Food prices are flying. The cost of a home in Guelph has shot up dramatically, my own rising approximately 50 per cent in value since I bought it in 2002. Our expenses are rising faster than our income. We know this. It is the precursor of what may be a serious recession.

The Municipal Property Assessment Corporation (MPAC)'s 2006 property evaluation freeze is now over. Our homes will be reassessed by MPAC and our 2009 taxes will be based on these new assessments. The assessed value of many of our homes will skyrocket. That may allow our tax rate to drop as a percentage of the value of our property. If expenses go up but our tax rate drops it could be argued that our council is actually remarkably fiscally responsible.

The newspapers illustrate annual tax numbers by showing a hypothetical dollar value rise for each resident, rather than showing those same numbers as a percentage of our ever-rising property values. Our federal and provincial tax revenues also rise in dollars, but their rates do not.

We should be measuring our municipal taxes on that same basis -- as a tax rate rather than as a dollar value.

If, after considering this real measure of our increased wealth and obligations, we still wish to lower our taxes, then we each have to do our own part. We cannot expect the municipal government do it all.

Rather than complain, we can do lots of little things to lower taxes by the honest measure of municipal taxes as a percentage of our city's value. Here are a few ideas:

For one, drive less. As a car owner, I am as tempted to use my car as anyone else, but have been disciplining myself to make more frequent use of city buses, VIA Rail, and my bicycle. Roads are the single biggest expense we have, a free service that costs a lot. Road and boulevard maintenance and construction alone amounts to around half of this year's budget increase, and accounts for some $40 million per year of the city's budget.

Use less water. This could reduce the number of new wells the city needs to drill, and the amount of water that needs to be treated on the way into and out of our homes.

Organize trash so that the trucks don't have to stop every 15 metres, saving time and fuel. We could perhaps have our recycling and compost collected only every second week, as our clear bags are.

Get involved constructively. Identify where you feel the city is spending too much and suggest alternatives.

If you do not want your property taxes to increase as fast as your other expenses, identify which city services and what city infrastructure you would rather do without, and see if others agree. This is something we can do together as citizens of Guelph.

Consider the true ramifications of tax revenues not keeping up with the services the City of Guelph provides.

The city's expenses are going up as fast as our own, and we need only look to ourselves for the solutions.

To paraphrase former U.S. president John F. Kennedy's inaugural address: ask not what your city can do for you -- ask what you can do for your city.

columns guelph leadership money 1580 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:32 on July 09, 2008

Thanks and Congratulations

I want to thank the Guelph Mercury for naming me one of Guelph's "40 under 40" for my work in transit advocacy, the creation of the GuelphBlogs.ca roll, and some of my other activities. I'd also like to congratulate many of my fellow GuelphBlogs.ca members on the list, Magda Konieczna, Ali Asaria, and Cam Guthrie.

Here is the complete list and their bios from the Mercury:

Christoph Kesting
Damian McDonald
Chantal Thorn
Jim Talbot
Michael Fox
Magda Konieczna
Matthew Stanley
Drew Doughty
Brent Rowan
Peggy DiCarlo
Lisa Richards
Abid Virani
Jason Castellan
Mitchell Gillespie
Will Mactaggart
Pinky Langat
Cyndy McLean
Ali Asaria
David Graham
Ohenewa Akuffo
Ben Polley
Julia Grady
Lee Piccoli
Mark Handy and Chantalle Asselin
Les Patterson
Taylor Beech
Isabelle Forget
Raffaella Tardioli
Mark Rodford
Peter Glaab
Robin Milhausen
Audrey Jamal
Andrew and Joshua Cameron
Diane Nalini de Kerckhove
Dave Kelly
Cam Guthrie
Cierra Carere
Rev. John Borthwick
Craig Chamberlain
Tanya Riemann

Congratulations to you all!

guelph 161 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:10 on July 02, 2008

Letter to Guelph City Council re: Lafarge property

I am unable to attend tonight's Lafarge lands decision at Guelph City Council as I am at a GTA West Environmental Assessment Community Advisory Group meeting in Milton at the same time. My wife will be reading a letter from me to council tonight on the topic.

While there are many more points I would like to raise in the letter, there is only so much time and space. I have made many of them before. Ultimately, though, I hope the city and the developers come to some kind of agreement in which the Lafarge land is preserved as a GO station, especially in light of GO's very recent announcements. This does not have to hinder the developers' ability to develop the land. Indeed, high-density residential on this property with parkland and a commercial section to service it -- there are no grocery stores within walking distance of downtown, for example -- would be ideal next to a large park-and-ride facility for GO transit. Everyone would win with this.

I am also concerned that the downtown transit hub is, as we say in the computer world, vapourware. According to a Via Rail representative I traded emails with, "VIA's Senior Manager of Real Estate [says] that there is no formal agreement at this time" with the City of Guelph. "There have been discussions for this proposal in the past years." I am concerned because, "VIA owns the Guelph station but the parking lot is under lease from CN." With no agreement with Via and no ownership of the station property, it would be a good idea for the city to clear up exactly how they plan to build the Transit Hub, which will be needed as a complement to both the downtown and the former Lafarge land GO station.

Anyway, here is the text of the letter.

Madam mayor, members of council,

I would have liked to be here today to make a few quick points about the former Lafarge land and how important it is to our future as a community neighbouring other communities.

As you are all by now aware, GO transit is taking our city's call for their service very seriously. While Guelph did not really figure in GO's 10-year plan just a year ago, the transit provider is now working to provide Guelph with 2 commuter trains on our existing tracks, which can easily handle them. Their published announcement five days ago reads in part, "The Study will review potential sites for the construction of new rail stations". A substantial portion of the Lafarge property must be set aside for GO Transit as it is by far the best place in the city for a Guelph station.

GO trains ran to Guelph from 1990 to 1993. Guelph was then a city in the midst of a recession that was barely over half the size it is today. As noted by Paul Tatham in a letter to the editor in the Mercury just a few weeks ago, one of GO's major failings then was a lack of parking.

The City hopes to get around this with the construction of a transit hub at the Via station across the street from City Hall. That station, currently host to a mere 30 parking spaces, would, if it is ever built, be the meeting point for our trains, city busses, and inter-city busses. Parking, already at a premium for the commuters riding Via's 7 AM commuter train, will be eliminated and people will be forced to take their cars closer to their destination.

Where does that leave us? When GO trains arrive, it leaves us on the 401.

The City has proposed to build a 500-spot parking garage on Wilson St., next door to us here. I have heard two conflicting explanations for what this lot will do. It will provide additional parking for downtown businesses, we are told, and it will provide parking for the transit hub.

If GO trains arrive in Guelph, whether or not our transit hub is built, a 500-spot lot will last no more than 2 months before completely filling each morning before Guelph's inbound commuters arrive, if Barrie's example is anything to go by. Such a lot would be of no use whatsoever to the downtown economy if it is made available to rail commuters. If it is not made available to those commuters, they will have nowhere to park and will simply continue to drive, or they will clog up downtown's other parking lots.

We do, however, have a solution to this problem, and it is the subject of your decision here this evening. It is not a new solution. It was first proposed the last time GO trains ran to Guelph, some 15 years ago.

The solution is simple. The former Lafarge land is perfect for a park-and-ride station for GO trains. It is located between 3 highways and 2 railway lines. This was once the very plan for this same piece of land. Our transit hub will be needed to connect trains to busses, both local and inter-regional, and to the downtown. But the Lafarge land, with its sheer size, location, and proximity to both highways and rail lines, provides the best opportunity Guelph will ever have for the commuter parking this city will soon need. There is only one other place in Guelph that would be suitable, but turning Margaret Greene Park into Margaret Greene Parking Lot would be both less advantageous as a location and less valuable to the city. Let's not use a greenfield when a brownfield is available.

The rail lines passing the Lafarge property should be considered an asset, not a liability, by all concerned. There are two tracks straddling the Lafarge property. One of them will soon be hosting GO service, and both have enormous potential as eventual light rail connections to Kitchener and Cambridge.

We need to provide adequate parking to drive people out of their cars. The GO trains are coming, and if we are not ready for them, they will fail for a second time, as ever more cars use the roads we keep building for them. We need only look at every existing station on GO's network. Many have parking lots in the thousands of spaces, and are building vertically to accommodate the constant growth in commuter traffic. Each car parking in each of those lots is a car not tying up our roads and highways each and every rush hour. [1] Commuter station parking lots are among the few parking lots that are actually beneficial to us.

We should not, however, consider the use of the Lafarge lands as a transit station to be at the expense of the planned downtown Transit Hub. Indeed, both are of critical importance and one does not in any way preclude the other. Many cities on the GO network have two or more stations. There is no reason for Guelph to be any exception. Stopping at the Lafarge lands to connect with cars, and at the downtown transit hub to connect to city and inter-city busses, and downtown residents provides us with the best of both worlds.

Send the developers back to the drawing board on this proposal. It does nothing for the long term viability of our community, our economy, our environment, or our connections to our neighbours. But the land has the potential to do all those things while working to the developer's advantage as well as our own. We need this station on the Lafarge land for the future of our transit infrastructure.

I thank you for the leadership you provide in fighting for what is right rather than what is expedient and I very much look forward to hearing the results of tonight's deliberations.

Thank you.

Midnight updates:
- City council voted unanimously to adopt City Staff's recommendation to oppose the development. This is not a final decision as it has been preemptively appealed to the OMB.
- [1] marks the spot where my wife was cut off by the buzzer and the presentation was truncated. A signed copy of the complete letter was turned over to staff.
- Council meeting was preempted by a call-in show about car repairs on local TV and reaired after everyone went to sleep. How... useful.

guelph transit tv 1389 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 03:59 on June 03, 2008

GO official announcement of service to Guelph

From today's Mercury: "NOTICE OF STUDY COMMENCEMENT: RAIL SERVICE EXPANSION FROM GEORGETOWN TO KITCHENER.

"THE STUDY: GO Transit, the Province of Ontario's interregional public transit service for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas, is undertaking a Preliminary Design Study and Class Environmental Assessment to expand rail services from Georgetown to Kitchener. The Study will review potential sites for the construction of new rail stations and layover facilities, and will also identify potential improvements to the existing rail line between Georgetown and Kitchener."

Well, needless to say I have already contacted the organisers of the study, RJ Burnside & Associates, and GO Transit, to offer any support I can and to get on their mailing list. With the decision coming down from Guelph City Council next Tuesday on what to do with the Lafarge property, the timing could not be much better for this announcement. I was sure to include a copy of my presentation on the topic to the people doing the Environmental Assessment.

guelph transit 170 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:05 on May 28, 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)

environment guelph leadership reform 1031 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.

columns environment essays guelph money transit 2245 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.

environment guelph highways money transit 1380 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 18:36 on May 14, 2008

Guelph Transportation forum

This morning's Guelph Transportation forum put on by the city and Guelph Chamber of Commerce was quite interesting. A number of topics I have mentioned here and in my articles and presentations in the past seem to have worked their way to the front burner and that is really good to see. Mayor Farbridge kicked it off with a reference to this morning's article in the Mercury about GO Transit's plans for Guelph, setting the tone.

As an aside, I hope that the city and GO transit seriously consider this proposal before it is too late, given this news. The pittance of parking that will not even remain downtown after the construction of the transit hub will never satisfy GO riders' needs.

The boiled down version of the presentation by four members of Guelph's city staff to a business audience of about 100 with reporters from CKCO, the Tribune, and the Mercury, is this:

- Car usage in Guelph is rising faster than the population.

- Truck usage in Guelph is rising faster than car usage, at a rate of increase of 2% per year.

- Approximately 50% of municipal budgets are allocated to road maintenance and construction.

- Highway infrastructure improvements in Ontario are focused on trucks, not cars.

- A new highway corridor is being considered along the south side of the Niagara peninsula to connect up to the Hanlon.

- A new highway corridor is being considered off the new 6/7 interchange at the top end of Guelph through Toronto and east past Oshawa.

- At least three new highway corridors connecting that one to the 401 are being considered, one east of Guelph, and one on either side of Oshawa.

- No new railway lines are being considered for construction.

- City staff are looking at the North Mainline Municipal Alliance business case study of 2006 seriously.

- The Fergus subdivision, the rail line connecting Guelph directly to Cambridge, has entered the city's radar scope as a transit opportunity.

- Guelph Transit is moving from 3 hubs (St George's Square, the University Centre, and Stone Rd Mall) to 7 (adding Wal-Mart, West End Rec Centre, a facility on Clair Rd., and a facility in the east end of the city.).

- Guelph Transit is moving to 20 minute bus service on July 6th, has purchased 4 new Nova busses to achieve this, and is hiring 20 more full time drivers to join the existing 115 full time drivers.

- Guelph Transit is raising bus fares from $2 to $2.25, and increasing the rates of most passes, at the same time.

- At the same time, Guelph Transit wants to work with businesses to offer reduced-rate bus passes to their employees to discourage automobile use.

- Guelph is not a bedroom community, with 15,000 commuters exiting the city and 25,000 commuters entering the city on a daily basis.

- Guelph Transit Commission has a federal charter as a result of having once operated over the border... yes, the Canada/US border. That'd be a fascinating bit of history to dig into. There are no known restrictions on Guelph Transit's busses operating outside of city limits.

- Transportation Demand Management (TDM) is an important buzzword that we will be hearing more about, encompassing all modes of transportation and really meaning finding ways to get people out of their cars.

Among the interesting slides was this rather startling bit of information about Guelph's distribution of commuting practices, entitled "Businesses, Employees, Travel Choices:

University/Stone Road Mall:
- 8,000 employees; 77% auto use, 23% non-auto use
Downtown:
- 385 businesses; 5,000 employees; 83% auto; 17% non-auto
Northwest Business District:
- 160 businesses; 18,500 employees; 96% auto; 1% transit
Southeast Business District:
- 35 businesses; 3,500 employees; 95% auto; 2% transit
Southwest Business District:
- 75 businesses; 5,000 employees; 87% auto; 2% transit

That's the hasty version of what I learned this morning. More later, probably.

guelph transit 656 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 18:28 on May 13, 2008

GO notices Guelph

While Guelph does not appear in a copy of GO Transit's 10 year plan that I acquired last year, it seems the loud calls of Guelphites demanding their attention and arrival have not gone completely unheard. Magda of the Merc's blog says their goal is no longer to ignore Guelph, but to provide us with all-day service. Now that's a transportation improvement I can endorse.

While we're on the topic of transportation, of course, I have to note several things.

Tomorrow morning is the Guelph Transportation Forum at the Italian Canadian Club starting at 9:30. If you can go, you should. Tomorrow evening is also the final of the MTO Hanlon workshops, which is the one place I hope not to be railroaded. I will no doubt have more to say about that later this week both here and on Royal City Rag Wednesday evening.

Then there's the Windsor-Detroit bridge crossing. $5 billion, a mere $400 million of it Canadian taxpayer money from first looks, is expected to be announced in a couple of months to build a second bridge from Windsor to Detroit. This will no doubt attach to the $1.6 billion freeway through town, for $2 billion of taxpayer dollars.

Finally, we're spending $26 million to turn highway 402 into a parking lot near the Sarnia-Port Huron border crossing.

Coupled with the $400 million for the new highway 7, minimum $200 million for Hanlon upgrades -- that is: $50 million for the previously and frequently discussed south Guelph stretch, plus the section from Wellington to Woodlawn, Woodlawn to north of town, and 401 to Freelton, the latter three projects of which have received very little public attention -- one has to wonder what it would actually take for that all-day GO service GO transit wants to give us. If we put as much into that as into the highways, I mean.

guelph transit 316 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 20:30 on May 12, 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.

preferred plan
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.

alternative plan
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.

environment guelph highways money transit 2047 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.

environment guelph highways money transit 1125 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:42 on May 02, 2008

South-end Guelph finally getting a firehall

Just 5 years after it was first announced, architectural drawings for Guelph's new south end emergency services building were unveiled at a public meeting last night, but it's still some years away.

It will include an apparently bookable "community room", a safe haven -- a room anyone can walk into and lock with a direct line to 911 operators, a collision reporting centre, which I'd never heard of before but is apparently a place to go to report minor collisions rather than waiting for police to show up on the scene, a firehall, and an ambulance bay, along with some police offices, but it will not be a police precinct. That's the basics. It's worth noting that of the 22 people who attended the event at the Salvation Army building on Gordon, only 7 were residents, including 2 couples, and 15 were city, EMS, fire, police, and architectural staff. No city councillors or media were present.

The highlights of the new firehall for me are threefold:

1) The whole southern portion of Guelph will enter a 4-minute response time window for fire services. This is currently not the case with the southernmost firehall being on Stone Rd near the mall. 6 firetrucks will live at this firehall, to be situated next to Bishop Mac on Clair Rd, along with up to 7 ambulances.

2) I inquired as to the future extendability of the facility and it turns out that the groundwork for extensions is being built right into this emergency services centre. The centre section of the building can have another floor added in the future, and the "community room" is being built with a ceiling over 2 storeys high that can eventually be retrofitted to include several more offices. There are also plans in the works to build a windmill on the property to power the building and achieve LEEDS Silver certification. While I suspect that half a century from now, when Kitchener-Waterloo, Cambridge, and Guelph are essentially one city at current growth rates, this emergency facility will need quite a bit of extending, the fact that they're planning for any at all is a good sign.

3) The whole facility is expected to cost just $9.6 million, less than 2/3 what we plan to spend on each of the two parking garages downtown. That I find particularly interesting.

The downside of this, of course, is that it will take another 2-4 years before the south end gets this facility. For a rather needed firehall and EMS centre first announced in 2003 to take longer than the duration of the entire Second World War to be planned and built is somewhat perplexing to me. Downtown's Wilson St lot, after all, was announced in March, will cost significantly more, is taller, in a built up area rather than a greenfield, houses cars rather than services or people, and should be done in a year. And it won't put out any fires.

guelph 497 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:25 on May 01, 2008

Guelph throws another $126,000 at free parking

This time it's in presumed lost revenue from parking tickets for parking overnight on city streets, if that's any comfort. A rough tally of what we're planning to spend on driving in and around Guelph over the next few years is now at a minimum of $481,312,500.00 of announced programs.

$400,000,000.00 - estimated cost of new Highway 7 between Guelph and Kitchener.
$50,000,000.00 - estimated minimum cost of Hanlon upgrades (only between Clair and Wellington, three other sections will be upgraded/built in the near future).
$30,000,000.00 - estimated minimum cost for two 500-stall parking garages downtown.
$686,500.00 - approximate lost revenue to the City from having free 2-hour parking downtown during business hours.
$126,000.00 - lost parking ticket revenue from allowing overnight parking without calling 836-PARK for permission, for the next six months, added to the list at last night's council meeting.

For reference, Guelph Transit has a budget of $18,155,960.00 this year, of which $10,315,909 is projected to come from fare and other revenue (such as on-bus advertising), for a net expense of $7,840,051 taxdollars this year (according to page 24 of the City's budget). All things being equal, our general subsidies into cars in Guelph and area (not counting things like existing road maintenance) over the next couple of years would allow the various levels of government that are currently preoccupied paving over the region to make riding the bus free by paying all of Guelph Transit's revenue -- for approximately 46 years. Incidentally, that's only slightly more than the number of years of monthly bus passes each parking space in the new parking lots will cost.

So effective is our road investment in Guelph that to attend the council meeting last night, in which Council agreed to give up our dependency on $126,000 of revenue from violating our parking laws, that I needed to drive the 6 km from my home to City Hall. I could have taken the bus, of course, but with Guelph's ingenious 40-minute peak-hour service, I'd have had to leave over an hour earlier than I did to arrive on time for council's sitting.

Canadian Auto-Workers Union, take note! Guelph is doing its part to ensure more cars get and stay on the road.

guelph money musings transit 378 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 21:20 on April 29, 2008

Guelph to rail using industry in 1974: can you move to trucks?

In 1974, the Guelph Junction Railway, Guelph's city-owned railway that contracts out its operations, was bringing in $54,000 per year, $30,000 per year of which was profit. The city had a population of 65,000 and was projecting to hit 120,000 by the year 2000. We are hitting that level about now, not too far off the mark. As the city planned for its transportation future, it foresaw the role of railways diminishing and sought ways to reduce the railway tracks in the city obstructing the roads. In spite of the GJR's stellar operating ratio, the City surveyed all the rail-using industries in the city to find out how many railway cars they moved each year, what they carried, and whether they could move to trucks.

I came across this rather interesting piece of information last night while reviewing Guelph's 1974 transportation studies relating to the then under-construction Hanlon Expressway, and our rails, transit, and parking situations.

The section of the report entitled "Rail Service in Guelph, Report 14" dated October, 1974, discusses the consolidation of the Guelph Junction Railway through the city, then operated by Canadian Pacific, onto Canadian National tracks through town, noting that one drawback is that the GJR's revenue would be lost. This is an excerpt from page 17 of the report: "As stated earlier, the C.N.R. (sic - this should read "C.P.R") lease some rail line within the City. The C.P.R. pay the City 40% of the gross profits derived from this line. This amounts to about $56,000.00 per year and results in a net profit of $30,000 per year for the Guelph Junction Railway. This revenue would be lost with the rail consolidation proposal."

In the pursuit of this peculiar goal, table 4.1 of the report reads as follows:

SURVEY OF INDUSTRIES AFFECTED BY RAIL CONSOLIDATION
COMPANYDO YOU RELY ON RAIL SERVICE?WHAT IS THE FREQUENCY OF SHIPMENTS?WHAT IS THE NATURE OF THE SHIPMENTS?ARE TRUCKS USED FOR DELIVERY?COULD RAIL SERVICE BE REPLACED BY TRUCK?
United Co-Op of Ontariototally5 cars/weekIncoming - 1/2 bag, 1/2 bulkYesImpossible
Gay Lea Foodsvery muchalmost dailyOutgoing - 50 lb. bags of powderExtensivelyDifficult
Armco Canada Ltd.absolutely7-10/wk outgoing - 5/wk incomingStructural plate culvertsExtensivelyImpossible
W. C. Woodstotally500 cars per yearCrated appliancesWithin 300 mile radiusImpossible
Oaks Precast Ind. Ltd.very littleless than 1/year--Almost totallyEasy
Intnl. Malable Iron Ltd.no--------
Resco Refrig. Supplies Co.moderately2-4 cars/monthAppliances incoming onlyExtensivelyEasy
Texaco Canada Ltd.No--------
Hart Chemical Ltd. Witco Chemical Ltd.totally6-10/wk incoming 2/wk. outgoingLiquid chemicalsExtensivelyImpossible
Hogg Fuel & Supply Ltd.no--------
Guelph Paper Box Co. Ltd.very little--Incoming paper box boardExtensivelyEasy
Uniroyal Ltd.extensively1 car/w incoming 2 cars/wk outgoingBales of fibre, rubber carpet underlayExtensivelyDifficult
Fiberglass Canada Ltd.extensively1 or more/dayPowder raw materials (special cars)ExtensivelyDifficult
Kaufman Lumber Ltd.largely2 cars/monthLumber from B.C.ExtensivelyDifficult
Jay Gor Ltd.no--------

Several things strike me about this chart.

Chief among them, a profitable, government-owned railway, where more than 50% of its revenue is net profit, the Guelph Junction Railway, is here asking its customers if it could possibly ditch them. The final recommendations of this report say that "all existing rail lines appear to be serving a useful purpose" however "it would appear, based on this brief investigation, that there is merit in the City working towards ultimate consolidation of this service on the C.N.R. lines and partial or total elimination of the Guelph Junction Railway trackage within the City of Guelph."

Another is that all of the industries, regardless of their use of rail, rely on trucks, with none using rail exclusively. At least one that described its ability to switch entirely to truck as "Impossible", WC Woods, did exactly that some time between when this report was published and when I moved to Guelph, and has since not only moved away from its 500 freight cars per year of rail entirely to trucks, but has recently moved some manufacturing to Mexico.

The rail-related surprises for Guelph don't end there in this pile of reports. In 1974, it described the two C.N.R. lines through Guelph as "considered essential". The secondary track, going through Guelph along the north-south axis, was rated according to this report at 40 mph -- generally the highest speed (and therefore best condition of track) secondary lines achieve. A few years after this report was released, that line was included in Guelph's official parks plan as a walking trail. It was abandoned and ripped up north of Guelph all the way to the coast of Lake Huron, but remains intact and serviced a couple of times a week between Guelph and Cambridge, and is the track I have repeatedly advocated be used for a Light Rail Transit connection between Guelph and Cambridge. It connects to Waterloo region's proposed LRT alignment in Hespeler.

The last surprise that I have found in this relating to rail service in Guelph is in the report entitled "Protecting the Option For Future Interchanges And Grade Separation In The Hanlon Corridor City Of Guelph, Report 10" dated June, 1974. This report describes advance planning for all the interchanges and railway crossings on the Hanlon expressway that would eventually be needed, and are only now being prepared for implementation. Why it was not all done when they had the chance in 1974 I am not sure, but that's another topic. As this entry only relates to rail surprises I'll stick to that.

Guelph has two industrial tracks that cross the Hanlon between Speedvale and Woodlawn. Ontario Southland Railway and Goderich-Exeter Railway, the two shortline operators that have taken over from CP and CN respectively in Guelph, each cross each of these two crossings on the Hanlon once each way per day, adding up to 8 trains crossing the Hanlon each day. Not surprisingly, having two busy crossings on a divided highway within about a half mile of each-other is not something highway planners are thrilled about. Their preferred plan, in 1974, was to close both railway crossings and build a new connection off the main east-west line through Guelph west of Elmira Rd, then in farmland, now becoming built up, to connect to the west end of the industrial tracks, as shown in Figure 7 of the report. Figure 3.1 of the previously discussed Report 14 pertaining only to rail service in Guelph shows a map in which the two industrial tracks are already connected to each-other at the west end, east of Elmira road, which Report 10 does not show. That track would have allowed a single overpass and the closing of the other crossings with substantially less work, I suspect, but that connecting track is now gone, and the proposed connection in this report was never built, leaving those two grade crossings in place 34 years on.

If it all seems rather confusing, it is. The conclusion of all this is that, in 1974, Guelph was looking for ways to de-emphasise rail, while it was making a profit for the city and encourage the freer flow of trucks and more industrial usage of trucks away from rail. Opportunities Guelph and the province had to close railway crossings over the highway relatively simply are no longer as viable. We are entering a time as gas is projected to exceed $2/litre in the next few years where trucks are going to have to be de-emphasised in favour of rail, and truck-encouraging policies and infrastructure changes that have been discussed for some 34 years are now coming to the front burner.

At the south end of town, in the industrial park where the large Tim Hortons distribution facility and Sleemans brewery, among others exist, the City is allocating hundreds of hectares of land to expand. The industrial park will span both sides of the Hanlon expressway and a $16 million interchange is to be built to help trucks get in and out. There are several railway lines within a few miles of this land, and as the earlier chart shows, rail using industry also need access to roads for their trucks. Why we are not building, planning to build, or even setting aside an easement to eventually plan to build a railway line out to this rapidly growing industrial park is, to say the least, not entirely clear to me.

We have a lot of work to do, it seems, to try and break this 1974 way of thinking about rail and trucks.

guelph transit 1384 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:28 on April 25, 2008

Conservative party does not want Guelph represented

Guelph's Con candidate, Gloria Kovach, says that Guelph has been abandoned by the Liberals. I must remind her that it is in fact her party that has abandoned Guelph by refusing to call a by-election to replace our recently retired long-serving MP. It is her party that is in charge of fixing Guelph's current lack of an MP. If she believes her own rhetoric, she should be telling her leader to call our by-election. Clearly, Kovach would much rather simply leave Guelph unrepresented than resolve the problem. Or maybe it is because she knows that the party cannot throw out the victor and put her in as the MP after she loses Guelph -- for the second time in as many years.

guelph politics 129 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:11 on April 21, 2008

More broken thinking on parking

Guelph's downtown parking system used to pay for itself, and be stable and sufficient. Last fall, a pilot project was introduced to provide free 2-hour parking (after which you have to leave, not pay) at most meters downtown. The city estimates it is losing $700,000 this year as a result.

There has been little mention of how this has impacted downtown business' bottom lines or the city's property tax revenue from the core, both of which would certainly be enlightening. We are feeding money into downtown. Are we getting a return on our investment?

The city's immediate reaction to the loss of $700,000 in parking revenue is two-fold. The first is a proposal to raise transit fares to increase revenue by around $500,000 per year. While the official reason is to keep transit fares as uncompetitive as those of our neighbours, it seems to be mostly off-setting the cost of free parking downtown. This free parking downtown means that more people are going to go by car than by bus, and we clearly need to fund this through increased transit fares.

The second reaction is to wonder what to do to create more parking spaces. The answer seems to be to build approximately 800 net new spots at a cost of $30,000,000, about $250 for every man, woman, and child in Guelph, in the form of 2 500-stall parking garages built on existing parking lots.

The City's parking pass fees have not gone up over the last several years either, while bus fares have risen from $1.50 to $2 per trip, an increase of 33%.

The City commissioned a study of residents' reaction to downtown's free parking and found that making parking for free is very popular. This isn't at all a surprise, and should not be used as an argument to make more parking free longer, as it only perpetuates the vicious circle we are in. The trouble, though, seems to be that our politicians still have to get elected, and unpopular decisions, even if they are the right thing to do, are very difficult to make.

Given all this, I have to ask, is Guelph ever going to start "Making a Difference"? Parking lots, low fees, and high bus fares certainly aren't any different from last century, but our City's official new motto says we're going to try. My challenge to Guelph is this: let's start "Making a Difference" by putting transit fares and parking fees on a level playing field. Shall we?

guelph money transit 420 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:12 on April 18, 2008

Free bus service, and a transportation forum

Laura over at the Merc's City Hall blog notes that the one day a year Guelph Transit does not charge bus fare, ridership rises almost 50%. Why do we charge transit fares again? Oh ya, to fund parking garages. More meat for discussion at the upcoming Guelph Transportation Panel discussion at 10:00 at the ICC on May 13.

guelph musings transit 65 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:49 on April 15, 2008

$15 million parking lot a curious approach to planning for the future

My third crack at challenging our fundamental assumptions when it comes to travel and transit issues is in today's Guelph Mercury. My editorial board column comparing our parking investment to what it could do for transit is below, along with a whole lot more thoughts that did not make the cut into the version I submitted on account of space constraints.

First, I have a lot of respect for our current city council. In my view, they generally do the right thing. That is why I am so surprised that it would be this council that would drop a $30,000/stall parking lot in our laps. The mayor has explained her position on the Ward 2 councillors' blog. I highly recommend taking a read.

The way I see it, we are getting 500 parking spaces downtown -- at a cost of around $30,000 a stall -- at Baker St lot/housing/library regardless. I do not think we need 500 stalls much less 1,000 vertical parking spaces at that kind of price. Not to mention that those 1,000 spaces are not a net improvement in our parking situation - both Baker and Wilson St lots replace existing parking lots, so the total number of gained spots is closer to 700 between them, which substantially raises the price per stall in terms of cost per net new space, to well above the official numbers. Indeed, as a commenter on this site said a couple of weeks ago, I am not entirely sure why government is in the parking business in the first place. It is neither the most economical nor the most environmental solution for moving people.

I disagree that new parking garages are even a step in the direction of preparing to fight urban sprawl. Facilitating more cars does not discourage people from wanting single detached homes on what was the year before the site of a perfectly good forest or farm field at the outskirts of town. It makes those more attractive. If our goal is to encourage people to move into our downtown -- a laudable goal worth pursuing -- then we should seek creative new solutions that will encourage people to live downtown who will not own cars. If parking is not increased, but transit is made free, as I propose in my article, the type of people who will move to Guelph are the type of people who believe in transit and see leadership in this city, and their arrival would cause this effect to be self-perpetuating.

If I assume for a moment that the urgency of this parking garage is in reaction to my presentation last month warning of massive parking shortages for the pending transit hub and the need to set aside Lafarge lands for that purpose, there are two key points that need to be made. 1) 500 spots in a lot two blocks from the station will not last two months once GO trains arrive, and 2) If those parking spaces are to offset inter-regional transit parking demands, they will not be available for either downtown residents or downtown business. I am all for building parking to drive people out of their cars, but I do not believe that this lot will achieve that.

If we must have short term parking solutions, then we should make them short term. The city is already planning to turn one block of Carden St. into a one-way street to make way for angle parking. My question is: why not do this to the rest of downtown, as well? The other side of Carden St. until the arrival of the Transit Hub, Cork, Quebec, and Suffolk streets, could all be converted to one way with angle parking, each adding a significant number of parking spaces for minimal cost and maximal reversibility.

When the city's busses move from their current home at St. George's Square to the site of the Via station next year, if the plans go through, Wyndham could be switched to two lanes with angle parking for most of its length, including the large section in the downtown core where no parking exists at all today. This works for Macdonell.

That is all on the assumption that we want more parking downtown, which some people clearly do. But at the very least, going mostly one-way to make way for angle parking would cost a whole lot less than building apartment buildings designed to provide lodging for cars rather than for families.

What I would really like to see, though, is our bus system improved to the point that it can compete with cars. Will it cost a lot? That depends on what you compare it to. Compared to spending $30 million to build a pair of parking garages that will then need ongoing maintenance -- before inevitably being joined by two more in 20 years or less when we are, once again, completely out of parking and with this current very progressive council long gone, with their opportunity to Make a Difference missed -- transit is not so expensive.

What could we do to improve transit to the point that it is useful enough for, say, city councillors to use it to get to council meeting? Lots of things. Here are a few ideas, based on what would make me inclined to get out of my car and get on the bus.

1) Make riding it free or almost free.

A $58 per month pass for someone like me who telecommutes and only needs to leave the house occasionally, is a waste, but having to keep bus tickets on hand is annoying. The transfer given should be good for the day for any bus route, if we must charge a fare, so that it does not cost another $2 every time I stop to run my next errand on my tour. But there is no need to charge transit fares. The justification for it seems to be that our neighbours do, and not only must we charge fares, but our fares must be comparable to theirs. What we should try, instead, is subsidising our busses as well as we subsidise our roads and parking, and make transit fares free, or close to it.

In the same vein, the city has its free downtown parking pilot project, which, not surprisingly and in spite of excluding the parking meters around the farmers' market, is popular with Guelph's drivers, but I wonder about the wisdom of raising transit fares, as the City plans to do, by roughly the amount the City is losing on downtown's free parking. And I wonder if more people would go downtown if city busses were as free as the parking.

2) Make routes more frequent and direct.

The reality is that if I get on bus number 52, the outer limits of whose route I live on, and want to go downtown, it can take up to 30 minutes for the bus to arrive at the stop next to my house, while I either wait watching NextBus at my computer, or stand out in whatever weather at the sign post designating my stop. Then, it takes 20 more minutes to get to the university, and as much as 15 more minutes to get downtown. We are now almost 65 minutes into the journey, and I have just arrived downtown, a trip that takes about 8 minutes by car. And if I want to go somewhere other than downtown that is not directly on my own meandering, directionless bus route, it can take another half hour to get there.

We have routes designed for University students now that are quick, frequent, and efficient. I took route number 58, a seasonal, rush-hour only route, from my house to the University a couple of weeks ago, and was impressed that it a) came every 20 minutes, and b) only took 7 minutes door-to-door. Why? Because it went straight down Kortright, hung a left on Gordon, and went straight to the University.

3) Reduce the reliance on hub-and-spoke, and work toward point-to-point, bi-directional routes.

We are already on this track. We have the downtown transit hub proceeding, the bus terminal at the University Centre where 6 city bus platforms meet 3 GO bus platforms, the transfer point behind the mall, and the addition of our first bi-directional route, number 70. There are also plans to build new mini-hubs around the city at places like the West End Recreational Centre.

Over the long term, we could plan to further improve our bus system by complementing our existing system to take advantage of the long, skinny shape of Guelph, by running busses the length of Victoria, Gordon, Edinburgh, the Hanlon, and Imperial. We could eventually run an outer ring peripheral route along, roughly, Arkell, Gordon, Clair, Hanlon, Downey, Niska, Whitelaw, Elmira, Woodlawn, Victoria, Grange, Watson, Arkell that connects the ends of all the other routes, both north/south and east/west, call it bus number 360. With those and busses going east/west along major corridors such as Speedvale, Willow, Wellington, College, Stone, and Kortright, we will start getting toward a bus system that really can get anyone anywhere quickly.

If that all sounds expensive, it isn't really. It is more a question of priorities than of money. To calculate the economics of it, consider this: I am told busses each cost approximately $500,000 to buy, and $100,000 per year to operate. For reference, if we take one of the two $15 million parking garages and buy busses with that money, it will buy us 30 of them. Take the other one and we can operate all 30 of those busses for 5 years, without counting fare revenue. And that is before counting cost overruns and maintenance costs on the garage that would instead be diverted to the bus system. With each bus able to carry around 40 people at any given point on their trip, with a lot of trips per day, that should more than make up for the capacity of the lost parking spaces.

4) Connect our bus system to our neighbours.

Guelph's bus system is a decent bus system domestically, but you cannot get out of, or into, Guelph with it. We are on track to fix this, too, with the return of the Transit Hub, but there are other things we can do as well. First off, as I have proposed before, let's run a bus from Guelph's airport to Waterloo's airport via the transit hub, conditionally upon Grand River Transit also running express to Waterloo airport from its three downtowns. This would connect us to Waterloo region in a meaningful way, something that is going to have to happen sooner or later, not to mention that it would provide a transit route to the airports themselves. Canada is quite bad at connecting its airports to transit, a topic I briefly covered a few days ago. I would also eventually like to see that same route extended eastward all the way to Acton or Georgetown to connect to Brampton Transit, which would allow anyone to travel freely between anywhere in or near Guelph to contact points with the GTA. Right now, one can take city busses from Brampton to Oshawa or Stoney Creek, and such a connection would extend the westward limits of that massive transit network.

Ultimately what I would like is a transit system that allows me to give up my car because the transit system is a better option than driving. And we can all do it, if we make the collective decision that our infrastructure investment should be spent the best way possible. There is nothing economical about spending $30,000 per parking space in Guelph, more than the value of most of the cars that will park in it, and enough to buy over a hundred bicycles per stall. Knowing that that many years of my municipal tax-dollars are going to pay for that single parking space will only encourage me to use it.

Without further ado, here is the article.

Don't build parking at expense of transit

There is a parking crunch coming to downtown Guelph. There is no argument about this.

Local businesses are concerned about the loss of parking at the Via station with the construction of the transit hub, parking that is not public to begin with. There are other local trouble spots as well.

According to an article in this newspaper, 93 people are on a waiting list for a parking pass in downtown's parking lots. Our city leadership argues that we need more parking to help bring more people in to live downtown. It is more creative solutions and more leadership, not more parking, that we need to accomplish this.

The city agreed last month, in a surprise move, to spend $400,000 to plan a 500-stall parking garage on the site of the current Wilson Street parking lot, at a cost staff say will be $30,000 per stall. The surprise is that we are studying how to build it rather than whether to build it.

According to the 2006 Guelph-Wellington Transportation Study: "As redevelopment occurs in downtown without increased management of parking, the city will be required to invest in structured parking at $25,000 per stall. Experience elsewhere indicates that it is difficult to recover the money invested in construction and maintenance of a parking structure."

The same study notes a decline of 15 per cent in transit's share of Guelphites' travel, from 6.1 per cent in 1996 to 5.2 per cent in 2001, the years the study examined. In the same period, auto passengers dropped from 19 per cent to 17.1 per cent, with auto drivers picking up the entire difference from both transit and car passengers, rising from 63.3 per cent to 66.3 per cent of all travel within the city.

That approximately 15 per cent relative drop in public transit use between 1996 and 2001 is alarming.

In effect, it means that not only were 15 per cent fewer people taking public transit, but those people are moving to cars and increasing the total number of vehicles on the road, which block and slow down transit buses among their other effects. Where are the studies to explore this trend and its possible solutions?

If we are in need of more parking, it is not because we need more cars: it is because our public transit system is inadequate.

While the study points out that barely one in 20 trips in Guelph is made by bus, two out of three are made alone in a car.

It is time for us to be more creative than we have been over the last half century. It is time for Guelph to start "Making a Difference," as our city's new motto proclaims. If not now, when?

Is spending at least $15 million, the equivalent of the city's revenue from 258,620 adult bus passes, to temporarily accommodate our parking-pass waiting list the right way to go? Is it appropriate for us to fund public transit to the tune of 55 per cent, but parking at a rate of, or near, 100 per cent?

Why do our studies look at how to improve our roads rather than how to improve travel? Where are the studies to tell us why we need to sacrifice the equivalent of 43 years of adult bus passes per driver, spending $30,000 per parking stall, to help them park their cars?

Are we really making a difference by doing so, or are we just letting ourselves off the hook? Where are the studies that focus on public transit solutions?

If downtown business needs new parking spaces, is it not reasonable for downtown businesses to pay for their construction?

Stone Road Mall has more parking than all of downtown's public spaces put together, yet not only are none of those spots paid for by the taxpayer, but municipal taxes are paid on all of the mall's 2,600 parking spaces.

If we take the conservative estimate of $15 million that the Wilson Street parking garage will cost, and instead offer free and improved city bus service, we will soon see how many new parking spaces we actually need downtown.

Do we want to continue with 20th-century concrete solutions that no longer work, or look for 21st-century solutions that will make a difference?

We need to prepare for the transit future that we all know is coming. Building parking at the expense of public transit will not get us there.

columns essays guelph money transit 2762 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 13:53 on April 12, 2008

How I came to believe in better public transit

If you told me four years ago that I would some day be an advocate for mass transit, I would have told you that you were crazy. I had recently bought myself a nice suburban house where I still live, I was on track for my wedding, and I had a beat up old car which has only gotten older and more beat up since. But around that time I picked up an innocent and somewhat eccentric hobby that would change my life and my outlook on the world: I started trainspotting.

The background

As a child, I took any opportunity I could to look out my grandparents' window on Nun's Island in Montreal at the Victoria Bridge a few miles to the east, a century-old railway bridge shared between cars and the railway. When my family took its annual winter pilgrimage to Port Salerno, Florida, where my snowbird grandparents had a condo, we took three days each way to drive there, and when we arrived, I took every opportunity I could to bike up South-East Cove Rd. in Port Salerno from the condominium of Emerald Lakes to sit and watch the Florida East Coast railway. Then I went to high school, and then university, and did not really think about trains for the better part of a decade.

Then, in late 2002, I published a rather goofy article on Slashdot about turning a cheap wireless camera into a model traincam. Someone who I had run into just once at the University some three years earlier saw the article and sent me an email inviting me to join the local historical railway group and try trainspotting. I borrowed a camera, and on February 1st, 2003, after staring wild-eyed at the television as the Columbia burned up on re-entry for the first part of the morning, I went down to a location which I have written about before called Guelph Junction with my new friend. We spent the day watching trains. On that first day, I saw 14 of them and became totally hooked on going to the train tracks with a camera to see what would come, and document it on a website I created for the purpose.

The cause

I took the hobby seriously. I bought a copy of the Canadian Trackside Guide, an annually updated publication that is no less than the bible for Canadian trainspotters, outlining the various details about Canada's railway network that no person in their right mind would have any reason whatsoever to care about. Trains became my professional sport, my local railways my team.

Over the next few years, I explored more railway lines in more places. I began to plan my family visits and my vacations around which railway tracks we could follow. As I spent more and more time and energy watching trains, I learned the layout and operations of southern Ontario's railway network. Who owned which track, what trains operated on that track, and how often they ran became matters of importance to learn.

Then it hit me like a run-away train. I was looking at the infrastructure that had built our country. While people were still completely reliant on horses around town, railways were already mature. Canada, I learned, had connected British Columbia to central Canada in three years flat by railway, less time than it seemingly takes us now to work through an Environmental Assessment for an overpass. The construction of the Canadian Pacific railway cut the cross-country over-land trip from a matter of months to a mere six days. The railway's very existence was a condition of British Columbia joining confederation. What hit me harder was that while many of Canada's cities were built around railway tracks and railway junctions, we had become a country of drivers who learned to see railways as a liability rather than as the enormous asset they are.

My real epiphany on the matter of transit probably can be traced back to an announcement on the corner of a page in the Guelph Tribune in early June of 2006 that prompted me to write my first anti-highway essay, entitled "A ten-lane 401?". For the first time in my life, I asked the question: how many lanes is too many?

While I am still waiting for an answer for this simple question, highway 401's 4-lane expansion on the short stretch referenced in that essay has been joined by the announcement, locally, of the construction of a new divided highway 7, cutting across farmland north of the existing highway 7 alignment, at a cost of an estimated $400 million. The divided highway through Guelph is to have 4 sets of traffic lights removed for $50 million. The other traffic lights on that highway are soon to follow. We are also going to spend around $16 million a piece to build two new parking garages in downtown Guelph. Yet no-one is willing to say at one point we have paved enough over.

Simply put, it led me to want a line drawn in the sand. At what point will highways be considered big enough, fast enough, or extensive enough? Will they ever? I don't believe so, not the way we are doing it today. But while we expand our highways, my experience trainspotting has taught me that our railways are largely very vastly under-utilised. We should be expanding our use of those railways first and then looking back at our highways when our railways are efficient, popular, and affordable, and see if the new highways are still needed. If the answer then is still yes, then and only then will it be the time to consider any form of highway expansion.

Here in Guelph, for example, railway tracks leave the city in four directions to the immediate neighbours of: Halton Hills (Acton and Georgetown) to the east and Kitchener to the west on the track known colloquially as the "North Mainline." This is joined by Campbellville to the south-east and Cambridge to the south-west. There used to be on the order of 8 to 10 passenger trains per day on each of these lines before the advent of the highway.

The first, the North Mainline, connects Guelph to Union Station in downtown Toronto. Six Via trains a day service this line, one each way at rush hour (07:05 and 18:50), one each way between morning rush hour and lunch (09:50 and 12:04), with one each way between evening rush hour and midnight (22:00 and 23:30). There are also, between Guelph and Georgetown, two freight trains a day -- one each way. Currently, the eastbound, originating in Stratford, goes through Guelph around 20:00, and the westbound, originating in Canada's biggest freight yard in Toronto, goes through Guelph about 01:00 in the morning. That is not a lot of opposing traffic and the tracks stay quiet for most of the day most days. There is an additional freight train a day on this same line between Kitchener and Guelph, which currently comes into Guelph around 9 in the morning, and goes back to Kitchener in the early afternoon.

But this track connects to a very busy Canadian National freight line in Georgetown where upwards of 20 freight trains per day rush past at all hours, turning south toward Burlington at Georgetown. More importantly, four GO trains terminate at that busy freight junction, where they swim upstream through the freight trains both ways every working day. Tired from this difficult journey, they stop in Georgetown and do not go up the blissfully quiet line to Guelph. This is more than an under-utilisation of the tracks, it is a travesty. While the province considers building Guelph still more highways to let our people off the transit hook, this track directly connecting Kitchener and Guelph to downtown Toronto, at the end of which four GO trains already park, has long enough between trains to turn to rust. Just before the last provincial election, GO transit's board of directors announced plans for an Environmental Assessment to bring service to this line, though we are still awaiting it.

The next track is the City of Guelph-owned Guelph Junction Railway. It has one train each working day, usually coming up to Guelph around 10:30 in the morning, and going back at some point in the afternoon. Up until just over one year ago, five, yes, five, GO trains ran from Milton to the south end of the Guelph Junction Railway every night, with no passengers, to stay the night and weekends. Does that even need any further comment? If so, read my post specifically on the topic of this line from a few days ago.

The last track is my favourite of all. It connects to Guelph's mainline at the eastern tip of the former Lafarge property and connects to a freight line from Cambridge to Kitchener near Hespeler, just south of the 401. Remember that train that comes to Guelph from Kitchener after rush hour and goes back in the early afternoon I mentioned a moment ago? Twice a week, with occasional extra trips, that same train turns south at Guelph and heads down to Cambridge on this line. That's it, that is every train on this track. At our end is the North Mainline, and at the other end is the track that will be used when (not if) Waterloo region eventually gets its Light Rail Transit line, though we don't really need to wait for that for us to put domestic rail service between Guelph and Cambridge on that line.

The effect

It is hard for me to understand why we would even consider building a new highway, or upgrading a highway, which is very much designed to get people between cities when we have so many perfectly good and vastly under-used railway lines that could, for a fraction the price of those highways, be equipped with passenger trains.

Will building more rail service mean our highways will be converted to desert wastelands? Absolutely not, but it can serve to arrest growth on those highways. As congestion reaches unsustainability for drivers, they will at least and at last have an alternative means of getting where they are going.

My concern is not about peak oil -- alternative fuels that are even less environmentally friendly like corn-based ethanol will probably make up for that -- so much as it is about peak pavement, peak congestion, peak car accidents (don't we say that "if just one life gets saved, it is worth it" about just about everything these days?), and peak sprawl. We cannot grow forever, quite frankly the earth is of a rather fixed size, yet our entire society is based on the premise that a failure to grow will be the end of the world. I think everyone should ask themselves what exactly is coming out of their car's tailpipe or off their ever-wearing down tires is going, but that seems to drive people to buy slightly more efficient cars that were hauled across the ocean by burning tons of bunker oil, rather than causing us to think through the alternatives.

Do I drive? I do. And that's the crux of the issue. I will advocate for alternatives, including both domestic bus and intercity rail, but I will use what is most appropriate logistically for me at any given time. What I hope for, what I dream of, and what I intend to accomplish before my life is over, is that our transit system will be funded as well as, or better than, our road system, and be efficient enough, that I, personally, and the majority of my fellow citizens, instinctively find that transit is the most appropriate, economical, and efficient means of getting where we are going. Abandoning our railways, sending our busses aimlessly meandering through the streets of our cities with no sense of purpose or direction, and building massive and countless new highways will never get us there.

The future

Today, our highways are, with the exception of the 407, funded entirely by public money. There are no user fees for our highways. We pay taxes through our purchases, including that of fuel, through our income, and through property taxes. A huge proportion of the money we give to the state gets returned to us in the form of pavement. Do I inherently object to that? No, not at all: roads are national infrastructure. But so are our railways, and that means that railways are not on a level playing field against roads.

Railway companies are directly responsible for the cost of maintenance and operations of every inch of their infrastructure, a cost that has resulted in the abandonment and removal of secondary railway lines throughout North America that we will soon sorely miss. Anybody who tells you that railways are heavily subsidised and that trucks and cars are not should be called out for the lie they are peddling. Railways, our most important and oldest national infrastructure, are not only funded and maintained almost entirely privately, but railway companies have to pay property taxes on their railway lines for the privilege, which directly go to fund roads, their chief competitor. Yet in spite of this, in spite of the fact that railways have every handicap and highways every advantage, railways are still competitive. If the railway infrastructure were publicly funded like the roads, with railway companies able to operate without directly paying every cost associated with their operation but the country as a whole taking on that responsibility, railways would show themselves to be the better option in almost every case. Isn't that what the free market so widely espoused by highway building politicians should be all about?

Next time you are stopped at a level crossing for a train, instead of wondering how long it will take to pass before you are able to drive on in your private motor vehicle, count the number of freight cars on that train and multiply it by 3. That is roughly the average number of trucks that you are not sharing the road with at that moment as a result of the train passing in front of you. And if it is a passenger train, every 11 heads you see looking at you out the window represents 10 cars that aren't waiting at the crossing with you.

As Guelph plans new highways and parking garages, I am saying it is time to draw our line in the sand. If we are to build parking, let it be to get people out of their cars, not into them. Build parking for train stations, not instead of them. Put more trains on the tracks, don't rip up the tracks to put a highway. We have to get it right the first time. We can't hit reset on this little rock we call home. This little rock does not deserve to be completely paved over and gassed out of existence. We are not entitled to the planet, we are only its tenants.

essays guelph transit 2510 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:19 on March 28, 2008

On Guelph's Wilson St Parking Garage

Last night, city council agreed to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to study and plan an approximately 500-spot 5-story parking garage on Wilson St. next to the soon-to-be-opened new City Hall. While no official cost is yet available, council seemed to believe the lot would cost approximately $16 million, for what would likely be a net gain of around 400 parking spaces. That's $40,000 per net new parking space, though city staff described it as around $30,000 per parking space as they are counting the existing ones that will become the ground floor of the garage in this cost, even though they are not a net improvement.

My question is, as always, simple. Could $16,000,000 get 400 drivers downtown some other way, or otherwise be better spent?

To put it in context, $40,000 per parking spot comes out to around 13 years of all the municipal taxes -- that's including school taxes -- from a typical residential house in Guelph. Many of those using the spots are likely not even Guelph taxpayers as they live elsewhere and drive into the city. It is also equivalent to 689 months of bus passes, per new parking spot, which is about 57 years' worth of adult bus passes at current rates, for one person.

If parking permits cost $50/month for this garage -- less than a bus pass -- the only number I have yet seen for the projected cost of the proposed parking permit, the amortisation of the cost of building the lot, without counting any ongoing maintenance or operating costs, would be 66 years and 8 months, assuming permanent 100% occupancy, which probably exceeds the life expectancy of the lot.

We are willing to fund Guelph Transit to the tune of 55%, yet we are, effectively, willing to fund parking to, or close to, 100%. It's got me scratching my head.

For $16 million, we could probably buy out Silvercreek Guelph Developments Limited's former Lafarge property. When they realise that Guelph will not likely cooperate on the value-raising rezoning application, I would not be surprised if they eventually become willing to sell for a return of all their incurred costs. We could turn that into a major transit hub for rail, as I have discussed many times before, and offer a frequent shuttle bus between it and downtown Guelph's parking-free transit hub.

In February, I proposed running an east-west bus through Guelph originating at Guelph's small airport on York Rd next to the legion, running through the transit hub(s), and continuing on to Waterloo Regional Airport, where it could connect to Grand River Transit. For the cost of this one parking garage for a few more downtown parking spots, surely we could implement something practical and long-term like this?

The thing about parking lots is they encourage more cars, which is in direct contravention of Guelph's official plan which explicitly demands a reduction in cars and an increase in public transit funding and usage. Guelph is currently planning to build two large parking garages in the downtown core. There is already one there, bringing the total to three -- for now. Each one of those costs as much as a revolutionary change in our transit infrastructure would, for much smaller benefit to many fewer people.

So before we build yet another parking garage downtown and divert tens of millions of dollars to let a few more commuters avoid public transit, why don't we ask ourselves what we can do with this money that would have at least some real long term benefits?

guelph transit 598 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:24 on March 26, 2008

Guelph's Imico property -- our other major transit opportunity

Guelph's long-defunct Imico plant, a brownfield flattened decades ago, centrally located between Victoria, Elizabeth, Stevenson, and York in Guelph's east end along the city-owned Guelph Junction Railway, represents Guelph's third major rail transit opportunity after the Carden St. Transit Hub and the Silvercreek Junction Park-and-Ride.

The return of Guelph's Carden St. Transit Hub just a year away is, of course, our first transit opportunity. Guelph is about to have a place where city bus, inter-city bus, and train riders can interchange quickly and easily. It is centrally located just west of the junction of two railway lines, right near the downtown core. Indeed, all it really lacks is free, readily available parking and direct highway access for the many people who cannot -- yet -- be coaxed out of their cars. This technicality leads us directly to the second and third opportunities.

The second opportunity is, of course, the former Lafarge property, dubbed Silvercreek Junction by its current owners. This land's critical role as a future inter-regional rail transit parking hub cannot be overstated. Next to the junction of two of Guelph's three railway lines, one of which continues on to the Carden St. Transit Hub, the other of which continues to Cambridge to connect to the future Waterloo Region Light Rail Transit network, and highways 6, 7, and 24, this huge plot of undeveloped brownfield land is the ideal location for Guelph-Kitchener-London, Guelph-Cambridge, and Guelph-Georgetown-Brampton-Toronto inter-city commuter parking. A $16 million 500-spot parking garage in the downtown core, as is proposed for Wilson St. at the west end of Carden, would not come remotely close to satisfying the parking demand that such a rail hub would need, and any such use of that parking garage would in any event negate the benefit its construction would have to our own downtown as the parking spaces would be used by outbound commuters. The second opportunity of the Lafarge property is as critical as it is urgent, as the lands are currently the subject of an OMB procedure to turn it into a big box store rather than the commuter hub we so very much need.

Imico property
The Imico park-and-ride is the third opportunity. It is one that I have not written about for quite some time, but it has nevertheless been on my mind. It was brought home by my mechanic telling me yesterday that I need to write my next article about bringing GO service to the Guelph Junction Railway. While the idea has some merit and could have been done a generation ago with a little political will -- I'll come back to that in a moment -- it is not exactly what I have in mind for that line's passenger service, but, forgive the pun, it is on the right track.

The Imico property is arguably Guelph's third most controversial piece of land, after the former Lafarge lands and the Jail lands. The land needs cleaning up before it can be used for any kind of structure or community park. Paving over the property, while not an inherently pleasant sounding idea, could on the other hand be the greenest, best thing we could do for it and the city as a whole. Using it as a parking lot to get cars off the road and their occupants into mass transit is in (nearly) everyone's interest.

The Imico land, which borders the city-owned Guelph Junction Railway, could easily be used to return north-south passenger train service to Guelph, whether it be an extension of the Milton line to Guelph or, my preference, a north-south service from Guelph to downtown Hamilton with a connection to the GO Milton line at Guelph Junction and to the GO Lakeshore Line at Hamilton. Extending the Milton line to Guelph on this track has a serious drawback worth mentioning in that it would deprive Cambridge of sorely needed GO train service potential, while connecting Guelph to Hamilton would give us the best of both worlds by giving Guelph commuters access to all three routes into Toronto and its various suburban employment regions. It would also give commuters from all parts of the Toronto region reasonably simple access to commute to Guelph by rail, a current impossibility.

As is the case for the Lafarge property, there is no reasonable parking at the Carden St. Transit Hub available for this line. However, this line does go through the Transit Hub at its eastern extremity, passing directly under the east-west mainline attached to which the Transit Hub is to be built only a few hundred feet away. The construction of a platform from McDonnell to the River Run Centre with a stairwell up to the nearby main Carden St. Transit Hub's platform would allow easy integration of this line into the Transit Hub and Guelph's overall inter-regional mass transit strategy.

For a little recent history of service on this line, up until January of 2007, GO trains - 5 of them, from the GO Milton line - parked at the south end of the Guelph Junction Railway, which, as mentioned, borders the Imico property and the Carden St. Transit hub. The GO trains parked at Guelph Junction, the site for which the city-owned Guelph Junction Railway is named just west of Campbellville, from 1981 until 2007. They ran there empty, with no passengers, from Milton for those 26 years stopping at the base of the city's own tracks and not continuing the rest of the way up to Guelph, nor either along the Canadian Pacific tracks to Cambridge, which has been calling for GO train service for that entire time.

The tracks themselves continue on, as Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, from Guelph Junction through Hamilton and, incidentally, all the way to Buffalo, New York. Connecting passenger train service from Guelph's Carden St. Transit Hub all the way to downtown Hamilton, connecting to the future GO line through Guelph, currently terminating at nearby Georgetown, at the Transit Hub, the future Cambridge GO line, which currently terminates in Milton, at Guelph Junction, once a busy passenger junction for exactly this purpose, and connecting to the existing, very well-serviced Lakeshore GO line which terminates in downtown Hamilton. The Imico property provides an unmatched opportunity for parking within the city for users of this service on a piece of land that is otherwise of limited use and maximal controversy.

We know that the future is rail. We are getting the Carden St. Transit Hub, an important first step in preparing for our transit future, but it is important that the Lafarge and Imico sites be preserved for their park-and-ride potential. Getting people out of their cars and into public transit has to be done in stages, and giving transit users a place to park will help drive us off the road.

guelph transit 1138 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:41 on March 25, 2008

Guelph Blogs

If you blog from or about Guelph, there's now a blog aggregator for you. GuelphBlogs.ca has just been launched to aggregate all of Guelph's various bloggers, regardless of political stripe or topic of discussion.

To get your blog on this blog roll, simply send me an email at cdlu@railfan.ca with the address of your blog and I'll check it out and probably add it to the database.

If you have any suggestions for improvements to the site, which I would like to keep ultra-low-maintenance, I'm all ears.

guelph internet 89 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:55 on March 24, 2008

Evidence mounts in favour of Silvercreek Junction Park-and-Ride in Guelph

In the two and a half weeks since reintroducing the long-ago discussed concept of using the former Lafarge lands in Guelph as a major transit station to Guelph city council, the stories that have been pointed out to me on the topic of parking problems in other cities are absolutely staggering.

As I learn more about it, it is becoming apparent to me that we really have no choice but to save a very large portion of these lands for a park-and ride. I can only offer the developers that they can still make their money on this land - and lots of it - if they concentrate on not only allowing this, but encouraging it with a small commercial centre and a large high-density residential centre.

First: according to this article in the Toronto Star, it took Barrie two months to fill its 480 parking spaces. Since service was introduced in November of last year with an estimated initial customer base of only 150 people travelling each way, this is completely remarkable. GO transit is already on the hunt for a new station with more parking in that city, which, along with Guelph, the NDP deprived of GO service during their short stint in provincial office rather than expanding it.

Second: my friend and fellow blogger Stephen Host posted this excellent analysis of GO station parking lots in our immediate area. In it he shows the scale of parking lots needed in the area.

Third: a quick look to our neighbours to the east in Montreal shows just how bad things can get if you do not plan parking at your commuter stations far enough ahead. This article in the Montreal Gazette discusses the fate of the Roxboro AMT (Montreal's equivalent of GO) station, which has a 776 car lot, and 2,835 daily commuters trying to share those spaces. You can see the total parking on GO's network at each of their stations on their website.

Fourth: while you are thinking about the various scales of the parking lots and train stations in the previous three points, consider this photo, which my wife took just last weekend of Guelph's existing Via station, the future home of GO service in this city if we do not take parking seriously:

The keen-eyed observer will note that the station platform, outlined in red, is substantially larger than the parking lot, itself mostly full on a Sunday afternoon, outlined in blue. Further worth noting is that the train pulling out of the station - VIA 85, Toronto-Sarnia daily, scheduled through Guelph at 12:04 - is three cars long. A standard GO train on most lines, including the line that terminates at Georgetown and will soon be extended to Guelph, use 10-car GO trains with plans to expand them to 12-car sets with GO's recent acquisition of new, more powerful, locomotives. The station parking lot is scheduled for demolition in just one year, to be replaced by a bus terminal for the city's busses, meaning this already-full -- on a weekend, without a commuter train -- parking lot, is about to go away, sending rail transit commuters, well, elsewhere, though noone is saying quite where that might be.

Fifth: Bramalea GO station, which boasts 2,150 parking spaces, the easternmost of four GO stations that exist on a very busy Canadian National freight line that overlaps GO service between Bramalea and Georgetown, has two major parking lots. This is what the secondary one, the 650-spot south lot, looked like in 2006, in this photo taken by my friend Dan Dell'Unto. It hasn't gotten any better since:

Dan Dell'Unto photo

Sixth: Aldershot station, the nearest station to Hamilton with parking, has 1,020 parking spaces in its north lot, with a new lot several times the size about to open on the south side of the tracks. As it is not yet open, the number of spaces that will be available has not yet been published, but the two stations immediately to the east of Aldershot, spaced about 3 miles apart, are Burlington and Appleby, with 1,574 and 2,422 parking spaces respectively.

And on and on the warning goes. If we do not protect the former Lafarge lands for this purpose, we will be up transit creek without a parking spot.

Have any more thoughts on the topic of our woeful underplanning for transit? Post them below for all to see and discuss. We need this discourse.

guelph transit 747 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 21:07 on March 20, 2008

Stop paving over my generation!

This is my response to the Ministry of Transport of Ontario's Environmental Assessment report, to be delivered to the Guelph Community Developlent and Environmental Services (CDES) committee this morning.

Members of council,

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I ask that you symbolically decline to receive the MTO's Environmental Assessment on this highway project. The 50 million dollar-plus upgrades to the south half of the Hanlon are an unconscionable waste of money. The people of Ontario are crying out for better mass transit, yet we continue to let them down by putting the money into our highways.

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I am not addressing the logistics of which interchanges we are closing and which residential streets we are planning to clog to marginally raise the speed limit for people to bypass Guelph on the Hanlon. No, my concern is the fact that we are doing this upgrade at all.

Mass transit service is in short supply everywhere. GO Transit can hardly keep up with its demand. As fast as it expands, its parking lots and its trains fill. Yet the province is diverting 3.4 billion dollars for new highways across the province, with half a billion dollars for our highways here in and around Guelph, instead of to meaningful mass transit infrastructure. How far would $50 million go given to Guelph Transit? How long will $50 million for 4 new interchanges last before we need to expand the highway to 6 lanes? And then to 8 lanes? And then to add a collector? How much expansion and how many lanes is too much? How much highway can we maintain? It is time to draw the line on highway expansion. We have to call what we have now the limit at which we will pave no further.

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People, by and large, do not want to be in their cars. They use them because our transit alternatives are utterly inadequate. But, because we use cars, we put all our investment money into roads to accommodate them, at the expense of better, more environmental and economical alternatives. Spending money on transit will, quite simply, save money. Transit systems are cheaper to build and maintain than highway networks and use under-capacity railway lines rather than over-capacity highways. Building transit gives drivers an alternative to the highways, one that they are not shy to use.

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For just a few local examples:

- The new GO Transit Aberfoyle park-and-ride facility is reported to be exceeding all expectations, even though it connects only to a GO Bus;

- The Georgetown line has 4 huge GO park-and-ride stations in the last 13 miles between Georgetown and Bramalea. Two of those four stations already have full overflow parking lots every working day. The newest, Mount Pleasant station, was built only two years ago to accommodate ever-growing demand.

- Barrie introduced GO service in December and it took them only 2 months to fill their 480-car lot. Those are 480 cars in each direction that no longer use the highways every single day. This number is limited only by the lack of further parking at their Barrie station, a clear warning for Guelph as we anticipate the imminent arrival of GO trains ourselves.

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People clearly want our investment to be in mass transit. They are showing it with their actions all over southern Ontario. We are not building our transit infrastructure fast enough even to keep up.

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Our priorities are all wrong. Highways are a colossal waste of money. If we put the amount of money we put into our highway systems into our rail systems instead, we would no longer need to upgrade our highways. When we reach adequate rail service, when getting in our cars to go further than the grocery store is as alien a concept to us as getting on a bus is now, that is the time to reexamine our highway capacity. We may well find that what we have is sufficient to handle the remaining traffic that simply cannot go by rail. It is our only way out of the highway construction and urban sprawl death spirals that we are currently enduring.

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There are approximately 120 thousand people in Guelph. These Hanlon upgrades, for just four interchanges, are estimated to cost approximately $50 million. That is 416 dollars for, or rather from, every man, woman, and child in the City of Guelph. Could we not do just a little bit better for that money?

It is not only for commuters and car drivers that we need to take this into consideration. This project plans to spend 16 million dollars to build an interchange at Laird and Hanlon to accommodate trucks in our new Hanlon Creek Business Park. What would it cost for us to connect that industrial park to the city-owned railway system instead, or at minimum, as well? If we are to consider this, the current plans must be reworked to accommodate railway tracks under, or over, the Hanlon from the Guelph Junction Railway to the east to both the old and the new Hanlon Business Parks which straddle the Hanlon.

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Highways lead to more cars, and cars lead to more highways. It is only too late to correct our plans once the shovels are in the ground. I urge you, the members of this committee, to continue showing leadership in these matters. We need your leadership. Send the MTO packing on the highway 6 upgrades. They are wasteful and they are misguided. This money -- our money, whichever level of government spends it -- would be much better invested in real, viable, new, mass transit systems, diverting traffic from our tension-causing, lung-wrecking, traffic-clogged roads. These billions, invested properly, would give us the best transit system in the world. It is what the people are truly crying out for with their actions, if not with their words.

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Thank you.

guelph highways presentations transit 972 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:30 on March 07, 2008

Guelph city council presentation on the former Lafarge Lands planning application

This is the text and slides of the presentation I plan to make tonight to Guelph City Council regarding the former Lafarge lands of which I have written about before. I will update this post when I get home. It promises to be a late night - I am second of at least 22 delegations presenting. You can watch the whole meeting live, here or on cable channel 20 in Guelph.

Madam mayor, members of council,

A brief history

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It seems, once again, history is repeating itself.

On January 15th, 1990, the federal government gutted passenger service in Canada, cutting Via service by 55%. Via service in Guelph was reduced from 10 trains a day to just 4. Three years later, in 1993, the cash strapped provincial government cancelled GO train service to Barrie and to Guelph. Around that time, the former Lafarge property was the subject of a development application. Later, in 2001, a friend of mine snapped this photograph of their application notice on that property.

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It reads, in part:

"... The applicant proposes to subdivide the lands for corporate offices, ancillary commercial, high density residential office, service commercial, business park, and potential GO-Transit station", among other things. These plans eventually quietly died, but times have changed, and now, a new developer wants to work with this plot of land. It is my hope that the community and the developer can work together to address the issues I and the other delegations here tonight will address.

Intro

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I want to talk to you today about a few key considerations when debating the application before you. Primarily, I wish to express my hope that a portion of the former Lafarge property can be set aside for a park-and-ride train station, a theme that transcends all aspects of my presentation. Coupled with the looming transit hub, no commuter and no traveller will be left behind as GO trains, Budd cars (self-propelled passenger coaches), and Light Rail Transit systems slowly begin to dominate our regional transit network, the arrival of which I will briefly touch on. I plan to suggest alternatives to the current development proposal that will be beneficial to both Guelph and the developers of this land.

The point

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GO Transit restored GO train service to Barrie in December of 2007 after a 14-year hiatus, providing 4 trains each way for what GO anticipated to be 150 passengers. On its first day of operations, 280 cars were counted by local residents in the GO station parking lot. Just prior to that event, GO Transit's board of directors voted in favour of starting an Environmental Assessment to return GO train service to Guelph and beyond. The province, meanwhile, is changing the rules on Environmental Assessments for transit projects to cap them at 6 months, expected to be law by June, meaning we could have GO service to Guelph very soon.

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Seen here in a photo we took just one week ago, the former Lafarge property, ironically called Silvercreek Junction by a developer that, for the moment, sees the rail lines as a liability rather than as an asset, exists next to the junction of 3 highways - 6, 24, and 7 - and 2 railway lines - the North Mainline, connecting Toronto to London via Georgetown, and a branchline connecting Guelph to Cambridge.

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With Guelph proposing to turn the Via and Greyhound stations downtown into a multi-modal transit hub -- next year -- commuter train passenger parking will be reduced from the approximately 50 parking spots that now exist in Via's ever-overflowing lot for the one rush hour Via train we have, to zero parking spaces. A transit hub with no available parking will have a very limited effect on the majority of our suburban commuters. The former Lafarge property, a 22 hectare piece of land at this prime, accessible location, will be required for Guelph's much-needed park-and-ride railway station.

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The developer's proposal for a park between the creek and the rail junction is sensible - there isn't a whole lot else that can be done with that particular plot of land, if it is set aside as a flood plain.

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I would, however, request that an allowance be made for a platform capable of accommodating a 12-car GO train along the tracks on the north side of the property. Room should also be left for a smaller platform connected to it along the track on the south side of the land. Both platforms should be planned to be two-track platforms. The access between the two tracks on each platform could also potentially solve the problem of park users safely crossing the tracks.

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My real concern is quite simple. If we do not save a portion of the Lafarge lands for a GO station, Guelph will either be deprived of a park-and-ride station altogether, forcing drivers to travel either to Acton or Breslau to board the commuter trains, or more likely to just hop on the 401 and go to work by car, or one will be built at an inconvenient or highly unpopular location.

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A quick look at a map shows one other location large enough for a substantial parking lot that is near both the three highways and the North Mainline within the City of Guelph, but I am quite certain there would be a revolution if Margaret Greene Park were to be converted into Margaret Greene Parking Lot. It would be a tragedy to flatten and pave a greenfield when a brownfield had been available.

Alternatives such as the West End Recreactional Centre are neither close to highways, nor home to anywhere near sufficient parking for a commuter train station, with just 300 parking spaces available. Other options would likely involve building a station in the area between Watson Road and Jones Baseline, diverting all the Hanlon GO commuter traffic through downtown, and out the east end of the city, a trek that would likely keep a good number of commuters merrily travelling the 401. It is these drivers heading for the 401 to whom we need to give a reason to turn around and take the train.

Other transit considerations

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It is important to note two other developments in rail transit in our immediate area. The first is Waterloo region's push for an internal Light Rail Transit line, which I recently suggested we lobby for Guelph to connect to. The second is the North Mainline Municipal Alliance's 2006 business case study showing the economics of building inter-city rail service using self-propelled Budd cars along the North Mainline. The park-and-ride station I am proposing would be a valuable asset for that inter-city service for the same reason as it would be important to GO service. Parking would be available, and people travelling in all directions, not only toward Toronto, would be able to make use of such a station.

The construction of such a railway station in no way precludes Silvercreek Guelph Developments Limited, or any other developer, from developing this land. A park-and-ride station would require only a portion of it.

Places to Grow and Alternative Plans

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Nobody should expect the developers of this property to make any concessions out of the kindness of their hearts. In order to change their minds and their plans, they have to be shown something that is better for them as well as for the community.

The province's Places to Grow legislation demands that we increase our population to nearly unsustainable levels with intensified residential development. Targeting the Lafarge property for high-rise condos marketed primarily to commuters who want to walk to work in other cities from Guelph via the train would be both lucrative for the developers and beneficial to the community.

These commuters are coming to Guelph regardless. Giving them a place to live where they can exit the city every morning without compounding our traffic problems, rather than pushing them to ever further suburbs, would strike me as being at least somewhat intuitive, and also lends well to the much touted principle of a walkable community. To that end, a commercial strip could also be built as part of the development to accommodate every commuter's dream: a coffee shop between home and the train station, perhaps under an oak tree.

Conclusion

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We are the ones on the ground here in Guelph, and we must prepare the groundwork for the arrival of our transit future. It is imperative that we take the initiative and take advantage of the transit expansion around us to help Guelph become a better connected city of the future. As clearly seen on this plan proposed by the developer, with the North Mainline bordering along the length of the property on the north side, and a secondary railway line along the length of the property on the south side, we have a significant opportunity here and now to make these needed preparations. I trust you as members of council, the stewards of our community, to continue working toward this goal.

At the end of the day, GO trains will be passing this property, and we will not be able to stick out our thumbs to ask for a ride. I strongly recommend that the current planning application for "Silvercreek Junction" be improved prior to its acceptance by the City to accommodate this reality. The developers have shown some interest in doing what is right with their effort to create a market square and to save the property's large oak tree, and I look forward to the improvements they will make based on what they are hearing here tonight.

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Thank you.

guelph presentations transit tv 1607 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 00:00 on March 03, 2008

New Highway 7 a total misallocation of funds

My second Mercury Editorial Board piece is in yesterday's paper pondering our societal spending priorities on highways versus rail. The paper's choice of stock photo to use is excellent. Here's the text of the article:

Rail transit opportunities grow

Opportunities are brewing for Guelph to work together with Waterloo to better interconnect our cities by rail transit.

From Waterloo's proposed light rail transit (LRT) system to the North Mainline Municipal Alliance study to GO Transit's expansive mood, there is much we can do.

For more than 30 years, Waterloo Region has discussed installing an LRT system connecting Cambridge to Kitchener and Waterloo along existing freight tracks -- tracks that served this exact function up until the end of the Second World War.

Waterloo Region's LRT network will be a boon for commuters and transit users within Waterloo Region when all the hurdles are finally cleared and it is put into place some years from now.

It will allow people to move freely without being constricted by traffic, but it will do nothing for the masses of people who travel between Waterloo Region and Guelph. We can and should connect Guelph, Waterloo Region's nearest and biggest neighbour, to this network. We are being given, for a substantial sum of our own money, a new divided Highway 7 instead.

The new Highway 7 is estimated to cost some $400 million, while a 2006 study commissioned by an alliance of the mayors along the railway line through Guelph, the so-called North Mainline Municipal Alliance, determined that connecting Waterloo Region to Georgetown's GO train station would cost just $19 million in infrastructure improvements, just one-twentieth of the cost of the new Highway 7, over a substantially greater distance and thus to the benefit of substantially more people.

The implementation of this study would give Guelph much better access to its neighbouring communities for a small fraction of the price of our new Highway 7.

Were GO trains to simply originate in Georgetown or Guelph and travel to Waterloo Region before heading for Toronto, half our battle would be solved.

Highway 7's daily commuters would have an efficient way of travelling in both directions. Guelph would be linked to Waterloo Region and ultimately its light rail transit system to Kitchener.

Guelph has the opportunity to connect to the proposed LRT if we act now, and it is well within our capability to do so. While Cambridge and Kitchener have railway tracks connecting them, Guelph also has separate tracks connecting to both Cambridge and Kitchener.

Cambridge has been fighting for GO train service for more than 30 years, 26 of those years with GO trains dead-heading from Milton to Campbellville to park for the night, a practice that ended in January 2007. They would have the service already except that our society's spending priorities have been on highways instead of railways since the advent of the automobile.

The freight railway's simple and rational but as-yet unmet request for improved signalling and double track on its already busy line to Cambridge would have to be honoured before it could agree to host GO train service.

When Cambridge connects to the GO train network, a realistic possibility with the Ontario government's recent investments in transit, it will give the south end of the light rail transit system a connection to the outside world and increase the usefulness of the LRT service.

At that point more than ever, Guelph's connection to the south end of the LRT line will be needed.

Many people see expanded commuter train service as a means to get people out of our cities, but it is important to also see it as a way to get people into our cities.

The former is unappealing to many as it creates a feeling that we are promoting the existence of bedroom communities. However with a proper rail connection going both ways, we allow our cities to grow together and compete as one. Having the LRT system connect Guelph to Cambridge, Kitchener and Waterloo will bring us closer together as neighbours, and save us money to boot.

For $400 million, we can connect Guelph and Waterloo Region on a new Highway 7. For $19 million, we can better connect Guelph and Waterloo Region not only to each other, but also to the Greater Toronto Area, by rail. Is it our responsibility to ensure that our tax dollars are spent efficiently.

As we all become more aware of the damage our cars cause to the environment not only by driving them, but by building roads on which to drive them, the need to look into better means of transport is becoming paramount.

While it is my contention that "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron, there is little to stop us from growing responsibly if that is what we choose to do.

Waterloo Region's LRT, Guelph's connection to it, and the transit opportunities afforded to us by the North Mainline Municipal Alliance study, as well as GO Transit's recently announced environmental assessment to bring service to our region, give us the opportunity to pursue this transit future, and to grow with a lesser impact on the environment.

The province of Ontario has, through its Places to Grow legislation, made our need to work as a community to expand responsibly more important than ever before.

We have the opportunities to do just that -- at a much lower cost than the status quo. So let us work together to pursue these transit opportunities, to work with Waterloo Region to help them get their LRT system, and to get ourselves connected to it.

columns essays guelph highways transit 939 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:00 on March 02, 2008

Guelph official plan city council presentation

Tonight, my wife and I presented to Guelph City Council in its chambers on the topic of Guelph's official plan. This is the text of my speech interlaced with the powerpoint slides.

For reference, this was my first speech since my Bar Mitzvah in 1994!

Madam mayor, members of council,

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I would like to take you back for a moment to September 17th, 1895, the day the Guelph Radial Railway introduced 20 minute streetcar service to the city, based out of its main station on Carden St., where it connected to the Grand Trunk Western's and the Canadian Pacific's passenger services at what one might call a Transit Hub. This is a map of its service which ended in the early 1930s. We are almost back to this level of service.

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I come to you as a private citizen in support of the changes to major goal number 9 of the Official Plan, and to express my concern about the future of transit in Guelph specifically, and in Canada more generally. Ours may be the only country left on the planet still ripping out more railway tracks than we are putting in. What you do with this information will affect all of us for years to come.

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There are three major points I wish to express in relation to the new Official Plan. Firstly, I will draw your attention to the North Mainline Municipal Alliance study of 2006. Secondly, I would like to address a fundamental improvement that I would like to see in the creation of the new Hanlon Industrial park. Thirdly, I would like to propose some ideas for the future of Guelph Transit. From there, I will summarise what I have said and offer you some simple recommendations.

North Mainline Municipal Alliance: Business Case for Improved Rail Passenger Service - item 76k

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First and foremost, per item 76(k) of the amendment to our official plan, I plead with you not to forget about the North Mainline Municipal Alliance's study, presented to city council on July 17th, 2006 and not acknowledged in the amendments. The short version of this study is that, for the estimated 50 million dollar cost of the Clair Rd to College Hanlon "upgrades", we would have more extensive passenger train service in both directions connecting us to London and Georgetown and beyond.

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At a cost of some 58 million dollars, spread over three stages, the groundwork can be laid for self-propelled passenger coaches, currently awaiting purchase in New Brunswick, to operate here. This would substantially improve Guelph's inter-regional transit conditions. Please make the implementation of its recommendations of the highest priority.

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Waterloo Region is currently lobbying hard for the creation of an internal Light Rail Transit system, shown in black, Guelph should be lobbying just as hard to be connected to that system along the two different railway lines that directly connect Guelph to Waterloo's proposed LRT tracks. These tracks already exist as active freight lines.

The recently re-announced study for a Windsor-to-Quebec City high speed rail corridor will not come anywhere near Guelph, but it will become a major corridor to which we risk having no access. It will almost certainly use the established right of way from Toronto to London via Hamilton and Brantford along the 403. It will be our responsibility to ensure that we have access to this high speed corridor. Guelph risks being among the furthest points from this corridor of any major south-western Ontario city.

As the official plan moves forward into the age of true environmental awareness, Guelph has to consider options to assist in getting drivers off our roads, because the options for not driving will be, for the first time in generations, better than the options for driving. The North Mainline Municipal Alliance's study and Waterloo region's LRT proposal have the potential to go a long way to help.

Hanlon Industrial Park - items 77l and 105

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My second point is in reference to the ill-planned new Hanlon industrial park. I call your attention to item number 105 of the amendment relating to our support of the role of rail in moving our freight.

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I have no objection to new industry coming to Guelph, but I have a big problem with building an industrial park within just 5 miles of not one, not two, but THREE different railway freight lines, as shown on this map, without so much as an industrial spur to coax businesses out of their massively subsidised trucks. One of these three railways, and perhaps the easiest one to connect to the park, is owned by the City of Guelph. The Guelph Junction Railway would allow more rail-using industry to move into Guelph in this new industrial park, reduce the number of trucks, and directly feed the revenue from the transportation of goods back into city coffers.

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Building a new major industrial park under 5 miles from the Guelph Junction Railway to the east, Goderich-Exeter Railway to the north and west, and Canadian Pacific Railway to the south, without any rail service is simply irresponsible and should be remedied in the official plan.

It is also important to note that the possibility of adding rail service to the Hanlon industrial park, which will be on the west side of the Hanlon, will be severely endangered by the construction of the new Clair/Laird/Hanlon interchange if provisions are not made in that interchange to allow for a railway line to pass under or over the Hanlon. That industrial park with rail service would be meat for a facility like the long-rumoured Guelph food terminal or a new auto manufacturer as mused about in last Monday's Mercury editorial. Without it, we are saying that only truck-using industries are welcome in Guelph, and that the 401, not our railways, is our greatest transit asset.

Funding Guelph Parking through Guelph Transit - item 87

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Thirdly, we must better fund Guelph Transit, per item 87. All the rail service in the world will be meaningless if residents do not have an efficient way of getting to it.

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Efforts should also be pursued to connect Guelph Transit to Grand River Transit, perhaps by creating an interchange between the two at Waterloo regional airport in Breslau, with an airport-downtown-airport express on our end, and a downtown-airport-downtown express on theirs. This would allow people to easily get to our regional airports from any of Guelph, Kitchener, Cambridge, and Waterloo via their downtowns or from the train stations at Guelph or Kitchener, and to allow people to connect there to get between any of these locations.

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For Guelph Transit, perhaps a counter-intuitive solution to its funding, and to another problem currently facing Guelph, is to charge the equivalent of bus fare to park at any parking meter in the city, perhaps even some day at any business in the city with over, say, 100 parking spaces. This would serve to divert all parking metre revenue in the city directly to Guelph Transit, while sending a message to those parking that it will cost them a bus ticket whether or not they use the bus.

While the current pilot project to provide free two-hour parking downtown is good for local business in the short term, its high cost, and its effect of encouraging cars in the city is in direct conflict with the official plan. Left in place, over time, and coupled with our rising transit fares, Guelph will effectively be asking transit riders to fund downtown parking.

Rationale

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Ultimately, highways lead to more cars, and cars lead to more highways. By contrast, trains can simply be made longer. With every coach on a GO train seating 150 passengers, plus standing room, each GO train can remove as many as 2000 cars from the road.

Industrial parks lead to more trucks, and trucks too, lead to more highways. This, too, can be alleviated with the sensible use of our once mighty rail system.

Whether cars and trucks are still king in 50 years is not so much about how much oil we have as it is about how much leadership we have. Road vehicles will always be with us. Whether we drive them all ourselves, at low speed complaining endlessly about the high price of the era's fuel and the endless congestion, or we see traffic largely restricted to emergency vehicles, local deliveries, and transit services is entirely dependent on what decisions we make today.

As a driver, paving over the entire province of Ontario so I can drive anywhere in a straight line has its appeal, but as a thinker, I see that endless road construction has to stop. The 401 is about to be widened to 8, and within 5 years up to 10 lanes from Kitchener to Cambridge. At what point do we say it is simply too many? We have to consider options that will serve to assist in getting drivers off our roads by making the options for not driving better than the options for driving.

Conclusion

I will conclude by saying that I feel comfortable making these points to this city council as I feel we have the leadership here in this room to take these matters forward.

I ask you not to forget about rail and the North Mainline Municipal Alliance study when finalising Guelph's official plan. I ask you to work to see how Guelph can connect to Waterloo's proposed LRT system. Rail costs nothing compared to highways and is far and away the most environmental and economical solution to both our passenger and freight needs. It is also important to fund Guelph Transit to the highest level possible. Inter-regional, regional, and local transit, function best as one integrated package.

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I look forward to the results of your deliberations.

Thank you.

guelph presentations transit tv 1632 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 02:57 on February 04, 2008

Guelph's former LaFarge property an opportunity not to be wasted

My first article as a member of the Guelph Mercury Community Editorial Board is up, addressing one of the biggest immediate issues I see facing Guelph: hopeless intercity transit. Here it is, with the photo I submitted with the article.

Also, see Guelph's file concerning the LaFarge property.

Landing on a commuter train solution

Silvercreek property offers the city a unique transit opportunity that shouldn't be wasted

When it comes to transit, Guelph is an island.

The city has long discussed turning the existing downtown train and bus terminals into a unified transit hub. This is an excellent idea. It allows intercity buses, GO trains, Via trains, and city transit to converge on one point. But the transit hub is missing two important elements.

First, there are very few trains that connect to the transit hub -- just three each way per day, with only one at rush hour. Second, there will be no parking available, making it nearly useless to both commuters and travellers from surrounding communities.

GO trains currently run as far as Georgetown on a busy Canadian National Railway freight line, which is undergoing significant upgrades at the moment, specifically to expand GO train service to meet very high demand along the Georgetown corridor.

There is little stopping GO trains from running the rest of the way to Kitchener, via Guelph, on the far quieter Goderich-Exeter Railway, the North Main Line, which stretches from a junction in Georgetown through Guelph, Kitchener and Stratford, into London.

Shortly before last fall's provincial election, GO Transit announced an Environmental Assessment for the track upgrades necessary to make GO trains in Guelph a reality. I anticipate that not long before the 2011 provincial election, the environmental assessment will be complete and a contract will be tendered to perform any needed upgrades. Just before the 2015 election, I expect, GO trains will run the line for the first time since 1993, to much fanfare.

Most GO lines include two stops per city. The Georgetown GO line, which extended to Guelph until its service was cancelled by the NDP in 1993, has two stops for Georgetown, two for Brampton, and so forth. Guelph should be no different.

A GO train originating at the Kitchener Via station to connect with Grand River Transit would stop again at a park-and-ride station in Breslau.

The train would continue, stopping once again at Guelph's currently hypothetical highway-connected park-and-ride station to connect to cars and again at Guelph's transit hub to connect to city and intercity buses. Which leads us to the second problem: no parking.

LaFarge property history
This property has long been seen as the best place for a park-and-ride station in the city. This 2001 photo shows an already very old planning application notice suggesting this very usage. Photo: Stephen C. Host 2001
Arguably the most controversial property in Guelph today is the large triangular tract of land on Silvercreek south of Paisley, known colloquially as the former Lafarge property, owned by Silvercreek Guelph Developments Ltd.

This 22-hectare tract of land represents the future of our transportation infrastructure, but there is a process currently before the Ontario Municipal Board to turn it into a large commercial development.

This piece of land, strategically located between Highway 6, Highway 7, Highway 24, and both the Goderich-Exeter Railway's Georgetown-London and Guelph-Cambridge railway lines, is the best opportunity Guelph has for a home base for commuter train service.

Aside from being centrally located for a park-and-ride station for GO trains coming to Guelph, it would be well-positioned to serve at the same time as a station connecting Guelph to Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge when a Light Rail Transit system is inevitably installed -- Waterloo recently put its proposed regional Light Rail Transit at the top of its transit expansion plans.

Using the former Lafarge property in this manner would increase its value to the community as well as to the developers, giving it the potential to become a high-density residential development with parkland.

If we do not act soon, the property will be built up, eliminating the best opportunity we have for this much-needed facility. Without this property, Guelph, facing rapid centralized growth under Places to Grow, will not have a good location for its critical park-and-ride commuter train station.

The community will search for a site, realizing that there is only one other option that would allow people to come off the highways and go into a parking lot with minimal interference to a residential area, and minimal property expropriation to put it in place.

Pressure will grow on Margaret Greene Park, the only other open plot of land near both tracks and highways with the potential to become this all-important facility, once again developing greenfields when brownfields had been available, and failing to provide access to the eventual Guelph-Cambridge line.

As our city grows by leaps and bounds, we will need to consider how best to make use of this potential. We must prepare the groundwork for our transit future, which will come whether we are ready for it or not.

We must save the former Lafarge property for this major station, or we risk remaining an island separated from the future mass-transit system.

columns essays guelph transit 873 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:00 on January 20, 2008

Highway 6 improvements a waste of money

The Ministry of Transport of Ontario wants to "upgrade" highway 6 through Guelph by closing a number of interchanges and raising the speed limit through town. At a cost estimated to be over $50 million, Kortright, my road - an arterial - will lose partial access to highway 6, College Ave will be changed to a fly-over, and Stone Road will get an interchange worthy of the 401/400 interchange. Laird and Claire will be combined into one deluxe interchange, and Wellington Rd 34 will have its intersection turned into an exit around a kilometre north of the road.

Why all this work? Well, the MTO figures highway 6 should be built to 400-series standards. As was pointed out in multiple presentations at yesterday's special city council meeting specifically called to discuss this issue, the interchange at highways 6, 7, and 24 also known as Wellington St., built a mere ten years ago at a cost of around $20 million, does not meet these 400-series standards and would have to be torn down and redone for the highway to be certifiable under Ontario's inflexible 400-series rules.

This rather absurd notion that highway 6 must meet 400-series standards means that the speed limit will be 100 km/h, and design speed will be 130 km/h. This makes merge and exit lanes longer and means that in the Kortright-Stone-College block, only Stone can get a full interchange, diverting Kortright and College traffic over surface streets far too small to handle it. As was pointed out repeatedly last night, designating highway 6 as a parkway would give it an 80 km/h speed limit - an extension of a full two minutes travel time to drivers going the length of the highway - and allow less expensive diamond interchanges at each interchange instead of full cloverleafs at, well, one of them.

The relationship between the sudden urgency to these upgrades to a highway that has been planned since nearly 20 years before I was born and the recent announcement of a new 400-series highway 7 between the north end of Guelph and Kitchener is not entirely clear, but it is not likely a coincidence. Making highways 6 and 7 a true limited access highway connecting the 401 to highways 7 and 8 in Kitchener, largely bypassing and hurting a great swath of Guelph, has become a major priority.

Further south, at Laird, the idea is to spend huge amounts of money building an overpass and interchange system to service an as-yet non-existent industrial park. Indeed, the MTO's "preferred plan" shows a major road going to the west of the highway off the exit ramp that quite literally ends in a field without connecting to anything. The notion here is that the industrial park will have increased truck traffic and trucks may not ever be held up at intersections lest our economy collapse.

But it begs another important question. This industrial park lies within approximately 5 miles of not one, but three different railways, including the city owned Guelph Junction Railway, Canadian Pacific, and the Goderich-Exeter, which connects primarily to Canadian National. For the cost of this one interchange, it would likely be possible to connect the GJR to the industrial park and reduce the number of trucks coming out, and change the type of businesses that will seek to use the industrial park, as well as feed transport revenues back into city coffers, an income feedback not present with trucks. Each freight car can replace between two and five trucks, and such a line could also be used in the future when Canada wakes up to the need for passenger rail service to provide such service to that industrial park and surrounding community.

For the minimum $50 million price tag associated with this set of upgrades - which are not the only upgrades planned for the Hanlon, there are still three more interchanges north of the Speed River that will go through this process - what will we get? A new industrial park with no rail service. A Guelph Transit that will still be woefully underfunded. And continued piss poor passenger rail service. If we put that money into those instead, I have to ask, would the highway upgrades still even be needed?

guelph highways transit 714 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:07 on January 15, 2008

We're band-aiding our highways again

So we learned ahead of the election that Guelph is getting a new 4-lane highway 7 connecting Guelph to Kitchener. Now we hear about the MTO's plans to grade separate the three interchanges nearest my home on the Hanlon, the only highway through town. But when will we learn?

As a driver, I admit it: I like long, open, straight roads without stop signs or traffic lights. Indeed, from when I leave my home in Guelph to when I arrive at my parents' place an hour on the other side of Montreal, I face just 5 sets of traffic lights and not a single stop sign - and every single one of them is before I leave the city of Guelph. I like my car, it gets me where I am going with all my junk. It doesn't cost me anything, I convince myself while paying high insurance, maintenance, and fuel bills.

But there are bigger issues with this obsession I share with most of my fellow countrymen.

The environment, overused as a reason almost to the point of cliché, is an important factor. Driving a car everywhere burns gas, and regardless of the issue of greenhouse gasses, the crap coming out of my muffler isn't going to never-never land, it's going into the air and staying there. So is the rubber coming off my ever-wearing tires, the fluid I use to clean off my windshield when it gets too dirty to see out, the oil that inevitably slowly leaks out of the bottom of my car, and every other source of pollutants my car creates. And that's not counting the ones used to produce my car or the roads I drive on.

Another issue is that we have this completely absurd notion as a species and as a society that in order to function and succeed, everything must grow. Our businesses grow, our populations grow, our economy, measured in how money moves around how often, must grow. If we don't keep up the growth, we say that the economy is stagnant, we are heading into recession, there is no growth. At the core of this though is one fundamental flaw: there is simply no such thing as sustainable growth. We cannot grow forever.

We are told that the new highway 7 is needed because simply increasing the old one from 2 lanes to 4 will only be good until 2011. But if we add a new highway, we can grow until 2031 before we need to make another highway. Wow, huge improvement! As we grow and grow and grow, we are eating up our resources, namely our land, our air, and our water, at an incredible rate. Every few years a few hundred acres gets eaten up as we need another highway to service our insatiable growth and its associated traffic.

Even hybrid or electric cars do not address our problems. Ultimately, our roads get full as we grow faster and faster, and our problems cease to be about the toxins coming out of our cars but more about the bumper to bumper traffic on our 24 lane highways and the lack of any open land left anywhere.

Surely there is a better solution?

Of course there is. And it's as old an idea as confederation itself: rail. For a fraction of what it costs us in money, land, air, and water, we can use and expand our extensive rail network to provide people and goods the ability to move efficiently and effectively. If we put the cost of all these highway upgrades and new ongoing maintenance into our rail and bus transit networks, the traffic taken off our roads would be enough to last well beyond 2031, with the roads continuing to exist to service those people and goods that simply cannot go by mass transit.

Every GO train we put in could take up to 1,800 cars off the road. Every 100-car freight train we run means between 200 and 500 fewer trucks on the road. Every few thousand vehicles we remove from the road is one less highway we need to build. Every less highway we need to build is one more piece of land that can continue to be used for plants to feed us and to clean our air.

We cannot continue to expand our highways forever. It is simply not sustainable. We cannot expand rail forever, either, but each additional track we add to each rail line is an enormous number of highway lanes that we do not need to build with a significantly smaller land footprint, with significantly reduced environmental effects. We have to get away from our car culture. Incrementally, no doubt, but we do need to. To start, we could stop upgrading our highways and put that money instead into mass transit solutions that are at least more sustainable. We could fund our rail infrastructure to the level that it is not only better, but cheaper, to board a train anywhere and get off anywhere, perhaps even with our cars in an auto-carrier so the trip can be finished to get to that place that even trains have never been.

We need to return to the level of rail service we had a century ago, when passengers could take a train from just about anywhere to just about anywhere, when one could board a streetcar at the Ontario Veterinary College, transfer downtown, and take another street car all the way to downtown Toronto, when through a couple of transfers, one would be able to board a train in Owen Sound and get off at Mont Tremblant.

It is time to go back for the future and once again travel the continent with the reduced ecological and economical footprint afforded by mass transit.

guelph highways transit 967 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 21:13 on November 28, 2007

Dalton McGuinty responsible for 7200 deaths, says tory candidate

Last night I attended the Guelph provincial all-candidates debate at the University of Guelph. A few things stuck out in mind that warrant discussion.

First, the Green, NDP, and Communist candidates came out in favour of MMP in the referendum. The Conservative candidate came out opposed. The Liberal candidate said she was genuinely torn and had no idea yet how she would vote on the matter. The Green party candidate, Ben Polley, made the interesting and absurdely false claim that under MMP, Guelph would have had two MPPs last election because he was the highest scoring Green candidate in the province. This shows his clear lack of understanding of how the MMP proposal he supports actually works. The lists would be pre-submitted, with their structure having nothing to do with the results of the election, and him being elected from the list would not necessarily give us a second Guelph MPP regardless, as he would be a province-wide MPP whose only constituency is the party itself.

Second, the Green, Communist, Liberal, and Conservative parties all supported, with varying degrees of urgency, GO train service to Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo, one of my big issues. The NDP candidate chose her words carefully never once mentioning GO service but talking in platitudes about the need for increased public transit without really specifying. It's not surprising that the auto-union backed NDP would not want to support GO service. The Green party candidate here had it right with his assertion that we need to stop building highways, plain and simple, and the Communist party candidate noted that GO service can have the equivalent capacity of a 10-lane highway, another interesting point.

The most interesting bit though was Bob Senechal, the tory candidate, in a discussion about the Nanticoke coal plant still being open. He indicated that Dalton McGuinty once said that the Nanticoke plant is responsible for approximately 1800 deaths a year in Ontario. Therefore, Senechal said, "Dalton McGuinty is responsible for 7200 deaths."

Oy.

Shana Tova, by the way!

guelph politics reform 344 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 21:56 on September 12, 2007

Let's get Guelph back on the GO

Yesterday, on learning just where Guelph stands in its growth relative to other cities in the province, I submitted a letter to the Guelph Mercury on the sad state of our commuter network. Here it is, as it appears in today's paper:

Dear Editor:
The first round of Canadian census data is out, and Guelph is fifth on the list of fastest growing census metropolitan areas in Ontario. We are geographically located between Kitchener, No. 4, and Toronto, No. 3. Thousands of people every day travel between Kitchener, Guelph and points east, so why do we live on a desolate desert island of unconnected public transit?

Guelph and Kitchener reside on a quiet, well-maintained main line that connects to tracks with existing GO service at Georgetown. It needs no significant work to allow it to host GO trains; in fact, from 1990 to 1993, one GO train originated right here in Guelph. The tracks between Kitchener and Georgetown through Guelph host just two freight trains and three passenger trains each way per day, leaving plenty of capacity for GO service.

We have a perfect location for a major GO station in this city in the form of the LaFarge property on Silvercreek Parkway. GO trains could stop there and again at the site of the proposed transit hub at the existing Via station, connecting to both cars and busses. GO is even in the midst of buying new equipment and expanding the capacity of its tracks as far as Georgetown to accommodate increased service. We can remove cars from our roads, shelve plans for another 400-series highway and an expanded Highway 7, and provide real commuter service between Kitchener, Guelph and Toronto both ways with just a little political will. We would even save money by doing it.

So what are we waiting for? Let's get Guelph back on the GO.

David Graham, Guelph

guelph transit 320 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 17:40 on March 14, 2007

The future is rail

We discuss the environment and we begrudge the cars that make it a mess, the trucks that clog our roads, the traffic that slows us down, yet we all get into our cars and drive to where we want to go. Is it by choice? Sometimes. Is it by necessity? Sometimes. Are there realistic alternatives? Sometimes. What we really need is the answers to be yes, no, and yes. The future of transit in Canada can be found in the parallel bands of steel we call rail, for both passenger and freight. My vision for the expansion of rail is mainly focused around the Guelph and Waterloo regions, but the concepts can be expanded to a macro scale for populous regions of our country.

My vision for the future of rail involvement in public transit in Guelph and Waterloo Region is one of a three stage adoption. The first stage is the achievable, short term vision. It is what could be implemented in a year with a little political will. The second stage is medium term: what can we do with our existing infrastructure to improve commuter and mass transit in the area. The third is more or less the pipe dream category, ideas that would greatly improve our transit systems in the region and prepare us for the stresses of our ever increasing population.

The Region of Waterloo has a population that has recently broken 500,000 people. Guelph was around 94,000 people when I arrived in 1999 and now has a population closer to 120,000 people. Georgetown is a substantially smaller city a few miles east of Guelph that is part of the municipality of Halton Hills, along with Acton and a number of small towns in between.

Georgetown currently has 4 GO trains originating at its passenger rail station. The track they are on is one of the busiest freight lines in Ontario. Just beyond the GO station to the west the track forks. One track goes to Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Stratford, and St. Mary's on its way to London. The other turns south and passes through Milton, Burlington, the outskirts of Hamilton, Brantford, and Woodstock before reconnecting with the former just outside the Via station in London. The freight trains, with just one exception in each direction each day, all take this second line. The six daily Via trains through Georgetown take the former line. GO trains using this quieter line would have no measurable opposing traffic right through to Kitchener.

The track through Guelph and Kitchener is known colloquially as the North Mainline, but in rail terms is the Guelph subdivision. The track from Georgetown to Bramalea is the Halton subdivision, and from Bramalea to Union Station is the Weston subdivision. The Halton subdivision continues from Georgetown to Burlington where it connects with the lakeshore passenger corridor, known in rail terms as the Oakville subdivision.

The Guelph sub is leased from Canadian National (CN) by shortline operator RailAmerica which runs the line under the name Goderich-Exeter Railway (GEXR). This shortline runs a freight train daily from Stratford to Toronto and return, and a number of local trains which rarely come east of Guelph.

The tracks between Georgetown and Stratford were recently upgraded from bolted rail to welded rail, and most of these tracks now have a passenger train speed limit of 70 miles per hour, with no significant traffic on the line.

My first stage vision for rail service is to run the four GO trains that originate at Georgetown westward, departing Georgetown early in the morning, running to Breslau, just outside of Kitchener near the Region of Waterloo International Airport (YKF), and then back to Georgetown before continuing on to Toronto. This would allow commuters to commute in either direction in this area, and would not require GO transit to build new GO train storage facilities.

This could exist on existing infrastructure with existing trains with only a pair of new stations being required. One would be in Breslau, servicing Kitchener-Waterloo and surrounding area, the other would be at the controversial Lafarge property in Guelph, right next to the Hanlon. There are existing passing tracks at Acton, Rockwood, Guelph, and Breslau, so GO trains travelling in each direction would have ample opportunity to pass each-other between Georgetown and Breslau and could thus co-exist on the line.

This would address one of the biggest commuter problems in our area. Waterloo region needs GO service to alleviate the ever-expanding need for more and bigger roads to handle the ever-increasing number of cars. Guelph needs it for much the same reason. People live in all these cities and commute to work, and that won't change any time soon. It is our responsibility as a society to make it work properly within our economical and environmental restraints, rather than allowing an infinite number of cars to dominate without providing viable alternatives.

The second stage of my vision for passenger rail expansion ties into aspirations Waterloo Region already has.

Waterloo Region has, for years, been discussing a Light Rail Transit system to run on the short piece of region-owned track between Kitchener and Elmira. It would service Waterloo region and the University of Waterloo under current plans. It would also be electrified immediately and cost far more money than it should to implement.

Very few people will use the LRT system if it is not planned and executed correctly and does not have a large enough network to be useful to the general public. It must connect the entire Region of Waterloo. Ideally, Light Rail trains would run from Elmira to Kitchener, connect to GO trains, and continue on all the way to Cambridge before returning. It should be run on diesel powered passenger trains, ideally starting with inexpensive second hand equipment, and only expanded to better equipment and/or electrified lines when the usage warrants the enormous expense.

Setting it up to be electrified immediately, and to only run for a few miles, would doom the LRT to failure. Taxpayer concerns over hundreds of millions of dollars spent when only a few million dollars would have made it run would cause the project to collapse after it starts, and failing to connect enough of the city with it will make it not useful further preventing it from gaining public acceptance.

Running an LRT system without connecting to GO trains would also not be useful. In order to take full advantage of an LRT system, a commuter or traveller should be able to hop on the LRT anywhere in the Waterloo Region, travel around it, then hop on a GO train and continue on to work, or to other areas, otherwise they will just continue to use their cars and never get on the LRT in the first place.

A successful and useful LRT system must run from Elmira to Cambridge to start, and must connect to preferably all-day GO service at Kitchener.

The GO trains that in stage one ran as far as Breslau would need to be expanded all the way to the west end of Kitchener, stopping once at a new park-and-ride terminal at the very west end just before the farmland on the way to Stratford and again at the existing Kitchener Via station for people connecting via an LRT system which would have go to through the same station before arriving at Breslau and continuing on through Guelph and Georgetown toward Toronto. These GO trains would need to run in bi-directional all-day service to be a realistic alternative to cars.

A GO train would also be needed on the Canadian Pacific line which currently sees no passenger service whatsoever in the area. GO trains currently run as far as Milton on this line, and then, without passengers, continue on to Campbellville to park for the night, though this will be changing January 4th, 2007 when a new GO train terminal will open in Milton. This line should absolutely be expanded to Cambridge where it would also connect to the LRT system.

This line would require a new station at Morriston, where highway 6 crosses the CP tracks, a park-and-ride station at Killean, just outside of downtown Cambridge, and an LRT connection at the old Cambridge passenger station by the river. This would be more difficult than the one on the Guelph subdivision as this line sees nearly two dozen freight trains a day and is single track west of Campbellville.

The third stage is to me the clincher, but is a fair ways off in the current political environment of our car culture.

Cambridge and Guelph are connected by a seldom-used (twice a week) freight line known as the Fergus subdivision. It connects with the Guelph sub at Alma Rd in Guelph and connects with the CP Waterloo sub which runs between Cambridge and Kitchener at Hespeler. Light rail trains could easily connect Guelph and Cambridge directly on this line, and, with a direct, frequent LRT connection between Guelph and Kitchener, a rail service triangle would be created.

Beyond that, the Guelph Junction Railway, a freight line owned by the city of Guelph and operated by Ontario Southland Railway, could see LRT service connecting Guelph and Campbellville, turning on to CP for a stop at Morriston to connect to CP-line GO trains and the Cambridge LRTs before returning to Campbellville and heading south to Hamilton, another large, vastly rail under-serviced city in the area.

LRT trains on this line could run from the station in Guelph on the Guelph subdivision, up the Guelph North Spur along Edinburgh Rd to Woodlawn, where it would connect with the Guelph Junction Railway tracks and return southward via the Wal-Mart, River Run Centre, and cross Victoria and York roads at their intersection on its way south.

Near Victoria Rd is another controversial piece of land next to railway tracks. It is a site contaminated with hazardous waste known as the Imico site, named for the factory that used to exist at that location. This large plot of land could be paved over and turned into a major park-and-ride terminal for a regional LRT network.

In Cambridge, the previously mentioned Fergus sub used to continue southward through the city, eventually winding up at Brantford, which is reasonably well serviced by five passenger trains in each direction between Toronto and London, on what is colloquially known as the South Mainline. Connecting this city, along with Hamilton, to the Waterloo Regional LRT network would help to severely curtail road traffic, particularly on secondary highways like highways 6 and 24, but would be immensely expensive as the right of way to Brantford is no longer intact.

Further, I would want GO service to run from Hamilton to Burlington where it would connect to the Halton sub to Georgetown, sticking to the freight line at Bramalea rather than heading for Toronto, and following it all the way to Bowmanville on the far side of Oshawa. This line would originate on the lakeshore line and connect to the CP at Milton, the North Mainline between Georgetown and Bramalea, and service currently unserviced tracks connecting to each of the other existing GO lines all the way to the lakeshore east line to Oshawa, allowing commuters for the first time to connect at locations other than Toronto Union station and allowing commuters to commute to locations other than downtown Toronto. Using a track like this, a commuter coming in from Barrie could transfer at the junction of the two lines and continue right into Hamilton with this bidirectional peripheral line without ever going into Toronto proper.

I believe rail lines should be rebuilt and expanded wherever and whenever possible. Canada is, to the best of my knowledge, the only country remaining on the planet that is still ripping up more of its rails than it is installing, and every new track installed is an investment in our environment and in our future. Abandoned rail rights of way that currently would appear to have no use in southern Ontario such as the line that used to run from Guelph to Palmerston via Elora and Fergus will eventually be essential to our transit strategy as Toronto expands, as it inevitably will if left unchecked if current trends hold, to engulf Waterloo Region and all of the surrounding communities. Every track that is put back in now while the rights of way are intact is one less that has to be expropriated later when houses have been built on them.

Rail expansion is important not only for passenger service, but also for freight. Guelph is currently investing in a large industrial park on the hanlon near the 401. It is three miles from the nearest tracks, which are owned by the city of Guelph no less, yet it is not going to be serviced by rail. While we talk about the need for rail service, our actions continue to show that we do not mean it. It would cost millions of dollars to connect the rail network to this new industrial park, but what will it cost us not to? Could we even measure it?

In short, I believe the future of our region can be found in rail. Roads cost billions of dollars every year to maintain, and the users of it, whether private or commercial, pay billions of dollars to private companies to use these roads in the form of vehicles, fuel, and insurance, most of which is never fed back into the road network. Yet people never complain about public investment in road networks because we understand the need for them. Public investment in rail is no less important than public investment in our road network, and is integral for us as we work toward environmental sustainability and decluttered roads. Cars have their place, but rail is the future.

guelph transit 2304 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 20:29 on December 19, 2006

Public transit dominates municipal election debates

Every debate I have seen or heard about has so far been dominated by discussion of public transit in the K-W/Guelph area. Tuesday night and again last night, Waterloo Region chair incumbent Ken Seiling and challenger Bob Verdun squared off over the issue in debate. The debate is coming down to one between Seiling and Light Rail Transit, and Verdun and GO service, but it shouldn't be.

It is our responsibility as residents of this region to work towards ways to improve public transit as a whole, not through any one solution, but through all the available solutions. It should be noted that in the US, it has been widely stated that the emissions reductions the country has seen over the last few years have been entirely due to changes in local and state policy, not federal policy. This must be our approach, in the absence of any current federal interest in the matter, as well.

Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge represent a population of around a half-million people. There are many people who both commute within this region, between these cities, and to areas beyond including Brantford, Hamilton, and the GTA. If anyone in this area wants to travel to anywhere other than Toronto's downtown core, the only options are busses or their cars. I don't believe either of these are ideal, when railroad rights of way exist linking all the cities mentioned to each-other.

The Light Rail Transit idea is a good one, but on its own, it is not useful. The tracks on which they could run stretch from Elmira through St. Jacobs and the Kitchener Via station, to the old Cambridge CP station in Galt, passing through only one downtown - that of Waterloo - on the way, missing Kitchener's downtown by a whole mile.

Without connecting to GO train service, what good is the LRT system? People will be able to travel on a single line, up and down Waterloo region, but will be unable to exit the region. They would be forced to return to their cars, then leave. One could not take the LRT from Cambridge up to Waterloo, run errands, back down to Kitchener, and hop the next GO train to Bramalea. There are three Via trains a day in each direction through Kitchener, and they do not stop everywhere along the way. There are GO trains out of Georgetown that could easily be extended to run from Kitchener - they already run on the busiest section of track. Between Georgetown and Kitchener, there are a mere two non-passenger trains a day in each direction, while the GO trains share their tracks with over twenty freight trains between Georgetown and Bramalea.

The Waterloo region's LRT plans also call for immediate electrification of the line, which is enormously expensive when diesel powered trains can be used until electrification is warranted. This is irresponsible and can only be interpreted as being intended to tie up transit funds to prevent the addition of GO service to the region for ideological rather than practical reasons.

Incumbent Waterloo Region chair Ken Seiling has been in the position for over two decades. He insisted in this week's debates that our region is not a bedroom community for Toronto, and should not be one. What he inexplicably fails to realise is that Waterloo region and Guelph have limited lands, and due to lack of planning by the very people who call for the addition of local employment industry in all affected cities, most of these lands are developed as residential. We are absolutely a bedroom community for the Greater Toronto Area, and it is not all that bad a thing to be, if we allow inexpensive, environmentally friendly commuting options. To deny that we are a bedroom community is to deny that the earth is round.

If the regional leadership truly wants this area to be largely occupied by a locally employed population, it is incumbent on them to bring business in, not to prevent people from getting out. The reality is that employment industries are in the GTA, and the people who work in them live everywhere from beyond Oshawa in the east to beyond Barrie to the north and beyond Waterloo region and Hamilton to the west and the sheer volume of it drives up the cost of housing. People settle further and further from the city into places they can afford, but they still need to get to their places of work.

GO service provides the most inexpensive and ecologically sound answer for commuters to the GTA, while LRTs will complement the Grand River Transit bus system in Waterloo region. Let us all stop pretending Waterloo Region and Guelph are self-contained economies and work to reduce the traffic and pollution created by the reality we face.

guelph politics transit 805 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:12 on November 10, 2006

GOKW.org gets excellent response from the community

Less than a month after the launch of GO K-W, the website to advocate bringing GO service to the Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Cambridge region, our site has been in at least two newspapers and was the top story on last night's CKCO (local CTV) news. Of 108 election candidates contacted, 35 have responded to our survey, and the opinion is virtually unanimous: we need GO train service to this region.

We only have the manpower to reach the candidates by email, and only around two-thirds of candidates have email addresses posted. Of those, one third have so far replied.

We only contacted the mayoral candidates in Halton Hills as it is only peripherally affected by our request, in the town of Acton between Georgetown and Guelph. Both candidates contacted replied quickly and positively. Candidates in Guelph, Kitchener, and Waterloo have replied in large numbers very favourably to our ideas, but Cambridge has curiously not replied to us much at all. Of three candidates for Cambridge representatives at Waterloo Region contacted, none have replied, and of all the councillors and mayoral candidates in Cambridge, only two candidates have replied as of this afternoon. Cambridge also has the fewest candidates with public email addresses.

Cambridge announced a Greyhound commuter terminal plan at the start of the election campaign, where a large parking lot and bus station would be built at the 401. The demand for commuter service in Cambridge is very high, so the lack of response is puzzling.

The best response we have gotten has been from candidates for the Region of Waterloo, who all agree that GO service is essential and realise that their regional board is critical to its introduction. Of 18 candidates contacted, 10 have replied, making it the only jurisdiction where a majority of those contacted have answered.

Two weeks ago, both the Guelph Mercury (registration required) and Guelph Tribune reported on GO K-W and our mission, and last night, Steve Host, who is spearheading this effort, was interviewed by CKCO on this topic, and it and GO K-W were the lead story on their evening newscast.

The response has been overwhelming and positive, so the question becomes: why isn't our region even mentionned on GO transit's 10 year rail plan?

guelph transit 381 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 21:46 on November 01, 2006

Bring GO train service to K-W/Guelph/Cambridge!

Barrie recently received GO train service, but three cities with a total population four times the size, and closer to Toronto, still lack this basic commuting tool. Our roads are full, our air is heavy, and our patience is thin. Bring GO service to Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge!

I have written about the need for it before, and my friends and I have been talking about the need for GO service amongst ourselves for a while. Now we are doing something about it.

We have province-wide municipal elections coming up in just over a month, and it is time we make mass transit an election issue.

To that end, we are launching GOKW.org, a website dedicated to the expansion of GO train service to our region. You will note the addition of the "GO K-W" button in the right navigation bar on this site. I encourage anyone who supports GO service to this area to add this button to their website, with the help of this code:

<a href="http://www.gokw.org/"><img src="http://cdlu.net/images/GOKW-04.jpg"></a>

Below is our official press release.

GOKW.org to Promote Commuter Rail Service to Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, Cambridge, and Acton

Grassroots community website intended to promote new commuter options, with a goal of expanding GO Transit commuter train service through to the Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge region.

GUELPH, Ontario - October 5, 2006 - GOKW.org is pleased to announce its introduction to the world. GOKW.org exists to promote alternative commuter transit options to the Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge region.

The region of Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Cambridge has a population of nearly a half million people, but to this date the region is woefully under-serviced by mass transit commuter systems, resulting in endlessly frustrating and polluting traffic gridlock as residents who commute to the GTA use the only means available -- their cars.

For our entire region of half a million people, there exists only one commuter train operated by Via Rail with a capacity of fewer than 500 passengers and a restrictive schedule and route that does not permit commuters to travel to parts of the GTA outside of Brampton, and the Toronto downtown core. Limited, slow bus service exists, fighting the same highway traffic drivers would like to avoid.

Why, as our cities continue to grow, and as GO Transit expands in every other direction, has our region been forgotten by the commuter network?

What challenges does our region face to bring the municipal and provincial governments on side to introduce proper commuter rail service?

What can you, the average citizen, do to help make this happen?

The answers to these questions and much more can be found at GOKW.org. This grassroots site is meant to be a gathering place for information, news, and discussion about the future of commuter options for the Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Cambridge region.

Why now? Municipal elections are upon us and the candidates for municipal office need to know that the people of our region are concerned about our clogged streets, filthy lungs, and endless commutes. We need to let our candidates know that we believe GO trains are the answer, and we need to let our candidates know that we must act fast, while land is still available to build the stations and infrastructure needed to bring this service to the region.

This municipal term will be four years. Our region cannot wait four more years to get started on this serious problem. The next four years will be pivotal in the evolution of GO transit and of our region.

GOKW.org will follow all the information available, including the positions of candidates, in bringing GO Transit commuter trains to our region, and GOKW.org will provide the citizens of the Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Cambridge region with a solid voice and a consolidated source of information.

ABOUT GOKW.org

GOKW.org is a grassroots community website that is not affiliated with any other organization, including GO Transit. GOKW.org exists to promote alternative commuter transit options for the Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Cambridge region, and to provide an ongoing single source of news and information on the expansion of GO service to our region.

For more information, see http://www.gokw.org/, email press@gokw.org, or call 519-836-7186.

guelph transit 699 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 15:00 on October 05, 2006

A ten-lane 401?

How many lanes is too many? What about alternatives?

An announcement in the local paper this week says that highway 401 is going to be expanded from 6 to 8 lanes between Kitchener-Waterloo and Cambridge, about 5 km. Within 7 more years it'll be further expanded to 10 lanes over the same stretch.

The Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge areas have no viable form of alternative transportation yet in place. Providing our three cities with commuter train service would likely cost less than this single four-lane expansion of a small stretch of the freeway, and it would have a far more long lasting and useful effect.

As of right now, GO train service goes from downtown Toronto to Milton on the CPR line. The trains then continue up the hill with no passengers a further ten miles to park in Campbellville. 18 miles further west down those same tracks is the city of Cambridge.

Similarly, GO train service goes from downtown Toronto to Georgetown on the so-called "North Main Line" via Weston, Malton, and Brampton. These trains park at Georgetown. 19 miles further west is the city of Guelph, and 13 miles further west still is the city of Kitchener-Waterloo.

The condition of the tracks to all these cities is very good. Goderich-Exeter Railway, which operates from Georgetown to London via Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph recently installed brand new continuous welded rail on most of its line. It currently hosts an insignificant number of freight trains (4 west of Guelph and a mere 2 - one each way - east of Guelph) and handles 6 Via trains per day at mostly inconvenient times with no stops east of Brampton until downtown Toronto.

The largest expense in extending GO service to Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Cambridge would be the construction of stations.

The GO station at York University cost $850,000 to install. The parking lot at Langstaff station cost $1.4 million to double in size to 1,021 parking spaces. A safe bet would therefore be around $3.65 million per station. It would therefore likely cost about $10.95 million to install stations at the three cities, plus the cost of land expropriation where necessary.

The equipment already exists and is parked in locations where it could be used for these lines and additional trains would not even need to be purchased (until GO sees the demand is there). The tracks are also already in place and would not cost anything to put in, though the CPR line to Cambridge may eventually need to be double-tracked to provide better service.

The only expense aside from building the stations is direct operating expenses in operating the trains themselves, including any possible payments to the host railways to use their tracks. Some of these would be offset by removing the inept, slow, poorly scheduled, and mostly useless, but nevertheless present GO bus service to the area.

Now, back to the original point. How much will it cost to put 4 additional lanes over 5 km of the 401?

The initial announcement failed to mention the budget for it. But judging by this Ministry of Transport document, it should cost about $23 million. This document shows a 4.5 km stretch immediately to the west of where this work will take place being expanded from 4 to 6 lanes starting in 2000 for around $11.2 million. We're looking at putting in twice as many lanes over a slightly longer distance in two stages in the same geographic area, so the comparison is a safe one.

For $23 million, we will have four additional lanes over 5 km of Canada's busiest highway. This will not serve in the least to alleviate any of the traffic, and as anyone who drives on any highway knows, highway traffic tends to expand to fill all available lanes.

By putting in GO service, preferably all-day, to these three cities, a lot of the Toronto-bound traffic can be taken off the roads. The remaining traffic should be able to manage with the existing lane structure, and the four lane addition to the 401 over that short stretch would be unnecessary.

Unfortunately, political expediency and short-sightedness will still opt for the increased lane solution, at a mere twice the cost of adding GO service, only contributing further to our endless smog days in Southern Ontario.

At what point does the 401 have too many lanes?

By expanding the 401 from 6 to 8 and then to 10 lanes, do we really increase capacity on the highway enough to warrant the investment? Or in 10 years, will drivers, stuck in 10 lanes of lung-shattering traffic, ponder idly if 12 lanes or 14 lanes might possibly be better? At what point do we stop and consider the alternatives to our smog-filled air and car-filled roads?

One GO train can seat one thousand five hundred passengers, plus standing room, with one single 3,000 horsepower engine, the equivalent power of around 20 average cars (with their lone occupants).

essays guelph highways transit 830 words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:45 on June 09, 2006

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