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Displaying the most recent stories under highways...
Assorted thoughts on leadership, recessions, and highways
Today is the 79th anniversary of Black Thursday, the first of three miserable days on the stock market that signalled the start of the Great Depression. With that, rules for the Liberal leadership race about to come forward, and new developments on the highway construction front, there's lots to talk about these days.
First off, let me say that, given the choice, I want this man to run for the leadership of the Liberal Party.
With that out of the way, down to business.
This week, Ontario posted a deficit of $500 million for the first time in a few years. I have never made any secret of my disdain for deficits, and when I see a provincial government spending more billions on building new highways than you can shake a stick at go into deficit, I really have to scratch my head.
As I have noted many times before, Guelph is currently subject of, or is close to, four major highway projects: new Highway 24 (Cambridge-Brantford), new Highway 7 (Guelph-Kitchener), new GTA West corridor (Guelph-Brampton), and realignment and upgrades to Highway 6, in four separate sections each with its own EA, from south of the 401 to north of Guelph city limits.
Last night was the 4th Public Information Centre for the first of the four sections of Highway 6 to be upgraded. I am disappointed to, again, see no consideration whatsoever for the need to connect the Hanlon industrial park to the nearby rail network, which would involve crossing the Hanlon near one of the interchanges being proposed and therefore would need at least some level of planning or preparation within this environmental assessment. The changes proposed in PIC #4 for the Hanlon in their latest "preferred plan" call for a two-way service road to run between Stone and Downey Rd on the west side of the Hanlon, connecting up to Woodland Glen Dr., and the associated construction of a large retaining wall through several back yards along Old Colony Trail.
From a traffic flow perspective, it's definitely an improvement over previous plans, but from an environmental and social perspective for that area, it's a definite setback. This never-ending balancing act is frustrating to me.
I maintain that the investment in highways is a colossal waste of money if we are not also investing to at least the same level in transit infrastructure, which here and now necessarily means rail. If the as-yet unbuilt Hanlon industrial park were to connect to rail, which could be accomplished for the cost of one or two interchanges on the highway, the highway improvements would have a net long term benefit. The rail access would allow businesses to come to this industrial park to get material out of their trucks and onto the tracks, not just move it between trucks. I am all for road infrastructure improvements that help people and businesses get off the roads, but against highways for the sake of highways. Similarly, if passenger service were restored to the line between Guelph and Hamilton, some of the car pressures on Highway 6, which runs parallel to the nearly unused tracks for the entire affected area, would be reduced.
I found out just yesterday that there is an environmental assessment public information centre on Tuesday the 28th from 5-8pm at the Springfield Golf and Country Club on Gordon discussing upgrades to Maltby Rd, which would be an ideal right of way to connect the Guelph Junction Railway to the Hanlon industrial parks with minimal cost or disruption. Tracks could easily run on the edge of the road within its right of way.
With the recession coming very much as I predicted a couple of years ago, dead-end highway projects like the Halon may finally be put on hold. Given half a moment of reflection, if we are going to go into deficit to finance infrastructure and create jobs, then we should be doing so in such a way as to have high capacity, low environmental impact, low cost transportation solutions running at the other end of the recession. It remains my belief that our existing road system would be adequate if we invested properly in rail transportation rather than heavily subsidising roads while leaving rail to fend for itself.
The reality is, though, that we will continue to rip up rails in Canada and build highways nearby. This week, work began in ripping out the Kinghorn subdivision, a 195-mile railway line that was abandoned in 2005 connecting Longlac to Thunder Bay. The track itself was primarily used as a detour route in the event of problems in northern Ontario, but its removal demonstrates that we, collectively, have still not learned our lesson in rail removal. While difficult to prove, I believe Canada remains one of the few countries, if not the only one, left in the entire world still ripping out more railway lines than we are putting in.
Earlier this week, the first federal leader of a party to meaningfully recognise this reality and put it in a platform, was pushed out of the leadership of his party in a victory of politics over policy. The Liberal platform this past election included huge sums for infrastructure, and a plan to ban the removal of railway lines like the Kinghorn sub. While this horse has largely left the barn, the Kinghorn sub demonstrates that it is never too late to close this barn door.
This leads me to my next point, which is about the leadership of the Liberal party.
We should have rules handed down soon about the structure and length of the third Liberal leadership race in recent years within a few days. While pithy, Jamie's assessment is bang on and I hope some of the suggestions in his post are reflected in the rules.
Personally, I would like to see 50% of all donations to each leadership campaign be handed over to the party in lieu of a deposit, and no spending cap coupled with a ban on coming out with any debt whatsoever. We need a leader capable of fundraising as much as any other skill, and that is one way to weed out poor fundraisers. The debt lesson is a hard learned one as some of the last round of leadership candidates still have not finished paying theirs off, and I would suggest that to enforce such a no debt requirement, any candidate who still has outstanding leadership debt by the time they reach the convention be excluded from the ballot.
And on the topic of enforcement, you can read my latest presentation, this one to the Guelph Police Services Board on Thursday the 16th on behalf of the Community Volunteer Patrol, an organisation you should get involved with.
And by the way, why do so many drivers not normally get winter tires that requiring them in one province could cause such a massive shortage?
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:35 on
October 24, 2008
GTA West study public information night
Last night I attended a public meeting for the GTA West proposal in Guelph. There will be another Thursday night in Brampton. I have only a few comments to add to my discussion of the first CAG session for the same project a few weeks ago.
The build team swear up and down that they are considering all options, not just a highway, and bristle at any suggestion otherwise. I am deeply cynical of this assertion. The new Kitchener-to-Guelph Highway 7 project also pretended to study other options.
Asked again why the study area's western limits go through Guelph rather than Waterloo region, the build team were unambiguous. Kitchener-Waterloo is getting a new highway 7 and so there is no need to consider anything further for them. They hastened to add rather dubiously that the GTA West study limits could be expanded if the team feels it necessary. While the project team also suggested that highways were part of a larger, more integrated solution, if that were the case, then we would be including Waterloo region in the study area to look at how to expand non-highway service alongside the new highway.
GO Transit has announced a Class EA to bring service to Kitchener, through GTA West's limits and out the other end. GTA West's build team say that the logical progression is to figure out what should be done, then either continue with building a highway or issue recommendations to other groups such as GO Transit. Clearly GO Transit has no particular desire to wait for GTA West's recommendations, and are acting on their own accord to get on with providing service to this study area.
The GTA West study area is a pie-slice shaped section of land to the west of Toronto, one of several corridor study areas. All of them share one feature: they are looking at ways to connect regions to Toronto, and not so much to each-other. Existing underutilised rail links between Guelph and Hamilton, for example, span the Niagara-GTA and GTA West study areas. Within each study area, the links are completely useless -- not that many people need to get to the Flamborough/Puslinch border -- but looked at holistically, non-highway transportation solutions can be found on these routes.
The study area has an arrow on it showing what they have in mind, of course. It goes from the junction of the Hanlon and the new Highway 7 across to a point in Brampton near where the 407 swings eastward, parallel to a rail line the entire way, but not near any (useful) highways.
A lot of fuss was made about the designers' computer modelling systems, and mode-of-travel assumptions. There are a few obvious points to be made here. Software is only as good as the people who design and write it. If we are modelling a transportation scenario around cars, it will do a very good job of modelling cars. But to model people's behaviours in different scenarios is less boolean. A part of their modelling and assumptions is trying to predict what mode of transport people will use. If we predict that people will use cars and build highways to accommodate this assumption, then it will be a self-fulfilling prophecy. With no improved alternative modes of transportation, people will indeed use cars on the nice, pretty, brand new highway. The modelling will be right because that was what was modelled.
In the same vein, their discussion included some numbers: 3.7 million new residents requiring 1.8 million new jobs in southern Ontario over the next couple of decades. Some of those 1.8 million jobs will come from industry, and if we build new highways, new industry will be built around trucks. But if we stop subsidising trucks by building highways, then new industry will use means that are actually economical, and not only economical because of how much the taxpayer kicks in, to move their goods. Their modelling seems to assume trucks will be used, and that highways must be built to accommodate them to keep them off secondary roads. This would also be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Subsidising rail, or ceasing to subsidise trucks would begin to address the modal share of truck vs rail.
Taken all together, the probability that the GTA West study group is serious about considering alternatives to highways is fairly minimal, though not nil, even if they are paying rail and transit lip service today. One member of the build team commented to me that transit can run on highways. He also noted that if the GTA West study group concludes that rail is the way to go, then they don't have a lot of work to do.
And that raises my next, and for this post, final point. The study group is a consortium of consultants and the MTO. Rail is handled by other organisations and different consultants. It is in their interest for a highway to be the conclusion that they come to. No highway means no highway to study, no highway to plan, and no highway to build. Offering GO Transit a recommendation to do what they are already doing does not lend well to getting future work and contracts from the provincial government, nor to keeping themselves employed for the next several years.
I should note also that several of the planning staff acknowledged reading this blog. I wonder if they see this as an adversarial process and me as "the other side" as the Hanlon improvement folks do? No doubt I have a thick dossier somewhere in MTO's offices. So, knowing that they are reading this, I challenge the GTA West study build team to show in a meaningful way that rail transit solutions are truly on the table, that it is not, as they swear, lip service. The information night made little mention of the challenges facing rail in this area. Even the local rail choke-point of the single-track Credit river bridge in Georgetown was brought up by an audience member rather than the build team. The fact that railway tracks stretch the entire length of the study area, and from Bramalea to the 400 without any passenger service whatsoever, was never so much as mentioned. To allay my fears, and those of others present, that there is nothing but lip service being paid to rail, I would ask them to show us that they know the rail network and what it has to offer, where it can be expanded and improved, and what the real costs are for rail as compared to for road, both economical and environmental.
We need to fix our thinking to not rely on ever greater swaths of pavement to solve all our problems. It will probably take us 30 years of concerted effort to shift our economy back to a majority modal share of rail, but we have to start that 30 year clock. We haven't, and the GTA West study looks like we won't take this opportunity to either.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:23 on
June 24, 2008
Another highway project, another MTO fallacy
My faith in the Ontario Ministry of Transportation's sincerity is dropping by the day. Yesterday's paper contains an announcement for yet another transportation (highway) corridor in this neck of the woods -- that's the 4th, if you're keeping track -- and the "Analysis Area" document contains this gem: "MTO is responding positively to the calls to take a more proactive and protective approach than required under the Greenbelt Plan and is not pursuing corridors within the Greenbelt." It sounds wonderful, but it's patently untrue. This particular study may not be affecting the Greenbelt, though the next paragraph essentially says if the Greenbelt is expanded then we'll just have to build in it, but the MTO is most definitely pursuing new transportation corridors within the Greenbelt. This particular study does not even pretend to be looking at anything other than Yet Another New Highway. Never mind that an abandoned and ripped up railway line exists from near downtown Cambridge starting from the base of the future Waterloo regional LRT's Waterloo-Cambridge and potential Guelph-Cambridge lines, to Brantford. A new highway 24 is the only option on the table. More on this piece of concrete later.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 18:16 on
June 19, 2008
Hanlon upgrade PIC #3 looks familiar
Last night, MTO put on its third Public Information Centre about upgrades to the Hanlon through Guelph, based on the community workshops that took place last month. 6 designs were presented at the PIC, each with an alternative design. The consensus at the workshops called for two main points: a service road between Stone and Kortright, and the removal of the east-to-north loop at the Stone interchange.
The six design alternatives presented were the four from the workshops, and two from MTO loosely based on the workshop designs. The alternative designs attached to each and every one included the east-to-north loop at the Stone interchange to provide access for the Stone Road extension, which has been nixed by the city. Clearly MTO believes that this will be un-nixed by a future council and are not shy to plan based on that rather distressing assumption.
On first glance, their alternative designs only have a single-direction service road between Kortright and Stone, but it is indeed a two-way road if you look carefully. The workshops wanted this service road along the west side of the Hanlon so it would affect the people who would most benefit from it, and several proposals were offered to make that work. MTO decided to put it on the east side, but at the very least the proposal now includes a service road allowing north-side access to the Hanlon at Kortright. This will allow us to at least pretend that the Hanlon is still a local highway, not a Guelph bypass. College Ave will still be abandoned by these plans.
I am really not sure what to make of the usefulness of the workshops. I felt at the start of them that the MTO had a good idea of what they were going to change the Hanlon design to after the initial backlash, and used the workshops only to be able to say that that's what the citizens told them they want, stifling future objections.
New ideas introduced at the workshops, such as a grade-separated roundabout with a single span over it at Kortright to a service road were not considered further by MTO in their next draft plan. The idea on the table for the roundabout would not be as chaotic as the many zero-visibility traffic light encumbered roundabouts you might find in Montreal, like Dorval or the (now defunct) l'Acadie circle. It would be servicing a local road and, with a single bridge span over it, would have good visibility in all directions with virtually no additional land use over the current highway. It is unfortunate that the MTO is clearly unwilling to seriously entertain the idea. It is part of a larger problem of old-style thinking without looking at what real progress needs to be made.
This morning, I had to drive down to Aldershot VIA station to drop my wife off to catch VIA train number 97 to the US. To get there, I had to take the Hanlon, 401, Highway 6 South, and the 403. At Aldershot station, a new parking lot is about to open because the GO/VIA lot is full to the point that I had nowhere to park to wait with her for the train. On the connection from the Hanlon to the 401 and on to Highway 6 South, there was an enormous amount of traffic, and it took a couple of light cycles to make the right turn from the 401 exit ramp onto Highway 6 South.
There are two ways we can interpret this traffic. The simple way to see it is that there is so much traffic on this road that we must upgrade the highway, build an expressway section from the bottom of the Hanlon to south of the first town on Highway 6 South to bypass the bottleneck, and otherwise make our roads bigger and better. This is the approach MTO is using. It accomplishes short term objectives of relieving bottlenecks, and increases the relative efficiency of the automobile over other modes of transportation.
That brings us to the other way to see it: Why was I driving to Aldershot in the first place? Why are quite so many people driving on this highway? Why was it hard to count fewer than 15 consecutive vehicles going the other way with only one occupant in each one? Granted not everyone can travel without a vehicle or car-pool. Some people have to bring large loads with them everywhere they go for their particular work, or have such esoteric origins and destinations that no transit system will ever be viable for them. But for what I suspect is the majority of those cars (and trucks, but we'll get back to them in a second), they are driving between Waterloo region or Guelph and Hamilton, destinations that could have a transit system that works for them.
To answer the first question, and in many ways the rest as a result, I was driving to Aldershot because the train from Guelph does not connect to the train to New York. VIA train 86 leaves Guelph at 7:07 and arrives at Toronto Union Station at 8:24. VIA train 97 (Amtrak train 464) leaves Toronto Union Station at 8:30, six minutes after the scheduled arrival of 86. Both VIA's website and the ticket agent we bought the tickets from know that this is an impossible connection to make, and so I had to drive nearly 100 km round trip -- around $12 of gas, producing about 47 pounds of CO2 emissions -- to drop my wife off at Aldershot station, because VIA's scheduling is probably four minutes off of a usable connection.
Even if that connection was achievable (and it can be, in 2000 I took that very train from Guelph and picked up the outbound from Union under an old schedule without any trouble), it would not be useful for most Guelph-Hamilton travellers, only longer haul folks like us. And that brings me to my preferred solution to the Hanlon and Highway 6 upgrades which, as they are currently planned, will add up to several hundred million dollars of capital outlay, plus huge maintenance costs, all laid on taxpayers.
There is a railway line from downtown Guelph to downtown Hamilton. In Campbellville, it meets up and junctions with another track that goes to downtown Milton and downtown Cambridge. The track from Guelph to Hamilton is one of the quietest mainlines in Ontario. To Campbellville, 1 single freight train a day runs in each direction, usually in mid morning and mid afternoon, far from commuter train schedules. From Campbellville to Hamilton, there's more traffic, but not an insurmountable amount for a small investment in signalling and passing tracks. As you might have guessed, this track hosts no passenger service whatsoever, and hasn't since the subsidised automobile revolution conquered privately-operated rail more than a generation ago. If heavy rail transit, ie GO trains, with their 1500 to 1800 seat capacity, ran up and down this line as often as possible during the morning and evening rush hours with reasonable fares for riders, and parking available at either end, and the highway is not upgraded, then a real green-shift can begin to take place, for a lower long term cost. Environmentalism, at its core, is an economic rather than philosophical argument.
Trucks are also heavy users of this highway. Our new industrial park at the south end of Guelph is expecting numerous new industries of various shapes and sizes. While the powers-that-be seem to have little interest in looking into it, this industrial park could be connected to the rail network as well as the road network. If there is enough traffic to warrant an expedited new $15.9 million interchange for all the trucks expected to arrive, there is enough traffic to warrant rail service to the industrial park. As each rail car can replace between 2 and 5 trucks, depending on what they are carrying, and trains are capable of running upward of 150 freight cars, a little rail service can go a long way toward reducing congestion, emissions, fuel costs, and labour costs for all the affected industries, residents, and taxpayers. If the railway right of way is funded the same way as the highways, there would be no economics in moving goods by trucks at all and the highway would not soon need upgrading on another count.
So, while Guelph will get its service road from Stone to Kortright, new interchanges, and new sections of Highway 6 to keep us driving just a little bit longer, real alternatives that could address long term transportation demands are being expressly ignored, sending us ever further around the vicious circle of building highways because of inadequate alternatives.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:53 on
June 19, 2008
Highway 7 broken thinking
The province wants to hear what you have to say about their plans for the new $400 million Highway 7 between Kitchener and Guelph. I, for one, have quite a bit to say, particularly about the section of their study entitled "Alternatives: Analysis and Evaluation". The document is full of interesting intepretations of fact and misleading statements.
Among the gems in this document:
"The origin-destination survey undertaken in 1989 for the Highway 7 Planning Study determined that the majority of possible transit users have diverse origins and destinations within the Kitchener/Waterloo and Guelph areas." Highway 7's modal share study is based on 1989 numbers? I was 8 years old, Guelph was a bit over half the size it is today, fuel was cheap, and we just concluded the largest mass-abandonment of railways in the nation's history.
"The transit modal split is the percentage of trips (typically person trips) that would be 'attached' to transit. The transit modal split between urban centres is less than the transit modal split within a single urban centre. The target for transit modal split within the City of Guelph is in the range of 5 to 6%. The Region of Waterloo's target for transit modal split (and general reduction of trips) is higher than Guelph's, approximately 8%, however on an inter-regional basis the target would not exceed 5%. In order to predict the benefit of transit as a solution in the Highway 7 corridor, it is necessary to establish a hypothetical modal split. A reasonable transit modal split between Kitchener and Guelph would be in the range of 3 to 5% (for all transit modes, rail, bus, etc.)"
What I don't get about this is why anyone considers 5% an acceptable target for transit usage. In my view, we should be aiming for a 5-10% modal share for the automobile, not a 5% modal share for transit. We will achieve it by building transit systems rather than highways. If we build highways because our transit systems are not efficient enough and lack capacity, we are perpetuating that very problem.
184.108.40.206 Rail Transit:
"VIA Rail provides existing train service between Kitchener and Guelph as part of the Toronto/London/Sarnia route. The train departs westbound from Guelph five times per day and eastbound from Kitchener four times per day." FALSE. In 1989, this was true. In 1990, this was reduced to two trains in each direction. Not until 2003 was this increased back to three daily trains in each direction, with fewer on the weekends.
Next paragraph, same section:
"Heavy rail transit is considered to be the highest order of transit service. Examples of heavy rail transit service in Ontario are the GO Transit system and TTC subway in Toronto. These transit systems are best supported by high density residential and high density commercial / industrial land uses." Perhaps they should look at Guelph and Waterloo regions in terms of today's densities, rather than those of 1989?
A couple of paragraphs on:
"The cost to provide full commuter service between Kitchener and Guelph, as discussed in the EA Report 1997, would be in the range of $140 to $160 million. This cost assumes the two new tracks would be required for the entire 24 km length. This assumption is based on experience with adding passenger rail service to a corridor with only one track with freight as a priority. This is consistent with the assumption that a service between Kitchener / Waterloo and Guelph would be part of a bigger system."
Let's break that down a second. This report states that triple-tracking the main line between Kitchener and Guelph would cost in the area of 1/3 the cost of new Highway 7 over the same distance, and is therefore unfeasible. Hmmm. Next bit, I don't suppose anyone told them that the tracks they are looking at host a whopping 4 freight trains a day, two in each direction, and that triple-tracking the line would be massive overkill when new passing tracks and advanced signalling could be achieved for a small fraction of the cost. It's a good thing GO is paying attention to this, because the Highway 7 EA folks sure aren't.
It goes on:
"If the assumption is modified to one train set operating as a 'shuttle' service, only one additional track would be required. The operation could be on a 60 to 80 minute cycle (i.e., 30 to 40 minute trip each way). The capital cost for this alternative, excluding the train set, would be in the range of $75 to $85 million." This is several times the estimate of the more recent North Mainline Municipal Alliance study which said infrastructure costs from Kitchener to Guelph and on to Georgetown would cost a measly $19 million, excluding the trains, and be enough to operate 4 trains, not just one.
4.1.3 Rationale for Selecting Road Improvement Alternatives:
"Bus and rail service exists in the corridor and has not significantly contributed to a reduction of trips in the last 10 years. For transit, it was determined that while increased transit ridership would benefit the level of transportation service, it would not, on its own, eliminate the need for increased road capacity to address future growth. Thus, to meet future demand, the expansion of Highway 7 would be required whether or not transit initiatives were introduced."
This is misleading. No useful rail service exists between Guelph and Waterloo Region at this time. If you want to travel to Guelph from Kitchener by train, you have three options. One of them leaves Kitchener at about 6:30 am, the next leaves at around 9:15 am, and the next leaves at around 9:15 pm. Going the other way, the situation is even more desperate, with a departure from Guelph at 12:04 pm, 6:50 pm, and 11:15 pm. With this schedule, and the unreasonably high cost of tickets between these locations at $16.80 per passenger per trip, and the near total lack of parking at either station, it is not fair to suggest that rail service has had any chance of adjusting the travel patterns of inter-urban travellers, nor is it a viable option for any commuters between the two cities in either direction. Further, building the highway without building the corresponding transit systems will not serve to improve this situation. A few years down the road our new highway will be in place, our transit systems will not be, and we will again say that new highways are needed because our transit systems are not having an effect. What they won't say is that it is because, while we subsidise drivers to an unfathomable extent, we can't be bothered to invest the paltry sums decent transit systems require.
If we are serious about fixing the modal split, we have to invest in the under-used modes, not the over-used ones.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:33 on
June 17, 2008
GTA West Community Advisory Group meeting 1
Last night, I attended the first GTA West Community Advisory Group meeting in Milton, along with 16 other residents from the affected area. The first meeting was an introduction by the MTO and their consultants to the process we were engaging in. The Community Advisory Group consists of any citizen who wishes to participate, except elected officials who have their own group for contributing to this process.
The GTA West study area stretches from the Hanlon on the west side of Guelph, along the CP tracks south of the 401 (Cambridge GO advocates, take note!), picking up the 407 at Milton and stretching to the 400 in the east. The northern limits are fuzzy, approximately aligning with Bolton, Caledon, and Fergus. In spite of its huge population and location, Waterloo region is excluded from the GTA West study area.
Asked why Waterloo region is not included, we were told that they are getting their new Highway 7 and so the priority is elsewhere. This confirms something Environment Commissioner Gord Miller warned a group of us some months ago: if you get your highway, you will not get anything else. To regions begging for highways, do be careful what you wish for. Notwithstanding that, the organisers assured us that there are no firm plans for anything at this stage in the GTA West EA. This is the input stage at the end of which, estimated to be in late 2009, MTO will decide what to do next.
GTA West's conceptual maps show a link from Guelph to Brampton. While that is only a part of the study area, a link from the northern tip of Guelph to Brampton makes the most sense as a highway linking the soon-to-be-constructed Highway 7 from Kitchener to Guelph with Highway 407 in Brampton. Coupled with the exclusion of Waterloo region because of the construction of their new highway, I suspect that a highway is indeed the province's first choice, although that may change. On Monday, in a joint press conference with Premier Charest, Premier McGuinty said that we should not be investing in the 401 corridor but rather in high speed rail. That deeply needed philosophical change in our government may yet be coming. The conceptual transportation (highway) route is parallel to an existing and under-utilised railway route.
Indeed, there seemed to be little disagreement in the room to the frequent and forceful mention of improved rail transit in this study area by several of the participants from all quadrants. I brought up Pearson International Airport's role in our transit study area as well, as it borders the GTA West study area and is passed by no fewer than 16 passenger trains per day -- that do not stop. I also brought up the idea of using the railway tracks from Hamilton to Oshawa via Milton, Georgetown, and Thornhill now used extensively by Canadian National but not by passenger trains as a new GO line, connecting to each of the 7 existing GO routes as it does the perimeter of the GTA. This would allow people to get around the entire GTA without going through Union Station.
There are several other study areas parallel to our own, most notably a Niagara region study area considering a new transportation corridor from the US border to a point between Hamilton and Guelph. One can only imagine that this is connected to the urgency of upgrading Highway 6 through Guelph to the new Highway 7 and GTA West corridor.
The poor state of our transit system forced our meeting to be in Milton, south of the CP tracks and just outside of the study area we were discussing. The organisers want locations accessible by transit that are central to the study area, and the lack of such places should be a lesson in what we need to be working on as the Community Advisory Group.
It is early enough in the process for all these regions (except Waterloo region, which begged for, and got, a new Highway 7 and is now excluded from this process) to force the issue of mass transit, namely rail, to the forefront. Highway construction has to end and I think more and more people are coming to realise that. Build highways, get cars. Build transit, get places.
The next CAG meeting will not take place until September.
On another note, today is Clean Air Day and Guelph Transit's busses are free today. Do not pass up on that opportunity, if you are in Guelph.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:12 on
June 04, 2008
Final Hanlon workshop and related thoughts
Last night marked the third and final MTO Hanlon workshop studying the proposed improvements to provincial Highway 6 through Guelph. I am a bit disappointed with the results, but happy that changes are likely to be made to the official plan. My position on the upgrades remains that if we had adequate investment in non-road infrastructure, road infrastructure wouldn't be in such dire need of upgrades, but I'll get to that.
The evening started at 6pm with the usual collection of sandwiches, drinks, and cookies piled up on a table at the end of the rather small room. In the initial and final socialising time I was playfully chastised by my several of my elders for my comment last week about being "far and away" the youngest person present. I welcome the news that so many of my peers are reading these entries, but I digress.
During the session, each of the four tables was provided with the plans that each of the four groups came up with last week and given some time to look over and comment on each of the other's proposals.
All four tables' proposals had two basic features in common: Stone Rd interchange was substantially reduced and turned into a single loop on the west side, and a diamond interchange on the east side of the Hanlon, and a service road of some form was present to Kortright/Downey. College Ave was not provided with an exit or service road on any of the proposals. My table's proposal of a roundabout under the Hanlon at Kortright was coolly received by our peers though I believe it is the best approach, eliminating one set of traffic lights completely, and smoothening traffic flow at that interchange. Traffic there is mostly limited to local traffic, so getting used to a roundabout is not a significant problem, as some people believed, though it is more expensive than some other approaches as it requires a significant span over the interchange.
Ultimately a consensus formed between the tables and I predict that the resulting "preferred plan" will contain a two-way service road tacked onto the 90-degree curve on Woodland Glenn from Downey to a reduced interchange at Stone Rd. I am not sure whether we accomplished this as a workshop, or if MTO was planning this scale-back regardless. I don't expect ever to know the answer to that. At the start of workshops two weeks ago, we learned that the Stone Rd extension to Highway 24 has been nixed by the city, negating the need for a huge 6-lane overpass at Stone and full interchange. That change allows for Stone to not be diverted southward, and the interchange ramps to be fewer in number and smaller in scale. That in turn allows for the service road that was nearly universally desired.
I am not really satisfied with the results of the workshops, though I accept them as legitimate. Not everyone is going to be happy with such a process, but MTO can say, accurately, that the community was consulted and this is the result that they were given. I note that repeated questions throughout the workshops about air quality were never satisfactorily answered by the MTO. I am told that the city's air quality monitor is in Exhibition Park, a large park set well back from the Hanlon in a relatively low density part of the city, and that air quality baseline studies for the Hanlon have not been done to ascertain what effect the Hanlon changes will have on the air we breathe.
The biggest question for me remains: when is a highway finished? At what point will we look at this highway and say: it doesn't need any further work. One of the gentleman from the MTO at my table was politely annoyed by comments at another table that we needn't save room to eventually expand the Hanlon to 8 lanes, which would force MTO to look for a new corridor sooner. I challenged him on this point, saying more capacity would be necessary, but more highway capacity was not. Once we are done this upgrade, we are going to upgrade Clair to the 401, 401 to Freelton, Wellington to Woodlawn, and Woodlawn to highway 6 well north of town. 2 of those sections require entirely new rights of way to construct. When will we call it finished?
We are going to have to change our approach to highway construction to divert more travellers to mass transit sooner or later. To do that, we have to start somewhere, and the collective resistance to starting that process is troubling to me. We will never accomplish it by injecting millions of dollars into highways when the alternative solutions are a small fraction of the cost. GO Transit's recent announcement to work toward all-day service in Guelph is refreshing and definitely the right track, but the level of investment of that compared to the GTA West highway corridor proposal, Hanlon upgrades, new highway 7 and so forth is essentially insignificant.
My challenge, for the moment, to us is this: let's call transit "infrastructure" instead of a "service", and let's put one tax-dollar into transit for every tax-dollar we put into our roads, parking, and highway systems. In Guelph, from our city budget -- excluding these upgrades -- that looks something like this...
The 2008 operating budget of the City of Guelph is $143,454,237 net.
The 2008 capital budget of the City of Guelph is $32,464,901 net.
Of that $175,919,138, $7,840,051, or about 4.5%, is our net expenditure on transit in the city's budget.
Our net expenditure on roads and parking is more difficult to ascertain.
A chart in the city's capital budget suggests that we are spending $117,718,000 over 10 years on new road construction, mostly funded by developer charges, and $128,720,000 over ten years, entirely funded by the taxpayer on capital investment in current roads, for a total of $246,438,000 on capital road investments in that time period, of which $155,537,000 is directly funded by tax-dollars. The 2008 specific numbers with development charges removed show $8,680,000 tax-dollars for expansion and $12,870,000 for non-growth capital investment in Guelph roads. The parking budget shows a capital expenditure of $16,910,000 on parking in 2008. Together, our capital investment on roads and parking is $38,460,000 in 2008. The keen eye will note that that number exceeds 100% of the capital budget for the year. That is because the parking investment of $16,910,000 shows up as a capital expenditure in a separate document called the "user-pay" budget as opposed to the "capital" budget. I am no accountant so how all these things glue together is not entirely clear to me.
Our operating budget for roads consists of $3,740,800 in roadway maintenance, $1,621,300 in boulevard maintenance, $748,200 in roadway drainage, $2,010,000 of traffic signal maintenance, and $113,100 in traffic investigations which mostly consists of adult crossing guards and traffic counters. Our operating budget for roads and directly related expenses is thus $8,233,400 for 2008.
Therefore the total cost to the City of Guelph taxpayer for roads in 2008 is $46,693,400. The total cost to the City of Guelph taxpayer for transit in 2008 is $7,840,051. That doesn't count provincial road investment in Guelph, namely highways 6 and 7.
My bet is that road costs will drop faster than transit costs rise, if we start shifting where we spend our money. As such, aside from the environmental benefits, it should be possible to lower our taxes by raising our investment in public transit. By calling transit "infrastructure" rather than "service", new developments can and should be responsible for paying for the extension of transit systems into their development areas as part of the development charges. Having development charges provide for transit would also encourage transit-friendly development as that would be a way of minimising that cost for a developer.
So there you have it. I am happy that the community was able to come together on some kind of agreement for the Hanlon improvements at Kortright, Stone, and College, but I am disappointed that we are not, collectively, looking at the bigger picture and looking for ways to get us out of our cars rather than facilitating this addiction we nearly all have.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 18:36 on
May 14, 2008
MTO/Guelph Hanlon workshops show divisions, unity
Yesterday's MTO Hanlon workshop lasted around 7 and a half hours, which is a long time for any citizen to be locked up with any government ministry other than perhaps Correctional Services.
We started off by individually organising flash-cards into our orders of priority. They were, in no particular order: Applied Environment, Social Environment, Cultural Environment, Access, Traffic Flow, Cost, Constructibility, and Natural Environment. After extensive discussion and game-like activities, the whole room came to a sort of consensus that Social Environment, Natural Environment, Access, and Traffic Flow were the priorities, with Constructibility, Cost, Cultural Environment, and Applied Environment not being major considerations.
The sharpest division at my table in the early going was between making Natural Environment or Traffic Flow the highest priority. My preference was for the environment for the simple reason that roads are kind of irrelevant without a functional environment, and any changes to the MTO's plan has to take the environment as a key consideration. To that end, of course, I registered my objection to upgrading the Hanlon at all, when we have far more cost-effective alternatives. For the cost of these few interchanges, for example, we could more than double passenger rail service through Guelph, or make Guelph Transit free for half a decade, without counting the three other sections of the Hanlon that are being upgraded as part of this plan but not yet on the table for community feedback.
The current "preferred plan".
Red = new construction.
A gentleman at my table told me that he commuted to Waterloo for work for 20 years. If he had to take transit, he said, it would take 3 hours each way, while a car takes only about a half-hour. I told him that we have to build up the transit infrastructure so that businesses move closer to transit because that will be the best thing to do for their business. He replied that we have been doing it this way for fifty years and it will take a long time to undo the car culture we have. I agreed with him, and said to the effect: so let's get going! We have 50 years of car culture damage to undo, but we have to get started. My objection to these upgrades is that we are continuing this 50-year old way of thinking rather than even beginning to fix or undo it.
There seemed to me to be a lot of denial about the declining usefulness of the automobile at the workshop. There is a widespread belief that oil will be replaced by some sustainable alternative fuel and our car culture will be saved. While I think it is possible, if unlikely, I think it entirely misses the point. Even the cleanest cars will have serious emissions in their construction and initial transport. Importing a hybrid from Japan, for example, generates significant emissions from the bunker oil trans-oceanic ships use. The particulate from brake-shoes, tires, windshield washer fluid, and other components of vehicles will still be causing pollution as well.
Far more of a concern to me is the land use demands of a car-based culture. As our population continues to explode, we are eating up some of the best farmland around with the world's most profitable cash crop - single, detached houses, serviced by paved roads and accompanied by chemically dependent lawns. While single detached houses are very attractive to people, including myself, they are in no way sustainable with a growing population. The flip side to that is that if our population stopped growing completely, our existing way of life would probably be completely and permanently sustainable and at that point I would be perfectly willing to support highway improvements because they would not lend to increased traffic, only increased efficiency for the existing traffic.
Each new development brings with it more cars. More cars bring more demand to the highways. More demand to the highways bring us to more congestion. More congestion brings us to improved highway design. Improved highway design without any foresight brings us to these workshops. The Hanlon was built with 4 lanes and intersections at grade, with plans to build full interchanges and upgrade the highway to at least 6 lanes. The right of way itself is wide enough for quite a few more lanes than even that.
For myself and the few other members of the workshop who would actually admit it, how to go about suggesting highway improvements is a difficult balance. The balance is between being a driver, a local resident, and a thinker. As I have said in the past, as a driver, paving over the entire province to allow me to drive anywhere in a straight line has its appeal. As a resident, gut-reaction NIMBYism strikes where there is a desire to have fewer cars go through my backyard, as opposed to the thinking side of the balance, where there is an implicit understanding that highway construction as we currently do it must end. There must be fewer cars in all our back yards -- not just mine.
So as a participant in the workshops, what does one do to balance this?
For me it was fairly simple. I made it clear to the participants at my table, at least, that improving our highway will only serve to give us more cars. The improved highway will facilitate more transient traffic, obstructing Guelph residents' own ability to travel within the city. I noted, as I have many a time before, that the MTO, city staff, and other such planners do an excellent job within the parameters they are given by our political leadership, who in turn are given direction by you and me, the voter. Change away from these highway improvements and toward real improvements has to start with us telling our politicians to direct our planners accordingly. But I also conceded that this highway is likely to be upgraded and, with my objections on the record, I would do what I could to propose an alternative design for the highway beneficial to the goal of improving the highway.
In my view, if the highway is going to be improved anyway, the best thing we can do is:
1) Keep its speed down -- although as a driver that irks me. As another participant noted: how fast do you drive through other peoples' communities? Having an 80 km/h limit instead of a 100 km/h limit on our city's internal highway shortens exit ramps, and allows us the possibility of not cutting off as many parts of our community. It also allows improved fuel efficiency, something that is going to become a very serious issue in the short term, as it was shortly after this highway was originally built in the first Energy Crisis
2) Ensure access to all roads that currently connect to the Hanlon. The MTO's plans call for creating a commuter-only interchange at Kortright, that is, an interchange that only points away from the city, and cutting off College Avenue completely. While the right of way is large enough for a service road that would rectify this, there are no such plans to do so. The workshops gave us the opportunity to put those back on the table.
3) Minimise land use and the expropriation of peoples' homes. One resident of Old Hanlon Rd. whose house is scheduled to be expropriated and demolished to make way for an exit ramp was in attendance largely to get a sense of when his period of limbo would end, a position I cannot even begin to imagine myself in.
As each group presented draft plans, I was given a chance to present my idea, which differed, as it always seems to do, with that of everyone else present. But unlike the consensus plans reached in the room by day's end, which essentially looked like the MTO's preferred plan with two exit ramps removed and a service road added between Stone and Kortright, completely eliminated the Stone Parclo ("partial cloverleaf interchange") without endangering pedestrian crossings or cutting off any roads.
My approximate proposed alternative plan.
Green = new construction.
Red = existing Hanlon.
Blue = existing relevant roads.
My plan, seen here (click on the image to show the enlarged version), is to have an exit ramp between College and Stone heading southbound that either climbs over or dives under the Hanlon to cross over to the east side of the highway to meet up with the northbound on-ramp in a 4-way intersection on Stone. The ramp would continue as an entrance ramp onto the Hanlon by crossing back over the Hanlon south of Stone and re-merging on the west side, with the lane forking and connecting up to a grade-separated roundabout under the Hanlon at Kortright. This construction would allow north-side access to and from Kortright, which would be eliminated under current MTO plans diverting a good deal of traffic over roads that can't handle it, have a traffic-light free flow allowing reduced sight lines and a smaller land use footprint at Kortright, and more importantly, would allow Old Hanlon Rd. to not only be not expropriated and overrun with a cloverleaf, but to be reopened at the Stone Rd. end to act as a service road to connect College Ave to the Stone Rd exit and take traffic off all the curvy residential streets in the area that would otherwise be getting the College Ave and Kortright local traffic. Stone Rd interchange would function essentially as it does today, without backing up the highway. As the Stone Rd extension to highway 24 has been nixed, there was general agreement at the workshops that the Stone Rd interchange could be simplified dramatically from the substantial Parclo A4 that had been planned.
The over/under concept for a service road exit ramp to the opposite side is not without precedent. The idea comes from the document "Protecting The Option For Future Interchanges And Grade Separation In The Hanlon Corridor City Of Guelph", Report #10 of the Guelph Transportation Plan of 1974. According to Plate 2 of this document, this exact setup was originally intended to create a service road between Speedvale and Woodlawn along Lewis Rd.
The only drawback to this plan is the construction of two additional single-lane overpasses or underpasses, which is expensive, but the reduced land use, improved pedestrian safety from altogether avoiding a Parclo, and the elimination of all residential expropriation, as well as allowing essentially full access to all three roads instead of only one, makes it an attractive solution to me, as both a driver and as a resident. If the highway remains the same and the minimum $50 million is put directly into undoing 50 years of damage from this type of construction in the first place, I will be just as happy. As far and away the youngest resident present, I suppose, I am concerned about a longer-range future.
My conclusion from this exercise is that the MTO and the city are concerned about the views of the residents along this corridor. These workshops must have cost the project, and by extension you and me, in the area of $150,000 between the staff time, document preparation, food and facilities, and other expenses. That they would spend that much time and money and not have some intention of listening is somewhat unlikely. Whether they will listen to the proposals, all of which scaled down their plans, demanded a lower speed limit on the highway, and opened access to Kortright, or they react by poking holes in all the proposals, will be clear on the 13th, when the third and final workshop session will take place.
The organisers have promised to take all of our proposals back to their offices and return them to us at that time, drawn to scale, with their assessments as to their feasibility. It took 34 years to get to this point, so I am not entirely sure how they can get that done in just 10 days, but I will be sure to let you know if and when I find out. Meanwhile, I hope the MTO staffers who told me yesterday that they read this blog "to see what the other side is saying" continue to enjoy the dialogue.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 22:09 on
May 04, 2008
The March of the Hanlon Freeway
Last night, I attended the first of three workshop sessions put on by MTO, Guelph city staff, and their design consultants on the topic of the building of interchanges on the Hanlon expressway.
The night was long but is nothing compared to how long tomorrow will be, when the two dozen residents and the planning staff spend the day locked in a room together to allow residents to propose alternatives to their plans for 7 hours. Whether we will be listened to or humoured through this process, only time will tell, but one attendee last night cautioned the organisers that he was not interested in participating in a "dog and pony show". While organisers emphatically denied that this is what it was, the "8 assumptions" put up on the screen at the end of the night seemed to suggest otherwise.
The Hanlon upgrades are most controversial because of the effect they will have of changing the Hanlon from an intra-Guelph highway to an inter-city highway. Of the three interchanges that we are being talked to about, only one and a half will remain under what the designers call their "preferred plan". Kortright Rd will have a commuter-only exit and entrance, facing south. College Ave will have no exit whatsoever and be converted into an underpass. The adjacent roads to the Hanlon expressway that are unable to handle significant traffic and were not designed for the purpose will have to handle the domestic Guelph traffic between the remaining interchange and the city streets that will be cut off.
The general consensus among the residents is that this is not necessary, that interchanges can be built without cutting off all the roads, and that noise levels and particulate levels can be reduced, if the speed limit on the highway remains 80km/h as it is today. There is also a feeling that as gas heads for $2 a litre, the highway upgrades should not be the priority so much as alternate modes of transportation.
In their three hour presentation, the staff told us that the province has put $3.4 billion into transit solutions in the province over the last few years, although they didn't mention how much is going into highways. $1.6 billion had been announced earlier in the day to build a 12 km stretch of highway in Windsor, half a billion dollars are about to be spent on highways in Guelph, and there are a lot more cities with a lot more highway projects throughout the province. Another staff member showed an (incomplete and not completely accurate) rail map of the region with GO lines depicted saying that we are investing in transit, which is true, but that it was a subject for another day, which is not.
A representative from the MTO asserted that there has been no modal shift away from the automobile, and none is projected. Therefore, he said, this highway is necessary. While I will concede that if there are more cars, there will be more roads to accommodate them, I will also note that as we have more roads to accommodate them, there will be more cars. The logic that because there will be more cars there needs to be more highways is both shortsighted and self-fulfilling.
The plans for the highway are not only about upgrading the section near where I live to remove my neighbours' access to it, but it is about extending the highway across the 401 to connect up to Highway 6 south of the 401, to connect it north of Woodlawn to highway 6 north of Guelph, and to connect it to a new divided Highway 7 and GTA West highway corridor at the top of the city. This will turn the expressway from a short highway that helps Guelph citizens get around and in and out of Guelph into a freeway designed to bypass the city. There is a growing sense in the community that the MTO and the province see Guelph as little more than a speed bump on the way to Waterloo region.
I have it on some authority that the organisers of these sessions did not want the press in attendance at this event. Naturally there is nothing more attractive to members of the press, and Magda Konieczna, the Mercury's intrepid city hall reporter, attended the event. At the start of the session, the organiser went around the room getting everyone to introduce themselves. At the end of the introductions, she announced rather unhappily that there was a reporter from the Guelph Mercury in the room. It sounded to me more like a warning to staff than any kind of introduction. About half of Guelph City Council were in attendance as well.
Over the course of the evening, questions were occasionally taken from the floor. The most critical question was about speed limits. There is a near-universal desire to keep the highway to 80 km/h (100 km/h design speeds) through Guelph as I mentioned a moment ago, to allow for more useful interchanges and less noise and air pollution. The question was asked: is lowering the speed limit on the table? Yes of course it is, assured the moderator, while being countermanded by the 5-pound briefing package we had been given and by MTO representatives who seemed to suggest that it was only on the table insofar as we would be told why it was not possible.
Why is it not possible? Well, according to one of the last presenters, it is not possible because drivers are too stupid to handle an 80 km/h speed limit. That's not how he phrased it, but that's essentially what he said. Drivers see a freeway, they expect a 100 km/h speed limit, and therefore that's what we will give them. And so they will continue to expect it. When I asked if the MTO would consider left-hand exits, the reaction was swift and decisive: it's too dangerous to have a left-hand exit. Drivers, I assume, are too stupid to handle those, too, notwithstanding the 403 eastbound to 6 northbound exit or the 40 eastbound to 15 northbound exits in Montreal, or any of the dozens of forks in highways all over the place, all of which are perfectly usable left-hand exits. If he is right and drivers are too stupid to handle our roads, why are we encouraging more of us to drive, anyway?
I also had the opportunity to ask last night when the Hanlon would be finished. That is, at what point will everyone be satisfied that the highway is big enough, long enough, fast enough, and sufficiently inaccessible that we can call it completely and totally done? My question was met with a blank stare. Indeed.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:42 on
May 02, 2008
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 14:30 on
March 07, 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
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
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
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.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 12:00 on
March 02, 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?
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.
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 21:13 on
November 28, 2007
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).
words - whole entry and permanent link. Posted at 16:45 on
June 09, 2006
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