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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.  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.
- 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.
-  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.
words - permanent link - comments: 2. Posted at 23:59 on
June 03, 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
words - permanent link - comments: 6. Posted at 19:00 on
March 03, 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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I look forward to the results of your deliberations.
words - permanent link - comments: 6. Posted at 21:57 on
February 04, 2008
I was on TV -- apparently!
I have now received four independent sightings of me walking down Front Street in Toronto on CBC NewsWorld, in stories relating to iPods. Strange, considering I don't own an iPod...
Every April, I attend a conference at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre in downtown Toronto. It is directly across the street from the CBC building. So close, in fact, that the food fair in the basement of the CBC building provides the nearest opportunity for lunch other than hotdog stands.
To get to the centre, rather than driving through the insanity of rush hour traffic or driving in and taking an overpriced hotel in the city, I catch the Via train in from Guelph for the three days of the conference.
As I am an avid trainspotter and enjoy knowing what is happening to the train I am on, the trains our train is meeting, what's holding us up, what engine number is pulling the train, and a dozen other intricate details most normal people really couldn't care less about, I usually bring a radio scanner with me along for the ride. I wear it all the way until I get to the convention centre to hear the mad rush of insanity at Toronto Union Station as trains enter and exit at a frenetic pace.
When it is time to go, I put the earpiece back on and listen for any problems relating to my train as I walk back to Union.
To listen to my scanner, I use a small white earpiece, with the wire wrapped around behind my ear, behind my back and into my inside coat pocket. This saves everyone around me from having to listen, keeps the scanner out of the way, and makes it a lot easier to hear. I've done this for three years running.
One of the days leaving the convention centre this April, a TV crew must have recorded me walking down the street wearing this scanner, because I appear to have become part of CBC's stock footage of iPod users. Now, I don't actually own an iPod, though my wife acquired one this spring that I have yet to try.
I first received word of this curious development through a message from my uncle in Montreal who had seen me on TV in a story about iPods. I didn't think it was possible, so I dismissed the possibility. I got another sighting shortly thereafter, and dismissed it as a curious anecdote, figuring it was probably of someone resembling me.
Then, last week, I was sitting in my hotel room in Ottawa, writing on my laptop. My wife and a friend were watching CBC NewsWorld from the couch in the same room. I was sitting in an armchair next to the TV, unable to see it.
A story came on about how iPods are becoming a distraction in the workplace, and how IT managers are trying to cope with them. All of a sudden, my wife and friend both transitioned to a somewhat excited state and informed me - not quite fast enough for me to see it - that they had seen me and this elusive piece of tape just then as part of the story. The camera was zoomed right in on me, I was told, with the white earpiece plainly visible.
Well, there you have it: my television debut was for wearing a scanner to a conference during the era of the iPod. If anyone happens to know how I can get a copy of the affected stories for posterity, I'd appreciate the advice!
words - permanent link - comments: 1. Posted at 16:03 on
July 27, 2006
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