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.
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.
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.
Posted at 16:09 on May 04, 2008
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