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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. [1] Commuter station parking lots are among the few parking lots that are actually beneficial to us.

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

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

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

Thank you.

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

Posted at 23:59 on June 03, 2008

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

GO official announcement of service to Guelph | guelph transit tv | GTA West Community Advisory Group meeting 1


shoes writes at Wed Jun 4 23:57:45 EDT 2008...

Hi CDLU

Agree we need at GO / transit hub on the Lafarge site

BUT Guelph also needs an enhanced Hanlon

All the NIMBY's will recoil in angst and horror when existing industry and anticipated growth in the new business park withers because of inadequate transportation corridors.

Is anyone suggesting that Tim's doesn't need a better interchange at Laird Rd?

Well if that is the case then consider the benefits of a better intersection at Speedvale.

Curse the trucks all you want but in the near-term if we want (more) industrial assessment and jobs in Guelph bite the bullet.

Commuter train yes....but JIT will reqire trucks

As well remember that we really can't afford to eliminate every level crossing.


David Graham (cdlu.net) writes at Thu Jun 5 09:52:13 EDT 2008...

Hi shoes,

I agree on one level, but not on another. I am told, to take your example of Tim Horton's distribution facility, that they manufacture their products in Brantford and store them in Guelph. If we weren't so shortsighted with our rail, the direct rail link from Brantford to Guelph would still be in place, and the Hanlon industrial parks would have rail service from both that line (which still runs from Guelph to Cambridge (3 miles to the west)) and Guelph's own (Guelph to Campbellville (4 miles to the east)), and if rail had been our main industrial focus since the war, which it has not been, there would be enough frequency of service for it not to make sense for them to move their products any other way. 34 years ago, WC Woods told the city that there was no way they could move away from rail to trucks when the city stupidly asked them. Now they don't even use rail and the result is the maintenance costs rail customers pay to rail companies is now passed on to the taxpayer on the roads, and we see it in things like the Hanlon upgrades.

My point with the Hanlon is more about where do we draw the line on highway construction, if not here? When do we have enough highways and interchanges? We have an under-utilised rail network and an over-utilised road network. If we moved to the far more efficient rail network (which would cost substantially less than highways) then these improvements would not be as pressing.

Trucks will always have a role, but if we subsidise rail to the same level we subsidise trucks, their role will be limited to local, shorthaul deliveries and ultra-high-priority medium and long haul. It will take 30+ years to change to this way of thinking and moving from when we get started, but we're simply not getting started.

The value of the Hanlon industrial parks to industry would be much greater, I believe, if it were well-connected by both road and rail and not only one or the other. We don't blink at spending tens or hundreds of millions of taxdollars to connect these places to roads, but we chaff at the very notion of spending a fraction of that to connect them to rail. That's what I want to solve.

Rail grade separation is not a high priority for me. Having a little patience for two minutes while the equivalent of 300 trucks crosses the road would do all of us a little good.

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