By Gerry Barker
April 29, 2019
Opinion based on facts
When Karen Farbridge was elected Mayor in 2006, it began the transformation of Guelph into a “world class city” in terms of transportation, power self-sufficiency, waste management and clean air and water leading to her wellness commitment for all citizens.
Was it noble? Yes, but not affordable as it turned out.
It was the defining intention of the majority of her council to establish key targets to reduce the use of fossil-fueled vehicles in the city at the time with a population of 111,000 permanent residents.
Let’s drill down on how the Farbridge interests in control of council tackled change and imposed their collective agenda on the citizens.
It started with a tour of Sweden to investigate how that country dealt with its waste. Sweden reduced about 90 per cent of all waste that is incinerated, driving turbine generators to deliver power back into the grid.
Waste disposal plans increase traffic congestion
The administration decided in 2007 that was not an option for Guelph because of the perceived dangerous emissions of such an operation. Instead, Guelph spent $34 million building an organic waste facility that has never made any money or permitted residents to obtain the compost produced by the plant.
One goofy prediction that was amusing but confusing
Part of the grand design to change Guelph was to get fossil-fueled vehicles off Guelph Streets. I recall former councillor Maggie Laidlaw, bragging that “in 20 years there won’t be any cars on Guelph Streets.” Ah, a temporary episode of green-based rapture.
Well that prediction was well off as there are more cars, trucks and buses clogging the streets twice a day due to deliberate lane reduction on major routes to accommodate bicycle lanes.
It is estimated that building the bicycle network has cost taxpayers some $8 million.
The policy continues to this day, as the widening of Speedvale Avenue to accommodate new bike lanes, estimated by staff, three years ago, as costing $14 million. At the time, staff did not recommend it.
This includes widening the bridge over the Speed River, removing the Hydro poles and installing underground power transmission corridors.
There are no bike lanes on Speedvale Avenue between Woolwich and Stevenson.
This brings up what the city has already done on many streets and roads. These would include Victoria Road, Speedvale, SilverCrek, Downey, Woodlawn, Stevenson and Norfolk. All these streets were changed by the Farbridge and Guthrie administrations.
This is embedded policy that when a major street is resurfaced, new lane reductions are painted restricting the use of vehicles ergo, growing traffic congestion.
In my opinion, this is a planned restriction vehicular movement and trade designed to meet the environmental movement’s agenda, controlling the city.
The reconstructed railway underpass that stopped the big rigs
Did I mention the Wyndham Street rail bridge? It was reconstructed by the city that does not allow large trucks to use it because it wedges the tops of some the high trailers against the top of the underpass. The underpass was improperly built.
The city engineer’s solution? Install warning signs to stop the big trucks from entering a bridge too low..
Again another restriction of needed supply trucks to service the shops and businesses downtown. Sure there are other routes to get to their destination, but the city did not care and the underpass was never repaired.
Who would like to live in that section of Speedvale?
Speedvale is a major cross-the-city route used every day and the line-ups vehicles at intersections such as Woolwich, exacerbates the congestion. The project will not be completed for nine months.
The fallout of squeezing heavy traffic lanes
Since 2007, the city has added bike lanes to several streets. Often, they start at one intersection and disappear at the next.
One example is on SilverCreek where the street was resourced from Speedvale to Paisley. Then the road painters moved in and reduced a four-lane major road to two, and installed bike lanes plus a left-hand turn lane continuous right down the middle.
So, I’m Joe Cyclist, heading north on SilverCreek to Woodlawn. Whoops! The bike lane is not there from Speedvale north. I am forced to share the road with 3,000- pound cars and trucks on the now narrowed road.
Does this make sense? There are similar examples of the disappearing bike lanes all over the city.
What is the logic of this? What does it accomplish in terms of cyclist safety on major streets where bike lanes just disappear?
More Car Wars links contributing to the clogging of our streets
There are two other factors of lack of leadership that uses its power to pursue its all things environmental-based agenda.
New housing intensification
One is the intensification of housing in the south and Eastern districts of the city. The council allowed these developments composed of strip housing and low-rise apartment buildings. It is based on the Provincial government’s “Ontario Places to Grow” policies that encouraged more housing on less land.
Guelph population grows bringing more vehicles
Between 2007 and 2016, Guelph’s population increased by 20,000 according to the StatsCan census of 2016. That does not include the growing number of University of Guelph undergraduate students.
This has a direct impact on volume of fossil-fueled vehicles, large and small, on our streets. Adding more people means more cars and trucks.
Electric vehicles are years away from becoming the majority using the roads in the city. But if the city continues to squeeze street driving lanes, using an electric car will not result in less congestion. However, the noise levels will be lower.
Somehow, this has not registered with the city administration.
The public driving electric cars using the city thoroughfares impacts traffic congestion as the internal combustion owners. In fact the goal of getting fossil-fueled vehicles off Guelph streets, has had the opposite intended effect.
City council, like the Ostrich, buries itself when it comes to fosil-fuels
So, why is the city building a $22 million parking garage next to city hall, blocks away from the Wyndham Street shopping district? Ms. Farbridge said she was going to turn downtown into a “vibrant centre for everyone to enjoy.”
Other matters of state distracted our former mayor
Here we are 12 years later, with a downtown that has closed businesses, no available parking during the day and used by a weekend collection of students, drug dealers, and outsiders looking for action. It is a combustible crucible. The beneficiaries are the operators of the 33 bars and watering holes downtown.
This is not something new but a municipal failure to make downtown safe and inviting every day. It’s been that way since the parking meters were removed 10 years ago in which the city lost more than $600,000 annually in meter revenue.
In the 2017 budget, there was a staff recommendation to replace the meter heads at a cost of $700,000. Instead, that funding was diverted by council to help pay for the proposed South End recreation centre. As an aside, council has already spent some $3.5 million preparing the site for a $63 million recreation centre.
Consider that in 12 years, the average property taxes have increased every year by 3 per cent. User and development fees have also increased substantially.
Power politics at work
One final thought. Ward one Coun. Dan Gibson, announced that land on Watson Road, owned by Loblaw’s, was being rezoned commercial to accommodate a major grocery store to serve the east end.
Sounds good. But here’s the skinny.
Council Mr. Gibson and Mr. Bell have been pushing to open an east end grocery store on the site since 2013.
Mr. Gibson was quoted as saying the council would “put Loblaw’s feet to the fire” to get them to build a store on the site. Loblaw’s, Canada’s largest grocery chain, has demurred because it owns a large Zehrs’s store on Eramosa. I presume it feels that building another on Watson could cannibalize the existing store. And they do not want a competitor using the land.
In negotiating to persuade Loblaw’s to build the Watson store, is it a good idea to say the city is going to “put their feet to the fire?” Stay tuned.