You may remember that Wellington X formed in the months leading up to the 2014 municipal election. The Wellington Street Extension (WSE) — a road that would run north/south along the Great Cataraqui River through Douglas Fluhrer Park, across Montreal Street, and through the Old Industrial Area to John Counter Boulevard — had been “on the books” for a while.
Approximate route of the proposed WSE (red) and the new urban K&P trail (blue)
We organized because we were concerned that the incoming City Council would move to renew the expiring Environmental Assessment and thus reenergize a project that would, at a cost in the many millions, harm nearby residents, wildlife, and the global climate. During the 2014 election campaign, mayoral candidate Bryan Paterson touted the “important benefits” of the WSE, and suggested that there was a way to help pedestrians cross the WSE and still enjoy Douglas Fluhrer Park. (This claim prompted us to demonstrate in our “Mark the Park” exercise that the proposed road would simply take up most of the park.) Paterson did get elected mayor, but King’s Town district reelected a councillor (Rob Hutchison) who has been an effective long-time opponent of the road, and with support from Rob and many others Wellington X has managed to hold the WSE at bay for the past four years.
This is no small achievement. We’ve attended countless public and private meetings, hosted numerous events, read reams of reports, written responses and statements on all sorts of related issues and initiatives, and just generally tried to be awake at every moment. Many of you have been at our side.
The work may be paying off. Council initiated a secondary planning process for North King’s Town as a way to pursue alternatives to the WSE, and planners and consultants have so far been very responsive to community concerns about the WSE. Lately, we have sensed the general mood and tone at City Hall and in the town itself swinging in favour of waterfront greenspace, in favour of active transportation, and against the road.
But the road is still on the books. Four years after we started, where are we? Have we won? Can we go home now?
Sad to say, the answer is no. We haven’t yet won, and we can’t yet go home. From what we are hearing from the mayoral candidates, only the southern section of the road (through Doug Fluhrer Park) seems to be safely off the table. The northern section that would run alongside the K & P trail is not. At the end of August, Mayor Paterson announced that he has changed his mind about the WSE: he no longer supports the southern part. Good news! But in an email, he told us that he thinks Kingston would “likely still require the northern section of the WSE that would run through the Old Industrial Area. That’s because there are a number of properties in this area that currently have no road access, and so in order to redevelop these properties to provide space for new small businesses in our community, that road access will be essential.” Mayoral candidate Vicki Schmolka also opposes the southern section — and in fact she has long been active in opposing it. She defers to the secondary planning process for a decision on the northern section — although she does state that “the community needs to be convinced of the value of another road in this part of town and its impact on the well-used K & P trail.” Among the four mayoral candidates, Rob Matheson is the only one who supports a road through Fluhrer Park, suggesting that he would “explore with a newly formed City Council converting the road itself into an artery for active transportation as a priority with perhaps a one vehicle lane (if necessary) that can be reversed depending on time of day traffic.” And candidate Eric Lee is alone in opposing the whole road as a “make work project,” saying, “I love that we still have green friendly places, and want to make sure that isn’t interfered with.” (For full comments received from all four candidates, see here.)
But, you might say, isn’t Doug Fluhrer Park the most important? Isn’t that good enough? We think not. Our position has been and will continue to be that the northern section is equally problematic. We are unconvinced of there being any sensible rationale for building any portion of the WSE. Here are some of our concerns about the northern section:
Downgrading of the K&P Trail
The City invested heavily in building and landscaping the very popular trail, a corridor for active transportation and recreation. North of Railway, it runs exactly along the road alignment (an old train track route) for the proposed WSE. Should the northern section of the WSE be built, that trail would change from lovely peaceful space to a bike lane beside a road. That doesn’t make sense. A green trail running right through a municipal area is such a great asset for a city!
Lack of Need
The City’s own analysis shows that the 3rd Crossing will move traffic east-west and reduce north-south traffic, thus negating previous arguments of need for the WSE. And while as the Mayor notes there are properties in the OIA that lack road access, there are also currently undeveloped properties there with road access with no new businesses on them, which makes us wonder if road access is really the barrier to starting businesses in the OIA. Furthermore, a few small east-west connector roads could solve the problems where they exist.
We note also that the traffic consultants working on the North King’s Town Secondary Plan seem to agree that the WSE is not needed. They may propose some small road network adjustments, but so far, they tell us, they do not expect to feature the WSE, north or south, in their proposals.
Other Unacknowledged Factors and Effects
We know that Jay Patry wants the WSE to serve his highly problematic and far-from-approved Tannery development. Is that the unstated reason for keeping the northern section of the WSE in play? And where would the traffic be dumped at the southern end? If the northern section of the WSE were built, arguments might be made in the future to build the southern section – as its ‘natural’ extension.
In conclusion: we hope that others will continue to fight with us against this road — all of it. We hope that the Secondary Plan, when complete, will imagine a sustainable, equitable, productive future for North King’s Town, and that the incoming Mayor and City Council will respect and implement that plan. In the end, only a decision of Council can kill the road, and that will take votes from councillors representing districts across the city. So to get this road off the books we’ll have to have a Council in which a majority “gets” fiscal prudence, environmental responsibility, and respect for residents and the places they live.
Early on in our efforts, Wellington X took time to set our opposition to the WSE in the context of a broader set of values and goals. We will close with those, as a reminder that the WSE stands for more than just itself. For us, and we hope for you, the fight against the WSE is about asserting grassroots control over neighbourhoods, prioritizing protection of the environment, and promoting quality of life for people of all walks of life over profit and convenience for a small number of investors and developers.
— Laura Murray for the Wellington X team