The Environment, Infrastructure, and Transportation Policies Committee (EITP) hosted a public meeting last Tuesday (14 April) before its regular meeting, to allow Kingston residents to express their views on the update to the Transportation Plan. It was quite a remarkable evening. Speaker after speaker (there were 22 of them) rose and spoke about how Kingston needs to be better built for bicycles, and to provide cheaper and better public transit. Only one speaker seemed to be in favour of more road-building projects. The TMP itself features a survey done by its authors showing that 48% of Kingsotn residents want more trails; 42% more transit, and 41% more roads; as one speaker asked, why, then, would we be talking about spending 80% of our infrastructure budget on roads? Speakers talked about how the Wellington Extension is a travesty, and how councillors need political courage to change Kingston’s car-centred planning practices. One person said, “we need to spot what [Fluhrer] park is telling us: it is injured land that is making itself well… it’s taking care of itself very quietly” and we must let it continue to do that. Another recalled Toronto Mayor David Crombie saying that he wanted people to come downtown, but he didn’t want them to bring a ton of steel along with them. Many praised the report’s goals, but asserted that its targets and solutions fall far short. At least two had done their own traffic observations on Rideau Street and the Causeway, and cited that the traffic need is far less than described. Speakers invited us to consider models from Belgium, and Oxford and Poynton in England (Poynton has a “Shared Space” approach which it appears is very successful in increasing traffic flow and improving pedestrian and cycling experience). A resident of Rideau Street says she tells friends she lives “downtown in the country” because of her access to the waterfront; as for traffic on her street, she said she does not find it at all excessive, but even were it heavier, she would prefer to keep the park by the river. Several speakers spoke of the necessity to make cycling safer to increase ridership. One said that making cycling more convenient and making driving less convenient would achieve the change we need. As he concluded, criticizing the draft TMP’s unambitious targets, “you don’t know what you can achieve until you try to achieve it.” Others spoke of the need to better maintain the roads we have rather than building new roads.
Perhaps the evening could be best summed up with the words of one of the later speakers: North America, she noted, is noted as friendly to cars, but cars have killed downtowns. Kingston has kept a functional downtown far longer than most small cities, but it is fragile, and we must not repeat the failures of many other cities before us.
A final note: after this public submissions session, the EITP committee went on to ask its own assertive and varied questions about the report. Then they moved to defer it. So on May 12 it will be back at committee for more questions and some sort of recommendation for Council. You can ask questions too. Think about what your bottom line is for this report. If it can be changed, we can have a much stronger foundation to affirm active transportation, kill the Wellington Extension, and otherwise green our city. Write your councillor or come to the next EITP committee to have your say.
— Laura Murray
ps check out this nice piece of media coverage on Station 14 following this meeting.