Waterfront Wildlife Tour

On Sunday October 25 in the morning, 38 people gathered in Douglas Fluhrer park to participate in the Wildlife Tour of the Inner Harbour, offered free of charge by the Kingston Field Naturalists in partnership with Wellington X. Members of the KFN shared their telescopes with the crowd so that we could see many birds up close.

On this tour provided by guides Lesley Rudy and Kurt Hennige, I learned that it is better for wildlife to have a natural shoreline, ideally a distance of 30m from the water. This means no mowing of grass right up against the shore. This is important to enable filtration of contaminants going into the water, nesting habitat, shade that provides microclimates, food sources and more. Some food for thought regarding our shoreline in this park.

I also learned that the Inner Harbour is home to hundreds of species of birds, at least 3 kinds of snakes, at least 3 kinds of turtles, at least 3 species of frogs, over 36 species of fish. Muskrats, minks, beavers, deer, foxes, rabbits, groundhogs live there; people have even seen coyotes in the winter. We saw American Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Redhead and — of special note — Ruddy duck. Kurt said that the inner harbour is one if the best places in North America to see this less common species.

While I have been aware that the Inner Harbour has been regenerating itself after a long period of industrial use, I didn’t realize how biodiverse a place it is. Yet another reminder of the importance of waterfront protection that focuses on environmental sustainability and that creates public access in a way that doesn’t harm the wildlife.

Thanks to everyone who attended and to Lesley, Kurt and the other Kingston Field Naturalists for sharing your knowledge and scopes with us!

— Sayyida Jaffer


Math Errors Matter

Take a look at this table from the draft Transportation Master Plan:

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KTMP draft October 2015, p. 120

Notice anything funny? As Councillor Stroud pointed out, there’s an adding error. The total cost for transit and roads between now and 2034, the last row, is the important bit. The question the table answers is, what is that total cost if we have a lower or higher target for transit use. Consultants and staff suggest we choose a 9% “mode share.” They say that will produce a total cost of 157 million dollars. However, that is an adding error. The actual sum of the infrastructure and transit rows in that column is 207 million. Which means that, if we were to pick the 15% transit target, and have a total cost of 220 million, we would be spending 13 million more dollars between now and 2034, NOT 63 million more dollars as the chart indicates. Staff and consultants tell us repeatedly that we can’t be more ambitious with the transit targets because the costs jump hugely. Well yes, if you can’t add. Otherwise, as Councillor Hutchison points out, it seems like quite a modest extra investment: you spend more on transit, less on road infrastructure, and the overall extra commitment is 6%.

— Laura Murray

The K&P Trail and Transportation Master Plan: Where Things Stand

Last night at the Environment, Infrastructure, and Transportation Policy Committee (EITP), councillors had to deal with two complex reports, both of which had bearings on the Wellington Street Extension. One, the proposal for extending the K&P Trail to downtown, has now been deferred till their meeting next month. The other, the Transportation Master Plan (TMP), failed on a tie to be recommended to Council, but  the tie means it goes forward for Council to decide at its next meeting, Tuesday October 20.

Citizen input would be more than welcome on either file (see below). We do remind you however that we’re still working our way through the new draft of the Official Plan, and it looks like citizen voices haven’t been heard in that quarter either. We will be calling on you shortly to respond to that. So, pace yourselves! It’s all pretty discouraging.

The K&P Trail could and should indeed be an important part of Kingston residents’ recreational and commuting lives, and it could also have a function in meeting tourist expectations. At the moment, it comes into town from the north as far as the industrial park on Dalton, and cyclists are dumped there to figure out how to find their way downtown.

While the K&P Trail is in itself a great idea, there are problematic implications in this report for the WSE, as Councillor Hutchison pointed out. Significant portions of the route follow the proposed route of the WSE. The proposal would have the city buy land for the K&P, land which could also down the road be used for the WSE. Council has previously explicitly instructed staff not to buy any land for the WSE until that issue is resolved. So approval of this proposal might put Council in conflict with its own prior decision and might in fact lay the groundwork for a future WSE. There are a number of segments of the trail that are problematic in this respect, but it becomes particularly clear in a map from the report which was not shown to the committee last night. Here we see that the proposed route for the trail through Fluhrer Park avoids both the existing gravel right of way and the existing asphalt path, and instead heads up through grass. There is only one plausible reason they have proposed this route: to keep the right of way open for the WSE.

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note that the proposed path runs neither on the existing right of way nor on the existing pathway

The committee decided not to recommend construction of the path from Confederation Basin to the entry to Fluhrer Park – as very expensive and of unclear benefit (it is all on-road). After considerable and somewhat confused debate, however, they did leave the Doug Fluhrer stretch in the proposal. Defenders of the park absolutely need to make their voices heard on this issue before the next EITP meeting on November 10. Councillor Hutchison said that this proposal possibly contains a Trojan Horse for the WSE when it places the trail beside or on the proposed WSE route. We have to insist that while we do support bike trails, we require appropriate design and routing to be sure that’s all we are getting.

The TMP also has direct implications for the WSE. If we don’t set targets and spend money to get more people out of cars, engineering staff will continue to be able to justify new road construction such as the WSE, the Third Crossing, extension of Leroy Grant Drive through the Oak Street community gardens, and so on.

It was clear from answers from engineering staff Mark van Buren and Deanna Green that the main reason why the city is putting its target for transit share of commuting at only 9% is just plain old money, and as Councillor Hutchison pointed out, not even that much money saved. Staff showed that they are budgetting for active transportation, transit, and roads in proportion with the targets, but they were absolutely intransigent that 9% transit use is all they will go for. Read the previous blog for our argument about how shameful that is. Deanna Green said they chose comparators like Barrie and Belleville because they are closer to our size than Ottawa and Waterloo – and yet as Councillor Hutchison pointed out, London is much bigger with unambitious targets and was on their list, and Belleville is much smaller. The size rationale does not hold water. Guelph is more similar to Kingston than Barrie as it has a compact downtown. Councillor Hutchison also pushed hard on the staff argument that we need to build roads in order to support transit. He asked them to consider that at some point if you have a higher proportion of buses to cars on the road, it has to be cheaper for road building. He wanted to know what the point was where the money on transit can pay off even in terms of road construction. They didn’t answer. In answer to a question by Councillor Neill, staff confirmed that the new draft does not reflect any extra funds for active transportation, but rather it disaggregates the large proposed construction projects and puts sidewalk and bike lane paths into the active transit pot to make them visible. Sheila Kidd from Kingston Transit said that a 9% target in itself will require substantial spending for KT, even though it has been successful in increasing ridership recently. She did not push for a higher target.

In the end, Councillor Stroud spoke most strongly against approval of the TMP draft. He said it is unfixable, and that AECOM was evidently the wrong consultant to do it. It is outdated in its philosophy. Councillors Schell and Allen said that they are happy Kingston will be doing an Active Transportation Plan, and that comforts them in approving this imperfect TMP. (It had been made clear earlier however that the ATP however aggressive will only come into play in a future Official Plan and TMP – in or after 2019). Councillor Hutchison moved to defer; this failed on a tie. Voting proceeded on the plan itself, and also failed on a tie.

The TMP will go to Council on October 20, next Tuesday. It seems likely to pass. The only possible swing votes are Councillors Schell and Allen. There are a lot of problems with this report, but perhaps it comes down to this. If you have any time to divert from federal election and other matters, write to Councillors Schell and Allen and tell them that there is no excuse for Kingston to have a public transit target (9% of rush hour trips by 2034) lower than current actual Ontario public transit usage (12.8% of rush hour trips).

— Laura Murray

Transportation Master Plan Revisions Show No Sign of Public or Council Input

More will have to be said about the apparently interminable EITP meeting in which I am still sitting, but to start with, here is the text of the delegation I presented at the beginning of the meeting so many hours ago. I hope we will all get a chance to insist that Kingston has no excuse to come up with a public transit target lower than the actual current use of public transit on average in Canadian cities.

Councillors, Staff, and Members of the Public –

I am speaking this evening on behalf of WellingtonX, an organization which as you know is dedicated to stopping the Wellington Street Extension.

I would like to note, however, that we are not just against the extension because it is “in our backyard.” We are against it because it represents an approach to urban planning and land use and traffic management that we find highly problematic. We are against it because it prioritizes people in cars over people on foot, on bicycles, or in buses.

This is why we are engaged with discussions about the Transportation Master Plan.

We have had a chance to read some parts of the new draft of the TMP over the holiday weekend.

The staff report that introduces the draft says that “key changes” are limited to an executive summary, a Q&A section, and some more technical and financial information. That doesn’t sound like a revision to me.

Staff have not offered any list or tracking of changes between this draft and the previous one. In a document of this length, I would say that this, combined with the release of the report on the Friday before a holiday weekend before a Tuesday meeting, amounts to obstruction of public engagement.

But we have noticed some changes. For example, the new draft explains the Secondary Planning process for the Old Industrial Area and Inner Harbour. This is appreciated. We do remain unclear about why an updated EA is still considered necessary, given that the secondary plan might develop alternatives to the WSE, and in that case we do not see why an EA update for the WSE would be suitable.

We also acknowledge the long list of questions addressed in the Appendix. However, we are discouraged and perplexed that the public input does not seem to have resulted in changes to the content of the Plan itself. An appendix of answers, mostly justifying the earlier draft, does not in our view constitute serious engagement with committee and public concerns.

We notice too that the public transportation targets have not changed since the spring. It was these more than anything else that was the focus of public concern at that time.

In defending these unchanged targets, the report says that we are not out of line with Belleville and Barrie (116). Now Belleville and Barrie are perfectly nice towns, but why do the authors of the report not consider actual and target transit use in other cities? In Ottawa, morning peak transit use in 2005 was 21%. Ottawa’s goal for 2031 is 30%. Guelph has a target of 15% by 2031. Same for Waterloo. I wonder why the particular cities in the report were chosen. I hope it is not just that they make Kingston look good, with its 9% target. According to Statistics Canada, 11% of Canadians used public transit to get to work in 2006. The figure for Ontario was 12.9. Let me reiterate: Kingston’s goal is 9%. What gives?

I would like to touch briefly on the issue of public trust in consultations, raised at the April public meeting hosted in this chamber. There is a widespread perception that staff is not listening to public concerns, and is not following today’s predominant planning trends that really foreground active and public transit. The public and council are asking you to inhabit a different vision, not just to tinker with a few things. We are wondering if you are listening, and if not, why not. The Plan claims it aims to get people out of their cars, and yet the policies it proposes do not do this. It claims to be a revision, but little appears to be changed. We wonder how committed is the city, really, to the promise of Open Government?

I could go on but my main point today is to ask the committee to defer this report so that they and the public may digest and understand it better. I also ask the committee to ask staff to provide a version of the plan that shows where changes have been made.

I think, or at least I hope, that Kingston can do better.

— Laura Murray

with research by Anne Lougheed, Sayyida Jaffer, & Roger Healey

Getting to Know the Neighbours

True fact: the people on your doorstep may be neither Mormons nor promoters of candidates for the federal election! It might be safe to open the door!

As part of an effort to gain insight into local awareness and knowledge of the WSE, Wellington X is currently carrying out a canvassing program throughout the area that would be affected by the road. I have assisted with the canvassing on two occasions in recent weeks. Both times our team focussed on Rideau Street and, not surprisingly, there have been a few people who do not wish to share their opinion on the WSE. Remarkably though, most of the residents we have met agree to chat with us and, whether they are for the road or against it, there is a real willingness among them to share their perspectives on the WSE, Doug Fluhrer Park, and the bike trails and footpaths in the Inner Harbour.

We have found that even those who do not use the park have strong views of the WSE. Some feel that the new road will ease the traffic and associated noise along Rideau Street, while others feel that the development will degrade the nearby natural areas. Both occasional and frequent users of Fluhrer Park indicate that they are worried because the WSE would intersect a portion of the park. A few of the participants recognize that this poses a risk to turtles and other wildlife. I was surprised to learn only recently that Fluhrer Park is the only park in Kingston that is not bounded by a road, and some residents state that the development would ruin this characteristic. So far I have learned much more about this area of Kingston and we have met some passionate people who are genuinely concerned about their neighbourhoods and the implications of WSE. Wellington X will continue its canvassing campaign in the following weeks. Our goal is to be able to better understand the range of views in the area, and to engage people in discussion so we and they can use the upcoming Secondary Planning process more effectively. We are also gathering statistics about people’s views. By participating, you can help to inform City Council and potentially influence the future of development. This is a great opportunity for getting your voice heard and I can personally promise that the average “visit” time is five minutes or less! See you tomorrow (maybe)!

— Colin Khan