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.
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