In which Wellington X Meets with the Mayor and Promenades on Princess Street

You may have seen the Whig-Standard’s article in early September entitled “City to address Wellington St. Extension: Mayor.” The piece caused a fair bit of alarm in the community, and we thought we should speak with the mayor to clarify his plans.

In a cordial meeting, Mr. Paterson told us that he’d also been surprised at the article and its headline, and surmised that the reporter had used a couple of comments made to him after a council meeting to craft an article. He says he would prefer to see green space preserved and sees no reason to bring more cars downtown. However, he told us that he wants to see road network improvements that would result in better access to landlocked properties in the Old Industrial Area, and that would incentivize development on brownfield sites in the Inner Harbour. He asks, what do we need to do to attract developers to come in and for development to take place? He thinks this may be possible with the upgrade or expansion of existing roads, or with a hybrid solution- upgrades in conjunction with new roads. He’s willing to look at all options and says he won’t exclude any possibilities.

The mayor agrees that the K&P trail is a great asset for the city and has always supported it. Although he thinks that the K&P should be considered when looking at a possible road network in the Old Industrial Area, he is not willing to reject an option that might have a road next to part of the K&P in that area.

We were concerned that Mr. Paterson didn’t seem to have a grasp of the timeline for the North King’s Town secondary planning process. He wondered if some of the technical studies might be available to Council by next spring, before the secondary plan is completed. In our understanding, no decision about the WSE can be made before the plan is completed and approved by Council, and the consultants have not even been hired yet; it seems impossible that it could be completed before the election in fall 2018. We will continue to follow and discuss this with Planning staff and Councillors.

For more energizing discussions, we are always happy to meet our fellow Kingstonians on the streets. A couple of days before our meeting with the mayor, we had a booth at the fall edition of the Princess St. Promenade. We brought Nancy Douglas along and her splendid map banner of the neighbourhoods and landscapes near the planned WSE — kids and adults alike had the chance to use glue and scissors to add their sense of what is valuable in this space.

The event gave us an opportunity to speak with residents from all over town. We encountered a broad interest in active and public transportation, and a skepticism about increasing road capacity for cars. A woman who lives north of the city said that she and her spouse started taking the bus from a Park and Ride to get to work at Queen’s because parking near Queen’s is so difficult, and they find the bus very convenient. We heard comments such as, “If you build another road, you just get more traffic.”

It was interesting that quite a number of people we spoke with have recently moved to Kingston. They may not have heard of the WSE, but they were surprised at the idea, and were very vocal about supporting public and active transit which they experienced elsewhere, or moved here hoping to find. They considered traffic congestion a non-issue here compared to what they had experienced in Montreal, Toronto, and Washington D.C. One couple who just moved here from Montreal said that with all of the bike lanes there now, the rush hour congestion in their old neighbourhood was primarily from bikes. Someone else said that they were surprised and dismayed when they moved to Kingston at the lack of bike paths, especially downtown. They said that they didn’t feel safe bicycling downtown. (This is a comment we’ve heard many times.) However, many of the newcomers had already discovered the K&P trail and appreciated it. They were aghast to hear that there is the possibility that a road would be built next to it.

“But the trail is so beautiful. A road next to it would ruin it”.

In fact, overall, the K&P Trail was the biggest topic of conversation. After all, the WSE as planned is set to run right beside it up through the Old Industrial Area.

“Why would the city put a road there when they just spent all of this money on the trail?”

The public is already invested in and actively using the trail. A young person, 12 or 13 years old, said, “My friend uses the K&P trail a lot because it’s near her house. It’s how she gets downtown. We bike and skateboard there.”

People were also asking for improvements to the trail. There were safety concerns, such as the lack of reflector tape on the black gates, and worries about the dangerous intersection at the bridge on Division Street at John Counter Boulevard. There was also frustration that the poor signage makes it difficult to find where the trail goes north of Counter St., and that the trail north of Counter to Binnington Court is primarily on ugly roads and bumpy trails. Several people who live north of Kingston said they would use the trail to commute to work in town if these concerns were addressed.

Our impression is that many people stay in Kingston or move to Kingston because it offers the possibility of a relatively ‘green’ lifestyle — and so far, the City is balking at truly embracing the infrastructure that would support that.

One resident said something that resonated with me for many days after: that the infrastructure we’re building is for the way things used to be. Needs are going to change as the climate changes. People are concerned about climate resilience. This will be the challenge as we plan our city for an unpredictable future.

We’ve always maintained that the WSE is an outdated proposal: now, more than ever, we have to prioritize green infrastructure over grey.

— Anne Lougheed, with additional notes from Mary McCollam

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