Smart Growth proposals arrive at opportune time

Mar. 7, 2003. - The Hamilton Spectator Editorial by Gord McNulty

Urban sprawl: Eves should take note

A much-anticipated blueprint from a provincial Smart Growth panel looms as a critical test of the Eves government's strategies for solving the poor planning exemplified by gridlock and urban sprawl.

The stakes are higher than usual in that the panel's forthcoming recommendations are likely to coincide with an approaching election. There is nothing like a campaign to hold the government accountable for its plans -- or absence of same -- to encourage more intelligent development in this heavily urbanized region and to aggressively promote public transit.

Burlington Mayor Rob MacIsaac, a member of the panel for central Ontario, is encouraged in that the government is anxious to receive its advice. He suggests the recommendations would represent an effective campaign theme for the government if it chooses to run with them.

The panel has issued some clear signals of what it thinks Ontario needs to do. In a recent discussion paper, the panel warned the province "cannot allow growth to just happen." The results of rampant development are all too clear -- chronic gridlock, more smog, loss of forests and green spaces, and a deteriorating quality of life.

The panel's ideas for a more sustainable transportation network are ambitious, and will require significant public spending.

For example, the panel calls for transit to be the first priority in urban areas, with new investments in inter-regional and local transit designed to reduce the current reliance on cars as the dominant mode of transportation.

While it will be a challenge to build the transportation system envisaged by the panel, the status quo is unacceptable. Research for the panel, projecting what would happen over the next 25 to 30 years if the current patterns continue, underlined the point. Commuting to work in the morning rush hour would take 45 per cent longer than it does now. The carbon dioxide produced by cars would go up by 42 per cent, even with stronger emission controls.

The panel did not close the door on the controversial mid-peninsula highway. It suggested that the province invest in highways that facilitate international trade and contribute to economic success. However, it did not endorse any particular route.

MacIsaac is critical of the idea of extending the mid-peninsula highway through north Burlington to connect with Highway 407, adding to an already overloaded highway network in the immediate area. In one bold idea, the panel has a preliminary vision for a perimeter option starting at Fort Erie, extending west of Hamilton to the Cambridge area, then east on a route well to the north of Toronto.

The panel's final report deserves a place on the front burner of two people with new assignments in the Conservative cabinet: Municipal Affairs Minister David Young and Transportation Minister Frank Klees.

Both politicians bring solid credentials to their positions. They have an opportunity to make a difference as advocates for the enlightened thinking that is the core of Smart Growth.

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