time to demand transport options
The Hamilton Spectator
recently attended a provincial Ministry of Transportation (MTO) public
meeting regarding the proposed mid-peninsula highway. The meeting was
held in Burlington and attracted several hundred citizens, many of whom
were clearly concerned about the MTO's plans to pave more of southern
And while the MTO
has only been consulting on the proposed roadway for about half a year
now, the patience of both MTO representatives and concerned citizens
is wearing thin.
At the Burlington
meeting I watched as citizen after citizen raised concerns. They included
people such as Helen Dutka of Burlington who urged the MTO to implement
aggressive public transit programs before building yet another highway.
Dutka pointed to
the existence of the right-of-way that the province already owns along
Highway 407 and suggested that a commuter train line be established
Diane Green of Oakville
pointed to increasing levels of air pollution that the MTO's own studies
indicate a new highway will generate.
But by the time
Green got up to the microphone, MTO representative Fred Leech had obviously
had enough. He launched into what I would characterize as a tirade,
listing all of the things that would happen if people kept pushing for
alternatives to new highways.
The tone of his
response conveyed the message that it's all fine and good for citizens
to say they don't want another highway, but people won't be willing
to live with the alternatives either. His "be careful what you
wish for" list included the appearance of intermodal facilities
for getting trucks onto rails, the intensification of urban development
to reduce sprawl, tolls on existing highways during peak hours and the
list went on.
I don't envy Leech
in his role as MTO spokesperson for this proposed roadway; it's a thankless
job. But I was really taken aback by his outburst, which served to highlight
the dysfunctional nature of the MTO consultation process. Only through
a rant did he finally offer a glimpse of what many people in that room
were craving -- a discussion of alternatives to more highways.
I talked about the
MTO public process with David Eckersley, a dedicated board member of
COPE (Citizens Opposed to Paving the Escarpment), an organization of
1,000-plus members which emerged in response to the mid-peninsula highway
proposal. Eckersley explained that the root of the process problem is
the fact that the MTO came to the community after a decision had already
been made to build a mid-peninsula road of some sort.
The first step of
the process was a transportation needs assessment study that led to
a recommendation to initiate an assessment process for the proposed
roadway corridor. But, as the project's own Web site confirms, this
first step offered no opportunity for input from the general public.
As Eckersley puts it, the MTO launched the consultation process by saying
to the public, "There's going to be a road here. Any thoughts?"
Not even a week
after the MTO meeting, the Federation of Ontario Naturalists (FON) came
to Hamilton to introduce citizens to its new book, A Smart Future for
Ontario: How to Protect Nature and Curb Urban Sprawl in Your Community.
This was at a workshop
co sponsored by Friends of Red Hill Valley and the Hamilton Naturalists
Club. Eckersley was at that workshop along with well over a hundred
other citizens who were keen to learn about smart-growth options for
You can access the
full text of the Smart Future Book on the FON Web site (www.ontarionature.org).
The book is a must-read for anyone worried about the future of southern
Ontario and keen to learn about how to push for progressive alternatives.
The FON is promoting
all that the MTO has failed to offer the public, and this is most obvious
in the group's call for a moratorium on road building.
In the book, the
federation states "(I)t is essential that if we are to fully integrate
transportation planning with land-use planning, there be at the very
least a temporary moratorium on planning and building of any new 400-series
highways and widenings of and extensions to existing 400-series highways
and municipal roadways of equivalent size. The moratorium must last
until a comprehensive Ontario smart-growth strategy, including a smart
transportation network, is completed."
Of particular interest
to our area is the federation's specific mention of both the proposed
mid-peninsula highway and the Red Hill Creek Expressway in its moratorium.
of smarter options is what the FON is calling for, in combination with
a call to action for citizens who are tired of government's lack of
progressive action on these alternatives. And it appears that a growing
movement of citizens is ready and willing to hear this message.
Lynda Lukasik is
an East Hamilton resident, an environmental activist, and founder of
the Environment Hamilton citizens' organization. She has a doctoral
degree in planning. She is a freelance writer, and her views are her