After all his hopeful talk about the future of transit in Burlington since November, how has Mayor Rick Goldring followed through on his vision?
In less than three months since the presentation on transit in November that drew 450 people to the Burlington Performing Arts Centre to hear from transit and urban planning experts Brent Toderian and Jarret Walker, Goldring has
- Voted against restoring transit funds from the federal gas-tax program that were used to scrape and pave residential streets; and
- Promoted the spending of $300 million over the next ten years to widen intersections and accommodate the overflow traffic from the QEW/403.
In his State of the CIty address in January – attended by fewer people than the transportation event in November – Goldring promoted a vision very different from the optimistic talk in November. Now it’s wider intersections and city streets filled with more cars.
Highways clog streets
“Burlington is located at a point where several major highways intersect,” he said. “These highways are an asset. But during evening rush hour, and especially during a full or partial closure, these highways can clog some of our city streets.”
“Naturally, when there is significant congestion on the QEW, drivers look for an alternative route to bypass the congestion. Much of the issue we have in Burlington is really the result of cut-through traffic, especially during the p.m. peak period.
“We will continue to invest in our street network to facilitate the movement of vehicles. Our capital budget over the next 10 years forecasts an investment of $300 million in our roads, with such projects as resurfacing and reconstruction, new underpasses and intersection widening.”
The mayor hinted during his speech that transit investment would be limited to “our new neighbourhoods around our GO stations and in downtown. … Recognizing we will have more dense development in the key growth areas I have identified, it is logical to invest more money on public transit there.”
As for the rest of the city, people can “take the bus, where available, or ride your bicycle. Destinations two kilometres or less are ideal for walking.” It seems that with two words, “where available,” Goldring has condemned seniors, the physically challenged, young people without cars and drivers’ licenses, working people and anyone else who doesn’t live in one of the “new neighbourhoods” to the present inadequate levels of transit service in Burlington.
And what of the “new neighbourhoods?” A quick look at Google Maps shows that other than Brant Street, Fairview Street and part of Plains Road, there are no new neighbourhoods within two kilometres of a GO station. Higher density developments in northeast Burlington, currently served by hourly bus service, are well outside the area “around our GO stations and in downtown.”
As Waterloo Region has shown, investment in transit can reduce the need for spending on roads. In fact, Waterloo Region’s major commitment to transit, including the building of an LRT, has saved money for taxpayers as compared to focusing solely on road expansion.
As for the “cut-through” traffic that Goldring wants to spend so much money on, how much of it benefits the Burlington economy? How many of these drivers stop and patronize our businesses? Will they stop and spend more if they have wider intersections? Why are we encouraging this traffic? Why are we spending hundreds of millions of dollars on it?
In his State of the City speech, Goldring acknowledged that as a result of decades of planning around the car, “we rely on the automobile as the primary mode of transportation without even thinking about it.”
How long will people stick to the old way of thinking when they see their tax bills rising far above the rate of inflation every year to accommodate more car traffic? How long will Burlington’s city council be stuck in the mindset of the 1960s?
“We must be innovative and unafraid to try new transportation approaches if we want to attain the goals of the second pillar of our strategic plan – A City That Moves,” said Goldring.
Two parts of that statement stick out. The first is that for all the talk about “innovative” and “new transportation approaches,” we have yet to see any. The second is that, as study after study after study has shown in North America, increased spending on roads only increases the amount of traffic, causes even more gridlock and proves to be self-defeating.
A city that moves? Burlington looks more and more like a city that is stuck in the mud.