Sometimes at city council, there are debates that feel like a waste of time, even if I know they’re not.
Having said that, Wednesday’s meeting about the Transportation Master Plan definitely felt like a waste a time, and it probably was.
It was apparent by the end of the nearly four-hour meeting that there was a significant portion of council that was not down with the lofty ambitions of the plan, which is essentially to move 19 per cent of trips in Guelph – not people, but trips – to modes of transportation other than the private automobile.
That seems pretty straightforward, but as they say, “the Devil’s in the details.”
One of the points that council got hung up on was a provision in the staff-endorsed recommendation that will let them reserve the possibility of expanding roads in the future. Most people didn’t like the potential widening of roads because it will just create more traffic, but staff made it clear that the City might need to widen roads for other reasons, like bike lanes or transit lanes.
This led to another potential controversy because the Transportation Master Plan also makes allowances for the possible creation of transit priority lanes. You see, one day in the future, it might be conceivable that transit buses will need their own dedicated lane because there are just so many people in Guelph getting around using public transit.
That clanking sound was a monocle falling into the collective champagne glass of city council.
Remember, the plan doesn’t mandate the creation of transit priority lanes sometime in the next 30 years, it only allows for the *possibility* once there’s enough ridership on Transit to justify the need to reserve one street lane just for buses.
It was nearly enough to scuttle the whole damn plan if the comments from some councillors are to be believed.
Here, we enter the essential problem of the Transportation Master Plan. Just like all the people that want the government to cut their taxes without giving up a single service, council wants to reduce the congestion on Guelph streets without trying to compel people to abandon their cars.
At this meeting, I learned that the idea of trying to get people to use their cars less is called “social engineering,” or to phrase it another way, this plan made it seem like city staff are trying to “embarrass” people into using Guelph Transit.
Here, the quiet part was said out loud. Taking the bus, in some quarters in Guelph, is embarrassing. Driving a car is sign of status, success, industry, and social mobility; taking the bus is for students, the poor, and seniors not allowed to drive anymore. How dare a city report suggest otherwise!
One city councillor in particular went further and suggested that pushing to increase Guelph’s modal split was a punishment on families.
Is council really under the impression that there aren’t families in Guelph that are car-less? That there aren’t many, many people trying to make do with a substandard transit system, an expensive taxi service, and pedestrian and cycling infrastructure with some pretty big freakin’ gaps?
Of course they are. But as is becoming increasingly clear from both economic circumstances and the tepid response of our local government, Guelph isn’t a place for poor people. They’d be happier elsewhere.
The BS mythology that Guelph is a caring, progressive and green community was further tested by the delegation of Downtown Guelph Business Association executive director Marty Williams.
It was just a few months ago that we were talking about creating a pedestrian’s utopia downtown with the dining district, but Williams is still ferociously protecting every parking space. The truth is you can only drive to utopia, and you’re going to need somewhere to leave your car as you enjoy the privilege of walking in a car-free area.
Utopia is a fantasyland, and the fact of the matter is that the Transportation Master Plan is designed for a fantasyland.
I say that will all due respect to staff, they put in a lot of time, effort and energy to create a sensible and flexible plan to deal with the transportation challenges of a growing city over the next 30 years, but their report is a failure because it doesn’t answer a fundamental question.
How the hell do you get people out of their cars when no one wants to give up their car?
Transit development in Guelph has been stymied for decades because of a Catch-22: people don’t want to move to transit until there are improvements, and improvements can’t be made until more people take transit. In the meantime, everyone gets mad because transit is so university-centric, but that’s where the money is, not to mention the ridership.
Say what you want about our university students but at least they’re reliable transit users, unlike, seemingly, our city council, who aren’t about to get on a bus like common peasants.
It’s a nice transportation plan though. Maybe staff can find another city that might actually want to use it.