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OPINION: Guelph is a car city, and I dare city council to admit it

This week's Market Squared is fed up with the hypocrisy and virtual signalling around zero parking minimums in a town that loves driving
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Walking to city council this week I passed the train station where a traffic jam was taking place. A higher number of cars than could be accommodated by the small size of the lot were all jockeying for space.

This is Guelph, which, if we’re to believe the lofty ambitions of our mayor, aspires to be Copenhagen. The communications office at city hall will wilfully tout the Royal City’s status as one of the most environmentally-inclined cities in North America, and our staff and councillors repeat the lie, and it is a lie. The parade of gas guzzlers in front of a train station next to a bus terminal is the proof.

Now don’t make faces at me. I know you need your car. We’re addicts to the convenience of the private automobile, we treat it as an extension our homes and ourselves, lived in with a general mess left behind us. They’re personalized and commodified; an offence against the car is an offence against us.

Yet, despite all this, our mayor and a couple of select councillors were of the opinion that all it will take to get rid of the addiction to the automobile is to get rid of their parking spaces downtown.

It completely ignores the fact that people right now park on Neeve, Fountain, Arthur, London, Suffolk and other streets around downtown if it means avoiding the need to park in one of the paid lots and structures.

It belies the fact that buses going to points around the city are parked right next to the train station every 20 minutes to half-an-hour, and yet people think that they need to drive downtown. And the Downtown Guelph Business Association does nothing to promote transit either, despite the terminal’s convenient location.

It’s in complete indifference to the fact that there are few real regional transit options to and from Guelph, and there are practically none on the weekend, which is a conundrum that our city council has done substantively nothing to try and resolve.

But mostly, it’s in complete contravention of how our own city council lives. They all drive, and they all own cars. No one with any political authority in this town uses transit, or even tries to promote it as a viable alternative to driving. Even our MPP, the leader of the Green Party of Ontario, is an absent presence on our local transit system.

This is the secret everyone in this town knows and no one but me will enunciate: Guelph Transit is unusable as a convenient means of cross-town transportation.

I can’t remember how many councillors have told me to my face that they would like to use transit more, but they can’t make it work for them. They also have no problem saying this on the record, which is a weird thing to admit out loud because if transit can’t work for the people that manage it, then why the hell is it supposed to work for the rest of us?

That’s a question no one ever answers because the ability to understand it is lacking, and so is the advocacy of transit. It was much to my surprise when representatives of the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation actually mentioned transit availability as a concern this week. I’ve long been under the impression that GCAT didn’t know that transit in Guelph existed.

This column brings the curtain down on a 20-year game of 'Lucy and the football' that I don’t want to play anymore. A two-decade saga where promises are made about improved transit, but what that really means is that the mayor will bully an outside arbiter until they give us a C-minus for our D-minus transit system.

I’m tired of the people that invest in a car instead of a blowhorn. You don’t think I don’t want a car? I mean, I don’t, there’s no thought that frightens me more than being just another rat in the rat race, but not a week goes by where I don’t say to myself that my life would be easier in Guelph if I had a car.

Why is it an unspoken policy of this city hall to force people to be another cog in the traffic machine as opposed to creating a viable transit system?

It’s unspoken because it’s about virtual signalling. Our mayor says that’s not what this is about, but it’s completely about the back slaps and high fives from other mayors at international conferences who know nothing about Guelph, have never been here, and will never come here, but nonetheless believe that hype that Guelph cares more about community and the environment than individual convenience.

But it’s not easy being green, and make no mistake, Guelph wants things to be very easy.

Laurels for the 10 councillors that voted against the virtue signalling of zero parking minimums for new residential units downtown. You understand your community and you didn’t fall for the developer propaganda that so many people don’t even want to own a car anymore. And kudos to Windmill CEO Jonathan Westeinde for the true confession of the night: Building parking is expensive so developers want to do less of it.

The darts go to Mayor Cam Guthrie, councillors Rodrigo Goller and Carly Klassen, for getting on their high horse and making me feel like they're looking down their nose at me, as I’m sitting on an empty bus, doing my share as the vast, vast, vast majority of this city drives.

Klassen’s barely been around for a year, but when was the last time either Goller or Guthrie did something to substantively improve transit’s frequency, accessibility or travel times?

The mayor will surely point to his coming motion to make transit free for teens and seniors but that’s more virtue signalling, because young people take the bus, in droves, until they realize that having their own car shaves hours off their weekly travel time and at which point, Guelph Transit will be $1 million lighter and nothing has changed.

And nothing has changed. For 20 years. Some of you won’t admit it, but you know it’s true. Guelph is a car town. It’s now up to you to prove me wrong (but you won’t).


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Adam A. Donaldson

About the Author: Adam A. Donaldson

In addition to writing his weekly political column for GuelphToday, Adam A. Donaldson writes and manages Guelph Politico, frequently writes for Nerd Bastards and sometimes has to do less cool things for a paycheque.
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