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Council approves 68km of road widening in transportation master plan

Policies and implementation plan expected this December
20210526 Guelph Transit bus bike rack RV
Guelph Transit buses include bicycle racks to allow for cyclists to use the system. Richard Vivian/GuelphToday

Several city streets could be widened as the city looks to encourage more people to move away from personal vehicles to transit, walking and cycling.

Council voted 8-5 in favour of the plan at a special meeting Wednesday.

The approved motion calls for the potential widening of 68km of road by 2051, with increased space intended to allow for transit prioritization measures, including possible transit priority lanes, along with protected cycling space and room to accommodate future technologies such as driverless vehicles. 

“I don’t think any elected official who wants to hold a long-term vision … would turn down that bonus of resiliency,” commented Coun. James Gordon of the flexibility such road widenings could provide in addressing changes to transportation habits or unforeseen situations such as a pandemic.

He was joined in support by councillors Cathy Downer, Phil Allt, Mark MacKinnon, Leanne Caron, June Hofland, Mike Salisbury and Rodrigo Goller.

On the opposing side were councillors Dominique O’Rourke, Christine Billings, Bob Bell and Dan Gibson, along with Mayor Cam Guthrie.

“We don’t want to annoy people onto transit,” said Gibson. “We are making watershed decisions here that are going to have downstream impacts on peoples’ lived experience in the city.

“We can’t force people to give up their vehicle when they have dependents that require to get all around the city.”

With the preferred option identified, staff plan to deliver a final report to council in December outlining policies and implementation plans. Public consultations are tentatively slated to be held this summer into fall.

The 2016 census shows 79 per cent of travel in the city is done by car, with eight per cent through walking, seven per cent via transit and three per cent is cycling, with three per cent done by school bus and one per cent “other.”

The council-approved goal for 2051 is 60 per cent by car, 15 per cent each for walking and transit, as well as 10 per cent cycling, with interim targets along the way.

Several council members – some in support of the approved motion and others against it – expressed concern about endorsing such a long-term policy that would see road widening decisions and the creation of transit-only lanes left in the hands of staff.

“I find myself facing a bit of a hurdle … to get over giving you the blank cheque to be able to do that type of decisions today, when I don’t know what the types of impacts of those things may be in five, 10, 15, 20 years down the road,” said Guthrie.

“There’s a lot of angst against road widening,” added Caron, who encouraged staff to look at examples of how transportation works in Europe, with it’s more narrow roads.

Deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush urged council not to focus on “micro-level details” that are operational in nature and sit in staff’s purview.

Terry Gayman, the city’s general manager of engineering and transportation services, noted individual projects would only go forward when there is sufficient information to show they’re warranted. 

Council heard from several delegates who spoke in support of the staff-proposed initiative, though they flagged several concerns.

Among them was James Fedosov, president of the Speed River Cycling Club, who worries road widening will create “induced demand” and simply lead to increased future roadway congestion.

“I feel that we need to create equity for those other modes (of transportation),” he said. “This year’s bike boom has been a start for that.”

Mike Darmon, president of Guelph Coalition for Active Transport, called for council to adopt a “more ambitious” set of active transportation goals in the city, with walking and cycling declared essential transportation modes.

“Please don’t use us as the test market for this. I fear it will drive people away,” said Marty Williams, executive director of Guelph Downtown Business Association, who called for more thorough analysis of the information collected by consultants.

He pointed out Downtown is the only commercial area that’s dependent on the city to provide parking and worries the policy could be used to support decreased parking or higher prices in the core.

“It seems that the only way that you can compel (the desired modal split) is in the places that the city can control everything and where you can control everything is in Downtown Guelph,” Williams said. “We don’t want that to happen.”

Darmon was joined by Leah Nielsen of Unicorn Scoops, a solar-powered ice cream sales freezer bicycle business, in encouraging council to join the provincial cargo e-bike pilot project which seeks to find ways to allow for electric bicycles with cargo capacity.

That project runs from March 2021 to March 2026 and includes considerations about where these vehicles can travel – roads, bike paths, trails, etc. – park, insurance requirements and more.

“That pilot is on city staff’s radar,” said Gayman. “We are looking at that.”

If the city were to participate, council would need to approve bylaws specifically allowing the use of cargo e-bikes and setting requirements such as size and power limitations, as well as the number of wheels and brakes, along with driver restrictions.