Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Dumbing down at our expense

There is a fear in the halls of political power to broach certain topics with honesty, regardless of expert opinion.

Take the war on drugs. It has been proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that prohibition doesn't work and that legalization would lead to regulation, revenue for addiction treatment and law enforcement, and a more honest and open discourse on the topic. Yet the general populace, who are fed only token, filtered information, would not accept this, and the political leaders opt to entertain their votes instead of the hard science. This does our society a disservice.

The same is true of the current debate over our border crossing. Don't get me wrong. This is an immeasurably difficult situation for our community and we should not be bearing the brunt of it alone. We are forced to deal with an issue that culminates with 30,000 transport trucks per day flowing through our neighborhoods.

Yet, the issue that we are dealing with is not the trucks. They are the symptom. The issue our municipality is dividing itself over is the federal issue of our national transportation framework. The Canadian government's choice of highway expansion at the expense of neglecting our rail infrastructure has tilted the playing field towards an ever-increasing number of transport trucks moving our "stuff" down our highways and through our neighborhoods. This is an unsustainable method of trade, yet we continue to pour money into it in the hopes that it will get better. Our disappearing rail network, while infinitely more efficient than the transport trucks, doesn't have the powerful political lobby and is therefore failing in attracting the necessary funding to sustain it.

Even in last night's throne speech from "Canada's New Government", they are perpetuating this misconception;

"Our Government will announce an infrastructure program, the Building Canada Plan, to support our long-term growth. By investing in our transport and trade hubs, including the Windsor–Detroit corridor and the Atlantic and Pacific gateways, our Government will help rebuild our fundamentals for continued growth.

The result will be safer roads and bridges, shorter commutes, more competitive business, improved cultural infrastructure and a better quality of life for all Canadians."

I have no doubt that many pieces of our current transportation system are in dire need of funding, and that we have a responsibility to do so. I am not asking our country to just "Stop Right Now". That would be a disastrous decision to make so abruptly. There have been generations of decisions and expenditures that have brought us to the point we're at right now. What I'm asking is why are we not even addressing what we all know is true and the impacts those realities will have on the transportation choices we are currently embroiled in? We know that oil is getting more scarce and more expensive. We know that our reliance on global trade (read: China) has eroded our manufacturing industry to a mere shell of its former self. We know that the products we are importing are of questionable quality. We know that we cannot afford the immense road network we currently have, so why are we increasing its scope. We know many things, we're not stupid.

We recognise the many, individual problems plaguing our society, and now it's time to start linking them together.

I just want to see our community and country start to admit there's other factors at play in our border crossing dilemma, regardless of the political repercussions. I want to know the full ramifications of the governments major funding announcements prior to spending the windfall on an unsustainable system. The saying goes; When you've dug yourself into a hole, the first order of business is to stop digging and explore your options. Why are we so welcoming of an industry that is so damaging to our overall quality of life - on so many different levels - when there are alternatives.
It's not immediate answers that I'm looking for at this point in time. I'd be happy with some good questions.

I want informed decisions.

Is that too much to ask?


BBS said...

When it comes to Windsor and the "rails to trails" idea, I hope they stop and examine things before we start ripping up all those tracks. To the east we have the VIA line running all the way out to Belle River. What a great backbone for a regional transportation system. Take a look at some of the new diesel Light Rail Trains that are available. They can run on conventional track or city streets. To the west we have the ETR line running all the way out to Amherstburg, through LaSalle. Instead of putting hundreds of buses on the road for a new regional transportation system, let's start looking at all the options.

ac said...

i was bored one night and was looking at the rail lines currently laid out in the city. it looks like its very possible to create a light rail transit system throughout the city and county...including at the new arena. now your opinions...if they will be redoing riverside drive anyways, is it possible to add light transit rails from the train station out to ojibway connecting it to existing rails? not sure if this is possible at all, just brainstorming and throwing out an idea.

Chris Holt said...

I was talking about that very same topic with Chris Schnurr during his municipal campaign, Paul. It amazes me that the only people telling the truth about superficially attractive ideas are the ones who have nothing to lose.

I found that out first-hand during my two runs at elected office. I could tell the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, and it didn't come back to haunt me because there was zero chance of me gaining any ower from those democratic excercises.

To tear up rail infrastructure for the rails-to-trails movement would be the wrong thing to do in light of the fact that we will need those rails again some day. And, the fact is we would never get them back after they've disappeared.

James Howard Kunstler stated that the best and easiest thing the US (and I'll lump Canada in with them) could do is to rebuild it's passenger rail service. We have the technology, the infrastructure is still in place(for now) and we have the need.

If we can't succeed at that project with all those things going for it, we're in deep doo-doo.

Chris Holt said...

Hey AC - the cyclists had a hard time getting the bike lanes by the wealthy residents of "The Drive", could you imagine if you told them you wanted to lay down train tracks? You would be able to see those fireworks from Toronto.

I agree with you in theory, though. But like BBS alluded to, the first thing we would have to do is stop the municipality from ripping up the lines - something King Eddie has stated publicly that he would like to do.

I doubt we would have the critical mass of riders necessary to sustain a light-rail network at this time, but I definitely believe that it will be in the not-so-distant future.

ac said...

well chris, keep this in mind: from when this came out, Salt Lake City only had a population of about 178,605...smaller than Windsor.

The last time a rail system ran through Utah's capital, Harry Truman was in the White House. When a modern light rail was proposed in the early 1980s, the idea wasn't warmly received.

"People said no one would use it, that folks in Utah would not give up their cars," recalls Sierra Club organizer Marc Heileson.

Opponents showed up at the 1997 ground breaking with combative banners like "You can pry my steering wheel from my cold, dead fingers." Even supporters didn't have very high hopes, projecting that the system would draw only 22,000 daily riders by 2020.

Environmentalists, transit officials, and city boosters secured federal funds that allowed the first Trax line to open in December 1999 despite the opposition. Now the 19-mile system is drawing more than 58,000 riders a day--and changing the city's pattern of development from auto-dependent sprawl to denser mixed-use neighborhoods. More people than ever live downtown.

"Areas that are near a Trax stop are now more valuable to develop, not less," says Heileson, who wants to see the system expand into the still-sprawling suburbs.

If they build it, people will likely come: Forty-four percent of Trax's initial riders were new to mass transit.

"That means almost half of those people got out of their cars and jumped on the train," says Heileson. "If you can do that in Salt Lake City, you can do it anywhere.'

Now I wasn't alluding to Riverside Dr. east of Walker, not to the west where the bike lane issues popped up. From the current station have light rails in the road going down riverside possibly up to huron and to the university. If it is at all possible, maybe it can hook up with the ETR line that runs out to Amherstburg.

Like I said...brainstorming.

ac said...


Now I wasn't alluding to Riverside Dr. east of Walker, not to the west where the bike lane issues popped up.

it should state

I was alluding to Riverside Dr. west of Walker, not to the east where the bike lane issues popped up.

BBS said...

I was watching one of those house flip shows on TLC a while ago. In London England they bought a flat in a down and out area for 100,000 pounds and renovated it. They sold it for just under 500,000. Why? Because a new rail stop was added in the neighbourhood. All of a sudden, the area became a trendy hotspot for urban redevelopment.

ac said...

Essentially, public transit can help pay for itself. In many cases property in the vicinity of public transit increases in value. This leads to increased tax revenue.

Here are some examples.

If you look at Dallas, "Median values of residential properties increased 32.1 percent near the DART rail stations compared to 19.5 percent in the control group areas."

Also, commercial investment increases in the immediate area due to the influx of people in the area and in the general area due to the improvement of quality of life for residents.

Pablo Esnocar said...

Rails to Trails?
I wouldn't worry too much about that.
Eddie just needed a headline for his "State of the City Address" that year. Have we heard a single peep about it since then? I think the boy wonder has his hands full with the border, the arena and WUC. If he can survive his second term as Mayor with his teflon intact, then hell, this guy deserves to go to Ottawa....

A passenger rail system between Lakeshore and Lasalle would be a regional benefit the likes of which we cannot imagine.

But it would take real vision, political courage, and a willingness to speak truth to power to even seriously study the notion.

It is depressing that it is therefore impossible considering the leadership locally, provincially and federally.


Going off the grid in some small town in Northern Ontario seems the only remaining sensible option.

ac said...

Pablo, you're right. The regional economic (and social) impacts could be huge.

Aside from the basic thinking of people using it for work or to go shopping, just think about for the festivals as well. If a LRT went down Riverside Dr. and let people off right in front of the Festival Plaza, think of the impact for supporting homegrown festivals. Vice versa. If it headed out to Amherstburg The Shores of Erie Wine Festival could be a huge beneficiary while at the same time likely reducing the amount of drivers on the road who may have had a couple drinks. LRT would be a huge step in regional cooperation.

Obviously those are just small examples of how it can work, but the possibilities are endless. A regional transit system, preferably Light Rail, should be an absolute must. It would be a huge boost in quality of life which is a major factor for investments.

Just think, in joining forces with the rail companies in the area (is this possible?), not many new tracks would have to be put down and you could have a complete loop from the current train station in Walkerville, up riverside and out to the U of W (new tracks) connecting to the tracks near the new university stadium and out to Amherstburg. Back through Windsor and on out to Tecumseh, then back to the station in Walkerville.

This route could also take you by, among other things:
Casino/Festival Plaza
Art Gallery
U of W
Windsor Raceway
WFCU Centre

Just for a basic outline, go look at a map of the area on MapQuest. With a lot of hard work and vision, it really isn't TOO far fetched, is it?

Anonymous said...

ac, in identifying new LRT lines on existing rail, what if there could be a new via station in the core, downtown, right next to the abandoned CP ferry line i think. This is also conveniently located in the 'City Centre West/Urban Village' plan. If all the higher ups could make it work, I can picture the passenger entrance of a new terminal station right at the foot of Chatham.

Anonymous said...

Rather than LRT on Riverside wouldn't it be better to align an east/west route along Wyandotte, its more dense with comercial and people traffic. And the roads widths should be wide enough.

ac said...

Only reason I said Riverside is because the rails from the Walkerville train station end right at the foot of it and it would probably be easier to continue it straight onto the drive. Also, they are already planning on redoing Riverside Dr. so it could be done all at once.

If you wanted to avoid the rail lines and try something different, Bombardier also offers Guided Light Transit. They run on a single rail, rubber tires and have much more maneuverability.

Anonymous said...

Heres the view of the site of the abandoned rai line, near University and Caron Ave.

I think a prominent and well deserving site for a VIA station. Also considering that it is bounded by University Ave which is an ideal route for future LRT-Campus-to-downtown

Chris Schnurr said...

Hi Chris -

People that I spoke with during the muni-election had never considered that option - preserving our rails and rail corridors for future use.

I find that residents, when provided with the pros and cons of all issues, are incredibly receptive.

However, as is becoming precedent in this city, residents are only provided one side of the story, and then years down the road wonder whatever happened, and how did we get here?

I always take with caution when a politician provides what appears to be a good idea on the front.

Cynical or realistic?

Sporto said...

Chris- very realistic. Is there no option other than having a passenger train station at the airport as proposed in the latest rail plan?? What do others think of a new VIA station located at the airport? Wouldn't that be just another blow to the downtown? At what point does this city stop gutting its own centre and pushing all the people spaces to the periphery? One could argue that a train station is the heart of any city. It would make sense too-is there a heartbeat still in the city?

ac said...

"At what point does this city stop gutting its own centre and pushing all the people spaces to the periphery?"

I guess it will stop when the city stops moving even their own offices out of the core. Even with the abundance of available office space in Downtown Windsor, according to the Windsor Star, the city wants to move their 311 offices out of the downtown core.

Someone mentioned the abandoned ferry lines as an option for locating a station in the core. I think that is an excellent idea.

This administration just doesn't seem to get it. Either that or they do and just don't care so they can further their own personal agendas.

Chris Holt said...

This is a beautiful thread.

AC - keep brainstorming! The things you and the others have written about are things that have crossed my mind on numerous occasions. At one point, I wanted to build a scale model of Windsor and show what it would look like if an LRT-style of public transport was implemented. Then I realized just how much time that would take...

We need people to visualize what we are talking about. I think that once they get the picture in their heads - and know that it IS possible - we will have won a major battle.

Start showing residents that real estate prices do jump up when a fixed-rail station is close by. The property values rise, property taxes rise, sales rise, residential infill rise. Everything we claim to want Windsor to become. This is a fact.

So, stop the hemmoraging of jobs to the suburbs and provide clean, easy and accesible transit service to bring those suburban workers in. I don't know what the numbers are for people commuting into the city from Tecumseh, LaSalle, Essex, etc. but if the existing rail lines survive into the next decade, and we can lure businesses and residents into our core with our low lease rates coupled with attractive incentives, Windsor will be poised to take advantage of this incredible resource.

Geographically speaking, Windsor is in such an enviable position that it makes me sick to see our administration not taking advantage of it.

PS - VIA Rail's station needs to be located in the heart of Windsor. That is one of the original Schwartz components that I always hated. Leave the multi-modal hub at the airport for goods and leave the people in the city.

Sporto said...

There's a huge parking lot along Caron Ave. which is adjacent to the old ferry line. There seems to be more than enough space there to accomodate a new VIA facility. As the rail bed is below grade somewhat, it may be possible even to have a covered platform extended as far as Salter St. And, a prominent entrance directly opposite the foot of chatham with a siteline straight through the core of the city.

Chris Holt said...

Even Ed Arditti is talking about LRT on his Windsor City Blog site...

"So it turns into a redevelopment but a redevelopment for what? There was some talk one time about the arena going there but that's not going to happen now. My source told me that there has been conversation involving that property and rail lands consolidation. Interestingly, one of my readers speculated upon this matter some time ago:

"It would require local leaders of great vision to say that we don't need an Light Rail Transit today, but we might 20 years from now. Let's set aside the corridors and do the planning so future generations can enjoy a transportation mode that Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, Hamilton, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and other Canadian cities have or are planning on building. This wouldn't be folly, this would be forward thinking and optimistic instead of reactionary and pessimistic.

Speaking about EC Row yesterday, and how it could tie into the Zalev site, look how an LRT line along the DRTP corridor could connect the University of Windsor with the commecial areas in the south of Windsor, and also intersect an east-west line along EC Row right at the Zalev's site. The mayor does a lot of talking about the Zalev's site, when will he actually do something about it? It is an eyesore, an environmental disaster and sits, quite possibly, in one of the most strategic spots in the city in terms of development and infrastructure.

And another thought from a reader

"Could the potential closure of the Dougall and Dominion interchanges lend itself to plans for the Zalev lands north of the expressway?

Could there be tie-ins with the Rail Rationalization study, such as creating a platform for a east-west regional Light Rail Transit corridor adjacent to the expressway?

Remember as well that there was talk of a Motion of Reconsideration respecting Lauzon/E C Row and the need for a connection if there is going to be development on the Airport lands.

Now here's a wild idea that ties all of this into Greenlink. Here's what the Mayor said in one of his 1966 State of the City speeches:
"City Council and I have started the plans that provide the framework for transforming the city’s old rail lines from a rundown, divisive old web across our city, into a system of trails and opportunity.

It will run through all five wards, connecting neighbourhoods to one another, creating green space and recreational paths, converting brownfields and scrap yards –all the way to the riverfront...

A rail study being conducted in partnership with the Federal government is nearing completion. It will provide the technical framework for rationalization and consolidation.

Our brownfield and environmental report will provide us the tools to convert these lands to new uses.

PS. Check out Agenda Item #1 on next week's Council agenda. It's "City-wide Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy and Community Improvement Plan Consultant Selection."