Resident doesn't like the look of the transportation ideas - thinks planners are saying - support biking, stay home or get out of Burlington.

opinionandcommentBy Greg Woodruff

April 6th, 2017


City council will begin discussion of the draft Official Plan this week.  Opinions are already being formed.

There are so many problems with Burlington’s official plan update that it’s hard to zero in on the most problematic element. Leaving alone for a moment the massive green space loss or the complete lack of any mathematical forecasting, the transit plan is truly insane.

My largest problem when running for Regional Chair in 2014 is that I just could not get people to accept what the cities future transit plans actually are. People would just say “That is crazy” and look at me like I must not understand the plan. Either read what is coming out of the city or take my word for it. The future of Burlington is city wide deliberately induced gridlock.

I realize that this is so divorced from reality that the average resident of Burlington simply cannot accept this is the cities plan. It is simple – keep jamming people in until roads are mostly impassible and largely slower than walking. People will then seek “alternatives” once they realize they can walk or bike to a location in just hours vs multiple hours of driving. If you are disabled, elderly or have a schedule that doesn’t support biking, stay home or get out of Burlington.

The first problem is that I would say you need a public mandate to do this. This certainly does not exist. The draft says the public must “Reprioritize decision-making relating to mobility” (Page 14 in the link below). Right now for example you might like to drive to the gym. In the new city walking and biking should be your forms of city recommend exercise. In the future city staff will decide what you do, how and when you move around. The city needs to execute the mandate of citizens, not try to force everyone to do as they think we should.

The second problem is that the transit plan cannot withstand even light mathematical examination. It can’t possibly achieve its own goals. You won’t see numeric calculations coming from the city – because they won’t add up. To believe that 300,000 people are place-able in Burlington with “No New Car Capacity” (Page 15 in the link below) is to believe we will have pedestrian rates orders of magnitude higher than Paris France. As I delegated to council:

Even if you line up Paradigm developments along every possible place all the way down Plains road – you will never get a pedestrian commercial base. There is no mathematically possible pedestrian city on a single straight road. Cities are built in grids for a reason – it is the only way to get transit time low and have the density for a partly pedestrian customer base.

The last problem and most deeply troubling aspect of this is the underlying theory behind it. This mentality places the city in direct opposition to you. Your goal might be to take your kids to soccer practice. This “unsustainable transit pattern” makes the city wish you didn’t. You want to visit your Mother after work – the city wishes you didn’t. It’s all to pretend that intensification doesn’t need increased infrastructure to support it. That an infinitely increasing population doesn’t cost anything in money or environment because the city now rations “what is” out.

They can’t figure out a transportation strategy for this mess of intensification. So now “untransportation” is desirable. Not enough water – the public must “Reprioritize decision-making relating to bathing.” Not enough parks – the public must “Reprioritize decision-making relating to sports activities.” This “reprioritization” is to no longer do what is best for yourself, but instead do what city planners have rationed out for you.

Since we still live in a democracy – it will not work. Once the main streets are nothing but micro businesses very few trips will be to them; just past them. The constant gridlock will be the largest issue and people will not care beyond mobility. This will give rise to and elect a class of politician that will run on and expand the road base. Though since staff have worked deliberately to make this difficult, the roads will now expand in ugly and awkward way.

If you want 300,000 people in Burlington then we need developments totally concentrated in the down town core – it’s the only place with a grid. Yes, you will need an aggressive walking, biking and public transit strategy. But you will also need the major arteries of Burlington expanded to 6 lanes, plus a dedicated bike path, plus a large public walking space. You can get into fanciful debates as to what you want to do in those extra lanes – single passenger cars, rapid bus transit, street car, etc. But they need to be reserved and planned as if they will exist.

There is no possible benefit to this gridlock – hundreds of thousands of cars idling and caught in congestion will have a far higher environmental footprint than a hand full of bikers can ever offset. Congestion helps big box retailers and hurts small business – this can only lead to greater commercial concentration. The idea “if you build roads people are going to use them” so if we stop building them people will then not use to road we didn’t build.

This is just idiocy. If you feed starving children they are just going to keep eating and eating; to a point yes. If you provide houses with water people are just going to keep bathing and bathing; to a point yes. However I consider the ability to feed, bath and get my kids to soccer – all as positives.

I’m pretty sure the rest of Burlington does as well.

Background link:

Official Plan report to city council committee

Greg WoodruffGreg Woodruff is an Aldershot resident who rant for the office of Regional chair in the last municipal election.

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31 comments to Resident doesn’t like the look of the transportation ideas – thinks planners are saying – support biking, stay home or get out of Burlington.

  • Jim Barnett

    Chris . Yes you can and at the same time you can ask them if they want to pay for it.

    • Hans

      Asking the citizens of Burlington what they want…. what a novel idea!
      I would vote for that, if given a chance.

  • Jim Barnett

    Chris is back in the Netherlands for his comparisons. I understand he wants some of the city managers slush fund to increase global warming in North America so that our weather patterns will be closer to Holland and thus make his comparison more relevant. I think he will be studying Anchorage Alaska next!

  • Hans

    Overcrowded roads are a symptom; the real problem is overpopulation. “Intensification” (giving it a name doesn’t make it right, intelligent, or legitimate) will exacerbate both.

    BurlingtonLocal provided the evidence above: converting more road space to bike lanes is not the answer; it only puts cyclists’ safety at risk. Dedicated bike lanes don’t need the same foundation depth as car/truck traffic and can be built for much lower cost – that’s where the efforts should be directed, if they are warranted by demand.

    • Chris Ariens

      Agree with you re: dedicated lanes where they can be done cost-effectively and intersections are designed for safety. However, you can’t measure the demand for a bridge by counting the number of people swimming across the river.

  • BurlingtonLocal

    Here’s a few facts to throw into the mix. 1) Almost no one rides a bike in Burlington. Recent studies show close to 0% of Burlingtonians commute with a bicycle (0% is not an exaggeration) 2) Transit (bus) ridership has dropped dramatically in recent years, some studies showing a drop of over 15% from previous ridership numbers. Conveniently coinciding with growth numbers. Simply put, no one is moving here for the bus system. The solution to our growing pains doesn’t lie in social engineering from Vancouver or cute trends from Amsterdam. The solution will be found in making the day-to-day lives of regular, car-driving, tax-paying Burlingtonians easier. Specifically; better, wider, faster, safer roads for us to drive our cars on. Or if we want to take a long-view, for our cars to drive us on.

    • James S

      A funny thing happens when you design your city for the car. Everyone drives. And you end up with a lot of traffic.

      Something else happens when you cut transit service and continually underfunded it. Transit ridership declines.

      How wide should we make our roads to eliminate the traffic? Last I counted highway 401 was up to 18 lanes and it still looked pretty congested to me.

    • Chris Ariens

      Is there a city anywhere in the world that’s been successful in delivering on that promise? As far as I’ve seen, the only city where better, faster, wider, safer and less congested roads exist is in car commercials (talk about social engineering). Even Detroit, birthplace of the automobile is going gung ho building bike lanes these days.

      If Burlington was to spend a billion dollars widening all our arterial roads, what would happen? People from Hamilton, Stoney Creek, Grimsby and elsewhere would fill our streets to route around congestion on the QEW, meaning we’d be right back to where we started, just a billion dollars poorer, plus add in all the extra maintenance costs in perpetuity. I suppose you’d expect we could tax all the cyclists to pay for it?

      You may write off at Amsterdam as a cute trend, but interestingly the country where drivers have indicated they are most satisfied (as per the Waze Driver Satisfaction Index) is the Netherlands. If we want to make the day to day lives of car driving folks better, I’d suggest we learn from them.

      • Dallas Texas pretty runs road only very effectively – not that I’m recommending that.

        Fyi. Chris the roads are all set to expand via the region and the cost is all costed in – Burlington just has to stop actively sabotaging the Region. Fairview Plans is on Burlington’s tab though.

        “Right back where you started.” Except by your own analysis these people from Hamilton, Stoney Creek and Grimsby – got where they were going faster. I’m not saying you need to just do road expansion, but you certainly need to have some sort of plan before you cheer lead any building / any density / any place. Which is what is happening.

        Those people from Hamilton,etc – are still going to transit through Burlington no matter what – we need a plan, BEFORE we develop these area.

        • Chris Ariens

          Surely, Greg…you’re not suggesting that Burlington (or Halton) residents need to accept massive increases in our property taxes so that people in other cities can get to work 5 minutes faster? Wouldn’t you rather our money go to improving our quality of life and let other cities’ commuters stay on the QEW? What do we do with the space the other 22 hours a day?

          BTW, don’t expect Regional taxes to be stable once Milton is built out and the ability to trade present development growth for future obligations is done. The Region is already crying poor to the Province about needing money for infrastructure. Nothing is “costed in”. We (taxpayers) have to pay for the capital costs + the future maintenance.

          I’m not saying we need to accept any building anyplace. But we do need growth – just to be able to pay for the infrastructure we have now. It’s therefore foolish to be tearing out homes or businesses to fit in more. The constraints of the lake and the green space to the north of the city mean that Dallas-like sprawl is not a very appealing option for us.

          Concentrating growth in the Plains/Fairview corridor, Downtown and Uptown doesn’t impact the residential neighbourhoods and supports better transit. It’s what’s set out in the Official Plan, and it makes a lot more sense.

          • “Concentrating growth in the Plains/Fairview corridor, Downtown and Uptown doesn’t impact the residential neighbourhoods”

            That’s not what the staff update requests Chris. It recommends expanding “Secondary intensification to ANY PROPERTY BESIDE and artery road.”

            The way staff are doing it impacts the residential neighbourhoods very badly. It moves out businesses, looses hundreds of large trees and moves in a handful of park benches.

  • Jim Barnett


    Read the draft plan. Road diets, lane loss, traffic calming, speed bumps and reduced speed limits all reduce the capacity for cars, increase travel time and increase pollution. Section 6.2 would be a good place to start.

    • Chris, I think the disconnect here is that there is some serious “alternative plan” that could cause deflection for car trips. If there was a credible plan then – yes you could maybe see – that I’m up in arms about nothing. But there is nothing serious proposed that can move the needle even sightly.

      • Chris Ariens

        Greg…I expect that the Official Plan sets the objectives and the priorities that will be followed over the next 25 years. The Integrated Transit & Mobility Plan, the Transportation Plan and the update tot he Cycling Master Plan which will lay out the specifics are still to come. This Official plan is a very well-thought out and developed plan. It’s thoroughly supported by research and experience from other cities in North America and the world that the initiatives proposed are effective.

        But as you very well understand, plans are only worth the paper they are written on if they are implemented and properly funded. That takes political will on the part of our Council to make those decisions. We actually have to build that frequent transit network along the main spines (Schedule B-2) with 15 minute service. We have to build a connected cycling network that people, not just the fearless 1% want to use and feel comfortable and safe using. We have to start mixing in residential uses in with our retail spaces so people can reduce the need to get in the car to do some of their routines. All of those represent a change from the way we have done things in the past 70 years, and we need bold leadership from our elected officials to make sure the plan gets put into practice. These are tough choices politically, but you can’t just argue that “nothing is proposed” and throw your hands up. That’s FUD.

  • Tom Muir

    One thing that keeps bugging me is mentioned by Greg. I don’t see how we are going to get from here to there.

    Or maybe we should ask, how do we get from there to here?

    Wishful thinking is not a plan

    We can’t assume general direct equivalency between different modes and trip purposes.

    You can’t just decide arbitrarily, without restriction, between modes.

    Can anyone tell us how transportation guys use equations of substitution to provide some rigor to this overall question?

    • You are on to it Tom. 🙂

      Anyone of these planners can use easy math to see how this is not going to work. Some place it actually says; “If you keep building roads and increasing the population these roads will just be filled with new users.” Thus the only path is to not build them.

      They know that there will be an increased demand for transportation. My problem is not that there is no road plan – I don’t want just roads – the problem is there is no plan of any type. They can’t say as you allude to “If we get the busses going every 10 minutes we will get 0.3% deflection. If we get dedicated bike paths we will get 0.1% deflection out of cars.”

      There is absolutely no serious transportation plan of any type of any mode. People will simply travel less once they “reprioritize” transportation. That’s why no “math” is needed.

  • Jim Barnett


    If choice is what we want why are you advocating to restrict the opportunity and lesson my choices to use the car?

    • Chris Ariens

      Jim, how is anything I have talked about going to restrict you from using your car? There are no restrictions on car use whatsoever in the official plan. For more than 70 years we’ve built everything in this city to serve cars. We are spending 300 million in the capital budget in the next 10 to maintain roads so they can be used by cars. What exactly are you complaining about?

      If we were to maintain our 90% car transportation system and continue to exclude other choices, it means more cars competing with you for the space. Why on earth would you want that?

  • Jim Barnett

    A good exchange of ideas and comments. I hope that now that Chris has solved Burlington’s traffic problems he will moved on to eliminating poverty,the eradication of disease and solving the world wide refugee crisis. In the meantime most of us know that we need cars to help us handle the inclement weather we have here and to get to destinations that are more than a 15 minute walk away many times a day.

    • Hans

      Well said!

    • Chris Ariens

      The good thing about a multi-modal transportation system is that not everyone has to make the same choices. You can choose to use your car, and if some of your fellow citizens have the option to get around a different way, it means fewer cars on the road and less congestion for you.

      Choices have the effect of making the city a better place to live – you can stick with the same menu item every time or try something different once in a while.

  • Chris Ariens

    So much wrong with this article I honestly don’t know where to start. All this piece has done is spread fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD). It proposes no workable alternative solutions to what planners have drafted based on the city’s Strategic Plan endorsed by Council.

    With the population growth that is expected in Burlington, that shift does NOT have to be massive. I don’t know where Greg gets the idea that Burlington is planning for a population of 300K. The official projection is for a population of 193K by 2031. Burlington is going to be the slowest-growing region in the GTA. We are overshooting that target, but even if we plan for 200K people by 2031 (14 years out), which would be nearly double the official growth projection, it would not at all require as radical a change as this piece would have us believe.

    The mode shift won’t be done through cycling, walking or transit alone. It will take a combination of all 3, working hand in hand with land use planning to get there.

    If you look at the numbers, currently 73% of all trips made by Burlington residents are made as the driver of a motor vehicle, plus 16% as a passenger. With no new car capacity in the city, that 73% would need to shift to 67% by 2031 in order to accommodate the same number of automobile trips per person as we enjoy today – that is using the aggressive target of 200K residents.

    Nobody in this city is suggesting that residents cannot do their grocery shopping, run errands, or take their kids to soccer using the car. But it’s a fact that there are still many people, for whom many more trips can be efficiently and effectively handled with other means of travel if we can make it more comfortable, safe and attractive for them to do so. Those are the trips that will make the difference. Kids being able to walk & bike to school instead of being driven by their parents. Commuters being able to bike to and from the GO station. Students able to hop on a bus to take them to & from their retail jobs. Walking to a drug store or convenience store on the ground floor of a nearby building instead of having to get in the car and drive to one on the other side of town. Young families moving to Burlington and making do with one car or even perhaps without, to enable them to purchase a condo or townhome. That is where the rubber hits the road.

    The strategy of expanding roads is the strategy that cities Like Burlington have been utilizing since the 1950’s. We have a road network that valued at $2.1 billion. Let’s say we have no interest in shifting our travel modes. Not only would we have to maintain the car capacity we have today, which imposes enormous and escalating costs, but we’d have to increase that capacity by 9%. At replacement value, which is not a true reflection of what it actually costs to build, or how that cost would be distributed throughout the city, that’s an additional $189 million. Where does the writer of this peace expect that money to come from? Dundas Street alone is costing the Region about $150 million to add capacity to a single road. Can anyone imagine what it would cost to make all our arterials 6 lanes?

    And if we do come up with the money by taxing citizens to the max, the physical space to execute this strategy does not exist. We would need more land for the roads and more land to store all of the cars. In a city that is built out, the only way that land can be freed up for more cars, is to either demolish buildings or pave over unused space (AKA greenspace). Each of those “solutions” would lead to fewer residents and a lower tax base to pay for the infrastructure. It’s a vicious circle that cannot possibly be sustained.

    We have to accept that we do not have endless resources to enable the drive-around utopia that many residents envision. To say nothing about the high cost of running and maintaining motor vehicles on top of the high cost of living in Burlington. The need to ensure our communities are safe and liveable. The high cost of the sedentary lifestyle which is a product of a way of life that is centred around automobiles. The need to attract young, educated people with urban amenities to offset the natural decline of our aging population. The need to support seniors who no longer have the ability to drive everywhere. And of course the reality that at some point we’re going to have to deal with climate change, which means that yes, we do need to think about our habits, both with respect to mobility as well as the other aspects of our lives we take for granted. All of these realities require that we prioritize something other than happy motoring.

    There are no easy solutions, but having an Official Plan that sets out a feasible realistic shift to a more balanced transportation system is a very positive step in Burlington’s evolution. I commend our chief planner Mary Lou Tanner and the City of Burlington team for a job well done.

    • I’m with you Chris, but I don’t think you understand the changes in the update. This is the rhetoric the city pushes out, but the actual rules are just setup to shove as many people into Burlington as possible – standard of living be dammed. I think you are getting taken for a ride by the city. The “investment” in non-car things is never coming or so crappy as to be worthless. What exactly are the plans? I said: “If you are going to move the curbs – build a dedicated bike path down Plains road.” Sorry Greg – no money for that. If I could see a list of concrete proposals that had a 6% deflection chance – sure that’s a plan. What are those things? It’s been years and nothing concrete has or ever will come from the city. The “dream city” they imagine has the park benches at Waterdown and Plains road at the corners, but nothing else. They feel as you alluded to we no longer have the “resources” to live in a pleasant place.

      I’ll just give you the 67% car trip level. If you imagine local businesses at the 67% car trips level. Then 2/3 customers of these businesses are coming by car. How can any business provide a poor experience for 2/3 of customers? They can’t. And experienced businesses they know it – see how fast Clapton’s Corners is filling up with businesses? See how fast Apply and Dundas is filling up? The cranes are not stopping in these two locations. This commercial compaction is worst than it’s ever been in Burlington and getting worse by the day. Design a public transportation strategy to get people to these locations? It’s impossible. The city’s plan – maybe we could knock down the rest of the strip malls along Fairview for apartment buildings. You have to operate an excellent car PLUS pedestrian strategy. Down town need to be a place where people live and easily drive in, you can’t get to commercially workable densities with pedestrians alone. E.G. The distillery district in Toronto is surrounded with parking. If you remove it – the whole place dies – with local density much greater than we will ever get. Or look to Liberty Village in Toronto. This is how you do it. Provide an all comers commercial area, apartments on top. This is NOT what we are doing at the moment. We are trying for max densities spread all over the city with crappy parallel parking and non-workable commercial space.

      Trying to limit parking doesn’t work – anywhere. The attempts in the north have just led to people paving front lawns with interlock where trees might have been. Or getting the city to allow overnight street parking – hardly a great place to walk or bike with the street lined with cars. Limiting parking has not worked in a single place in the planet as far as I can tell. Because once the disaster is upon residents they pressure politicians to allow cars any old place. No one gives a crap about street trees if they can’t pay the mortgage.

      And that is the problem. As you make congestion worse people are going to care less about anything else – not more. I who wanted a dedicated bike lane – seem like an idiot. It’s not me they will vote into office it’s a person who thinks any spending outside immediately practical matters is foolish. People will not fight for streets with parallel parking and endless dental offices – they will just want past it.

      You imagine people making choices like so: “Well I could drive, but it’s bad for the environment – so I feel bad about it. So I’ll guess take a long walk.” Never going to happen. People are under pressure man – pay the bills, save for kids college, visit parents, get to the gym, etc. If you put something they can walk to 15 minutes away – they will do it. If it’s farther they won’t. Time is the issue; It’s not you or me who you have to think of (who apparently can write large posts) it’s people who don’t have the time to read this stuff let alone write it.

      • James S

        I don’t have the time or the energy to reply to all of this, but a couple things:

        The growth in this plan is being direct to very specific areas: The downtown, the uptown, and the GO stations. There’s growth along Fairview and Plains and in a scattering of other major commercial centres too, but that’s all secondary. Hardly max densities “spread all over the city” — these areas are only about 5% of the city! And for the most part it’s all in tight compact spaces where you either have a street grid already or you could build one. “If you put something they can walk to 15 minutes away…” — it seems to me that’s exactly what we’re trying to do!

        And nobody is talking about starving the downtown of parking. If anything we’re adding more. There’s a new 6 storey parking structure going up as part of the Berkeley. There’s a garage that sits empty most of the time on Locust. Lots of room for the 67%.

        • Hey James,

          I believe the proposed staff update seeks to expand secondary intensification to “any property adjacent an artery” – that’s an expansion not a targeting. If it was all targeted to a couple of areas with a grid I’d have less of an objection.

  • steve

    Yup, the “overcrowding” plan is mostly to make public transportation more effective. It’s all about the car, that bourgeois contraption that is hated do deeply by social engineers. Lets see…hmmm? Place a barrier tightly around the GTA so no outwardly expansion is possible, (remember those beautiful bedroom towns) making the land inside the zone precious, limited, and expensive. No problem, highrises, and eventually skyscrapers, (don’t kid yourself), consisting of tiny units at sky high prices all crammed into every nook and cranny that can be found. Then further punish those bourgeois car owners by shrinking major arteries for the infinitesimally few bicyclists to use, at their leisure, when they get around to it. Easy Peasy.

  • craig

    I totslly agree with these comments last time I checked we were a democracy and as seen by volumes against new steet bike lane we want to keep our cars. So my question how do we elect and hire city folks who are on the same page as the vters as I think we should be putting our attention to the next election and who to replace the current bunch with including planning staff so we get what the majority wants. If re-elected they will take thta as a vote of confidence to continuing with this destruction of car philosophy.

  • Hans

    I agree with all the letters above. I hope that Burlington will elect some politicians in the next election who are not hostile to cars. At my age, it’s the only way that I can get to where I need to go.

  • Stephen White

    A great and insightful analysis Greg. Please consider running for Council in 2018 because we need some pragmatism and common sense which you clearly bring to this discussion.

    I’ve had to travel to Mississauga a couple of times recently for business meetings. I’m astounded at how quickly one can drive across that City even during rush hour. The traffic lights are synchronized, there isn’t a traffic or stop sign every 100 feet, the speed limit is a reasonable 60 kilometres per hour, and buses travel efficiently in the right-hand lane which is reserved for public transit. Nary a bike lane on major arteries. At different times I drove along Britannia, Burnhamthorpe, Terry Fox Expressway, Eglinton and Dundas. It took me less time to drive across Mississauga than it did to go from southeast Burlington to Highway 5 and Walkers Line. Unbelievable.

    Burlington’s Official Plan is imbued with Rick Goldring’s flawed, failed and discredited Green Party ideology that bears no resemblance to reality. The average Burlington family’s schedule is shuffling between grocery shopping, running errands, taking kids to soccer practice, etc. The last time I checked it’s pretty difficult to carry a bag of groceries from Metro and a supply of hardware from Home Depot while riding a bike.

    The Mayor, the City Manager and Council should park their political ideology at the doorstep and come up with some practical measures on how to deal with gridlock and address traffic congestion. Rick Goldring has been prattling on since 2006 about fixing transportation gridlock in this City but eleven years later the situation is only getting worse.

  • Steve

    I know it was a typo however, the “rant for office”, describing the article’s author made me smile. I fully believe that the city does want to make it nearly impossible to use your car in Burlington. It’s becoming more difficult to get anywhere.

  • Julie wilson

    I am in complete agreement with this article. As I drive around the city, yes drive, to get to places I need to, i think of all the traffic that will pour out of these new buildings. I, for one, believe that Lakeshore road should return to 4 lanes in the downtown core to the 403 going west. We are not a European city with an infrastructure that allows for the swift transportation for people and bikes, we are a city of car drivers that live North American lives. A heavy handed approach from council and entrenched city planners is NOT the solution.