Spectator columnits suggests every Burlington Council seat could be at risk if they mismanage the transportation challenge.

opinionandcommentBy Joan Little

September 23, 2016



The following piece was lifted from the Hamilton Spectator where my colleague Joan Little writes a semi-weekly column.

If Burlington doesn’t handle this file very, very carefully, there won’t be a safe seat on council in 2018.


Spectator columnist Joan Little argues that every seat on council is at risk if the transportation file is mismanaged.  Is it possible to lose all of them in one fell swoop?

The issue is transportation planning. Sounds like a nothing issue, but if it isn’t carefully presented, look for a wholesale change in the 2018 election.

On Tuesday, Brent Toderian, a Vancouver urban planner, presented his “New Directions” transportation plan recommendations. The committee voted to receive and file the report. He will edit it for more clarity in preparation for public consultation in January.

The report stated that as Burlington intensifies, growing up instead of out, it has to de-emphasize vehicle use, and stress other modes of travel to “Grow Bold.”

Discussion centred mainly on modes of transportation. Toderian’s report emphasized walking and biking, followed by public transit, then car-sharing. Said he, “Burlington can be the first city to grow up successfully,” stressing the high dollar cost, time and congestion of continuing as we are.

One recommendation was to stop providing new street capacity for cars, and to make walking, biking and public transit delightful. Mayor Rick Goldring agreed that we don’t want the Region dictating Burlington arterial road widenings, and we need a strong local policy. Rick Craven pointed out that we did not need Waterdown Road widened. It is necessitated by Waterdown’s high growth.

Toderian said the aim is to use cars less frequently. Few will dispose of them. Throughout his presentation he repeatedly warned councillors to expect strong public push-back. Funny, I thought councils were supposed to listen to public feedback.

John Taylor asked about the transition from today to full implementation, because it will take decades to get there, and was told the actual plan would address that. He was skeptical about big spending on transit, noting that in spite of investments, ridership has been static for 20 years.

Meed Ward H&S profile

Councillor Meed Ward argued that people drive because they gave to.

The most astute comments came from Marianne Meed Ward. She said the big issue is why people drive. One reason is to get to work. Many commute to Toronto and elsewhere where Go Transit isn’t handy. And how could a Ford worker get to Ford without a car?

She recalled a transit group’s challenge to councillors to take transit for a week, and noted that her 15-minute drive to the Region took over two hours by transit, and required two transfers (not to mention the cost). We need more jobs where people live.

She said people drive kids to school because they don’t want them biking, and school busing is often inconvenient. Shopping? Downtown, there are probably 20 spas, but only one grocery store, and if she needed a hammer, her nearest store is Canadian Tire.

Our planning is wrong, she said. Why, for instance is a huge store like Walmart allowed to build one-storey stores? Immediately adjacent on Fairview are the six multi-storey Paradigm condos. Wouldn’t it be better to allow one above Walmart? She also commented that a supermarket could not go downtown because of zoning.

During the session, councillors commented on the outrage they are fielding about the “road diet” pilot project for bike lanes on New Street, eliminating a driving lane. Few cyclists use them, but Toderian explained that until bike lanes form part of a network, they won’t. He stated that when Vancouver’s first lanes appeared, few used them, but now that there’s a network, they’re popular. (Vancouver doesn’t have winter!) Jack Dennison cycled along New, thoroughly enjoyed it, and felt safe. City manager James Ridge said a network would have to be planned shortly.

Craven claimed this idea isn’t new. The revamped Plains Road has bike lanes, intercity transit, and is pedestrian-friendly. Further, he said, underground parking costs developers about $40,000 per space, which buyers pay for.

There were budgetary questions, to which Toderian responded that you have to prioritize spending.

It sounds logical, but show me the timing, costs and public acceptance of this big change.

With Burlington having such high incomes and per capita car ownership, expect questions.

little-joanJoan Little is a member of the Niagara Escarpment Commission. Previous to her current appointment she was a  commissioner from 1986 to 1993, and chair from 1993 to1996. She was a member of Burlington Council and Halton Regional Council between 1974 and 1988, and an active board member of Conservation Halton from 1976 to 1995. Following her council retirement she served on the Joseph Brant Memorial Hospital Board, which she left in 1993 to assume the Chair of the NEC. She is a regular freelance columnist on Burlington/Halton issues in the Hamilton Spectator.


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4 comments to Spectator columnits suggests every Burlington Council seat could be at risk if they mismanage the transportation challenge.

  • Susan

    According to Marianne Meed Ward, “… her 15-minute drive to the Region took over two hours by transit, and required two transfers (not to mention the cost). “The answer isn’t, “We need more jobs where people live.” The answer is we need more transit running more frequently and taking direct routes to get you to your destination.

    I’m not going to dignify, “…(not to mention the cost)” of taking transit versus the cost of owning and operating a car, with a comment.

    I live in the North end of Burlington on the number 2 bus line. If I wanted to go to a meeting at the Seniors Centre or the Central Library, I would take the bus downtown to the John Street Terminal and wait 25 minutes for the number 4 bus. That’s a total of about 55 minutes and that’s not including the time I have to hang around before the meeting starts, due to having to arrive up to 20 minutes earlier than the meeting starts.

    You could say it would take me an hour to get to Central Library by bus and 10 minutes by car so, we need to build more roads. Or, you could say we need more buses to handle a city with this large an area to cover.

    Of course it would be nice to have more jobs where people live. More jobs would solve far more problems than just the lack of proper transit. Every Municipality, Region, Province and the whole country of Canada would like more jobs in their area. But, that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

    Since, according to Mr. Taylor, it’s going to take decades to fix this, it’s not going to happen in my lifetime.

  • John

    The discussion Joan is referring to is the Committee of the Whole meeting, the video is available on the city website for anyone interested in the future of Burlington transportation.
    There were several more ideas, some suggested new sidewalks while others see closing the QEW to make a park as a goal.

    It’s clear we are going to see changes in how we move about the city. It’s also clear cars will be the dominate means of transportation for some time, how often we run errands or how far we drive to work is a decision each resident will make.

  • Glenda D

    I encourage readers to visit Marianne Meed Wards Face Book page to read the 30 responses to this same article. I haven’t seen a post on other councillors Face Book page so it will be interesting to have people living in the different wards comment on this article using Burlington Gazette comments section.

    • John

      Glenda D – As you suggested I took the time to read the comments on the councilors Facebook page.
      Walking, cycling, transit and cars were all mentioned with reasons for using each. I see no consensus for any one form of transportation, that’s exactly what committee discussed and why the conversation continues.

      When we choose where we live and work, location, convenience, and lifestyle are a few reasons we make the decisions we do.

      One example used by the councilor was a resident living in Aldershot and commuting to Ford in Oakville.
      Bringing Ford to Aldershot seems unlikely so practically, that resident won’t be able to walk or cycle to work.
      Transit may be an option however that would require the Go system and Oakville to provide at least part of the service, that’s not within the control of Burlington, so a car would be the likely choice.

      Both companies and residents have chosen Burlington to do business and live, they don’t always choose our city for both reasons. As the Mayor pointed out we have the highest percentage of live/work residents in Halton.

      A second example regarding a grocery store Downtown illustrates how business decisions don’t always align with residents wants.
      Our downtown has a grocery store, do you think there is sufficient demand to support a second ?
      The councilor suggests zoning would be an issue, has a grocery store approached the city with interest in locating Downtown ? If they have, has a rezoning been considered by the city to accommodate them ?
      Aldershot has run into this problem, councilor Craven approached suitable grocery stores and learned they do their homework, locating stores with sufficient demand and demographics that support their business.

      These simple examples underscore the complexity of the transportation discussion that is taking place. Finding a balance of walking, cycling, transit and cars won’t be easy or all things to all residents however, we can’t take a narrow view and disregard how the city relates to it’s neighbours and the business we have, or hope to attract.