Concerning the proposed Emma-Earl Bridge in Ward 2

It was a very informative information session at the Evergreen Centre last night about the proposed Emma-Earl Bridge. I was able to speak to a number of Ward 2 residents about their take on the impact this bridge would have on the neighbourhoods adjoining the site.
Here’s what I learned from the open-house:

*There is a real diversity of opinion on the merits of the bridge. Most of those opposed are on the West side of the river.
*Safety is a big concern. On the East side, residents want to have safe access, especially for their children, to the Trans-Canada Trail and the downtown, without going across the Speedvale Bridge which is considered dangerous for cyclists. On the West side, there is increased criminal activity along the trail, and there is fear that the walking bridge would become a gathering place for more of this activity.
*Cycling commuters in the North-East of Ward 2 want connectivity to the downtown with a safe, efficient route that, again, avoids the congested Speedvale.
*On the east side, safety for children in the busy Speedvale corridor is the biggest reason for wanting the bridge. Currently they will not use Speedvale for cycling, feeling it’s too dangerous, so the statistics get skewed around how many MIGHT use the bridge. In other words, since they don’t feel safe cycling, some residents say “there are not many cyclists in that area, so why do we need a bridge?
*There is a feeling that the city missed an opportunity, when addressing infrastructure improvements along Speedvale, to have a dedicated bike lane that would have made the bridge unnecessary. A painted line is NOT a bike line to many cycling advocates.
The walking bridge would be, to some, a real civic amenity, enabling an enjoyable recreational experience from the NE through to the downtown, and our trails are known as one of the main contributors to our reputation for having high marks in ‘community well-being’.
*Many residents along Dufferin Street feel that the additional foot and cycle traffic from the Emma-Earl bridge would affect the pristine natural environment of the river corridor along the Speed River
*There is a sense with some that safety issues along the trail need to be addressed first with lighting and increased police presence. Encampments along the West side of the river of homeless people, many of them addicts, has created fear amongst the residents. Many wonder if the expense of the bridge should be a top priority when there are so many socio/economic issues to be addressed.
*There is an acknowledged “Nimby” aspect to this issue: the bridge would have a negative impact on the west side residents, who have little reason to cross the bridge themselves, ( though better, safer access to the Speedvale/Stevenson plaza would be appreciated by some)
*Some feel that the Emma-Earl bridge would be GOOD for the environment because it would enable more people to cycle safely: they’d be using their cars less and exercising outdoors more, which has health benefits too.
*Some feel that a north-south trail connection UNDER the Speedvale bridge would be more of a priority, while others feel these two trail enhancements should go hand in hand.
*The cost of the bridge is a concern, though it may cost less than the appropriation of property and construction costs along Speedvale that would be needed to make that street a safe thoroughfare for cyclists
*There is a sense that not enough people would actually use the bridge to justify the cost and impact of the project
*The “do nothing’ option seems to be growing in popularity for a number of reasons
There is confusion around the decision making process. Some are worried that it’s already a ‘done deal’ that the bridge is going in, and that their voices were not heard. *Nothing will happen until the issue comes back to council for discussion after the environmental assessment report, and some residents are unaware of this.
*The residents along the west side of the river, who are NOT in favour of the bridge, seem more active and organized in their opposition than those on the east side who favour it. Along the east side there is a sense that as a result of this their voices are not being heard.
*There is confusion around the timing of the project. It is not generally understood that if approved, this project could take years to actually happen, especially since other trail and cycling activists around the city feel that the Emma-Earl bridge may be ‘jumping the queue’ ahead of other bridge and trail projects already in the master plan.
*The conversation around this has been divisive in the ward. Much work needs to be done to reach consensus.

I will be doing more outreach in the community around this, and would encourage all those with concerns to make their voices heard when the issue DOES come back to council. I really appreciated the civil tone of the discussion despite conflicting, passionate, viewpoints. I welcome more dialogue around this. I’m available at 519-827-6481 or james.gordon@guelph.ca to talk to anyone interested. You are also encouraged to add comments here on “the Deuce”. As for myself, there is a lot to digest here, and I will not make a decision personally on what makes sense, till the issue is fully discussed at council and all concerns are heard. There is more to learn. Sometimes, I find, what’s best for the city as a whole is not what’s best for a particular neighbourhood. I am committed to finding a solution that IS of lasting benefit to the city, and still feels acceptable to the neighbourhoods along both sides of our beautiful Speed River.
Here is the link to the information currently available on the city website
http://guelph.ca/2017/06/emma-earl-open-house-info/

thanks! James

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Concerning the proposed Emma-Earl Bridge in Ward 2

  1. I really like the idea of having a safe way to cross over the river. My family likes to travel downtown and we do cross the river at Speedvale. This is not the safest for us with little children. Currently our other options are:

    1. go through the Homewood and cross the river at Norwich, I used to do this a lot when i was younger but it is frowned upon.
    2. go up Delhi to Derry or Spring and cross at the Norwich. The hills here are very steep for children to ride or walk.
    3. take Eramosa. NO there are safe ways to take Eramosa on a bike now a days (with children).
    4. cross Eramosa and go through St Georges park neighbourhood. This is the same as #2. Lots of really big hills. Not conducive to children riding bikes or walking.

    To the concerns of residents on the west side of the river. increasing foot and bicycle traffic, in my opinion, will help to reduce the amount of “undesirables” along the trail. Having more “respectable people” and families use the trail will make it more difficult for those types of things because the “undesirable” element want to hide from view. The more the trail is used the less people will use it for bad things…

    If there are easier ways to access Downtown for my family/ neighbours the more we will be able to all enjoy downtown without driving and having to park on the side streets in that area when we come for events or just to shop.

    I know that this project is years from being implemented and I am glad that we can have a discussion about the pros and cons in forums like this and open houses.

  2. Mike Darmon

    Thanks James for expressing the opinions of both sides of this issue.Many of the concerns raised about the bridge are similar to the concerns raised when the Trans Canada Trail was proposed running parrallel to Dufferin st.In the end I feel the TCT has benefitted the area and the city .I also agree with Peters comment that more eyes and users on the bridge will actually make the area safer.The bridge and the TCT should have LED lights designed to illuminate the area but not impact neighbouring property owners as has been done on a similar trail in Waterloo.
    I use the TCT almost everyday to travel to my kids houses and downtown and love the peace and quiet compared to busy streets.
    Full disclosure I am also a board member of GCAT (Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation) so of course I would love another way for walkers and cyclists to have safe means to travel.
    Perhaps you could organize a meeting JAMES ?
    Mike

  3. jamesgordoncouncillor

    Thanks for these comments… and yes Mike, I think a meeting would be in order!

  4. I’m a resident of Ward 2 in the Northern Heights area, and I bike the river trail to and from work every day. This bridge would be a boon, as I do not like having to cross the vehicular bridge at Speedvale. I always dismount if I see a pedestrian while crossing the bridge, but since not all cyclists do, safety is an issue. In winter it’s particularly hazardous due to ice accumulation, and I worry about treacherous footing so close to road traffic that generally runs considerably faster than the posted 50km/h speed limit.
    I agree that more traffic means more eyes on sketchy activity and that may well discourage such behaviour (or, more likely, move it elsewhere, since these people are going to do what they’re going to do – they just want a secluded place to do it). As is the case with this sort of activity in the downtown core, I’d also like to see it addressed through addition of on-foot police patrols.
    I support the LED lighting idea. I’d sure like to see the owners of the Ag Energy building redesign their exterior lighting, since the floodlights are aimed right at eye level for pedestrians and cyclists approaching the site from the south.

  5. jamesgordoncouncillor

    Hi Councillor James:

    Thanks for outlining what you learned from the Emma-Earl Bridge (EEB) “open house” on June 7. However, I think you are creating an East-West divide that doesn’t actually exist amongst the majority of citizens living in and outside Ward 2.
    · I know for a fact that there are people on the East who are strongly against the EEB and West who are strongly in support.
    · You also say “many” and “some” people – which is very ambiguous. What are actual numbers and where exactly do they live? A maximum of 30 people attended the June 7 “open house (besides councillors, staff and consultants) – maybe about the same on October 25 (though we’ve both heard from people who did not attend either session).
    · I’m not sure what there was to gain by stating that West residents are well organized and active. Was that based on a few emails/conversations amongst 8 of us and the backgrounder/petition we distributed (since the city wouldn’t)? Or was that to get the East side “voices” to be more active on this file? Over the years, GCAT has been far more organized and active with council on the EEB file yet you didn’t single them out (or Bob Bell for that matter). I only know what is going on because sustainable transportation is my business and this is probably the 200th transportation EA I have been involved with since 1992…

    Anyway, the bottom line is that there is far more consensus than you acknowledge. We’ll never achieve 100% consensus but I’ve broken the issues down into three categories:

    A. Where most of us WILL agree:
    1. Safety:
    · Criminal/drug activity and vandalism are of paramount importance and can/will impact both sides of river in the absence of police and better lighting.
    · Transportation – Car volume, size and speed is what makes for danger on our roads – especially roads (like Speedvale) that have 4 or more wide lanes. Therefore, cyclists feel unsafe despite the fact they are a legal vehicle under the highway traffic act. Pedestrians also feel unsafe due to narrow sidewalks.
    2. Environment: River health, wildlife, vegetation/tree canopy, garbage management is very important.
    3. Trails are known as one of the main contributors to Guelph’s reputation for having high marks in ‘community well-being’ (but that trails only represent only 1 subcomponent of 8 well-being domains, including a clean environment).

    B. Where most of us MIGHT agree:
    1. EA Scope should be extended to Speedvale, Marlborough and Dufferin so issues related to sidewalks, 36 wheeler trucks entering Armtec plant, Earl road/hydro realignment, Speedvale underpass and Marlborough traffic light can be acknowledged and studied.
    2. Transportation
    · Trails are only one component of an active transportation network. They must be fully integrated with on-street bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks to ensure the network is convenient, connected and unimpeded. Bike lanes on arterial roads should be painted green, double-striped and/or have bollards to ensure cyclist and pedestrian safety. Reducing 4-lane arterials to 3 lanes (with middle turning lane) and properly installing bike lanes provide pedestrians with a safer buffer from cars.
    · Trans-Canada Trail (TCT) crossings at Speedvale, Eramosa, MacDonnell are most frequented/dangerous and EEB will not improve them.
    · The EEB was not a priority in 2005 Trails Master Plan but “jumped the cue” despite more unsafe bridges/tunnels needed in other parts of the city (e.g. Hanlon/Wellington).
    · That the 2005 Transportation Master Plan and Trails Master Plan are being updated starting in 2017 and no decision about EEB should be made until after they are updated.
    · That EEB should be considered in conjunction with security, environment/wildlife/garbage and financial issues.

    3. Communications – City staff and council have failed at communicating:
    · EEB business case (strategic, financial, economic, delivery and operations)
    · the EA process, decision making and schedule (which is 6 months behind the schedule staff originally set in October 2016)
    · Historical information – the reason we are discussing EEB is because of the incorrect and short-sighted 2015 Speedvale decision.
    · Technical data – mode split/auto ownership, origin-destination data, current vs. projected bike/ped trip numbers, route lengths, etc.
    · Safety stats related to vandalism/illegal activity and need for increased police presence
    · Full financial costing – capital and operating, including guarded sidewalks, lighting, potential hydro/road realignment to Dufferin, increased police and other human resources.
    · Citizen comments (which are part of the public record). This info has been requested but staff will not provide it until after preferred alternative is selected – this could be months away. They have also designed “open house” meetings with up to 25 display boards to ensure that citizen interaction is limited.
    · That cyclists and pedestrians of all ages deserve space in the public right of way with cars. City council and staff are trying to push cyclists and pedestrians off main streets so cars can continue dominating arterial roads and affirming their right to do so. (This is the underlying message coming out of the Speedvale decision).

    C. Where there most likely IS disagreement:
    · That $1.2 million to $5 million EEB cost would make a bigger difference to more people if it were to be invested at Speedvale, Eramosa and other major bike/ped network barriers.
    · Citizens must take the EEB that council and staff thinks we should have since we’ll never have another chance or other options to improve bike/pedestrian infrastructure in our community.
    · That cyclists and pedestrians of all ages don’t deserve their own safe space in the public right of way with cars (this is the message that comes out of the incorrect Speedvale Avenue decision).
    · That this is a “NIMBY” issue. Those who don’t want the EEB do support sustainable transportation infrastructure where it meets the mobility needs of the most people at the lowest cost — not where it will exacerbate issues related to public safety, city finances and our environment (including clean air, clean water and flourishing flora and fauna).

    A group of 7 “West Side” households and 1 “East Side” household are speaking to everyone who is willing to discuss the EEB in a meaningful way – on both sides of the river (and well beyond). For example, we have invited the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation to speak to us a few times but, to date, our invitations (and concerns) have gone unanswered. Councillors and city staff could help everyone reach a consensus by sponsoring a 3-hour citizen workshop — the EA “open house” format severely limits neighbourly discussions. In the meantime, we have set up a petition to find out who supports keeping the river in its pristine condition and refocussing our efforts on Speedvale and other higher priority projects where basic infrastructure already exists.

    Thanks again for the work you’re doing. I look forward to hearing from you and Andy on next steps.

    Cheers,
    Marty

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