Over 100 residents came out as the conversation around the future of moving around Guelph was launched on Wednesday evening with a panel of experts tackling some of the big questions the city aims to answer as the journey to a new Master Transportation Plan begins.
Public speaker and research Jesse Hirsh was brought in as the moderator for a discussion that examined the impact of individuals, public urban planners and the private sector on transportation now and into the future.
Andrew Miller, an executive with a transit planning background involved with Sidewalk Labs, started off the conversation at the Delta Hotel conference room by answering the questions surrounding climate change, saying that simply shifting to electric cars is not enough to help the environment.
Even if it could be done, there would not be enough “clean energy” to fuel the vehicles if they were all replaced with EVs, Miller explained, saying that the shift needs to go beyond individual automobile and to a multimodal transportation system — meaning multiple modes of transit.
The idea of multimodel was used throughout the two hour discussion many times by the panelists, who all stressed that it was essential that the current car-focused urban design, societal system and economic access would need to change for there to be a total switch.
Waterloo professor Jeff Casello said that “transformative change” is important at the individual level but also stressed that governance plays an important role in designing cities, explaining that if cities make it easy for people to “make good decisions, they will be more likely to”.
Panelist Nancy Smith-Lea, the director for the Centre for Active Transportation, said that “we have a long way to go to change the built environment around us” when it comes to non-single vehicle methods of getting around.
Smith-Lea gave some background. The director was only started bicycling as an adult when she saw her community doing it, describing it as “soft” social support for her to see that peddling to where she needs to go was possible.
Miller took it a step further and questioned even the idea of owning a bike, saying that “transportation shouldn’t be a thing you [necessarily] own” and suggested a future where bike sharing was the norm. In some large cities such as Toronto a bike share does exist.
The conversation then turned to socio-economic tensions between those that drive cars, take transit and ride bikes and how that comes into play in the future of transportation. Miller argued that the the low-ownership rates of vehicles in Toronto and New York City show that such a divide is fading.
Executive director of Share the Road, Jamie Stuckless, said that those discussing the future should be “less focused on the mode” of transportation and “more focused on the people”, and that it should not be a small group of people in a room making all the decisions, but the community.
Not a ‘war on cars’
The panel host Jesse Hirsh asked a question from the audience on whether the future of transportation will be a “war on cars”, though all the panelists insisted that it was about options over a crusade to get rid of vehicles.
Smith-Lea said that cars are an ‘important transportation vehicle’ but we need to learn how to get them under control, adding that the terminology in the phrase is divisive. She added that some trips make sense for having a vehicles and others do not — but cities need to open up choices.
Miller said that cars are great with point-to-point travel but that they “isolate” individuals from the rest of the community and do not inspire exercise. “Cars are killing us,” he told the conference room, saying that he would not apologize for support “efficient, healthy” transit that brings people together.
The panelists also discussed security and the collection of urban data, with Miller arguing that the mass information should be kept in a public trust managed by elected officials. Professor Jeff Casello agreed shared data was important for investment.
The panel of five said that the public sector was important to move the future of transportation forward. Dewan Karim of Dillon Consulting said that, while sometimes the movement was slow, the outcome can be more applicable to the community.
The panel and host Hirsh concluded by saying that it was crucial that Guelph residents stay involved in the process of the Master Transportation Plan. By the fall, the city plans to “determine the needs” of the community ahead of reaching a stage of “exploring solutions” in winter 2020.
“I think they had an amazing panel,” Yvette Tendick, the president of the Guelph Coalition for Active Transportation told The Post, saying she was impressed with the direction of the discussion around building up options as alternatives for vehicles.
Steve Petric of the Transit Action Alliance of Guelph enjoyed the panelists but pointed out that none were from Guelph. He also wished that transit was talked about more.
The manager of the master plan project, Jennifer Juste, told The Post afterwards that the estimated headcount was 150 attendees. Among the crowd were city Couns. Rodrigo Goller, Dominque O’Rourke, Bob Bell and June Hofland. Green MP candidate Steve Dyck was also in attendance.