The city council voted to suspend highway widening projects along Wonderland Road and Adelaide Street North, in line with recommendations set forth by a review of upcoming work in London, Ontario, through a climate lens.
The review was conducted using the Climate Emergency Screen Tool (CEST), which was born out of the city council’s declaration of a climate emergency in 2019 and aims to “ensure that positive climate action is considered” in the decision-making process. for transportation projects.
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Much of the debate during Tuesday’s city council meeting centered on the roughly 12-year, $ 212 million project to widen Wonderland Road between Sarnia and Southdale highways.
A partially complete environmental assessment for the project, which began in 2017, had considered changing the highway from four lanes to six lanes. The CEST review notes that an expanded version of the West London corridor “is projected to experience a return of congestion due to induced demand while creating accessibility pressures.”
The project would also have “a negative impact on the urban landscape and impact connectivity and accessibility throughout the corridor,” according to the review.
The review also predicts that the project will have “significant impacts on the environment and climate change associated with increased (greenhouse gas emissions).”
City staff recommends that this project be evaluated under the upcoming Mobility Master Plan (MMP) “with a focus on traffic, high occupancy vehicle use and active transportation.” The MMP is set to replace the city’s 2030 transportation and cycling master plans.
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During Tuesday’s meeting, Kelly Scherr, deputy municipal director for environment and infrastructure, said city staff intend to share the scope, scale and timeline of the MMP later this year.
“The process itself, including a very extensive public consultation plan, is likely to take all of 2022 and part of 2023 … I hope you hear from us sometime in late 2023,” added Scherr.
The city council approved an amendment to Ward 8 Coun. Steve Lehman who would direct city staff to include specific actions to address traffic congestion along Wonderland Road between Southdale and Sarnia highways during the development of the next MMP.
Lehman also attempted to introduce an amendment that would postpone the suspension of the Wonderland Road widening until councilors could see the alternatives presented in the MMP, however this was rejected by those who were against it, noting that this could confuse the process.
Department Mayor Josh Morgan argued that the referral would be redundant, adding that a future city council would have the option to resume the environmental assessment surrounding the highway widening at a later date according to the MMP.
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The suspension of the Wonderland Road widening to six lanes was the subject of a lengthy debate among councilors that eventually saw its advocates emerge victorious.
Among the outnumbered opponents was Ward 6 Coun. Phil Squire, who said he found the CEST review was not enough to rule out the widening of the highway, adding that he felt too much emphasis was being placed on viewing the project through a climate lens.
“I reject the idea that a lens, whatever it is, by itself is conclusive about whether something happens or not,” added Squire.
“The other point I really want to emphasize is that just because you widen a road doesn’t mean you won’t do anything else… all the things that people are talking about doing to improve the road can be done. “
Ward 1 Coun. Michael van Holst argued that technological progress could lead to reduced emissions generated by vehicles, and in particular electric vehicles, by driving along a widened Wonderland Road.
Ward 10 Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen added that London is “asking a lot from this little 4-lane”, noting that Wonderland Road is one of three corridors that serve 401 motorway drivers through the city.
“There is a problem in Wonderland, and it is a problem that is bigger than just modifying with buses and bicycles,” Van Meerbergen said.
“How do people decide to move in London, Ontario? They move in vehicles. We are not going to change that. “
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Ward 12 Coun. Elizabeth Peloza, who supported suspending the extension, responded that “of course Londoners choose cars. It’s all we build for … Those who are privileged and rich enough will buy a car, the rest will still figure out what they need to do with public transportation, bicycles and walking because that’s what we have left them. ” .
“If we go from four to six lanes, we are not widening a highway, we are building a highway,” added Peloza.
Ward 2 Coun. Shawn Lewis responded to van Holst’s argument regarding electric vehicles, telling his colleagues that while such vehicles can reduce greenhouse gas emissions, “the construction of six lanes of highway itself is going to generate greenhouse effect emissions from the production of materials that go to the road “.
Morgan, the London deputy mayor, added that the $ 212 million price tag for the project played a role in supporting the suspension of the road widening.
“(City staff) suggest that the widening to six lanes to address traffic congestion is predicted to experience a return to congestion at the end of that and it is a challenge for me to spend that volume of money when we could end up exactly in where we are, ”Morgan said.
“Taking the time to see what the alternatives are and walking away from just widening the roads all the time, I think that’s something I certainly support.”
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The debate ended with city councilors voting 9-5 in favor of the motion that includes suspending the Wonderland Road widening.
Supporters included Peloza, Lewis, and Morgan, along with Mayor Ed Holder, Ward 3 Coun. Mo Salih, District 4 Coun. Jesse Helmer, District 5 Coun. Maureen Cassidy, District 9 Coun. Anna Hopkins and Ward 11 Coun. Stephen Turner.
Those who objected included van Holst, Squire, Lehman, and Van Meerbergen, along with Ward 14 Coun. Steven Hillier.
Ward 13 Coun. Arielle Kayabaga remains on leave while campaigning in the 2021 federal election.
The vote also means that an ongoing environmental assessment for the Adelaide Street North improvements will exclude the widening of the road between Sunningdale and Fanshawe Park.
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