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Calming the Neanderthals

Web posted on May 18, 2001

In My Opinion

Calming the Neanderthals is the first step

by Ben Bennett

It is funny, isn't it? Everyone loves having a car but no one likes traffic. Not even people in traffic like traffic. Neighbourhoods sure don't like traffic.

One of the inevitable consequences of a growing city is traffic. Lots of it. Guelph is no exception. With more and more people in this city, and more cars per family than ever before, we have the recipe for a pretty unpleasant future. Will we ever make the connection?

Council's recent embrace of some fairly bold transportation policies may just be a glimmer of light at the end the tunnel. The very acknowledgement of the idea that there are other ways to get around other than four wheels is not exactly radical but given the past approaches to these issues it almost is.

The traffic issue is really quite simple, in theory, but never in practice. We have too many vehicles on the road and they are usually moving too quickly (unless of course we are in a hurry -- and then they are moving too slowly). But I think there would be general agreement that people shouldn't speed on residential streets, so let's start there.

We are all inclined to speed. Let's face it, vehicles are made to move you quickly from A to B. They are certainly advertised that way. The irony is that all these ads assume that A is a desert plain and getting to B involves a (traffic-free) highway in the mountains where taking corners at speed does not present a problem and there are never any other vehicles or traffic signals, anywhere. No wonder we speed.

So, we need a little help with the slowing down. This where the notion of traffic calming comes in. It is a notion that is totally contrary to the mandate of the vehicle manufacturers, and thus contrary to the way most traffic engineers think.

But there are many ways to slow people down which do not involve the installation of speed bumps every five yards. A lot of it has to do with street design and public education. It can mean a narrowed roadway, known as a chicane, and it can mean speed humps - a less intrusive and flatter version of speed bumps - that still necessitate slowing down but not so much. That's what they have on Dufferin Street.

If neighbourhood streets are to be treated as such, only a Neanderthal would have a problem with slowing down the cars. If we acknowledge it is a good idea, the question then facing city council is cost. Everyone and his/her dog wants traffic calming now. At the last count, about 15 residents' groups were on the list. They all feel they have good reasons to be on that list.

The veterans here are the folks from St. Patrick's Ward in the older part of the city between the Eramosa River and the railroad tracks. This neighbourhood did its homework and worked with the city on implementation, only to see everything put on hold. In the meantime, while consulting with residents on traffic issues, Owens Corning showed leadership by committing several thousand dollars to a traffic calming effort for Ontario Street where Tytler School is located. That money has been gathering dust while the city worked on a community plan - a plan that in turn was delayed by other pressing planning issues.

It's time the neighbourhood's patience was rewarded. Whatever is decided on the other 14 applications for traffic calming measures, council should move ahead now with Ontario Street. It's only fair to the residents and it's only fair to Owens Corning.
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