Best of 2011: Sustainability and the Third Crossing

We’re always amazed by the op-ed submissions that end up in our inbox, while one of the best of 2011 came from Alan Foljambe. He wrote about peak oil, commuter culture and their relation to the proposed third crossing over the Cataraqui River. Alan articulately argued that the third crossing is a non-starter for a sustainable city, which made us think about whether or not the project was a necessity, luxury or death sentence.

Community Soapbox: Sustainability and the Third Crossing

Third Crossing, Cataraqui River, Kingston, OntarioDespite the hard work done by the creators the Sustainable Kingston plan, Kingston is not a sustainable city. It may well be “the most sustainable city in Canada”, but since, to my knowledge, no city in Canada is anywhere near sustainable, that isn’t really saying much. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king, and the same could be said of a community that engages in some minor reforms within a world that is filled with sprawling, consumptive and oil dependent cities.

If the people of Kingston want to get serious about sustainability, we need to let go of slogans and municipal competitiveness and focus on deep, substantive, and probably controversial changes. Reforms that simply attempt to accomplish business as usual in a slightly less harmful way are not good enough. We need to be questioning the cultural and economic assumptions that have made Kingston and virtually every other city on earth dependent on fossil fuels, and have brought the natural world to a state of near-collapse.

Cultural and economic futures are not made of whole cloth, but evolve through decades and centuries of small decisions. The failure of mainstream environmentalists to recognize this, and their resulting willingness to agree to compromise solutions, is what has led us to our current situation, in which we are witnessing rapid species extinction (including declines in the populations of songbirds, amphibians, and salmon), catastrophic climate change, ongoing urban sprawl, deforestation, and loss of topsoil. I could go on.

We as a culture and as a local community need to awaken to our precarious situation, and quickly. We need to accept the facts, and act accordingly to design a future Kingston that contributes less to, and is more resilient to, the difficult times that lay in our very near future.

This brings me, of course, to the proposed third crossing over the Cataraqui River. If this project goes through, the city will be committing itself to yet more private car traffic at the very dawn of an age that will see a drastic reduction in private car use. Not voluntarily, of course, but through intractable economic forces. As of this writing, oil prices are again over $100 per barrel, after being artificially depressed through market manipulations following their spike in 2008. These fluctuations will continue to occur as market forces battle geological reality, but the overall trend will continue upward. Given the length of the planning process, gasoline prices may have topped two dollars a litre before construction of the third crossing even begins, and they will continue on from there.

Through bureaucratic inertia, the desire of developers to continue with business as usual, and lack of imagination on the part of commuters, a plan that will be dead in the water before it even begins is on the verge of sucking millions of dollars out of the Kingston economy. Creative solutions that include organized car pooling, bicycling, telecommuting, walking, and satellite workplaces could not only ease causeway traffic concerns but make the lives of thousands of Kingstonians easier, less stressful and more connected with their neighbors and community.

This plan was first presented in the 1960s, when the issue of peak oil was virtually unknown. We have no such excuse today. If peak oil is actually occurring, and Kingston pursues this project, the city will find itself with a multi-million dollar white elephant, a city of people who can’t afford to drive their cars, and a lack of funds to create a viable public and alternative transportation system.

If peak oil is not occurring, construction of the third crossing will instead lead to further sprawl on the east side of the Cataraqui and an increase in traffic until we are confronted with two crowded bottlenecks instead of one, at which point people will begin clamouring for a fourth crossing. Where does it end?

With or without peak oil, the third crossing is a non-starter for a sustainable city.
Submitted to Kingstonist’s Community Soapbox by: Alan Foljambe.

Community Soapbox

The Community Soapbox serves as Kingstonist's OpEd platform, providing guest contributors with a forum to freely share their opinions regarding local issues ranging from politics to the environment. Learn more about Kingstonist's Community Soapbox...

5 thoughts on “Best of 2011: Sustainability and the Third Crossing

  • I, too, find the "Sustainable" slogan a little, shall we say, pretentious – even "pompous". And the competiveness with other cities rather silly and unproductive. (Though most Councillors seem to relish both notios). But small decisions in the right direction are perhaps better than wrong decisions (as the writer seems to suggest – mentioning more car pooling,for example). As for the "Third Crossing", the economic realities, and implications for Kingstonians, are well put by the writer. I would dare to add that for one fifth of the cost the Province could add lanes to the 401 across the marsh, as they have recently done on the west side of the river. The bottlenecks that the bridge will lilely create on both sides of the river make me shudder.

  • Great article. For a city to truly envision itself as sustainable, an additional automobile crossing into an already congested downtown area is hypocrisy at its finest. The city could utilize the millions of dollars necessary to construct a third crossing by investing in more green initiatives and public transit programs. The wind mills on Wolfe Island are evidence to the fact that this region has the potential to be a green energy hub, but lack of vision and a seriously high degree of short shortsightedness on the part of many individuals in this community will keep this city trapped in the age of the passenger automobile and the internal combustion engine.

  • I have to ask: how exactly are bicyclists supposed to cross the river safely? The La Salle Causeway is NOT safe. If people want to have the choice to bike to work there needs to be another crossing. Two main reasons–cars currently spend far too long idling waiting in traffic to get from one side of the causeway to the other. Too many accidents happen on the 401 between Division exits and Highway 15 exits, which can stall traffic for long periods, again causing needless idling. Idling causes pollution and a lot of it. People are still going to need to drive to work in the future, but the short the time their cars are running, the less expensive the travel will be for taxpayers, and the less idling will happen to pollute our air. The second reason the third crossing makes sense is that, as I mentioned, biking is currently not a real option for most people. A new crossing could provide a much better bicycle path and a separate walking path in addition to a crossing for cars. Our Eastern side of the river pays its fair share of taxes, so why should we sit in traffic as much as we do, and get trapped in Kingston unable to get home because of the congestion caused by the KROC, or because of 401 accidents? This whole issue is most often commented on by people who DON'T live on the East end. We see how much pollution is being created by idling in downtown and on the causeway every single day. The driving is far less of a problem than the idling. (Moreover, if sustainability was important in Kingston, why is there a Poker run every year using boats that do nothing except produce pollution and waste precious natural resources? Hmm. Sounds pretty hypocritical. Kingston needs to look at itself critically and take responsibilities for the decisions that were made by past councils that were poorly considered, such as the bad traffic plan of the KROC. Seems like everyone is most interested in immediate payoff rather than looking at the long term growth of the city, which, in case you haven't noticed is moving further and further east all the time. Only with a third tossing will the further development in the east make any logical sense.

  • I've said it before and I'll say it again: Kingston absolutely refuses to keep in step with the times, and actively resists any and all movement towards making the City liveable. The phrase "This plan was first presented in the 1960s" says it all. Over 50 years in planning? Seriously? Lets face some facts: the cost to the environment of multiple cars idling in stuck traffic is far greater than a quick and efficient vehicular route downtown. Has this author seriously been stuck in traffic trying to get over the Causeway? Secondly, if "sustainable" means "no traffic" then the issue isn't simply the debate over a third crossing. The issue becomes how to manage traffic to and from the downtown core. Stopping a third crossing will do NOTHING to address the traffic issues at hand. It simply will make them worse. The most appropriate and comprehensive solution would be to do as they do in Europe: make the central core a no-drive zone and enforce public transit to and from the City Centre. Good luck with that one! If a decision over a 3rd crossing has been avoided for over 50 years, the designation of a drive-free zone will never happen. Finally, there is no fear that there will be a crossing and no cars to use it. The fact remains that the primary focus of North American society, from city design to personal living, is based on the use of a private vehicle. Gas costs are irrelevant: just ask those in Europe who pay over 4 dollars a LITRE for gas. Budgets are adjusted, traffic continues. To avoid dealing with a 3rd crossing just doesn't make sense. I say: put in a third crossing, incorporate physically separate bicycle lanes on the crossing, actually pave some sidewalks to make the city walkable, and encourage public transport. But to eliminate a Third Crossing will do NOTHING to resolve Kingston's issues. It only prologues them.

  • Has anyone ever seen an ambulance try and cross the causeway at 4:30pm. The causeway is virtually bumper to bumper both ways, and on the east side extends past and down hwy 15. I have watched an ambulance waste very precious time trying to cross the causeway in peek traffic, there is no where for cars to move out of the way. I dought people would care to much about sustainablility if a loved one died because he/she got to kgh to late because of traffic on the causeway. Kingston has never really attempted to upgrade it’s infrastructure, there are far to many areas where traffic is an issue. Unless Kingston did a major redesign of its infrastructure (not going to happen) traffic will continue to get worse. Further making “sustainability” just a cool word the people of Kingston like to throw around, somehow convincing themselves that this city at all it’s commutter issues are non-existent

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