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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.
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Submitted to Kingstonist’s Community Soapbox by: Alan Foljambe.

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3 thoughts on “Community Soapbox: Sustainability and the Third Crossing

  • April 1, 2011 at 10:50 am
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    Excellent article! Even if people don't agree with the environmental arguments (sadly some people still don't get it) people need to think about the immense pricetag associated with this bridge. This bridge could cost taxpayers upwards of $300 million to build. Think of the projects that could be completed in town with that money? Paving roads, building bike paths, creating/improving parks, opening public services, building green energy facilities. Heck, the money could even be used to dredge out the toxic sludge in the inner harbour so people may actually want to use the water.

  • April 1, 2011 at 11:22 am
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    Instead of focussing on the price of oil, perhaps the writer could consider whether people are likely to need to move between the east and west sides of Kingston for the long-term future of our city. Transport technology has made huge strides in the last five years away from gasoline-based engines towards more hybrid and now plug-in electric vehicles. Why? Because we are going to continue to need to transport people and goods in any conceivable future.

    The writer talks about "creative solutions" but then lists several options that aren't really creative at all. Lots of us bike to work, but we also live in a northern climate that makes bicycling unpalatable and dangerous for a number of months of the year. (Frankly, bicycling across the causeway is dangerous at ANY time of the year.) If I attempted to walk from my house in the east side to my workplace I would be trading off two hours of time a day presently spent with my family. Telecommuting is a viable option only for a small number of occupations, which is why it has failed repeatedly to be widely adopted by businesses over many decades.

    I would be happy to speak against the third crossing if Kingston would be willing to do the following: immediately stop all future development on the east side of the Cataraqui so that car traffic does not increase beyond present levels. Is the writer willing to forego all economic growth in the city? Or does he prefer that instead of "further sprawl on the east side" we simply have further sprawl on the west side?

    A sustainable city builds the infrastructure it needs to move people and goods both within and outside its borders, factoring in a variety of transportation options. Should the crossing have dedicated bike paths and sidewalks, or maybe a dedicated transit lane? Darn right it should.

  • April 1, 2011 at 2:58 pm
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    Well written Alan. You clearly expose a huge part of the problem. Our way of living is a freight train with seemingly insurmountable momentum. While mine is a more negative view, it's going to take some significant bumps in the road before us inhabitants of the earth clue in and make the changes we need to make to ensure our longterm place on this planet. By bumps, I mean things like major water supply shortages/outages, gas prices WAY up, large-scale droughts, extinction of bees, etc.. If it doesn't cause immediate and clearly discernible impact to an individual, that individual is unlikely to feel the need to alter their ways, or their beliefs or their practices.

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