By Doug Hallett
A man who has long opposed widening a section of Stone Road next to the U of G’s Arboretum is hoping to convince council next Monday that it still isn’t a good idea.
City staff are proposing that Stone between Gordon Street and Victoria Road be reconstructed as a four-lane road with bike lanes and sidewalks during 2014 and 2015. But Hugh Whiteley wants the existing “rural” appearance of 1.2 kilometres of Stone Road abutting the Arboretum to be kept as is, mainly for aesthetic reasons. “My objection to widening Stone through the Arboretum is that it won’t look right,” he said in an interview. Whiteley said he has no “aesthetic” objections to the part of the city’s plan that involves widening Stone west of the Arboretum, but he considers it unnecessarily costly.
When city hall first proposed widening Stone east of Gordon in 2002, Whiteley objected and won agreement from the city to delay widening the section up to Victoria Road through the Arboretum.
However, a city staff report says the need for reconstructing and widening this part of Stone is now greater than ever.
“This is due to a number of factors such as traffic updates, land use changes, road network changes, transit and active transportation (such as cycling and walking) needs, and the urgency for drainage and pavement upgrades,” the report says.
Whiteley, though, is asking council to consider short-term pavement repairs to Stone, while putting off a decision on the reconstruction project until there has been more public discussion and a closer examination of alternative roadway designs.
Whiteley likens the issue to the successful fight several years ago against widening Gordon Street to make it a four-lane road north of the university, which would have affected views down the Gordon Street hill to the river. The reason people objected to the Gordon widening was “because they didn’t like what it would look like,” he said Thursday.
City staff are proposing to reconstruct Stone, from Gordon Street east to Victoria Road, in two phases in 2014 and 2015. They want to widen it from the current two vehicle lanes to four, add bicycle lanes and sidewalks on both sides, improve a couple of intersections and add better storm-water features.
Whiteley said he favours a separate, off-road route for pedestrians and cyclists that could be added later to the city’s trail system. He thinks this “trail” should be located on the south side of Stone Road. Natural areas exist on both sides of the road in that area, “but the more scenic is on the south side,” he said.
He wasn’t able to convince a council committee earlier this month to delay approval of the $5.6-million road reconstruction project. The committee endorsed staff’s plan on a 4-1 vote.
But Whiteley, a council watchdog who appears frequently as a delegation, will try again by appearing before council Monday as it considers a decision on the project.
“In other parts of the city we have been effectively narrowing roads,” reducing four travel lanes to two on sections of arterial roads such as Imperial and Edinburgh, he said Thursday. So he questions the need for widening a two-lane road through a natural area of Guelph, such as Stone through the Arboretum.
“Aesthetics is not an unknown factor as far as street design decisions in Guelph are concerned,” says a brief from Whiteley that will go to Monday’s council meeting.
“In several important decisions, citizen-led recognition of the importance of aesthetics has been a major factor in roadway design.”
His brief challenges the traffic need for a four-lane widening of Stone west of Victoria Road, and also challenges the cost-efficiency of such a widening. The city “must live within its means, and unnecessary road widening creates both extra capital costs that are not warranted by the benefit provided, but also adds to the annual costs of operations and maintenance that goes on forever,” it says.
An appropriate roadway design for the 1.2-km stretch of Stone between Victoria and Village Green Drive, his brief says, needs to provide “adequately efficient transportation at an affordable cost” and also needs to “respect the special character of the University Arboretum, one of the city’s brightest green jewels.”
Going ahead with the staff proposal would mean wasting money and also building “an inferior roadway that puts our collective thumbs in the eye of nature,” he says.
The city staff report says that to meet proposed construction timelines for 2014, the Stone Road reconstruction project needs to be tendered right away. Staff are proposing a June start for the first phase of the project on the 1.2-km stretch abutting the Arboretum, so that this work can be finished by October.
The project’s second phase, a stretch closer to Gordon that abuts the University of Guelph, is planned for 2015.
By Doug Hallett