Usually, standing on the median between the northbound/southbound lanes of Cootes Drive would be an unnerving experience, due to the high speed traffic clocking in at 80km/hour and more.
But during road construction, the closure of the southbound lane of Cootes Drive has calmed traffic speeds and made the road quieter and safer.
With Spencer Creek and ponds to the left of the road, and Cootes Paradise Nature Sanctuary wetlands to the right, the inhabitants of the natural environment fare poorly when forced to interact with traffic. The huge distance between the shoulders of the road are a major barrier for amphibian and other wetland species, including species at risk like Cootes Paradise’s turtle population.
When the road was built in 1936-37, it was built as an example of the new modern highway design: divided lanes with a grassy median, easy curves and low grades. These innovations were achieved in this instance by removing hills and then using the soil to fill in the marshy low ground, creating a dead-zone for wildlife. We have been paying the environmental cost ever since.
Restore Cootes advocates for the eventual removal of the road (replaced with an electric rail service), and the over-built capacity of the roadway suggests that reducing the lanes from 4 to 2, is not only possible but, in terms of traffic safety, desirable to control speeds. This would be a step in the right direction.
It is interesting that this kind of “experiment by necessity” is consistently undertaken during road construction projects around the city, and invariably traffic adapts to the changes so that there are no serious delays, or in most cases, any delay at all. Bridge work for the last two years on the prime arterial roads of King and Main over highway 403 provide another recent long-term example of lane capacity being cut in half, with no resultant traffic problems.
So, why do we pay for road maintenance and paving we don’t actually require? With the traffic department spending on roads consuming over half the city’s discretionary funds ($48.5 million of $93 million) and with a total annual budget of $75 million, roads are diverting money from other programs (recreation is the next closest category in discretionary spending at $6.1 million). City staff suggest they need to spend $140 million a year on road and bridge repairs alone.
Despite the huge costs, suggesting that we downsize our overbuilt roads is anathema to politicians and city staff. Yet the evidence we find in situ suggests it is not only possible, it happens all the time with no problem.