GUEST COLUMN: Building road over nature trail a very bad idea

Peter Smith

It’s been in the City’s Official Plan for about 20 years now, the proposal to build a two or four-lane road (The Rapids Parkway) over a section of the Howard Watson Nature Trail, from just north of Highway 402 to London Road.

The argument used is that it is the only option available to provide sufficient traffic access for residents around the schools, and for the schools themselves. However, if that is the case, why does the Official Plan permit such high density housing to be built in this area?

Surely the solution was to reduce housing density to a level that could be accommodated by connections onto Michigan and Modeland. However, the Official Plan does the very opposite and where the area under development north of Michigan is designated for a housing density of three or four units per acre, the land around the schools is zoned for 4.5 or seven units per acre, 50% higher. Permitting higher density housing may add to the land value, but it does nothing for Sarnia residents now required to sacrifice part of the Nature Trail to accommodate it.

I was in London, England a few months ago, a traffic-congested city if ever there was one. But I was surprised to find that many back roads that used to bypass busy intersections are now blocked off, and many other roads have traffic calming speed bumps and restrictions, restricting traffic but making it safer and easier for pedestrians.

In fact progressive cities around the world are all making themselves more bicycle and pedestrian friendly. While they are looking to create traffic-free areas, and would just love to have a 100’ wide Nature Trail running through the commercial area of their cities, Sarnia is looking to do the opposite.

Building a road over the Nature Trail is a typical mid-20th century idea, from the days when the car was king and cities were designed just for driving. But it’s the 21st century now; progressive cities are building for a low carbon lifestyle with improved public transport, bicycle lanes, trails and pedestrian areas.

Even if the idea was okay when first proposed, which I don’t believe, implementing it today would be a travesty. The Nature Trail is irreplaceable and needs protecting not paving.

Many people in this city have worked hard to change the outside world’s perception of Sarnia, and today we are seeking to attract new industries, young professionals and tradespeople with families and “young” retirees looking to escape life in Toronto.

What all of these people want, is to live in a smaller, friendly city with access to the lake, to parks, to bicycle lanes and nature trails, etc.

This city has so much to offer, but council needs to reverse this decision before we forever lose a vital part of the Nature Trail. It isn’t too late, but it will be soon.

Peter Smith is an energy consultant, environmentalist and long-time resident of Sarnia