All Hail The Car!

Town Council received a report recommending that a significant portion of the Alcona streetscape (four medians) be demolished at a cost of $160,000 only 5 years after being installed (Precinct 2, 2010). This comes after one public meeting was held in the dead of winter to solicit public comment.

The principal issue is that some medians are not well aligned with the driveways at Home Hardware. The owner complained about two years ago that it presented a hazard. Time has proven him wrong though. The current configuration has not impeded anyone from patronizing his store. The parking lot is frequently full. I have witnessed as many as five vehicles in a row turning into the parking lot without incident. If there is a problem, it seems to be with some Innisfil drivers who apparently don’t know how to apply brakes, don’t know how to negotiate a centre lane, or don’t know how to exercise caution when turning.

So why is there such a rush to impose so severe (and costly) a “remedy” for a problem that doesn’t really exist? Council has received the consultant’s report and, if I’m not misinformed, intend to vote this week on the staff recommendation to demolish. If so, they will be making a decision on the basis of hearsay and hyperbole, rather than actual fact. I attended the public meeting and am startled by the consultant’s report. I expected a factual approach. Actual traffic data? None. Reports of any actual collisions? None. Independent observations of driver behavior? None. The report is based on unsubstantiated and biased comments from an unknown number of people who attended an Open House in February. The report only provides some aerial photos of intersections but notably doesn’t include any photos of the medians from the street.

Are we being betrayed by our Town staff? I have to think so. Was there ever a real  commitment to the Inspiring Innisfil goals or any understanding of the objectives of streetscape urbanization? This issue doesn’t have to come down to an “either/or” choice. In fact, the consultant offered a more reasonable option that was ignored:

“Plantings at the intersection of St. Johns Road, Willard Avenue and 25th Sideroad be replaced with lower profile/maintenance plantings as per Precinct 1 and Precinct 2 (estimated construction cost of $6,000).”

There are other possible remedies too. The disputed medians might just be shortened for better alignment. Or the Home Hardware driveways might be realigned. Ultimately, the Town could work actively with the owner of Home Hardware to relocate his business elsewhere. Although I’m a regular shopper there, I would much rather see his ugly parking lot and lumberyard demolished instead of losing our beautiful landmark streetscape. We can always find other retail uses for this commercial space that better conforms to design standards. But we’ve invested too much, creatively and financially, into our distinguished streetscape to throw it away.

The urbanization streetscape is so fundamental to the whole Inspiring Innisfil Strategic Plan that it’s incomprehensible to imagine Town staff recommending its destruction. Do we really want one business to dictate what our streetscape can be? Are we really going to capitulate to some phony whining about traffic? It sends the wrong message about what we want this Town to be.

In a remarkable coincidence, I noticed Royson James writing in the Toronto Star today:

“Do we get the straight goods when city staff craft recommendations to city council in the voluminous weekly reports? Or are the findings tainted by political interference, real or imagined?”

He could be writing about Innisfil instead of Toronto. If Council does decide to decimate Alcona’s streetscape, Innisfil will be the laughing stock of urbanists everywhere. All Hail The Car! We will have to wait for another generation, wiser and more educated, to build Innisfil as “the place to be”. Meanwhile, readers can view ‘banner’ photos of the streetscape on this blog as a reminder of what Innisfil once was, and what it might be again someday.