Former Ward 1 Councillor Marvin Caplan argues that the opponents to the Red Hill Expressway should have agreed to a compromise that would deliver more protected greenspace, bicycle infrastructure, and funding for community groups.
By Marvin Caplan
Published September 15, 2005
The majority of my constituents and supporters disagreed with my support of building the North South portions of the Red Hill Creek Expressway. Certainly my chances for re-election would have been greatly enhanced if my pro-environment stance on so many issues had allowed me to support opposition to completing the Red Hill project.
I have in the past, in several venues, expounded my reasons for supporting the Expressway. The purpose of this article is to respond to Raise the Hammer editor Ryan McGreal's question concerning "what the Red Hill opponents should have done."
Allow me to set some context - we have to start with several assumptions.
First, some supporters of the Expressway understood full well the arguments against the road. (I count myself as one.)
Second, some opponents to the road understood the arguments in favour of building the road but, in order to further their own political objectives, ignored those arguments.
On several occasions, city-wide polls clearly showed support for the Expressway. In particular, the support grew in some proportion to how close residents lived to Highway 20, and opposition was strongest the further away from it you lived.
Wards 1, 2, Dundas, and Flamborough, with the exception of myself, had councillors who opposed the Expressway during the last term. Now, all four oppose. Ancaster was fairly divided, but Ancaster residents are very automobile dependent (even more than Dundas), and benefit from the Linc and 403 so are more positive toward highways.
So first, were there alternatives? No, there were not. The choice was build the road or do virtually nothing. I've heard all the arguments about upgrading Highway 20, but anything affordable would only bring marginal relief. Building a highway at Fruitland road would not be as economically helpful to Hamilton and would all but guarantee urban sprawl in Stoney Creek.
The choice, then, was either complete the Expressway or do nothing.
I believe that the road was inevitable. However, I believe the opposition to it may have been able to achieve some degree of success in "negotiating" an end to their opposition.
City Council dedicated a fairly large portion of land on the east mountain to replace the land lost to the expressway. While Hamilton's proportion of park and greenspace is larger than many muncipalities, much of that space is difficult to access. Those of us who believe that parkland and access to green space is important could have insisted that a plan be adopted to convert some additional areas in the North end to park space. Just replacing land does not address the recreational loss to quiet space at the Northern end of the Red Hill Valley.
Council should have replaced the land used to build the road on a two or three to one ratio, not the one to one ratio we managed to squeeze out.
The lands around Princess Point owned by the RBG have been in danger for over a decade now. Firm guarantees are needed to ensure no further reduction of natural lands along the water. The anti-expressway forces should ensure the City and Province have a plan to prevent development of those lands by the RBG.
Improved bike systems, an increase from five to six or even seven percent for parkland dedication and possibly leveraging a guaranteed percentage of the budget for community groups and the arts could all have been negotiated.
Instead, opponents stuck to their principles and, while some members of council managed to wrest several major concessions on the construction and implementation of the Expressway, nothing close to what was achievable was won.
Reasonable members of Council (myself, probably David Mitchell, Murray Ferguson, Anne Bain, and Tom Jackson), the three opponents to the road, and the Mayor would have supported a package like the one I've outlined if the Friends of Red Hill Valley had been willing to negotiate. We might have even gotten more money for transit.
In short, I don't understand continuing to fight on principle when loss is inevitable, and some compromise that would lead to a better community is achievable.
Finally, I knew my support for the expressway would probably cost me the last election, despite my excellent record on progressive issues. I could have "seen the light" decided we couldn't afford the expressway, and maybe even have won. So, I do understand why sometimes people choose to stand on honesty and principle.
You can only lead where people are willing to follow. Education and an iterative approach to progressive positions are, in my experience, more effective once one is a member of government.
In short, my advice to the Red Hill Expressway opponents would have been, fight like hell for what you believe in, and if loss is inevitable, try to wrest whatever victories you can get out of conceding defeat.
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