By Ted Mitchell
Published March 20, 2007
For anyone interested in what that Waterdown road lane widening project really means, let's do a little math.
The 6,500 new houses and 15000 new residents projected to arrive will require a new four lane road to be built at a cost of $15 million. It is 3.5 km long from Dundas St. to the 403.
A study including projected traffic volumes is not explicit in methods, but one strange point arises: the current capacity of Waterdown road (two lanes) is listed as 800 vehicles / hour, while the expanded, four lane road would carry 1,800 vehicles per hour.
From a course I took in transportation engineering, it is nearly impossible to double capacity by doubling lanes, never mind exceeding double capacity, so I'm going to ignore the study.
But here is an example, using some made-up numbers to illustrate a point.
The typical two lane road has a capacity of about 1,800 vehicles/hr. Say 6,000 people will commute using Waterdown Rd. to get to the 403 over the space of two hours each morning and night.
If they carpool with two people per vehicle, that is 1500 vehicles/hr, within the capacity of the current road.
Road building cost: $0.
But if they travel alone as is usual for commuters, that is 3,000 vehicles/hr, which cannot be handled by a two lane road. You need four lanes.
At $15 million per 6,000, that is $2,500 per person for the privilege of driving by yourself, not counting road maintenance.
That sounds like a lot, but amortized over say 30 years at 5 percent, it is only $155 annually.
Of course, imagine any council actually billing Waterdown taxpayers for that small premium: no chance. Transit can be area rated, but roads?
Again, I've made up these numbers, but in reality, regardless of what the conventional studies show, a real solution with transit, carpooling and cybercommuting will not require building any new lanes.
If you examine costs on a scoped basis, which is the way consultants typically do it, the argument for new roads seems quite sensible.
The problem is those extra, impatient 1,500 cars per hour infiltrating Waterdown streets, the 403, roads in Hamilton and Burlington at rush hour, and of course Waterdown will not be the only new suburb. This can easily tip other roads into gridlock.
Then there is the parking, the pollution, the physical inactivity, the road carnage, and social isolation of transforming Waterdown into another boring, life-sucking suburb - not to mention anything about environmental sensitivity.
Those are the things that matter to your quality of life, acknowledged or not. Debating the extra few dollars it will cost misses that point completely.
Reframe the road debate not as one about how much money or who should pay. Rather, it becomes this:
Waterdown: Quaint small town or car-dependent, soul-sucking suburb?
What a massive price we pay for the one person, one car lifestyle.
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