Categories
Infrastructure Urban Planning

Greenfield infrastructure: not so green

img_7612-001St. Catharines site, Niagara Health System

I recently visited two Ontario cities, St. Catharines and Orillia, to illustrate the problems of building new medical and educational institutions on isolated greenfield sites.

Large greenfield lands have several advantages: they’re easy and inexpensive to build on, they can accommodate large parking lots, and offer room for future expansion. But by the nature of their isolation, they’re more expensive to serve with road and water infrastructure, and more difficult to connect to transit. Students, patients, and employees must travel farther, and they don’t foster economic and social connections with the local community as well.

St. Catharines

In 2013, a new hospital campus opened in St. Catharines, replacing two smaller, run-down hospital sites just outside of the city’s downtown core. The new Niagara Health System site offers new and improved services, such as regional cancer centre, a spacious and bright dialysis unit, and a modern mental health centre. When the site opened, it was a vast improvement over the older facilities.

But there was one, major, drawback: the new hospital site is located on the far western edge of St. Catharines’ suburban sprawl, almost inaccessible without a car.


Location of current and former St. Catharines hospital sites

St. Catharines Transit re-routed a bus route (Route 1) to serve the new hospital site, but it costs the transit system nearly $400,000 a year to do so. The old General Hospital had four bus routes within walking distance to its urban location. Passengers from Thorold, Merritton, or several other neighbourhoods are required to make an additional transfer at the downtown bus terminal in order to access the new site. The distance makes taxi trips more expensive for the majority of St. Catharines residents and more difficult to get to by foot or by bike.

Categories
Cycling Transit

Dispatches from Durham Region, and Kingston Road tokenism

Two weeks ago, I was out exploring Durham Region, the eastern end of the Greater Toronto Area. While south Durham Region is mostly made up of generic suburban sprawl, there are some interesting historic villages and new urbanist neighbourhoods. North of Highway 7, Durham Region is still mostly rural, though plans for a new airport in North Pickering may change that.

Sadly, Durham Region remains auto-centric in its outlook, even more so than other suburbs to the north and west of Toronto. The provincial government is constructing an eastern extension of Highway 407, with two new connecting highways to Highway 401 either nearly complete, or proposed. Oshawa, the largest city in Durham, is the birthplace of General Motors Canada, but while the auto industry declines, the city has been continuing to make many civic planning mistakes. And in Ajax, a small symbol of change – new bus and bicycle lanes – is still merely a token effort.