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People of Shakespeare must oppose MTO's plan

By Paul Knowles, President of the New Hamburg Board of Trade

August 19, 2009

Have you driven through Shakespeare lately? If so, you’ve spotted the yellow tape across buildings and front yards, huge Xs on trees, signs reading, “Gone”. These all mark village features that would be destroyed if Highway 7/8 is “improved”.

The people of Shakespeare are trying to take a stand against the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. I have a great deal of sympathy for them –they are locked in the same kind of battle we are, here in New Hamburg.

When it involves the Highway 7/8 corridor study, good answers are hard to come by. The lengthy, convoluted – and, fellow taxpayer, extremely expensive –study goes on and on, with occasional, partial, conclusions.

We got one of those a couple of weeks ago, at the latest “Public Information Centre” held at the Wilmot Rec Complex. After years of study, the MTO and its consultations announced that the preferred route for a revamped Highway 7/8 is the existing route through the New Hamburg section.

That is good news, but it doesn’t solve all our challenges, since they also talk about the possibility of a median barrier which might eliminate same-grade intersections, and thus discourage anyone from deciding to turn right or left and visit the businesses of New Hamburg. The Board of Trade, along with almost all the businesses of New Hamburg and many individual residents, are working hard to prevent such decisions.

For the people of Shakespeare, the fight is even more crucial, because if the MTO proceeds to push a four-or-five- lane highway through the village, most of the historic buildings fronting the highway will be gone. Meanwhile, the farm community is also fighting to preserve agricultural land.

I wish all of them well. The problem — in Shakespeare, as in New Hamburg — is that the MTO “thinkers” think only of moving traffic, and as quickly as possible. They have admitted that the economic health of the communities involved is not priority one.

And it is my opinion — mine alone, I speak for no one else, here — that those who want a freeway style highway with limited access to communities are misusing one issue related to the argument: safety.

Everyone wants safe highways. But some people from the MTO — abetted by a columnist who writes for the Record — believe the only way to have a safe highway is to run a median barrier down the centre of the road, blocking intersections and preventing convenient access. It feels at times that anyone opposing this is painted as being in favour of traffic deaths.

Bollocks. An unbroken median through from Nafziger to Peel and beyond is not the only route to safety. For instance, our township planner, Harold O’Krafka, has proposed lowering the speed limits on the highway through New Hamburg; that, combined with effective, coordinated traffic lights, should be a win-win for everyone concerned with traffic safety and economic health.

In Shakespeare, the best answer might be to acknowledge that a community exists because the roadway was put there in pioneer times, and with a nod to history, make everyone slow down through the village.

This approach works in other parts of the world — large bits of the U. K. come to mind — where drivers simply slow down when they reach a town or village.

Why our provincial traffic planners are so committed to making sure everyone can travel at 100K or so, with little regard for communities that may be slaughtered in the process, has never been clear.

There is a danger in this entire process — fatigue. MTO staffers and consultants are paid, and paid very well for their time. The people of Shakespeare and New Hamburg, are spending their own time and energy, with no personal return. It’s an uneven playing field from the beginning.

If you are standing up for your community, don’t give up. The health of our communities is worth fighting for, and there are viable alternatives, whether or not they yet appear in MTO recommendations.