Stop the Markham Bypass

Tue, 05 Feb 2008, 16:35

For almost six years, I worked in Markham near the corner of Warden Avenue and Highway 7. From our home in the Guildwood Village, there was an almost infinite choice of routes to take during my commute. I could drive north for a bit, then west, then north again, then west, and so on until I reached my job. But after a while, I hit on a strategy. To minimize the time taken to drive to work, I found that the best way was to put as much of the drive as possible within the city of Toronto.

For those surprised by that strategy, I'd like to point out that driving within Markham was a royal pain. Just crossing Steeles Avenue put me into much worse traffic conditions. Why was the traffic so bad in Markham? I think the reason has to do with public transit. Toronto has a good enough transit system that there's a noticable effect on the number of cars on the streets. But in Markham, practically everyone drives. That's what happens when housing is built in a sprawling pattern across the landscape.

And now on to the point of my rant. The town of Markham wants to complete a road known as the Markham Bypass, also known as the Donald Cousens Parkway. This road is intended to relieve traffic strain on Main Street Markham. Markham wants to extend the road south into Toronto and join up with the northern end of Morningside Avenue.

For a variety of reasons, a number of groups are opposed to this plan. The Friends of the Rouge Watershed list a wide range of concerns including the clearcutting of a significant swath of sensitive wetlands, woodlands, and streams, interference with a storage area for radioactive waste, and subsidizing urban sprawl, leading to more traffic, smog, asthma and health damage.

The City of Toronto shares many of those concerns, and is also opposing Markham's road plan. The northern end of Morningside Avenue runs through a predominately residential area. The last thing the residents of Malvern and Morningside Heights need is increased traffic and air pollution from cars and trucks trying to get to the eastern end of Markham.

(A more sensible plan for Morningside Avenue would be to extend it westward to meet up with McNicoll Avenue.)

Certainly Markham has its traffic problems. But these problems arose from choices made by Markham town councillors over the past few decades. The town developed as a bedroom community, with single-family homes sprawled across the landscape. Markham needs to understand an important principle of urban planning: Building roads is the worst way to solve traffic problems.

Here's one suggestion for Markham: Why not widen Main Street Markham? Markham Road is six lanes through northern Scarborough and already brings a lot of traffic into Markham. Wouldn't it make sense to widen Main Street Markham to a matching six lanes? Oh, I know some people would complain about the number of businesses on Main Street Markham that would have to be demolished to accomodate a wider street. But if Markham wants to solve its traffic problems, it needs to look for solutions close to home, and not dump its traffic onto neighboring municipalities.


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