Monday, January 10, 2005

Transport Board Needed

Cities and regional governments around Toronto have a joint board whose top priority is a seamless highway system. Given the province's decreasing role in funding roads, the London area should move to such a structure to avoid turf wars over road routing, design and cost sharing.
Case in point -Middlesex and London drivers are not convinced north and west agri-expressways fix inner-city traffic woes. Although the far west has no industries, millions would be spent on a heavy-duty high-speed stub across creek and through productive woodland and cropland from the 402 to Oxford St W; far better to avoid such disruptive mid-block corridor and join two existing roads, Westdel and Denfield; thus connecting Highway 4 at Clandeboy with the 402 .
Perspectives -In 98 the Province said there were plans for widening the 401 between Wellington Rd and the 402 intersection, but no current plans for a freeway connecting Woodstock to Strathroy. Regardless, business and political leaders in the area can best advance their NAFTA priorities by pushing for that northern 403/402 link.
Reality Check -The thru-London stretch of the 401 is not capable of handling future truck and auto volumes. Perhaps with London's ring distraction, other south-west municialities will take the lead in creating a strategic Transportation Authority.
In London Business Magazine & St. Thomas Times-Journal back in 1999

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Ring Fixation Risks Provincial Support

Brampton and Vaughan vie for a Highway 427 extension to service their industries. In the Niagara and Guelph/Kitchener regions, concerted lobbying has brought new 400-series roads to the planning stage. Sarnia quietly promotes a major upgrade of Highway 40; what is good for the Chatham and Wallaceburg areas must be "great" for Sarnia. New crossings at Bufallo, Sarnia and Windsor spell carnage through south London; yet, the city opts out of any region-based initiative and snubs benefits of a 403 westward extension. Unlike an expressway ring, it gives 400-series outlets to Richmond and Adelaide and other major roads shared by London and Middlesex.

Albert Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." London is not an island and should not be obsessed with drawing a ring around itself. Fom the get-go, promotion of an in-city-out-of-city expressway ring begged regional and provincial players.
The whole area needs population growth to produce the critical mass enabling London status as a regional cultural, educational and medical center. Only broad public agitation overcomes political denial of competitive yet collaborative regionalism.

Across the Southwest we need a strong movement to push for integrated transportation and economic growth planning. Incumbents have the choice of accepting such reality now -or facing rebuff down the road.
In London Free Press & South London Reporter in spring of 2002

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Friday, January 07, 2005

Shrikes! Farmers & Naturalists at Loggerheads

The spin put on the fate of the eastern loggerhead shrike in the Globe & Mail (Dec. 17, 97) begs a response. This is a bird that eats native songbirds, devours insects nourished by crops and cattle -the latter of which stave off starvation of fields of naturalists. It is alleged the key to its survival is a law preventing cultivation around nesting sites of the not-so-adaptable predator.
His sources assure the G & M columnist the bird's decline was due to road-kill and alleged 65 to 85 percent conversion of grazed pastures to row-crop. Well, in granddad's day, best management practices dictated rotation of pastures with forage and grain crops.
The solutions are those parotted by urban naturalists who would use the metropolitan press to con parliamentarians into rushing ahead with disastrous USA type habitat protection. There was no admission the advance of post-war housing and feline infestation were factors. Nor was it acknowledged farmers had to adapt to feed millions more urbanites and pets than they had to in 1947. No caution was expressed that without a sensible sunset clause, ever-increasing acreage would be taken out of food production if release of breeding pairs by cavorting naturalists show results.
This is just another story of the powerful urban majority lobbying for laws they are not affected by, while the "rural minority" has to bare the burden of the negative impacts of the law. Regardless, the habitat recovery team asks farmers to partnership with them. Well, soon naturalists will see their country cohorts moving down their streets on a dark winter's afternoon. Set the field glasses aside and invite your fellow birder in for a hot cider; it can get pretty cold and lonely spreading the fruit of the thistle and thorn across gardens and front lawns.
Ontario Farmer Magazine in winter of 98

Sequel: where it's at 10 years later:

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Ethics 101 for Politicians

Many are attracted by the platform local politics provides. If one is eligible to vote, one is supposedly qualified to run for elected office. Before teachers teach, and before preachers preach, they must acquire credentials. About the only leadership jobs people fall into without formal preparation are parenthood and political office.
A little education is a dangerous thing, and those who would lead should get a lot of it. Perhaps, Harvard Professor Bok was thinking of rookie politicians when he uttered, "If you think education is expensive, try ignorance." Two weeks devoted to municipal governance, speed-reading and comprehension helps the chosen hit the road running. The electorate deserve no less -and should have access to scores on provincially mandated tests before casting their vote.
When sitting on committees, councillors have a responsibility to represent all constituents. Each issue coming before council has to be debated on its own merits. No member of council should have a knee-jerk reaction (grandstanding) just because supporting the "right thing" in a given situation offends a special interest group.
The non-voting majority complain about raucous council meetings and rising taxes. However, they permit that 35 per cent of voters who regularly return candidates based on name recognition to set council's composition. As much as we need an influx of councillors committed to working together for the good of all, we desperately need a large infusion of critical and informed voters.
When incumbents come calling, ask each to prove by their track record they bring the skills necessary for effective leadership, responsible policy making, and tax containment. When a new candidate knocks on your door, ask about their business or administrative experience, what they think the constituents' priorities are -and if they are comfortable representing everyone.
In an August 2003 issue of TheLondoner

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Better Model for City Government

All organizations represent the basic idea of community of interests. A few years ago such a structure was circulated to stimulate thinking on how to attract a strong team of political candidates. That was expecting too much. Through the device of an "appointed" task force, the status quo report council so desperately wanted was delivered.
The city has three main economic engines -agriculture, commercial/ industrial, and university/medical. There are three somewhat corresponding population bands: the outlying rural area, the expanding circle of of post-war suburbs, and the more mature central area. In the spoke configuration, the mid-town and rural sectors are marginalized since councillors cater to the concentration of voters in the "burbs."
Spoke wards neither reflect distinct communities nor optimize the mix of skills and experience needed. A more balanced council respectful of distinct community needs corrects the slide to a suburban agenda at the expense of central job growth and agri-enterprise. Eliminate a profusion of ward boundaries, and there will be less infighting over dollars for road upkeep and sports facilities. And, with the focus on community conditions and outcomes, more spokespeople will engage the civic process.
Better to allocate four wards to the urban ring, two wards to mid-town, and one to the rural south. This helps counter disruptive rivalry amongst too many councillors in too many wards. The board of trade in Brampton contends the 17-member council is too large for their city of 300,000. Neighbouring Mississauga functions well with a 10-member council. At 19 members, London is bloated.
The challenge: change both size and structure to put broad community interests ahead of special interests. That is the only way we will get what we need -a lean team of the brightest and the best.
There is always a better way; find it, refine it.
Proposal Advnced in a September 2002 issue of TheLondoner

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Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Trade Corridor Needs Champion

Back in Vision 96 days, council cheered the NAFTA Highway concept and asked the province to improve the 401 between London and Windsor. Then they forgot the trade corridor and launched expensive and inconclusive reports on a self-serving commuter ring.
The 1950s design of the Woodstock to London segment never anticipated a 21st Century free trade highway. Now, looking ahead 20 years, a multi-laned 401 through London will not be able to absorb projected truck volumes. Think of a clogged six-lane Wellington Road with a cloverleaf at Commissioners Rd. Relief would be provided by a NAFTA link near the north London boundary giving new outlets for north/south arterial roads such as Adelaide St., Denfield Rd, Hyde Park Rd, and Richmond St.
The city's Transportation Master Plan shows a proposed mid-block corridor paralleling Westdel Bourne (a designated 4-lane arterial) from the 402, north beyond the Thames then easterly near the city boundary to Clarke Rd. There is no evidence of a cost/benefit analysis comparing the ring with the 403 extension and west arterial alternative.
Council believes a peripheral loop avoids gridlock. The key assumptions: future generations in the west end would take a far-out northern ring to jobs in the east end ...and would tolerate their fuel taxes going to inter-city freeway expansions in more dynamic regions, while we bear full brunt of construction and maintenance of a city expressway.
Local councils resist improving London and Middlesex traffic flows while we await a modern-day Adam Beck to champion the obvious solution to Londons future traffic woes.
In South London Reporter in May 2004

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Monday, January 03, 2005

Parallel Freeway Urgent

To accommodate 50-yr build out, London vowed to protect a ring corridor even as it approved subdivisions to the north border. No problem. Just route it through the township. Result: Rather than intersect their major north/south roads with a provincially funded freeway, London and Middlesex lock horns.
Meanwhile , Dorchester, Mt. Brydges and Strathroy complain about bearing the brunt of 401 closures due to accidents and weather. When the city and its neighbours fail to see a road around such problems, the Transport Ministry naturally allocates our fuel taxes to new 400-series projects in more cohesive regions.
Queen's Park will soon legislate our region's landfills as a quick fix for GTA's trash overflow. Smart politicians might join in advancing a long-term solution -deposit residential waste in salt caverns -and use methane to generate electricity. The salt beds have remained sealed since the primordial ocean evaporated eons ago. Saline leaching never threatened our freshwater lakes. Let the finest minds in hydrology determine if aquatic life and drinking water would be at risk.
Rather than a local landfill crisis and a far-out commuter ring, better a provincially financed garbage road and trade corridor. Our NAFTA-driven economy depends on moving the freight just in time. The province knows that without a northern freeway, US gateway improvements will soon choke the sole mid-west truck route, and that for national security reasons alone a parallel freeway is imperative.
Neighbouring counties and London win big with a 403 extension sweeping by Arva over to the 402. Normally, it takes a coalition of municipalities seven years to get the province to complete a highway needs study. The garbage crisis shortens that time frame. But, as more garbage trucks pound the 401/402 and irate Michiganders quack foul, the trash coalition reacts rather than pro-acts.
In Strathroy Age Dispatch and TheLondoner in spring 2003

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Small Town Turn Around

Small Town Anywhere is about small business -and unfortunately about small vision. Let's think for a moment of the commercial plight of satellite communities of cities, and the responsibilities of both commuters and merchants in generating economic change in towns that principally serve as dormitories of choice for many city workers.
Local hardware stores, pharmacies and coffee shops are now being KO'd by chain outlets on the rim of the big city. There is no quick fix. But, if the townspeople remain apathetic, the prospects are grim indeed. Surviving establishments will have to capitalize on proximity to a large market. More businesses will have to mimic auto dealerships and furniture stores in pushing product by wider advertising. By offering products not being mass-merchandised and by providing personalized service, retailers and service shops can wean some customers from the chains.
A consistent "Main Street" theme can make a difference -but only if local consumers are part of the solution. Commuters have to buy into allocating an appreciable portion of their budgets to the town where they sleep and school their children. This takes a conscious effort. When buying groceries, picking up lumber, or having prescriptions filled, think local -not big box. Think small, not mall.
On a somewhat broader scale, enlightened consumers can easily shift more support to estate wineries and small town brewers. By helping each other, we help ourselves.
With apologies to Nike, Jacques Sweeney says, "Courage, mes amis, Just do it."
In Ontario Farmer Magazine and the Middlesex Banner in January 2002


Twirling Lures & Winded Politicians ~{ ;~J

This spoof appeared in the March 13, 2003 issue of TheLondoner.

After years of missives on governance and roads, a reader e-mailed, "Lighten up! Politics is for pundits. Readers' interests range from scandals and sports to entertainment." That calls for a crossover column. How about imitating that 1950s story teller, Greg Clark? Greg avoided politics and scandal. His material came from fishing and hunting. Now, the fishing season is not exactly upon us, but let's give it a try.

Two codgers in the waning years of their summers sat on the dock glaring at a bevy of girls who had just kicked over the minnow bucket. To the joy of the giggling girls, the little fish had slithered between the planks to freedom.
"Don't worry," laughed the one in the ponytail, "They will be big enough to catch next year. Twins in pig-tails gushed in unison, "Our good deed for the day."
Frizzy-top smiled sweetly and said, "Sorry, Pops," pirouetted and did a back flip off the dock. With glee her companions took the cue, twirled and dived.
Now without action, fishing can be downright monotonous. The big fish were not interested in live bait that day. These two characters, (let's call them Seamus and Shameus) actually enjoyed the disruption. Better an empty minnow bucket than ice bucket. They sipped a couple of cold ones, picked favourite lures from the tackle box and resumed fishing -and commiserating.
Seamus, the bald one, ventured that all four teenagers were blondes.
This prompted his curly friend to say, "When I was their age, blondes were outnumbered 20 to one and redheads were as rare as albinos."
"Maybe so," said Shameus as he made a perfect cast of an iridescent lure, "but au naturel was the hair style. Why, when I was a boy my mother turned gray, and by the time I settled down and married, she was resigned to being white."
Curly responded, "Reminds me of a twist on 'old soldiers never die, they just fade away' -well old blondes never fade, they just dye away. Females deceive us with colouring, perfume, and strategic padding."
"Yup," concurred old chrome dome. "Speaking of perfume, my wife says that signage down by the fish store: 'Young fishermen never die, they just get hooked' needs updating. At that moment his train of thought is interrupted by a tug on his fishing line. "We were just as gullible as this bass going for a shiny twirling lure. That's how we got hooked."
"True nuff," muttered Shameus, and after reflectively rubbing his three-day stubble he asked, "Do you know what happens to old wheezers at City Hall?"
Seamus snorted, "You're wandering off topic, but I'll bite. Thought you'd ask what the Missus thinks the sign should say."
"Don't need remindin," groused his friend. "At our cottage we have 'his' and 'her' towels. His are inscribed with: Old fishermen never die, they just smell that way."
"And for your information, winded politicians never kick the bucket, they just run once too often."

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Sunday, January 02, 2005

Wine, Morels and Sex ~{;~J

A short story published in Mosaic Magazine -April 2003

Two couples who met in the maternity ward socialized for the quarter century it took to bring their babes from nursing through schooling to graduation. To celebrate, they decide to hold a formal DINK (double income no kids) dinner on Mother's Day.
The wives would pool their culinary skills. Shamus' wife, a Parisian, was a gourmet cook. Dylan's wife, a teacher , would host the event at their summer home at Traverston --a ghost town on the Rocky Saugeen River.
Although the men are of Irish and Scottish descent, they are not descendants of Glenelg Township's pioneers. Indeed, old family names associated with the operation of the grist and sawmills disappeared generations ago. New migrants from the city, craving rustic settings, bought the houses of the miller and smithy as well as riverfront farms.
Since Dylan's and Shamus' ancestral lands are noted for short cookbooks the husbands are not allowed in the kitchen. Being Canadian, they like their suds, and yet pretend to be wine experts; grape bores, say the wives.
This occasion requires something unusual. While the ladies plan courses, their gentlemen retire to the patio for a few beers ...and decide to play real dinks.
"Lets get Irish or Welsh vintages," suggests Shamus.
"They're hard to find," responds Dylan. "Domestic wines around $12 will do. Now, while we are in the spirit let's script our parts." The actors settle on customary praise of the first bottle, with subsequent assessments being increasingly randy. They no longer have to restrain their language because for the first time, teenagers will not be present.
The next week, Dylan, with unusual theatrics, carries three bottles to the cellar. Later his wife checks the selection and plans a few surprises of her own, one of which is to substitute pig's feet and knuckles for spareribs.
Meanwhile, Shamus rolls his vintage 1970 convertible out of the garage in preparation for the first spring trip. The weather forecast is sunny, so food boxes and precious bottles are carefully stowed in the trunk. The two couples pile in and cruise north in a festive mood.
On Mother's day, dinner gets underway with champagne toasts to their mothers -and to the long-awaited empty nest status. Then comes the predictable ritual with the first bottle of wine; extolling the area, the winery, and the year.
Throughout the first two courses there are effusive compliments about the cuisine, especially, the pork dish and woodsy morel sauce. Dylan comments, "Someone once said, 'Marrying these plump fungi with a youthful wine substitutes for sex.'"
His wife retorts, "Whoever said that must have been a monk. Lucky for us these wines aren't that great."
"Maybe so," adds Shamus, "but my favourite American author, Ambrose Bierce, got it right when he said, 'Wine, Madam, is God's next best gift to man.'"
His lady parries with, "When man marries, surely mother-in law replaces wine as the second best gift."
"Touche," concedes Shamus, "but on this feast day, let's not go there."
"And, don't forget the words of the porter in Macbeth, "she adds, "'Drink provokes the desire, but it takes away from the performance.'"
Having lost the verbal duel, the dudes eagerly test the second bottle. "Ah! This one is absolutely ravishing, if not downright seductive," chortles Dylan.
His friend concurs, "Ah yes, lithe, nimble and nubile with a titillating fragrance."
These observations bring a rose blush to the cheeks of the petite Parisienne. The hostess merely smiles and brings on the faux truffle ravioli.
Upon opening the next flask, Shamus pronounces, "Matronly and somewhat past its prime."
"Wait a moment, interjects Dylan. "Let me have a sip." After a taste, he purrs, "Humm, full-bodied, yet there's still residual suppleness and it's slightly nutty. Let the ladies decide."
Feigning annoyance, the hostess snaps, "Let's just set it aside, and have this sweet wine with dessert."
Slamming the cork in the suspect bottle, Shamus mutters, "Smells like wet dog to me." He brightens up when he sees passion fruit pudding being served. Passing the suggested sweet wine to his collaborator, he makes the aside, "More fun to come."
Without noticing sediment in the slim bottle, the host pulls the loose stopper, and starts to say, "A luscious character, and..." The stench wafting across the table is not ice wine or anything a delicate nose would care to identify. He stammers, "and fruit flies rather, fruit lies at its core."
Shamus cuts him short, "You mean rotten to the core," and rushes to open the patio door. Pandemonium reigns. Dylan trips as he dashes down the hall to flush the contents.
The wives grab sweaters and bolt outdoors. "In all my years I've never seen them act like this," says one.
A chill sets in as shadows of fragrant cedars lengthen across the gravel road. Realizing their skit is totally tasteless, the gonzos are about to apologize when laughter echoes from the pathway down the limestone gorge.
"My scheming wife doctored that bottle", growls Dylan. "What was that garbage anyway? Wild leek and rotten egg?"
"Yep," says his now contrite pal. "Yolks on us. Let's take our just desserts, wash the dishes and go polish the old Buick. "
jd sweeney
PS Should you have contacts in the Markdale/Traverston area, be sure to relay this link to them.

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The Next Big NAFTA Thing

Londont: January 2005
Philosopher/writer, Ayn Rand, said, "Ideas cannot be fought except by means of better ideas. The battle consists not of opposing, but of exposing; not of denouncing, but of disapproving; not of evading, but of boldly proclaiming a full consistent and radical alternative."

The federal transport minister touts intermodal rail and border improvements as answers to highway congestion. With over 80 grade crossings, London doesn't need longer and more frequent trains. London cannot limit thru-traffic, but it can champion a 403 extension with a parallel rail line. Diversion of significant rail and road freight volumes along new links between Woodstock and Strathroy has the same priority as capacity expansions at US gateways. This gives London and its neighbours better access to North American markets. And, closing one of the rail lines slicing its heart, opens up a future east-west transit route through central London. Connectivity is the watchword.
Instead of a ring, capitalize on strategic location through promotion of an intermodal trade corridor. Such bold stroke (together with a regional road on London's west side) helps achieve necessary growth and averts gridlock.
To suggest London and area jobs grow at their dismal historical rate implies acceptance of accelerated brain drain, an ageing work force, and stunted medical facilities. Will our Smart Growth Panel members advance region-wide strategies that are innovative and visionary? Sadly, rather than co-operate on a new deal, our leaders want to spend big on their ring. Who then will save addled London from its insular self ...and from bankruptcy? At the end of the term, it is you ...the thinking voter.
PS Texas is running with this Big idea. Initial federal approvals on the Trans Texas Corridor are expected in 2006!
In November 2007 Connecticut (off the Super N/S highways) objects to massive expansions of I-35 and I-69.
Guest editorial in inaugural edition of the Londoner -August 22, 2002

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