Woolwich council’s recent discussions about Maple Street in Elmira raised a central question: why, with all the necessary expenses, would a municipality think about squandering money on secondary, perhaps altogether unimportant, projects?
The township is looking at resurfacing the short road, which runs between Church and William streets. That just happens to be adjacent to Woolwich’s new administration building, suggesting sprucing up the roadway would add to the sheen of the renovated facility.
The plans also include extending a sidewalk along the full length of the west side of the street. As reported last week, councillors voted to forego a sidewalk on the east side, which would have disrupted parking and traffic flow at the Elmira Home Hardware store.
Beyond the cost of repaving the road and adding sidewalks – bids last year came in at $180,000, well above the $58,000 budgeted by the township – the project should give the township pause to think about the bigger picture. The rationale for new pavement, gutters and sidewalks is that they’d be in keeping with municipal design standards. But why does this or any municipality need sidewalks on both sides of streets, for instance?
This is not to say the standard is not desirable, but rather to challenge the need to apply it automatically. As in the Maple Street case, there’s no real need for sidewalks on both sides of the road. Yes, the street runs to Riverside Public School, but it can hardly be said to be a major artery, for either cars or pedestrians.
Sidewalks certainly serve a purpose. Properly designed – i.e. unlike what we find in this part of the world – they would provide ample room for pedestrians and separate lanes, removed from motorized traffic, for bicycles. That would be in keeping with increasingly common arguments against our dependency on cars.
Instead, what we get is an extra expense – not just upfront costs, but ongoing maintenance – with sometimes questionable benefits.
One such claim, and one that arose at this week’s council meeting, involves accessibility. That stems from the very dubious and ill-considered Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA), provincial legislation that forces municipalities to spend large sums of money for very little gain.
Again, no one is looking at the big picture. Yes, it’s nice to do something for everyone, but economic reality dictates we have finite resources: we would be much better off spending money on infrastructure and programs that provide the greatest benefit to the largest number of people. Political correctness be damned.
That’s not an argument in favour of doing nothing to accommodate others. There’s no reason not to make accessibility a part of all new buildings, for instance. But with costs soaring – led by health care spending – the time has come to make tough decisions about our priorities.
That starts with looking at the greater good, then choosing to address only what’s most pressing.