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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Chester Spur

Posted By on Thu, Feb 21, 2008 at 8:00 AM

Commonwealth Games? “No one wants to hear about that anymore,” a city councillor told me Tuesday. Okay, I’ll set it aside for a bit, and let’s talk about abandoned railroad lines instead.

In June, CN announced that it was giving up the Chester Spur line, which stretches from Fairview through the Bayers Lake Industrial Park to Lakewood. No one stepped up to purchase the line, so CN is offering to sell the right-of-way to the city.

City staff held a couple of info meetings on the line last week, asking people what they thought. A small number of residents whose properties abut the line raised fears of marauding bands of hoodlums using the right-of-way to make a beeline to their dining room silver but, thankfully, most discussion was more thoughtful---splitting between those advocating for commuter rail and those wanting a pedestrian trail.

Light rail is a compelling prospect, but for this particular line it doesn’t make sense. The geography is all wrong: it doesn’t directly lead where people need to go, which is downtown, and it doesn’t travel through a high-enough population base to justify the capital expense. For now, in terms of transit serving the St. Margaret’s Bay Road corridor, express buses like the LINK system make far more sense than trains do.

Which brings us to a pedestrian trail. Such a trail would travel through a scenic landscape behind First and Second Chain Lakes that is now hard to access, and would connect to the truly wonderful BLT trail further west, which skirts along Governors and Cranberry Lakes on its way to Timberlea.

Trail advocates correctly point out that a new trail would encourage active recreational pursuits like hiking, biking, running and skiing, which in turn lead to more healthy lifestyles---a value in and of itself---and to lower health care costs. (This isn’t just conjecture; it’s been proven time and again.)

So what’s the rub? The $3.6 million asking price for the right-of-way.

Last week council was given four-colour architectural plans for another sensible pedestrian trail, this one along Bedford Basin, stretching from Hogan’s Point all the way to Bedford proper. Everyone congratulated the planners for the pretty drawings, and there was a general round of “Wow, we’re so wise,” until councillor Bob Harvey rudely interrupted the self-love fest with the observation that “there’s a whole library of pretty pictures” over at city hall---plans for pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, plans for hiking trails, plans for pools and rinks and courts and ball fields.

Plenty of plans. Just no money to realize them.

Let’s get back to what nobody wants to talk about: the Commonwealth Games. Remember the arguments? By spending $200 million of city money (and $2 billion or so in total) on world-class facilities for elite athletes from far away, we somehow or another would have ended up with an entire generation of local athletic superkids. And never mind the cost: with some creative budget juggling we could have afforded it all, without raising taxes.

Surely, if we had the money for the Commonwealth Games, we’ve got enough money for all the neighbourhood recreational facilities we could ever possibly need.

Alas, when it comes to creating a simple pedestrian trail, or a walking-friendly street or neighbourhood pool, there aren’t a few dozen well-connected business mucky-mucks who can make boatloads of money servicing bloated construction budgets.

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