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Letter "M"

PO Box 19,
1280 Main Street West, Hamilton ON L8R 1Y3

To McMaster University Planning Committee
President Patrick Dean
Councillor Brian McHattie

March 31, 2011

Subject: Zone M Parking

Dear Planning Committee,

Restore Cootes is encouraged by McMaster University’s work to improve the sustainability of campus, and applaud efforts so far as the university makes the shift toward a smaller environmental footprint.

With the hope to build on success, we are writing to convey our thoughts on plans to re-open parking in McMaster Parking Zone M.

Our concern is that restoring parking will negatively effect the potential for an improved natural habitat adjacent to Coldspring/Ancaster Creek.

As you are aware, the campus Master Plan refers to a desired “30 metre naturalized buffer” between parking lots and the creek[i], as proposed by the Hamilton Conservation Authority (HCA).
The HCA is tasked with protecting Hamilton’s natural assets, but this significant yet degraded area is of course worthy of all of our attention.

I am confident we share the desire to see the best possible outcome for the environment.

Plans to use permeable paving in place of asphalt at this site are progressive and innovative, and may indeed qualify for LEED points, but in this instance, perhaps are not the ideal. Rather, a more passive approach leading to rehabilitation of the landscape may be preferable for this section of Zone M Parking, and should rightly rank higher in terms of sustainability.
Our concern is that the plan to use this area, even for occasional “overflow” parking will disrupt any potential benefits a more naturalized surface will create using permeable pavers. At one level you will create better environment for wildlife, but using it for parking will quickly negate this benefit.

The campus has already absorbed the loss of parking since construction began in 2009, calling into question the need to replace the lost spots.  Looking at campus parking level of service, it is imperative that we consider at least two variable conditions while looking to the future

1.     The price of oil – we know that when gasoline prices rise, people look for alternatives to driving and will take advantage of transit and cycling opportunities where they exist This is supported by recent research that indicates

“that price sensitivity has started to increase, up to -0.1 to -0.3 in the short run, suggesting long-run elasticities of -0.3 to -0.6 (a 10% price increase [for fuel] reduces vehicle travel 3-6%)”[ii]

2.     Changing demographics – when the parking lots were built in the late 60’s young people expected to drive. This is changing:

“the number of young drivers – 16-to-29 year-olds – is increasing at the slowest pace since the mid-1990s. These developments are expected to reduce growth in the vehicle buying population to 0.6 percent per annum in Canada over the coming decade.

This represents a sharp slowdown from an average annual growth in the driving age population of 1.4 percent over the past 50 years. [iii]

Local efforts to restore lost habitat have been undertaken by key conservation and civic agencies under the Cootes to Escarpment Park System: Conservation and Land Management Strategy, headed by the Royal Botanical Gardens. There are several key issues identified in the report that could be applied to this site, but one will illustrate the importance of a site bordering a key waterway:

Maintaining and increasing woodland cover is probably the most important factor to protecting biodiversity in fragmented southern Ontario landscapes. At a broad regional scale, it is also valuable to have a diversity of habitats to maintain landscape richness. Opportunities for the restoration of natural connections need to be identified and implemented. Protecting and enhancing existing wildlife pathways, such as along stream corridors, and protecting natural features in close proximity to each other are also important to natural system functions.[iv]

Clearly there is much to be gained from a biodiversity standpoint to expanding the buffer between McMaster parking and the creek. McMaster’s expertise from diverse academic and research backgrounds could be brought to bear on a restoration project involving students applying their learning here in our backyard.

The importance of Cootes Paradise as a biodiversity hotspot, to the local economy and to recreational pursuits cannot be understated. It is interesting to note that the parking areas in question were, until the late 1960s, part of the Royal Botanical Gardens Coldspring Valley Trail system. (Figure 3)

To bring back lost habitat and the species dependent on the former floodplain and spring fed ponds is the kind of project that carries national, indeed, international significance, and would enhance McMaster’s reputation as an innovative and sustainable institution.

Ideally, erasing the footprint of pavement used for car-parking and restoring the ecological integrity of the area would be pursued in a staged manner. With these considerations in mind, Restore Cootes respectfully requests that McMaster University work in conjunction with the City of Hamilton, the Hamilton Conservation Authority and the RBG to

1)     Leave the parking area closed due to the construction of the CSO tank vacant as prime rehabilitation lands i.e. no overflow parking
2)     Reconfigure remaining parking along the creek edge to create a naturalized 30m buffer in the short to medium term
3)     Create a long range plan to phase out parking in the lots west of Cootes Drive.

I hope these issues can be dealt with in a collegial environment of cooperation and mutual respect. I would be very interested in your response.

For a more sustainable campus,

Randy Kay

[i] McMaster University Campus Master Plan March 2002, A Strategy for Circulation and Parking 5-3
[ii] Litman, Todd Changing Vehicle Travel Price Sensitivities: The Rebounding Rebound Effect
13 March 2011
[iii] Changing demographics will hurt auto sales,

[iv] Cootes to Escarpment, p.15

RESTORE COOTES is a local citizen advocacy group dedicated to protecting and enhancing natural areas in Dundas and Hamilton that have been degraded or lost to human development.  Restore Cootes was formed in 2001.


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