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Letter M

Friday, March 9, 2012

Dear McMaster University Planning Committee,

I am writing to follow up on the issue of paving in McMaster parking lot “M.”

I had written to you previously in March 2011 with concerns relating to the section of Lot M, closed for the past three years due to construction of a Combined Sewer Overflow (CSO) tank by the City of Hamilton. As well, I raised the issue of the entire parking lot’s proximity to Ancaster Creek. I had asked that the campus master plan’s “minimum” 30 metre naturalized buffer zone between the creek and the parking be administered to this area.

The May 10, 2011 response from the committee through the Office of the Provost Vice-President (Academic) unfortunately declared, “the demand for vehicular transportation continues and the need for parking remains. We do, therefore, need to restore the parking Lot M” – on this point I must vigorously disagree. As the recent “McMaster University Campus Capacity Study” (April 2011) indicates, at the peak parking demand there are 2,803 spaces required out of a possible campus total of over 4,000 parking spaces, which they indicate is 69 percent of the total available – thus, at the busiest parking time there are well over 1,000 spaces that are not required. To thus claim that we need to replace 225 spaces in the section of Lot M to be repaved with permeable paving does not hold water, if I may rely on a pun to make a point.

While the goal of using permeable paving in McMaster parking lots is laudable, it makes no sense at all to use paving of any kind where spaces are not required. To put it simply, it would be a waste of money on land that could instead be restored to natural habitat.  To avoid the hollow and ultimately tragic outcome of a green-wash, the university should resolve to reject potential “innovation” and LEEDS points for this project when the more financially responsible, sustainable and innovative answer is to restore habitat and protect the creek.

If, instead, we had a plan for parking that sought to actively reduce demand while shrinking the required surface parking area, we would be able to engage students and faculty in cutting edge research: in transportation demand management and habitat restoration projects that would benefit the local environment and contribute to McMaster’s reputation and the learning experience of students. Having site-specific research opportunities on campus, McMaster could lead in environmental innovation with positive spin-off benefits through increased job opportunities for future engineering and environmental graduates.
Figure 1, recent set back from creek short of 30m

If the University is to adhere to its planning document requirement for a 30m naturalized buffer, a plan to guide development is imperative. A recent increase in set back from the creek in the parking area is still not close to a 30 metre distance from the creek (Figure 1), so it would appear an initial attempt to conform has fallen short. A comprehensive plan for parking based on actual data would provide real opportunities to address social and environmental issues attached to car use on campus.

McMaster’s history began with a direct relationship between campus life and nature, and the fates of the RBG and McMaster have always been entwined:
“The new university [is]. . . . right on the brink of a sylvan paradise. Its scholars will at their back door have cool ravines and marsh meadows in which to meditate the theological and other muses. . . . And they will have red-winged blackbirds and whistling swans and canorous Canada Geese to keep them company.”  (Hamilton Spectator, Oct. 5, 1929)
We would like to remind you that Lot M and the entire west campus was, until 1965, a nature sanctuary owned by the Royal Botanical Gardens, with spring fed ponds and nature trails. So when we read more recently that
“Sustainability is a focus of management of the campus, with stewardship of natural lands, forest, watershed and the urban landscape of primary concern.  A haven of diverse ecosystems and wildlife, McMaster’s abundant natural lands provide a unique university setting, and opportunity for study”
we feel compelled to push for more than the University is offering in Lot M, which is currently less than even the Campus Master Plan suggests. Over 1,000 vacant parking spaces at the peak of demand does not fit with the vision of campus outlined here. As a result, it is our position that
  •  no money be spent on resurfacing the section of Lot M marked for permeable paving.
  •  that a parking plan be undertaken with the comprehensive goal of reducing parking demand and reducing parking surface in the west campus parking lots to allow for habitat restoration
  •  that the minimum 30m naturalized buffer zone be exceeded so as to restore the natural integrity of the area adjacent to Ancaster Creek
  • that university departments be encouraged to seek ways to provide assistance and offer research opportunities to rehabilitate this area, and where applicable with permeable paving.
Perhaps then we will be giving life to the sentiment that “McMaster’s outstanding grounds, situated adjacent to Cootes Paradise wetlands, and the Royal Botanical Gardens in the Niagara Escarpment, is a key factor in attracting students, staff, and visitors to campus.” (Ibid)

Thank you for your attention to this pressing issue, and I hope a more satisfactory position will be arrived at than previously indicated by the planning committee, given this additional information.

In the spirit of collegiality,

Randy Kay
Restore Cootes
PO Box 19, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton ON L8S 1C0


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