They paved paradise
(The Hamilton Spectator, March 24, 2012)
|In the Binkley Family Cemetery, March 22, 2012, photo by Andrei Lambert
Randy Kay is standing on a paved parking lot. But he sees a natural sanctuary.
His mind is in the late 1950s, when the area was the Coldspring Valley and the Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) was just opening up trails at the site, which backs onto Ancaster Creek.
Then, in 1963, McMaster University bought the property from the RBG with plans to create thousands of parking spots, eventually converting the wetlands into Parking Lot M.
But today, vehicles on campus don’t meet the total capacity of its 4,000-or-so spaces even during peak hours, said Kay, the founder of the Restore Cootes campaign.
“(Lot M) stands as an obstruction to the natural function of the ecosystem,” he said. “If you look at the map, Dundas Valley comes down and hits this grey zone and goes into Cootes, which is the gem of Hamilton — the heart … of our ecological existence here.”
On Thursday, Kay led a dozen students and faculty on an hour-long hike to look over Cootes Drive — Ontario’s first divided highway built in 1937 — to Lot M on the campus’s west end and to the Binkley Cemetery above the parking lot.
The university has closed off a section of Lot M for the past three years and plans to put in permeable paving.
While permeable paving, which allows better water drainage, is more environmentally friendly, Kay says the better option is to have multiple departments at Mac get involved in restoring the wetland and making the site available for hands-on research.
According to an April 2011 campus capacity study, there were 2,803 cars parked at peak demand in October. In total, there are 4,276 parking spaces on campus.
“If you don’t need the parking and it’s so close to the creek, why are you going to spend any money … to pave (a lot)?” Kay said.
But university spokesperson Gord Arbeau said there was a need for parking in that end of campus, depending on the time of day and year, because many students use it.
Kay also pointed out the university’s master plan guideline has a 30-metre naturalized buffer between Ancaster Creek and the parked cars, but that’s not the case now.
The master plan provides a “flexible framework” meant to guide development on campus, Arbeau said, noting the buffer exceeds 30 metres in some areas and is less than that in others.
In the past year, the university removed 50 spots and is planning to install natural landscaping on the site as well as the permeable paving, he said.
Parking by the numbers
2,803 — cars in campus parking spaces at peak demand in October (according to an April 2011 study)
4,276 — total spots at McMaster
7,057 — spaces McMaster consultants in 1969 believed would be needed by 1980
1,349 — spots in parking Lot M
— Statistics from the McMaster University Capacity Study and Restore Cootes
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