It’s Time to Stop Building Too Close to the Tracks
Cities just aren’t getting it.
The buzzword of the day in civic circles is undoubtedly “densification.”
On that premise, in numerous cities across the country, rapid development has been taking place, packing people into tighter confines, and in areas previously considered unfit or undesirable for housing.
Many people see the onslaught as little more than the destruction of entire neighbourhoods previously filled with homes of character, gardens, yards, and historical landmarks. Yes, I am one of those people.
I’m not a fan, for various reasons, of this approach to community development, especially when it comes to cities and developers making poor choices in converting industrial land over to housing.
I’m particularly against it when the area being developed is too close to a railway, where proximity problems with railway noise and vibration for new residents can all be anticipated before the first shovel of sod is even turned over.
That’s just irresponsible, and makes a complete oxymoron out of the term “urban planning.”
To address such new development challenges, The Railway Association of Canada, along with The Canadian Federation of Municipalities published an updated version of their original “Proximity Guide and Best Practices” report from 2007.
In May 2013, they jointly published an updated version, “Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations.” (see link below)
Here are some excerpts:
“As cities in Canada continue to urbanize, and as they place a greater emphasis on curbing urban sprawl, demand for new forms of infill development is growing, including on sites in proximity to railway corridors.
In particular, commercial and industrial properties in proximity to railway operations, and in some cases the buildings situated on those properties, are increasingly being converted to residential uses. At the same time, both the passenger and freight operations of railways are growing steadily, leading to an increasing potential for conflicts between rail operations and adjacent land uses.”
“The intention of these guidelines is to provide a level of consistency in the approach to the design of buildings and their context in proximity to railway corridors, and the type of mitigation that is provided across the country.”
Many of the specifications remain the same as the 2007 report, but they bear out repeating.
“The standard recommended building setbacks for new residential development in proximity to railway operations are as follows:
Freight Rail Yards: 300 metres
Principle Main Line: 30 metres
Secondary Main Line: 30 metres
Principle Branch Line: 15 metres
Secondary Branch Line: 15 metres
Spur Line: 15 metres”
In all, this comprehensive report details every aspect that cities and developers should heed over 122 pages of information in order to avoid potential future noise and vibration conflicts between residents and railways.
Personally, I’d like to see The Railway Association of Canada and The Federation of Canadian Municipalities go one step further, and come up with a specific building designation for developments that meet their detailed criteria in areas with a rail presence, an award of sorts.
Any developments lacking this designation could therefore give pause to potential buyers or renters, and hopefully at least raise awareness and encourage discussion, and, to some extent at least, be a factor in the consideration as to whether or not a person decides to even move in.
And lastly, in a perfect world, any housing development that does not meet criteria when built in proximity to railways, which then experiences a noise and vibration conflict with the railway, should not be immune for costs to mitigate the problem it created in the first place.
Any such case whereby a city and possibly the developer were held to account and ordered to pay for mitigative measures to remedy a rail noise and vibration problem that could have been easily avoided during the planning and design stages would see the “Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations” become a standard reference manual at every city hall across the country.
And that’s exactly what’s needed.