Several dozen Dartmouth High School students braved a downpour last Thursday to hold a spirited protest against Metro Transit's plans for an expansion of the nearby Bridge Terminal. They carried signs calling for preservation of the Dartmouth Common, and chanted "Metro Transit, we need a better plan" and other slogans.
The students were well received by passing motorists, many of whom honked in support.
As proposed, the expanded terminal will stretch from its present location next to the Sportsplex, all the way up Nantucket Avenue to the crosswalk leading to the McDonald's. A rough sketch of the proposed new terminal is posted on the city's website (see tinyurl.com/mzo4jj), but it doesn't show the high school. Students and teachers at the school, however, say the terminal will be just 10 metres from the school.
Moreover, as proposed, the terminal expansion will consume 3.5 acres of the six-acre Dartmouth Wilderness Park, a forested area of the Dartmouth Common that has been left in a natural state.
(Full disclosure: I live in the neighbourhood and have a relative who teaches at the school.)
"We have limited green space left," says student Chelcy Jordan, one of the organizers of the protest. "And nobody wants to have an environment driven by the demands of technology and industrialization. This is a school environment; this is not a mall, or a parking space---this is meant for us to grow and learn and have fun while doing it and to be able to have a healthy environment."
"I want to save the green space for further use, by maybe reading a book in the space or something like that," explains student Jacob Larkin, another organizer. "Also, I don't want the bus station too close to our school---the noise pollution or air pollution could potentially harm people. And also I have security concerns."
The Bridge Terminal is one of the busiest in the system, serving 18 bus routes and 17,000 passengers each day, says Metro Transit's Lori Patterson. It is presently severely crowded and has no room to handle the additional buses called for in the city's five-year transit plan.
Metro Transit has been working on the terminal expansion plans for at least a couple of years, and last year the legislature amended the Municipal Government Act to allow Dartmouth Common land to be used for the terminal. But the Dartmouth High community wasn't notified about the plan until last month, says Michael Cosgrove, a teacher. Students in Cosgrove's philosophy class initiated last week's protest, which was sanctioned by the school administration.
Many of the protesting students are themselves regular bus users, and they acknowledge that the existing terminal is too small and presents a safety hazard to users.
"But the amount of space they want to take up to have a new one, and where they want to have a new one, is not ideal to us at all," says Jordan.
"We're trying to come up with options," says Larkin. "I met with a couple of architects and urban designers---we want to move it a bit farther from our school, and keep it under a hill, so the noise will be absorbed by the hill and the trees.
"I want to preserve as much of the trees as possible, because it also is a part of our heritage. The Nantucket whalers in the 1700s gave it to us, the people of Dartmouth, so we should cherish this land."
Students want the new terminal oriented perpendicular to Nantucket, and to run along the back side of the Sportsplex parking lot, instead of up the hill. Such an orientation would spare the bulk of the Wilderness Park and provide a good distance between the terminal and school.
Patterson says that despite the sketch on the website, no detailed plans for the terminal have been completed. She insists that there will be a "green" buffer between the new terminal and the school.
"We looked at different sites," says Patterson, "but none of them worked, for various reasons."
But the idea of purchasing and tearing down the Scotiabank building at the corner of Wyse and Nantucket to add space to the terminal was rejected. "I don't know why," says Patterson.