Once again, the goal of reclaiming urban communities from the din, pollution and peril of through truck traffic takes a back seat to narrow business imperatives.
By Ryan McGreal
Published April 26, 2010
Last Friday, Jason Leach reported that the City's Public Works Department released the Truck Route Master Plan Study [PDF], the culmination of two years' work studying how best to meet the logistical needs of local businesses while at the same time considering social and environmental factors and bringing consistency to the city's existing truck route network.
The Study tells us the city's response to this challenge: once again, the social and environmental factors have taken a back seat to narrow business imperatives.
The survivorship bias of a local business community wedded to easy motoring has again moved forcefully to preserve the status quo of urban expressways tearing neighbourhoods apart to optimize through traffic at the expense of community.
It's abundantly clear from the study that the passing references to environmental and social issues are obligatory and perfunctory rather than substantive. The heart of the study is the at-all-costs goal of ensuring that the truck route network is:
The other goal - reclaiming urban communities from the din, pollution and peril of through truck traffic - was dismissed as unrealistic on the reasoning that removing truck routes would relocate truck traffic to other routes.
It was found that removing links from the truck route system will often not decrease truck travel but merely relocate it to other nearby routes, and may increase overall travel distance and time, thereby decreasing overall road safety and contributing to an increase in air pollution.
This static model of traffic assumes the number of trucks is fixed and their operators' choice of routes is unaffected by road capacity. It's the same reasoning the city has used for decades to build out our road capacity much faster than our population growth rate.
The model fails in real-world use because it ignores the well-understood network phenomena of induced demand, Braess's Paradox and Downs-Thomson Paradox. In a general sense, these phenomena show that traffic tends to increase or decrease to meet the available supply of road space.
In Hamilton, the fact that you can drive through the city in ten or 15 minutes is a major incentive for through truck drivers to pass through the city rather than around it. So much for the main justification of the Red Hill / Lincoln Alexander Parkway system, which established a continuous highway ring around the city.
If it took, say, 45 minutes to an hour to drive through the city in narrower, two-way streets with wide sidewalks and street trees amid local residents actually spending time on their own streets, those truck drivers might decide it makes more sense to take the ring highway.
At the same time, businesses would have an economic incentive to innovate so as to minimize the number of truck trips their businesses require - you know, like every other city on the planet. Somehow, businesses in those dense urban markets with people-friendly streets manage to survive without having five-lane highway access to their front doors.
Traffic engineers learn all this stuff in school, but they seem to forget it very quickly when developing their static models for city traffic - especially in cities like Hamilton, where local businesses get first dibs on policy considerations.
Yet reading the public feedback on the Truck Route Study, the great uneducated public seems to understand it better than the engineers.
Watch how the debate plays out on Dundurn St between York Blvd and King St. The Public Stakeholder feedback notes that "the adjacent land uses are almost exclusively residential, with direct access" along this stretch, but the Chamber of Commerce wants this residential street to "remain in the truck route ... due to large volumes and lack of alternative routes."
Back up and play that again more slowly. The residents want this street taken off due to the large volumes of trucks and the residential nature of the street - complete with lots of children trying to cross Dundurn to get to the public school next to Victoria Park.
The Chamber, in contrast, wants the street left on the route because of that large volume of trucks.
Let's see what the study concludes:
Recommended for retention based on expected impact to adjacent truck routes and lack of viable alternatives.
Imagine if the logic of the imperatives in this situation was reversed - if the Chamber was asking to have Dundurn established as a truck route but was told: "Sorry, but we need to retain Dundurn as a safe residential street due to the lack of viable alternatives for pedestrians."
Now that would be an encouraging sign of a city interested in fostering healthy, safe neighbourhoods.