We don't need more studies to tell us what we already know about the corrosive effects of through trucks on city neighbourhoods. What we need is a real commitment to making our city livable.
By Ryan McGreal
Published June 08, 2010
Daniel Rodrigues, a member of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce's transportation committee, wrote an op-ed in today's Spectator calling on Council not to pass changes to the Truck Route Master Plan Study without full consideration of their implications.
An important decision affecting the lifeblood of jobs and prosperity in Hamilton will be voted on by council tomorrow.
Last-minute changes that were recently introduced and not thoroughly researched may literally derail years of effort in establishing safe and viable truck routes through Hamilton.
He's referring, in part, to the public works committee decision last week to remove Dundurn Street North, Kenilworth Access, Upper Ottawa Street and Concession Street from the Truck Route on an 18 month trial basis.
Rodrigues points out that the truck route was developed over a long process in which staff consulted closely with various stakeholders.
Members of the [Chamber's] transportation committee were pleased to see staff had done a thorough job, given the parameters that they were working within. Despite an obvious omission of an Origin-Destination Survey, it appeared by April 26 that an acceptable Truck Route Network had finally been reached, subject to committee approval.
When the public works committee approved changes to the Truck Route last week, it was "in response to citizen concern alone, absent of business or user input."
Rodrigues argues that at this point, the city should table the recommendations and ask staff to "conduct a proper cause-and-effect data study on the proposed changes", working with the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics to apply "a comprehensive 'Goods Movement' study tool".
I respect Mr. Rodrigues' considered approach; but in this case he's over-complicating a very straightforward issue. Through truck traffic is simply incompatible with urban vitality.
It's impossible to have a healthy neighbourhood - either a mostly-residential neighbourhood like Strathcona around Dundurn St. N., or a more mixed commercial neighbourhood like the downtown core - when transport trucks are passing through it.
The Strathcona Community Council understands this. The East Mountain Community Association understands this. The Downtown BIA understands this. (In fact, the downtown businesses already understood this 54 years ago). The truckers themselves understand it.
All you have to do is watch this documentary video, produced by Kathy Garneau, co-owner of the Staircase Theatre on Dundurn, to see how corrosive trucks are for livability.
Lest anyone accuse me of the fallacy of Won't Somebody Think Of The Children, I invite you to disregard what the people interviewed on the video are saying and concentrate instead on how the passing transport trucks affect the people standing on the curb. Notwithstanding the insights of the interviewees, the trucks themselves tell us everything we need to know about whether they belong on city streets.
I asked Staircase co-owner Hugh McLeod, who is interviewed early in the film, about all the trucks droning by while the interviews were going on. He burst out laughing and assured me that the segments were all shot in one take.
My own experiences walking and cycling on Dundurn St. North abundantly confirm this - trucks rumble up and down the street constantly.
Rodrigues argues that Hamilton is "recognized as a transportation gateway" with rich links across its marine port, rail connections, airport, and connections to major highways. These connections are setting the stage for Hamilton to "lead the country as a major multimodal gateway".
He insists, "Effective truck routes are critical to the growth and economic success of companies within Hamilton" and that "short-sighted decisions" on our truck route "will hinder how Hamilton companies compete in the global market."
It makes me wonder how other cities - dense, busy, economically successful cities all around the world - manage to get by without allowing their downtown streets to be used as through truck routes.
Why is Hamilton so different from those places that we can't afford the luxury of safe, livable streets?
The people who sold us on the Red Hill Valley Parkway as the last piece in a ring highway that would take trucks out of our downtown streets sold us a false bill of goods.
Now we're being told that Hamilton companies cannot "compete in the global market" unless we optimize our urban street system for eighteen-wheel trucks passing through the city.
The bottom line is that there's no reason a multimodal transportation system requires trucks to drive through residential and mixed-commercial neighbourhoods. We don't need more studies to tell us that through trucks belong on highways - and that truckers will adjust their routes in response to the options available to them.
We need to retain our city streets as safe places for pedestrians and welcoming places for business, due to the lack of viable alternatives for residents.
Committing in substance to safe, livable neighbourhoods will not only provide the best environment for our own residents, but will also create abundant opportunities for businesses whose investment and production strategies are based not around easy access to highways but around easy access to dense pools of compact infrastructure, healthy workers and safe customers.