Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli talks about improving walkability, building an integrated and connected transportation system, and dealing with speeding traffic and the challenges of an inner city ward.
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 25, 2012
RTH contacted Bernie Morelli, councillor for Ward 3, to talk about walkability and neighbourhood issues. In a telephone interview, Morelli said walkability is "absolutely a part of the picture" as the lower city continues its transformation.
He said he has seen and experienced a shift in attitudes about walkability. "I'm part of the demographic that's finding it hard to walk, but more people are trying to do so, and we're trying to make it happen. It's very much a need that is evolving out of the demographics" in the lower city.
Morelli's ward is crisscrossed with paired one-way streets but he believes two-way streets have potential, noting that our one-way thoroughfares were built for an industrial economy that has changed over the past several decades.
The city is conducting a class environmental assessment on two-way conversion of Wentworth Street south of Main. "People have been killed at Sanford and Main, and you've got the turnoff at Wentworth on Delaware to Sanford. With consideration of the change in traffic flows and the intensity of traffic flows, a return to two-ways can occur."
Talking about opposition to two-way conversion, Morelli noted, "Way back when I was approached about the Barton Street islands, the only people who quote-unquote 'bitched' about that were people trying to rush home to Ancaster to their estates. There was quite a bit of fear initially."
Morelli said the biggest concerns he hears from his constituents continue to be dealing with the negative impacts of prostitution and crime, speeding automobile traffic, and absentee landlords allowing too many people to live in unmaintained buildings.
"In terms of the area rating money, most of the requests I've had are looking for things like speed bumps - speeding traffic is a major issue for inner city wards."
Policing is also a challenge. "Take the area from Gage to Ottawa and Lawrence to Main. Just to cover that area [with police coverage] would be very costly but we've got to find ways to cope with those issues."
He also detailed problems with irresponsible landlords. "We're still dealing immensely with absentee landlords. Not all are bad, but most are - that's my experience and opinion." He adds, "We're moving in the right direction. We've asked staff to see if we can licence these guys moving forward."
Morelli noted that the word "intensification" is confusing because it's used to connote different things. "The word 'intensification' is like the word 'cancer' - we tend to categorize them all together when they're not all the same. You've got to dig a little bit deeper, but unfortunately we give one word to everything."
Some intensification can work well, Morelli says. "You can have intensification where it seems to work quite well because there's a lifestyle associated with it." However, "A lot of the inner city is 40-foot lots, 30-foot lots, and you have lots of people living in the same house. The kids are growing up but they're not moving out, and you've got four cars parked on a 30-foot lawn. Not to mention the load on infrastructure, like water and sewer."
Morelli repeatedly stressed the importance of better integrated transit in Hamilton and across the GTA. "I'm driving a smaller car today - that's another part of the evolution. People are driving less and public transportation is becoming more important."
He pointed to bike lane construction projects in his ward and emphasized the need to build continuous networks that link people to destinations. "If we make sure we focus on integration and viability, we can make it work."
But he also stressed, "You can't just superimpose European templates on North American society. You need to recognize that transportation is the major item that's going to bring all this together, and we need a system that's consistent with meeting the needs of North American society."
That doesn't mean staying with the status quo. "There's no question about transportation in my mind: if we don't do it, we're in big trouble. It's gonna happen, it's gotta happen."
Morelli sees a shift in attitudes already underway. "The whole concept of transportation - these new transit passes, people are learning how to use them, because that's where it's going. Transportation fits that mode. People are being raised with it. Even now when I go to Toronto, I jump on the GO Train. Talk about walkability - spend some time in the Toronto harbourfront! I wish I could get the same enthusiasm around the east harbour in Hamilton."
According to Morelli, the east Harbour is a big part of why Hamilton has an image problem. "Our biggest problem is image, and the major place where people see our image is when you come over the east end of the [Burlington Skyway] bridge. Why aren't we doing something down there? That's one of my war cries around the table. They've done a great job from Winona and the east end over to the pedestrian bridge across the highway," but the city needs to extend that into the industrial waterfront.