Will the reorganization of the city's traffic engineers into more integrated divisions help to effect the shift in priorities on which our Transportation Master Plan is founded?
By Ryan McGreal
Published May 31, 2012
One of the questions I've been asking, and which I'm starting to hear from people inside City Hall, is: who's in charge of our streets? Why does there seem to be so much resistance to re-engineering our streets so that they are more accommodating to pedestrians, cyclists and local traffic rather than fast through traffic?
Last year, after Hart Solomon retired from his position as the City's head of traffic engineering, his position was never replaced. It recently came to light that the traffic engineering office was reorganized and the traffic engineers dispersed to other groups within the Public Works Department.
Kelly Anderson, the public affairs coordinator for the Public Works Department, was kind enough to provide some details on the reorganization that followed Solomon's retirement.
Some engineers were moved into the Environment and Sustainable Infrastructure Division, Transportation Planning. Their responsibilities include managing and developing transportation policy, including the citywide transportation master plan and transportation master plans for specific areas. This office also looks after community traffic issues, like requests for traffic calming measures, stop signs and so on.
The second group is the Transportation, Energy and Facilities Division, Transit/Transportation. This is part of the integrated transportation organization that Council established last October to "support, over the long term, an integrated public transportation program for the City that encompasses provincial, inter-regional, inter-city, rapid transit, public transit, active transportation and transportation demand management".
Anderson explains, "The objective was to develop an organizational structure that encompasses an integrated approach to public transportation. As such, staff resources with responsibilities in the foregoing areas have been reallocated into a consolidated program under Don Hull, Director of Transit".
Its responsibilities include: the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR) and specialized transit; Rapid Transit, including B-Line LRT planning; regional integrated transit, including all-day GO train service; active transportation, including cycling and pedestrian initiatives; and transportation demand management (TDM) initiatives like Smart Commute.
The third group is the Environmental and Sustainable Infrastructure Division, Engineering Services. This group looks after asset management, lifecycle analysis, budget preparation for transportation infrastructure, detailed design and engineering for capital projects, and traffic engineering functions around development, redevelopment, signal design and so on.
The overall policy direction and guidance for the traffic engineers still flows from the Transportation Master Plan, which the Environment and Sustainable Infrastructure Division, Transportation Planning team oversees.
The Transportation Master Plan is based on seven key objectives:
The overall vision for the Transportation Master Plan is "anchored by the City's Vision for Sustainability - Vision 2020." So how did we end up with the fiasco of the Longwood Road Preferred Alternative, which sacrificed the objective of complete streets in order to retain the overwhelming priority of fast through automobile traffic?
How did we end up with the decision in December 2010 to retain the one-way traffic flows on Main, King and Cannon Streets as part of the city's B-Line Light Rail Transit design, after the Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis and the city's own planning consultants recommended two-way conversion instead? It's not enough to argue that these streets are "the primary corridors for through traffic", since that is precisely the problem with their current design.
How did we end up with TWINO on York Boulevard?
How did we end up with new signalized intersections that prohibit pedestrian crossings where they might conflict with fast automobile traffic flow?
Dozens of other cities across North America and around the developed world are in the process of changing their approach to street engineering to recognize a broader objective than merely optimizing/maximizing automobile traffic flow, and this is something Hamilton needs to embrace.
However, to do that, our traffic engineers need clear guidance and direction on what their priorities ought to be. Based on recent examples, the overarching priority for Hamilton's traffic engineers still seems to be maximizing traffic flow, even when that comes at the expense of other goals and indeed flies in the face of the city's Vision Statement.
Will this reorganization of the city's traffic engineers into more integrated divisions help to effect the shift in priorities on which our Transportation Master Plan is founded? We may get a chance to find out as the issue of walkable two-way street conversions heats up.