Special Report: Walkable Streets

Terry Whitehead's Cute War Against Safer Streets

Whitehead's covert war on safe, inclusive streets aims to tie staff's hands and passively block the City from being able to achieve the goals that Hamiltonians have repeatedly called for and Council has repeatedly set.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 07, 2016

Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead has launched a war against safer, more inclusive streets in Hamilton. He hasn't declared his war openly, of course, because when you say it out loud it sounds crazy. His own ward 8 residents want safer, more walkable streets, like most people everywhere.

Instead, Councillor Whitehead is waging a series of covert attacks against complete streets, each of them - in his mind, anyway - rationalized under some cute pretext.

Complete Streets Moratorium

His first major volley was his motion, introduced last November, to declare a moratorium on all new complete streets projects across the entire lower city.

Area of Councillor Whitehead's proposed moratorium on new street safety improvements (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Area of Councillor Whitehead's proposed moratorium on new street safety improvements (Image Credit: Google Maps)

He actually had the temerity to justify that motion on the argument that light rail transit (LRT) is coming and we need to carefully plan our transportation system. Had his motion gone ahead, it might be the first time that a major new investment in rapid transit was used to justify undermining that investment by not adjusting the surrounding street system to encourage and support higher levels of walking, cycling and transit use.

Fortunately, Whitehead later announced that he was tabling his motion, presumably after realizing that his Council colleagues had no appetite to support it.

Aberdeen

But that was just his warning shot across the bow. During the Council debate over a proposal by Ward 1 Councillor Aidan Johnson to convert Aberdeen Avenue into a more complete, inclusive street, Whitehead made it clear that he was dead-set against anything that might cause a delay for West Mountain residents short-cutting through Ward 1 on their way to West Hamilton or Highway 403.

A mother trying to walk her children on the sidewalk inches away from vehicle traffic on Aberdeen (RTH file photo)
A mother trying to walk her children on the sidewalk inches away from vehicle traffic on Aberdeen (RTH file photo)

Ironically, at the same time that Whitehead was justifying his residents using Aberdeen to short-cut through Ward 1 by referring to Aberdeen as a "relief valve", he was arguing against a toll on the Red Hill Valley Parkway/Lincoln Alexander Parkway by claiming it would cause drivers to short-cut through his ward.

Whitehead regularly insists that West 5th and Garth Street become "a parking lot" and that Beckett Drive (the Queen Street Hill escarpment access) is backed up all the way up Garth to the Linc.

But the actual data tells a different story. Google tracks live traffic by noting how fast people's phones with Google Maps move down each street, and you can see the typical traffic for a given time of day. Here is Garth, Beckett Drive and Aberdeen during the morning peak, midday and afternoon peak on a typical Monday.

Animated GIF: Typical Traffic on Garth, Beckett, Aberdeen on a Monday, AM peak, midday and PM peak (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Animated GIF: Typical Traffic on Garth, Beckett, Aberdeen on a Monday, AM peak, midday and PM peak (Image Credit: Google Maps)

Aside from a major collision on Beckett Drive - the risk of which is increased by its design for dangerously high speeds - the Garth/Beckett/Aberdeen network never experiences serious congestion, even during rush hour.

Stone Church Bike Lanes

But the debate over Aberdeen gave Whitehead another idea. We argued that Aberdeen should have the same chance to be an inclusive, balanced street as existing minor arterial streets like Lawrence Road or Stone Church Road.

Stone Church Road (Image Credit: Google Street View)
Stone Church Road (Image Credit: Google Street View)

Whitehead came back with a surprising claim: "stone church west was converted from 4 lanes to 2 . Accidents have gone up people cannot get out of their driveways." And: "people have a challenge to access Stone Church because of the volume of traffic, and people are now cutting thru neighbourhoods."

At the time, RTH contacted Whitehead and the Public Works Department to ask for some evidence that Stone Church is more dangerous as a street with bike lanes, but received no response.

Changing Justification

But the bike lanes on Stone Church are now in Whitehead's sights. Last Monday, he introduced a motion at the February 29, 2016 Public Works Committee meeting on a claimed need for curbside parking on Stone Church around Upper Paradise. We can't link directly to the motion because the City's meeting website is unusable-by-design but it is item 9.2 under Motions.

Stone Church and Upper Paradise (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Stone Church and Upper Paradise (Image Credit: Google Maps)

Note the abundance of off-street parking at all the retail strip plazas on the corners. But Whitehead's motion claims that "concerns respecting the need for parking...continue to escalate" and calls on staff to "report to the Public Works Committee with an assessment of the feasibility, and costing, of adding parking (on road routes) in the Upper Paradise Road and Stone Church Road West area."

Look at this Street View image of Stone Church looking west toward Upper Paradise. It is difficult to see any way to add parking on Stone Church without removing the bike lanes.

Stone Church looking west near Upper Paradise (Image Credit: Google Street View)
Stone Church looking west near Upper Paradise (Image Credit: Google Street View)

Level of Service

Whitehead also introduced another motion at the same Public Works meeting, this one item 9.1 under Motions. In this motion, Whitehead calls on staff to report on the implications of a change to the Transportation Master Plan to raise the city's traffic Level of Service (LOS) target.

Level of Service is a scale of traffic flow with Level A - free flow with low volume - as the highest level of traffic flow and Level F - traffic jam - as the lowest level.

Currently, the Transportation Master Plan has Level D as its goal. For vehicle traffic, Level D means that during rush hour, vehicle speeds decrease slightly due to heavy peak traffic volume. There are slight delays of 25-55 seconds at intersections, and a collision can be expected to cause a backup.

Whitehead wants to change the city's goal to Level C. At level C, traffic is at or near free-flow speeds at all hours of the day, including during peak rush hour. Delays at intersections are limited to 15-35 seconds.

Level C is not achievable for most Hamilton streets. Hamilton already cannot afford to maintain its huge and steadily-expanding street network. We have a $3.6 billion cumulative infrastructure deficit, of which more than half is deferred necessary maintenance on our streets. (Of course, that did not stop Council from approving an additional $16 million in capital for new road construction in this year's budget.)

The capital cost to expand our existing lane capacity - and the operating cost to maintain it - to reach Level C would be utterly prohibitive. And in any case, the Law of Induced Demand means that additional capacity would attract new vehicle trips to fill it, rendering the money spent a pure waste.

The Real Objective

What the goal would accomplish is to block the city from redistributing any excess lane capacity to use for walking or cycling improvements. It would become a standing excuse not to undertake any complete streets projects: not any new projects that might be proposed in the coming months and years, but also any of the existing projects that Council has already approved and are awaiting implementation.

Some of those projects have been sitting in the queue for 15 years now, orphaned by annual capital budgets that continue to overlook them, year after year, while we pour money into vastly more expensive new streets and road-widening projects.

Have no doubt: this is the real purpose of Whitehead's motion. He seeks to achieve his moratorium on new safe streets improvements by other means, and like all his too-cute rationalizations, he hopes he has created a philosophical cover that confers plausibility and legitimacy on what amounts to a profoundly bad public policy fuelled by the worst kind of cynical pandering.

He wants to make it impossible for the City to put into practice those strategic visions - like the unanimously-approved Pedestrian Mobility Plan - that Council has already directed staff to follow.

The city's LOS target was set at Level D in 2007 under the Transportation Master Plan, after the City received a clear, consistent message from Hamiltonians that we want our streets to be safer, more balanced and more inclusive for everyone.

The feedback coming in from the current Transportation Master Plan Review is more of the same: people want safe, inclusive, balanced streets that improve our health, wellbeing and quality of life, and let us enjoy our communities and make real choices in how to get around.

Whitehead's covert war on safe, inclusive streets aims to put the brakes on all that. If adopted, it will further tie staff's hands and passively block the City from being able to achieve the goals that Hamiltonians have repeatedly called for, and Council has repeatedly set and reinforced through a variety of visions, strategic plans and master plans over the past two decades.

I hope the rest of Council will push back against this clumsy, ham-handed attempt to circumvent the city's broad engagement activities in order to pander to a few cranks who care more about their own convenience than everyone else's safety.

Text of Motions

Following is the text of Whitehead's two motions.

Stone Church

Parking Concerns at Upper Paradise Road and Stone Church Road West

WHEREAS, concerns respecting the need for parking at Upper Paradise Road and Stone Church Road West, as outlined in Report PED06340(b), continue to escalate; and,

WHEREAS, retail development at the intersection of Upper Paradise Road and Stone Church Road West continues to increase;

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:

(a) That staff be directed to report to the Public Works Committee with an assessment of the feasibility, and costing, of adding parking (on road routes) in the Upper Paradise Road and Stone Church Road West area; and,

(b) That should any work result from the assessment respecting Parking Concerns at Upper Paradise Road and Stone Church Road West that it be funded through the Ward 8 Area Rating Reserve Account.

Level of Service

IMPACTS OF A CHANGE IN THE 2007 TRANSPORTATION MASTER PLAN RECOMMENDED POLICY

WHEREAS it has been identified in the 2007 Transportation Master Plan (TMP) that the appropriate Level of Service (LOS) for the arterial road network to operate is at a LOS D or better; and

WHEREAS Appendix A to this Motion provides an outline of the definition of Level of Service for roadways and intersections and a schematic found on the City of Denver website; and

WHEREAS there are a number of requests/complaints that are received in Ward 8 with respect to congestion occurring on multiple roadways throughout the City of Hamilton.

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED:

(a) That Public Works, Transportation Planning staff, be directed to review and report to the Public Works Committee on the impacts of a change in the 2007 Transportation Master Plan Recommend ed Policy that would replace the following:

"When planning, designing and building transportation corridors, balance Level of Services (LOS) across all modes, with the objective of providing a minimum level of service of D for all modes."

With:

"When planning, designing and building transportation corridors, balance Level of Services (LOS) across all modes, with the objective of providing a minimum level of service of C for all modes."

(b) That staff identify all costs and implications to this change from a LOS D to a LOS C or better and report back with their findings to Public Works Committee in 2016.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 10:35:33

This is pure peevishness and pandering to a small, steadily shrinking, segment of the population. That it's bad social policy is a given, but even looking at it through the most conservative, self-interested lens, it's bad economic policy too. Apart from a short term sop to a few angry voices, there are no positives from a policy point of view to what he is attempting. I'm at a loss as to what his motives could be, apart from the silliest politicking.

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By ugh (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 11:06:52

Thank you for calling out this Terry Wighead. What an embarrassment. Ryan, I wish you would run for council. Please do.

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By Frankly (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 11:15:17 in reply to Comment 116869

It's not a wig. It's an actual mullet, and it has no bearing on his idiotic views. Let's keep ad hominem attacks to a minimum please.

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By stone (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 12:10:07 in reply to Comment 116870

Actually that haircut shows how poor Terry is at making decisions, so I would say fair game to wig comments.

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By Shawn (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2016 at 09:18:53 in reply to Comment 116875

It's not a wig or a mullet. Lol. It's just a plain old mushroom cut. And he'd it's views that make him appear like a dork not his haircut.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 11:45:15

Such embarrassment in 2016. Imagine the national press if this was happening in one of the major cities. It's like 'The Onion' in real life.

As far as Stonechurch Rd goes, the lanes are absolutely gigantic, as is the centre turning lane. Plenty of space there for parking on one side, bike lanes and proper-sized car lanes.

As a regular user of Garth, I can confirm the presence of police with radar, nabbing speeders all the time, in response to massive speeding complaints from area residents.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2016-03-07 11:45:31

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 12:02:41

Terry might play the dullard, but he is very good at playing political games and making sure he appeases just the right sub-section of the electorate so that he has a job for life.

Comment edited by Cultosaurus on 2016-03-07 12:37:28

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By why (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2016 at 10:39:27 in reply to Comment 116873

I think this is all that really needs to be said about Terry. All this talk about him not understanding things is a complete waste of time. Terry understands all of this, he simply doesn't care. So arguing with him isn't going to accomplish anything. What we need to do is look at the systems that allow him to exist as a councillor in the first place. Those few cranks have got enough clout to keep this councillor in his seat, and I'm guessing it's the developers and business owners who paid to contribute to his campaign.
The lack of term limits, or limits to political contributions by private or corporate donations is what allows councillors like him to represent the interests of a small fraction of the electorate, certainly not a lack of criticism. So we need to start attacking those laws and change them if we want to see any real progress made. We certainly can't afford to match the donations those developers are making to keep these people in power. And Terry doesn't give two squirts about this article or what any of us are saying about him.

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By stone (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 12:07:05

I will say Whitehead is at least consistent, he wants ALL of Hamilton to only be for driving and clearly doesn't understand why anyone would be interested in walking or cycling anywhere. My sister is exactly the same, so I know the attitude all too well, but she is not "helping" to run a city.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 07, 2016 at 12:46:07

I'd really hoped that his championing of the Clairmont bike lane after the passing of Jay Keddy meant he had a new outlook on cyclist infrastructure.

Sadly, it seems not.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 11, 2016 at 19:09:45 in reply to Comment 116876

He seemed to be quite receptive to adding bike lanes in the Rolston/Yeoville area, he highlighted it when we met with him prior to our presentation to committee on Monday.

He also made a comment about getting the radar trailer put in for a while in our neighbourhood based on complaints about speeding - not sure if this will actually "do" anything, but he did specifically reference this article and RTH during the meeting.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 13:12:01 in reply to Comment 116876

Reactionaries have a hard time thinking in systems, they're only good at reacting. Terry was reacting to the death of one of his constituents but I doubt he's capable of relating it to the system that produced Keddy's death.

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By Speculating (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 13:21:47

Does the Spec know about this? I bet Paul Berton would have a thing or two to say about Whitehead's hick views.

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By Core-b (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 13:27:25

He's constantly emphasizing that he gets a large number of complaints about whatever he speaks. I don't often hear other councillors using this BS line. In one ear and out the other for me. Hopefully the other members are seeing through this too. Some people think that things are big when they really aren't :-)

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted March 09, 2016 at 15:59:50 in reply to Comment 116881

This is what pisses me off -- that anyone on council can spew such BS without any legitimate sampling is criminal. Why don't lower city councilor coordinate to survey these BS claims in other wards. if nothing else the data could be a place to start talking.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 07, 2016 at 13:35:36 in reply to Comment 116881

Obligatory:

The City of Hamilton plans to add drinking fountains at the new Tim Hortons Field after all.

The decision by councillors comes after a public outcry that ensued following a report by CBC Hamilton.

[...]

The public let city councillors know that they wanted water fountains, said Whitehead, who got "four or five" emails about the issue.

So according to Councillor Whitehead, a public outcry constitutes four or five emails - if it's an issue he agrees with. But if it's an issue he doesn't agree with, even if Council has already approved it, 84 letters is not enough to take seriously.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 11, 2016 at 19:16:52 in reply to Comment 116882

Just a question, but did those emails go personally to him or to council as a whole? I find that Clr. Whitehead seems to be far more receptive to individual correspondence rather than email bombs to council.

Have you guys considered visiting him during his meetings at Westcliffe Mall to discuss your concerns with him?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 14, 2016 at 09:43:15 in reply to Comment 116988

I have emailed Terry personally in the past (as early as 2008).

His personal replies are civil and polite in tone, but the attitude is the same: the changes lower city residents request for safer and more liveable streets (as expressed through their neighbourhood associations and councillors) cannot be considered because they might impact travel times for commuters (especially from the Mountain). His reasoning changes, but the result is the same: a steadfast opposition to complete streets, especially downtown.

He dismisses all evidence that these changes would be beneficial to the city as a whole, as well as the residents concerned, and fails to be moved by the stream of experts who have told Hamilton to start making these changes. He doesn't care how many residents write to him supporting the changes or whether they are supported by staff (e.g. bus lane).

He also doesn't really care about the various policies that Hamilton has adopted (and he voted for) like the TMP 2007, the pedestrian charter, or the pedestrian mobility plan that all engage Hamilton in improving conditions for pedestrians and facilitating a modal shift away from driving and towards other ways of getting around.

He just doesn't accept any arguments or evidence to the contrary.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-14 09:44:34

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By DanJelly (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 13:40:05

Imagine all the staff time (and therefore big dollars) that gets wasted on studying Whitehead's pet schemes that quietly get buried by staff or ultimately don't get Council support. Over the years that wasted time and opportunity must have cost us millions.

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By JWilbur (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 14:45:28

Great article, thank you Ryan. Sometimes watching Hamilton civic politics, especially around transportation and complete streets, is like a feature piece on "This IS That". It was be the best satire if that was it's intention!

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By JWilbur (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 15:04:53

Through death, attrition and hard word we have managed to make some positive impact by getting a handful of useful people on City Council. In the next election we need to mount a concerted effort to get out into the Wards of civic cancer's like Terry Whitehead. We need to start taking him on directly and where he lives at public meetings and escalate that to anytime he shows up in public during the next election. For the good of the City we need to get rid of him and others like him on Council.

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By yess (anonymous) | Posted March 08, 2016 at 09:27:06 in reply to Comment 116885

Count Chad Collins, Doug Conley, Arlene VanderBeek, Lloyd Ferguson, Judi Partridge, Robert Pasuta, and Tom Jackson on that list too. All of this rubbish needs to go.

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By Green Acres (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 15:31:53 in reply to Comment 116885

I'm sure that he is also prodded by the Developers who love our addiction to sprawl. As we continue to grow unabated southward we have to have unrestricted access through the "old city" in order to have marketability of the new development.

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By ianreynolds (registered) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 16:36:54

Actually according to that picture, the car on the south side of Stonechurch has already turned the bike lane into a parking lane. The only time that Upper Paradise intersection has ever had a parking issue is when Sweet Paradise gets crazy busy. So to solve that they borrowed parking spots from the lot next door. Problem solved, simple as that. The idea that Stonechurch needs street parking down there is an explicit middle finger to people like you, Ryan, and it's hard to see any other possible reason Terry would suggest that.

I lived in Ward 8 for a year, and that meant that it was impossible for me to walk anywhere. Meandering side streets, crazy fast arterial roads with no crosswalks... all they did was make me refuse to leave the house. Thinking it was dumb to drive my car for something small or mundane, I simply would stay home. It could be argued that the inability to walk anywhere actively hurt my spending on those businesses in the area., and it definitely made me unhealthier. We moved away from there the moment we were able to. And now all his residents want to speed through our neighbourhoods! And he wants to make them drive faster!

At this point any argument Terry makes is borderline insulting to anyone's intelligence, and his arrogance is costing us our health and our lives, not to mention as Dan said, costing us millions of taxpayer dollars, the things he claims to value most of all.

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted March 07, 2016 at 22:18:35

I look at his first motion as one that is itching to take out those grassed/tree lined boulevards and provide the Mancini Family (owners of Sweet Paradise) more parking ... at the expense of the taxpayer of course ... all because he may have received 4 or 5 emails from patrons of the bakery.

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By Kevo (registered) | Posted March 12, 2016 at 14:56:40

I think we need to start getting more street level data that can prove that these people are wrong about traffic levels along these roads. Something like Placemeter (http://www.placemeter.com/) which basically brings traffic & pedestrian counting to anyone would be something that I think could be used with great effect. I heard about this one a month ago and was going to get one, but my unit is too far from the road for it to capture anything (no new toy for me) :(

At least with a tool like this we can prove quantitatively what traffic levels and types are on these roads and show the counts over time. It makes the process of bringing our point of view to council seem less like NIMBYism against cars (as what mountain councillors seem to infer) and makes it more scientific. How can someone say they need capacity for 15,000 cars when a daily count shows there are only 8,000?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 13, 2016 at 14:51:07 in reply to Comment 116990

I'm definitely interested in looking into Placemeter more closely. In the meantime, it's important to note that Google traffic (both Live and Typical) is already an ingenious - and quite accurate - measure of how fast traffic is moving.

On streets that have enough traffic to get a representative read, Google collects anonymized data from mobile devices with Google Maps installed on how quickly they are moving along the street. (They also tap into live traffic sensor data where available.) The service then represents this as a colour-coded layer on the Google Maps application.

This is live, empirical, realtime data from users on the street - and yet opponents of complete streets wave their hands and claim that it 'must be wrong' because it contradicts their feelings.

Not too long ago I took the following photo of Garth Street in the middle of PM rush-hour:

Garth Street during PM rush hour

This is not a street with a gridlock problem. It is a street with a dangerous speeding problem, which is why Hamilton Police so frequently set up speed traps on Garth.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2016-03-13 14:54:27

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By thankgodouarenotking (anonymous) | Posted March 13, 2016 at 18:02:11

so you want people driving under 50k past vast stretches of empytland?

Nice picking and choosing of pictures. nice cred man!

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By zzz (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2016 at 07:55:29 in reply to Comment 116995

This is such a typical selfish driver comment. Any Street other than your own is just a path through empty land. Other people's homes, schools, businesses, parks don't matter, they just disappear in a blur on your route between home and wherever YOU have to go.

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By mountain66 (registered) | Posted March 15, 2016 at 10:25:28

I haven't been there for sometime so I took Stonechurch home from Ancaster to refresh my memory. It appears that the owners have such bad relations with the neighbouring businesses that they have put a fence up between them so that rules out parking there, however, the parking lot for the No Frills store is closer than the overflow parking for Terryberry library. Perhaps if they were approached they could allow the overflow to go there and (frightening suggestion) the patrons could walk to the store. Lost in this is the potential impact on their competitors, there are similar businesses on Concession that have metered parking, also Cake & Loaf on Dundurn, while smaller, has a bike lane on their side and metered parking across the street. So as well as reducing the bike lane in my opinion unless the provided parking is paid for by Sweet Paradise, and metered, the city will be giving them an indirect subsidy not provided to other stores. If they have outgrown their location perhaps they should relocate like Locke Street Bakery.

Comment edited by mountain66 on 2016-03-15 10:26:21

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