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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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.
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)
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)
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.
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.
Following is the text of Whitehead's two motions.
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.
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."
"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.