A significant shift in the city's thinking is that a focus on moving people and goods efficiently, not moving vehicles efficiently; yet staff highlighted the fact that decisions are still constrained by the need to maximize traffic flow.
By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 28, 2009
I attended the City of Hamilton Transportation Summit on 27 April 2009. This was the second in what is intended to be an annual series of meetings updating stakeholders on the Hamilton's transportation plans, and progress towards meeting past goals.
One feature of these meetings is a 'workshop' session where participants identify specific goals and suggest ways of achieving goals selected by the City.
Most of the meeting consisted of presentations on specific issues, and the major emphasis of this year's meeting was the Transportation implications of the draft official plan (the first update since amalgamation).
A significant shift in thinking is that the focus is on moving people and goods efficiently, not moving vehicles efficiently. This clearly benefits transit in general and LRT in particular.
Denis Corr (of McMaster) gave a presentation on air quality in Hamilton which demonstrated that air quality in residential areas is generally very good and that industry contributes on 10-15% of total pollutants (contrary to public perception).
However, near major roads and intersections pollution is 20 times that of residential areas, and on freeways such as the 403 or QEW air pollution is 60 times residential levels. The pollution remains high within 200 m of freeways.
On both city streets and highways, trucks are by far the biggest polluters, equal to about 20 times a car. Since motor vehicle traffic is the most significant source of air pollution, LRT should significantly reduce air pollution by taking reducing traffic volumes.
This is especially important on streets like Main and King which have high pollution levels and are adjacent to residential and commercial areas. Corr also suggested that transit vehicles be fitted with filters to reduce the pollutant exposure for passengers.
Lisa Zinkewitch of the Public Works department's Rapid Transit office gave a light rail transit update, emphasizing Hamilton's strong planning position (only municipality to get study funding from Metrolinx) and how the benefits case analysis (BCA) will work.
She spent much of the presentation talking about the B-line alignment study: two-way on King (with two-way motor vehicle traffic) vs one-way. Two-way on King seemed slightly more favourable, because of lower costs and higher economic benefit (split may provide only 2/3 economic benefit of one-way). The Metrolinx representative in attendance seemed to be nodding in agreement!
Zinkewich finished with a one-page overview of the "Made in Hamilton" initiative.
The day ended with a series of "focus groups" discussing how to achieve various transportation oriented goals. LRT was given a high priority by several groups.
Outside LRT, however, while the City appeared to be saying all the right "sustainable" and community building things, when you drilled down it's clear they haven't really changed their priorities.
For example, when the Official Plan was being presented, they made a big deal about the fact the plan would make new communities mixed use, so that you would see houses, commercial, entertainment and work opportunities all in the same area.
However, when Don McLean asked whether this meant developers would no longer be able to put up a development of 500 houses and nothing else the response was very weak: mixed uses would simply be "permitted", not mandated.
It's incredible that mixed use is not permitted today, but simply allowing it is not going to make it happen among developers comfortable with single use construction.
Similarly, in both the Cycle Plan and LRT presentations, staff highlighted the fact that decisions were constrained by the need to maximize traffic flow.
This was completely at odds with other presentations that showed how high traffic volumes have all sorts of deleterious effects (pollution, high social costs due to accidents, expressways like King/Main killing commerce), but staff just can't seem to accept that maximizing traffic flow should not be a primary goal (perhaps, not even a goal at all).
They left the impression that improved service for pedestrians, cyclists and transit should be allowed only if they don't significantly impact traffic. This is both self-contradictory (it is, at least partly, a zero sum game), and unfair (why aren't the interests of all road users given equal consideration?).
Finally, Richard Gilbert's Electric City report was never mentioned by the City, despite the fact that the presenter from the the Canadian Urban Transportation Association (UTA) from Peel Region highlighted the need to plan for the changes coming with Peak Oil.
However, we're not alone. The UTA presenter discussed data showing that on every sustainability indicator but one (more work opportunities), Peel is still moving in the wrong direction.