Special Report: Walkable Streets

Enough Ideas: Time for Action

How many more times do we need to keep hearing the same message about what needs to change before we muster up the courage to act?

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 22, 2011

An RTH comment posted on June 4 explains how anyone with a Hamilton Public Library membership can access a searchable online database of Hamilton Spectator articles published since 1991.

Poking around the archives, I came across an interesting piece that starts, "A strong consensus is building for changes downtown that include two-way streets and housing innovations." The article covers a report presented by a group of architects to City Council after a symposium of planners, architects, developers, engineers and creative professionals convened to discuss opportunities and build consensus on next steps.

The report acknowledged the number of people already committed to live and work in the downtown and asserted the necessity of building on that momentum to achieve a critical mass and realize the city's potential.

It concluded that no single change would revitalize downtown, and that a successful strategy should include a number of changes:

These are all sensible ideas that we have been promoting on RTH since we launched in the end of 2004.

Now start crying hot, wet tears of despair, because the article I just cited was published on Thursday, September 26, 1996. Titled "Ideas to get people back downtown", it was a summary of the Hamilton Downtown Ideas Charette which took place in June of that year.

Since that time, a few of the recommendations have come to pass:

However, the Traffic Department remains implacably opposed to two-way conversion on major east-west streets.

Our by-law office is conducting a review of the zoning by-law, but in the meantime our existing rules are still squashing urban businesses fifteen years after the Charette identified them as a clear obstacle to revitalization.

Enough already. There's a time for being patient, for allowing process to run its course, for studying and consulting and considering options. We're long past that point and suffocating in the stink of a regulatory system that was already obsolete in the mid-1990s.

Yesterday, Paul Bedford, the former chief planner for the City of Toronto (now retired), came to Hamilton and told the assembled attendees absolutely nothing that we didn't already know and haven't already heard again and again and again, from expert after expert at symposium after summit after workshop after charette. (No discredit to Bedford: his speech was as inspiring for its vision of a hopeful future as it was frustrating for the relative absence of buy-in from our local leaders.)

I had to stop attending the Public Works Department's annual Transportation Summit because it was making me sick to see transportation engineer after urban planner after architect tell our public works managers the same thing - convert your streets to two-way, build light rail transit, design for walkablilty, throw out the zoning regulations - with almost no impact on the department's steadfast commitment to traffic flow over all other priorities.

The annual Economic Summit is another opportunity for our city's business and policy leaders to listen to outside experts remind us of what we already know but refuse to embrace. Instead, we remain under the thrall of failed models of development in which we continue to do what we've been doing for the past fifty years in the hopes that it might be different this time.

Where is the bold vision and commitment from our leaders? It's not enough to lead from the middle on this one: that is a recipe to continue drifting aimlessly in the status quo when we should be pulling in earnest for a much more successful, prosperous city.

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. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 22, 2011 at 17:20:30

Has anyone ever asked the Public Works managers why they are committed to the flow of traffic before all other goals?

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By mike_sak (registered) | Posted June 22, 2011 at 18:15:05 in reply to Comment 65067

it's easier to get from downtown to stoney creek(east) or the qew(west). they dont want to disrupt that flow.

Comment edited by mike_sak on 2011-06-22 18:15:29

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By James (registered) | Posted June 22, 2011 at 19:08:10 in reply to Comment 65072

But isnt that what burlington street is for?

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By hartless (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2011 at 17:27:35 in reply to Comment 65067

Hart Solomon

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By Nord Blanc (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 08:50:35

It would be interesting to do an audit departments like Planning, EcDev and Public Works and see how many bodies they've gone through over the past 30 years. My suspicion is that the results would be damning.

"Where is the political leadership to respond?" asks Spec editor Howard Elliott. "Historically, it’s been difficult to keep the spotlight of public attention on the story — it’s not sexy, and tends to get overshadowed by things such as, say, the threat of losing a football team over a stadium debate...But does the political and ethical will exist to deal with the crisis?.... Hello? That’s called the status quo, and it’s not working... Come to think of it, perhaps this problem is not that complex after all. It’s about quality of life, public safety, collective responsibility and public stewardship."


Oh, wait... never mind. My bad.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 09:46:57

in today's paper there is an article about the International Village downtown. The current director of the BIA states the difficulty in getting people to the area due to it's current highway configuration along King and Main and 'cut through' mentality of drivers.

It's one of the reasons I attend far fewer charettes than I used to. Despite the great ideas and optimism that comes from them, they are doomed to failure because the people in the room participating aren't the ones who can implement the ideas. The folks at city hall have been tasked with that job and 15+ years of ignoring experts advice has proven how massive the leadership and vision gap is in this city between engaged citizens and the city's administration.

Every year we hear the same thing at the Economic Summit and every year we do nothing about one of the biggest hindrances to our city - urban, one-way, truck freeways.
As I visit other cities, it's painful to see how far behind we're falling. Other cities are converting streets, building LRT, scrapping height restrictions, planting street trees by the thousands, widening sidewalks, adding bike lanes, bike sharing and bike signals (nice to see us finally get one on Aberdeen soon) We continue to post truck routes through the heart of the city and then wonder why businesses won't flock to Main or Cannon.

King East through the International Village reminds me of Delray Beach (I just visited last week). Only difference is the one-way design and lack of pedestrians.... the two are very connected. Lead or lag. Those have been our two options for decades now, and on this issue we are firmly planted in the lag department.

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By Henri Leduc (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 10:38:35 in reply to Comment 65089

Re: urban, one-way, truck freeways

I believe that it is less about the built form than the way in which that form is regulated. It is not impossible to imagine a perfectly civilized pedestrian-friendly street that is as wide as King and Main combined.


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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 14:04:09

If we wait around for our leaders to lead, we'll be waiting forever.

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By verhovm (registered) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 14:24:11

"Now start crying in earnest, because the article I just cited was published on Thursday, September 26, 1996."

Exactly...the absurdity is unbelievably depressing!! Thank you for pulling this out of the Spec archives. It seems that all of the public will to improve the core has not gotten us too far in 15 years. Is it time for an RTH reader "Take Back the Streets" march?!!

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By Catballou (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 15:00:26

"Where is the political leadership to respond?" asks Spec editor Howard Elliott." Maybe if the Spectator spent some time on local issues instead of trying to win awards for its long-in-the-tooth reporters who mostly don't live in the city, then they could motivate political leadership. Walk the walk, Mr. Elliot instead of pretending to be a newspaper with a provincial reach...you don't so focus on things Hamilton.

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By James (registered) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 15:45:49 in reply to Comment 65116

Yes. I totally agree with Catballou. I think I receive more intelligent information on local issues from websites like this, or open file, urbanicity, etc etc than i do from reading the spec or....ugh....watching chch news.

I think raise the hammer needs its own daily segment on cable 14 or something.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2011 at 21:57:06

We should compile a list of reports, plans, and studies that the city has commissioned in the past 20 years that have been ignored.

I think it would be a worthwhile exercise, and perhaps the results would hopefully be shocking to council.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted June 24, 2011 at 18:25:37 in reply to Comment 65130

Once you have reviewed all the redundant studies, add up how much all those studies cost. Then it will look like a puke sandwich in a rancid bowl of indecision.

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By Smithy (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2011 at 07:35:30

Yes I too agree with Cat Ballou. What's with this LHINs thing in the spec recently. I just ignore these long winded articles about the provinical stuff and read RTH or HMag. Cable 14 is more about Hamilton than CH that's for sure. And what's with those two morning people? Can that Hamm person pronounce anything right?

But my favourite is still RTH

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted June 24, 2011 at 08:51:50 in reply to Comment 65136

DR 50 50 100%

But my favourite is still RTH

What can I say?


You sold out before; and I suspect that that instinct is very hard to suppress.

So sorry my friend, I just couldn't resist because I don't believe that whole discussion is yet finished with.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 24, 2011 at 15:18:54

New Brunswick cut tax rates aggressively starting in 2010...


and curiously enough, their manufacturing sector was the strongest in Canada...


Our tax rates are far higher than our GTA neighbours and until this changes, we will continue to be the poor man of the GTA. Even Portland and Boston have figured this out and both have tax caps to limit government greed.

On the flip side, Detroit has very high property tax rates and it is slowly reverting back to a wilderness, due to the mass exodus of residents. If lefties can open their eyes to the TRUTH, they will help make Hamilton a great city again.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted June 24, 2011 at 19:01:24 in reply to Comment 65167

I agree that tax rates should be competitive across the region. I am not sure that the links you have given demonstrate that. The first refers to declining personal income tax, which may or not interest companies. The other is an article that basically says people still buy bags of frozen french fries when the economy tanks. As someone that has run a business in Hamilton the taxes are not the main problem, the main problem is the byzantine maze of convoluted zoning and other regulations. Taxes don't move much over 5 years, but rules about parking, licensing, and inspection seem to be whimsical. Bureaucratic randomness is a much bigger threat to getting businesses here.

On the flip side Detroit's reputation and physical plant were significantly damaged by poverty riots decades ago. Many of those buildings, schools, and churches still sit there unrepaired. The issues in Detroit are far more complex than tax relief.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 25, 2011 at 13:49:05 in reply to Comment 65175

I suppose it comes down to the question "what is a tax"? Are the mammoth fees which come alongside our Zoning applications considered taxes? How about the massive costs of compliance which never go toward government revenues - like paving the mandatory parking spaces.

If council expropriated part of your front lawn for a road-widening, is that a "tax"? How about if traffic on an existing road is intensified (one way, synchronized lights etc)?

Are taxes a problem? Sure. Are taxes THE problem? That's a bit of a stretch.

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By DavidColacci (registered) | Posted June 24, 2011 at 16:35:12 in reply to Comment 65167

There must be a middle ground here somewhere. I think most of us here are rate payers and the goal is not to bankrupt the city or drive business away. But 15 years to implement sound strategies to encourage re-birth of our core is a bit much.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted June 25, 2011 at 14:07:23

Referencing the 1996 plan is, sadly, another example of good ideas going to waste in this town.

We have current examples such as the Gore Master Plan. I was on the Citizen Advisory Committee and was greatly impressed with the quality, thoroughness, and professionalism of the process. It was hands on. We made real changes, not cosmetic ones. I communicated my positive feedback to those involved.

Then, Council moves the buses from Gore Park and rather than following through on a $200,000 pilot project related to the Master Plan, they pull the funding and install parking meters.

The same citizen engagement process, led by the same people, has begun on the John/Rebecca Park. The last step in the process states "Construction - pending Council approval."

Council approval should be the first step, not the last. We spend money on staff and consultants, engage citizens albeit in a well-designed process, and THEN we ask Council if they think we should move ahead? I understand it's difficult to put a final budget on something you have yet to design, but we're talking about working within an identified framework and with a stated purpose. In the case of John/Rebecca Park, it's going to be a park bounded by streets already defined. How about an approved budget that starts at +/- 50% and goes down from there as the details emerge? At least we would know the money has actually been allocated. This spin again approach to citizen engagement is as annoying in 2011 as I'm sure it was in 1996 (and well before that I suspect).

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