City Life

'Country Living' in the City

While I understand the frustration of these Ancaster residents with respect to their traffic situation, I can't say that I'm overly sympathetic.

By Jason Leach
Published December 14, 2005

From the 'ironic' files: Ancaster's community council recently invited a couple of city transportation staffers to attend their monthly meeting.

They proceeded to moan and groan about the traffic congestion in their once fine town, especially when there is an accident on the 403 and folks use Wilson Street as a shortcut.

As one of the committee members said, "We want people to stay here and shop we don't want people to just drive through."

Does that sound familiar?

Those of us living in downtown Hamilton face this same issue every single day of our lives, not just when there is an accident on the 403.

In fact, a couple of years ago a traffic study showed that roughly two-thirds of all cars on King and Main Streets in downtown Hamilton were just passing through. Their trip did not start or end in the downtown core.

I regularly have family members or friends on the Mountain say, "I'm not coming downtown anymore with those two-way streets."

I presume they are expecting me to fall prostrate and beg them to reconsider. "Please, oh please don't do that! You don't understand. Downtown Hamilton might die if you don't rip down King Street in your Escalade!"

Instead, I inform them of what it is like to live in a city. Many actually understand the urban point of view when it is explained properly to them.

Two-way streets are for the health and safety of the residents and businesses on those streets. There's a good reason why James North looks like it does, and Main Street looks like it does.

A city employee told me last week that they have noticed a considerable drop in traffic volumes on both James and John Streets since going two-way a few weeks ago.

The biggest complaint I have heard about this conversion, and I share it, is the lack of on-street parking. I mentioned this in our last issue and encourage others who feel the same way to contact the city's Public Works Department.

Reducing traffic volumes is exactly what we need to do on our retail streets. Business owners need to remember that folks who live in the area and folks who come from a distance to shop at your store are your true customers, not the suburbanites who want to use your street as a shortcut. They aren't spending a dime in your store, and never will.

While I understand the frustration of these Ancaster residents with respect to their traffic situation, I can't say that I'm overly sympathetic.

I mean, they chose to live in a suburb where owning a car or three is an absolute necessity for everyday life. It's kind of hard to turn around and blame City Hall for your decision.

Those living in suburban areas who would like to see proper planning and development are in the minority. A look at the past few municipal elections will show the vast majority of suburbanites casting their votes for the Councillor and Mayor most likely to continue with the sprawl program. You got what you asked for.

Don't blame City Hall. Don't blame your neighbours. Look in the mirror.

As the editor of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently wrote, "The market would never choose sprawl."

We are always told by the Hamilton Homebuilders Association that they are simply building what people want to buy. If you're reading this and still believe that, you really need to educate yourself on the workings of private corporations.

It has taken billions of public tax dollars and slick advertising campaigns promising "country living in the city" to get people to buy into these suburban neighbourhoods that are completely impractical, socially disconnected and make you a slave to your car.

And as for that "country living," I've yet to see it. I think what they mean to say is, "This used to be a nice piece of country greenery, but once we're done with it you can pay us $300,000 to live in a house with a huge garage, a gravel driveway and not a tree in sight."

Sounds downright idyllic.

I am a strong believer in public involvement in local neighbourhoods and in city governance. We don't just cast a vote and then sit silently by for three years.

However, the Ancaster Community Council would be better served convincing City Hall of the need for proper development to come to their area.

Think green building technologies, better land-use (think of how many thousands of residents could have been housed above all those big box stores if they were to add two stories of residential space), public transit, increased densities and an overall enhancement of your built environment.

Help create a place where young people feel a sense of community. Where one can walk down the street to a local bookstore, bar or café.

Until that happens, traffic will only get worse. After all, that's what you signed up for when you chose to enjoy country living in the city.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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