Special Report: Walkable Streets

Four Decades of Stonewalling by the Traffic Department

The Durand and Kirkendall Neighbourhood Associations were requesting two-way conversions, traffic calming and reduced speed limits back in the 1970s.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published June 11, 2014

You may be interested in the following quote from Chapter 10 of the book Durand, a neighbourhood reclaimed: Community action in the inner city by Russell Elman (NA Group, 2001, ISBN-13: 978-0968798904). It details the efforts of the Durand Neighbourhood Association (DNA), starting in 1976, to calm traffic, convert the streets to two-way and reduce the speed limit to 20mph (30 km/h).

In 1976 residents of the Durand and adjacent Kirkendall neighbourhoods made a joint plea to the City: "We are all feeling the increasing pressure of heavy unremitting through traffic with the noise, pollution and safety problems that come with it ... We would like the City to assist us in carrying out a careful review of the traffic and transportation policies in our neighbourhoods". The request was ignored.

[Colin Vaughn, a Toronto alderman] provided the Association's annual meeting with a list of deterrents to excessive traffic: narrowing the roadway, installing stop signs at most intersections, diverting traffic by turning most of the residential streets into a maze and positioning obstacles such as speed bumps. His most radical suggestion was for removal of one-way streets.

The Durand Neighbourhood Association proposed interrupting one particularly favoured morning rush hour route by prohibiting motorists descending the Escarpment from filtering through the neighbourhood's residential streets. This request was repeatedly rejected, as was a suggestion to impose a 20-miles-an-hour speed limit on most streets within Durand.

The Traffic Department's obstinate defence of the status quo bred increasing resentment. Nearly every change recommended by citizens, however minor, seemed to spawn an avalanche of reasons why they could not be implemented.

And so it continues to this day. Yet we still have councillors balking at any talk of "accelerated" completion of conversions that were approved 13 years ago, telling us we need to be patient, and being extremely nervous about suggestions - like a 30km/h speed limit and two way conversions - that the DNA have been demanding for four decades!

Four Decades of Advocacy for Safer Streets

Urban neighbourhoods like DNA have been extremely consistent in their demands for safer traffic engineering in their neighbourhoods over the past 40 years.

Many of the solutions the neighbourhood was proposing back in the 1970s have since been adopted in cities around the world.

Hamilton could have been a leader in designing liveable communities if Council had listened to its citizens. Instead we are now trying to play catch up with other cities that have re-made themselves as safer, more attractive and more convenient places to live.

Even with countless examples of successfully re-engineered urban streets, we are still facing the same FUD about even the most minor changes, like converting a one-way street to two-ways, or installing a pedestrian crossing.

This book demonstrates the incredibly arrogant responses of Council and the traffic department over four decades of refusing to respond to the reasonable request that our neighbourhoods should be safe and comfortable, even if they are "urban".

When apologists for the status quo accuse seasoned advocates for safer streets and healthier neighbourhoods of being strident, think again of this line:

The Traffic Department's obstinate defence of the status quo bred increasing resentment. Nearly every change recommended by citizens, however minor, seemed to spawn an avalanche of reasons why they could not be implemented.

Notwithstanding a very few modest recent improvements, the avalanche of reasons not to make our neighbourhoods safer continues to this day. Being polite and patient has not been a successful strategy!

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By jason (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 09:50:35

No wonder life-long Hamiltonians are so confident to declare "nothing is going to change at city hall in our lifetime". History, and current-day policy proves they are absolutely right.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 11, 2014 at 10:52:56

You know what's located in Durand? City Hall. That's why they want to keep Durand as a series of little highways - for their own commute. Queen and especially Bay Street appears to be the personal expressway of city staff, connecting City Hall to/from Beckett and York Boulevard.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 11:22:52 in reply to Comment 102324

None of the Transportation-related offices in Hamilton are located at City Hall. Most are either on James St N, Upper Ottawa, Wentworth or Mount Hope.

Most of the City staff I've ever dealt with at City Hall live in Durand, Kirkendall, Gage Park area or Central/Beasley area so have a vested interest in improving the city and the Durand area.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 11:29:31

The year after this study was undertaken, the Durand Neighbourhood Study was completed with a number of the recommendations implemented including bumpouts, new road markings, some two-way conversions, inclusion of on-street parking, re-classificaiton of streets, etc. It was driven by things like the DNA's work to improve roadway safety in the community and was developed in co-operation with them. While there are some outstanding issues around two-way conversion which I don't deny, your history on the issue isn't complete with a book from 2001 which ignores a number of significant changes that have happened in the city since.


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By DownerInDowntownHamilton (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 12:41:49 in reply to Comment 102327

It sounds like you maybe work for the city. Instead of making excuses for decades of inaction why don't you try to be part of the solution?

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 12:59:26 in reply to Comment 102335

I'm just pointing out that when comments like "if Council had listened to its citizens" and "decades of inaction" are made, I think it's important to point out that improvements have been made. A livable community isn't a finite end, it's a continuous improvement project since they are living creatures. No one wants to deal with the crazy angry people who storm through your doors (if you've ever worked retail or as a food server you'll understand) so it's important to give credit to those who have helped to make improvements over time.

The reality is that many of the staff who have helped champion

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 13:02:36 in reply to Comment 102338

Sorry- hit 'post' too soon....

The reality is that many of the staff who have helped champion improvements are still there and it's worth community's efforts to help highlight that the traffic situation in Durand has improvement compared to 40 years ago. If it hasn't, then it really does show that measure already implemented (James S/Caroline/Hess two-way conversion, all-day on street parking, contraflow bike lane on Markland, blocking access to Markland from James S, pedestrian signal at Duke/Queen, bumpouts) aren't working which goes against the goals and advancements many residents in Durand (and neighbourhoods outside of it) want to see. They are good first steps and great investments for the community, but I agree more needs to be done. But overly generalized comments from the new "Toronto types" don't help.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 15:42:32 in reply to Comment 102339

Just to give a very recent Durand example of how far we have to go:


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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 14:02:10 in reply to Comment 102339

Really? I think the snails-pace old-boys-club status-quo-forever cycle Hamilton seems to be stuck-in could really benefit from the insight of the new "Toronto-types", not to mention the "Montreal-types", "German-types", "Dutch-types" and the old "Hamilton-types" who've been clamouring for a better city for decades.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 13:13:40 in reply to Comment 102339

Which staff were you thinking of who were championing the changes ten or twenty years ago? Who are these "Toronto types" (Duranders have been pushing at this for decades which might explain some impatience)?

The minor changes are working well but, just like the five-year moratorium in the North End, we should have to not have to wait 12 years or organize massive petitions and have a council vote just to get a pedestrian crossing (like they did in Kirkendall). The problem is that even minor changes require massive effort and persistence, sustained over many years. It shouldn't be this way, and it isn't this way in other places (or with road construction and maintenance, which happens as a matter of course).

I understand that staff don't like dealing with angry people, but decades of stonewalling, ignoring requests, and unimplemented studies tends to make residents a tad impatient and distrustful that staff actually wants to solve the problem (instead of declaring it an unsolvable non-problem).

And believe me, we tried the polite "wait for us to get back" approach for years with zero success.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-06-11 13:15:47

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 18:59:12 in reply to Comment 102342

don't bother with anyone who tries to defend the ineptitude we get in this city. Other cities lay down a massive protected bike network and 30k speed limits almost city-wide in a year. NYC transformed itself and closed many km of roads to cars in less than 5 years. Here we're told to wait another 40 because the city managed to do a few decent things over the past half century. Let's hold a parade to show our thanks.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 22:53:20 in reply to Comment 102354

Being a ~new toronto type (5 years ) and a participant in the first New York City Century ride in (~92). I'll say a few things. There is NOT ONE cycling activist in New York who would tell you this was a five year battle. When I was there for the century ride there had been at least TEN years of activism before 92.

The only way it changed in New York was that there were SO MANY bicycles on the road. That no one knew what to do!

The only way it changes anywhere is when there is a 'critical mass' of cyclists on the road.

The solution is NOT to complain about how dangerous it is here (it's not), it is actually to increase the number of cyclists.

NO city will do this on the 'build it and they will come' theory. They'll only do it when important people feel like they may hit a cyclist while on their cell phone.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 16, 2014 at 10:52:29 in reply to Comment 102356

The solution is NOT to complain about how dangerous it is here (it's not), it is actually to increase the number of cyclists.

So everyone who wants better cycling infrastructure needs to go out now on their bike and risk their lives? I don't get it. Even if you are right about NYC (which is dubious given how much cycling has grown since they started building infrastructure) there is no reason that Hamilton has to re-do the same experiment. We know what happens in cities when infrastructure is built, so we don't need to wait for cyclists to take over the streets.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 12, 2014 at 09:20:44 in reply to Comment 102356

Paris seems to be an opposite example. When I lived there first in 1994-1998 no one cycled because it was seen as dangerous and un-Parisian. Then they started a massive investment in protected bike lanes and introduced the velib and now the streets are full of cyclists. There was clearly a latent demand and "build it and they will come" did actually work.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 12, 2014 at 08:21:34 in reply to Comment 102356

not sure I agree when looking at smaller city examples like Portland. NY is so dense and congested that trying a bike, even without safe lanes, is worth it. Cites the size of Hamilton and Portland are dominated by dangerous, high-speed auto arterials. And the lower cost of living makes it easier for folks to buy a car. That, combined with no safe cycling routes limits the number of bikes on the road. However, I believe the pent-up demand for people to be able to safely ride is just as high as in NY or anyplace else. If Hamilton laid out an initial grid of protected bike lanes through the lower city and Mountain, I suspect the cycling numbers would skyrocket.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 12:27:58 in reply to Comment 102327

I've written extensively about the 2002 Durand Traffic Study, and it did represent incremental progress. But the overall attitude of the traffic engineers has been exactly as described in the book (at least until recently ... things might finally be changing).

However, the changes made were quite modest considering the effort and this was 12 years ago (and one of the constraints was that no change could remove a parking spot, even if the total number of parking spots increased). Since then the DNA has been trying to have the results reviewed (there was supposed to be five year review that never happened) and have further improvements made, with little success. There has not been consistent improvement, and each change requires massive community effort and constant pushing from our councillor.

A prime example is the Durand's treatment when we agreed to co-host public health's "Walk and Bike for Life Workshop"


"A few years ago the DNA, on the City's request, hosted the "Walk and Bike for Life" workshop with 8-80 Cities (Gil Penalosa's outfit). I was skeptical at the time, but city staff (from public health) assured us the recommendations would be taken very seriously and at least some implemented.

After a year of no response to the resulting report, and constant reminders from our councillor, traffic staff finally met with the DNA to tell us they would not make any changes at all. This was especially galling as Penalosa specifically had us add in "petunias": low cost, simple solutions that could be implemented very quickly and easily."

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-06-11 12:31:12

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 11:38:06

"Hamilton could have been a leader in designing liveable communities if Council had listened to its citizens. Instead we are now trying to play catch up with other cities that have re-made themselves as safer, more attractive and more convenient places to live."

I would imagine it would be an invaluable exercise to examine 'other cities'(especially Canadian, most importantly ones in Ontario) and how their makeovers were accomplished. That way, we could draw evidence-based conclusions as to what happened in each instance. Maybe they were the result of community efforts. Maybe they were the result of 'visionary' Councils. Maybe they were the result of organic processes.

Don't you think this might help focus efforts in Hamilton?

Does anyone have a list of Canadian cities that were re-made?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 12:17:27 in reply to Comment 102328

Vancouver is the best example: they've done the most and the changes started in 1970s at the same time the Durand was asking for changes that weren't ever made, or only partially implemented decades later (e.g. the 2002 Traffic Study that led to two minor roads being converted to two-way and some bump-outs on Aberdeen and Charlton).

In fact the West End of Vancouver (quite similar to Durand in many respects) made the radical change of diagonally cutting off many intersections to stop and slow down cut-through traffic. This is precisely the "maze" strategy suggested by Vaughn. At the time people claimed that it would cause all sorts of problems for motorists and emergency vehicles, but they are still there 40 years later (and no one would remove them now). The extra paved space was also used for many mini-parkettes. This is an example of a solution Hamilton could have implemented decades ago, but didn't.

Here are some examples of the diagonal cut and blocks that have been closed to traffic (Hamilton could have done this in the 1970s too!):





What is the difference in Vancouver?

It's hard to say, but Vancouver never built an urban freeway, never implemented a massive one-way conversion of almost all streets in an around downtown and had strong community groups and municipal level political parties that campaigned on progressive urban design platforms.

It has also had a consistent pro-active planning policy pursued over decades and supported by council to favour density, walking and cycling. And they are continuing to this day to make incremental changes every year, rather than timidly blocking projects that might be controversial, or imposing 5-year moratoriums on something as standard as a 30km/h speed limit. The City of Vancouver was never amalgamated with the suburbs, which means that all councillors are basically urban in outlook. The over-representation of suburban residents on council probably has made change harder recently, although it doesn't really explain the past.

One important factor is that urban design, traffic engineering and public health all supported the "people first" planning principles, whereas in Hamilton (at least until recently) traffic engineering seemed to be actually opposed to the pedestrian friendly initiatives pushed by our urban design (e.g. "Putting people first" downtown master plan) and public health (e.g. "pedestrian summit" and "walk and bike for life" workshops whose results were first ignored and then blocked by traffic).

I think this is changing, but it is vital that the engineers themselves support putting people first, both personally and professionally, rather than seeing the goal of their job as ensuring the smooth and efficient movement of motor vehicles.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-06-11 12:34:41

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted June 12, 2014 at 12:20:27 in reply to Comment 102331

Vancouver also has the worst gridlock in Canada. It's actually far worse on secondary roads as people try to avoid congestion on the main roads by "rat-running". I wouldn't hold it up as a shinning example of urban design, traffic engineering or public health. It seems like a cautionary tale on all fronts.

I'd prefer my residential Street not have an endless stream of idling cars crawling past my front door. I think the best way to do this is to ensure the arterial roads continue work well.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2014 at 19:40:22 in reply to Comment 102376

I grew up in Vancouver and visit my dad regularly. Even today Vancouver is still finding ways to improve its cycling infrastructure. The walkability, bicycle support, and rocking transit are CHOICES that Vancouver has made that improve on its dark gloomy winters of endless rain. The gridlock problem is not in downtown Vancouver. The gridlock problem is in those suburbs that have bent over for the car and are sucking the teat of low density big house syndrome. There will never be enough highway for those suburbs. Ever. I can attest to that being the case as of 2 weeks ago (May 2014). So the choices based on evidence are the best for the city. The pathetic scarcity mentality of Hamilton's so called elite is digging our grave. Our neighbouring cities will not wait. We can buy a wiener factory from Kitchener, but they are building their LRT.

Also this is supposed to part of a system. The system needs good safe roads, transit, walkability, regional trains, and highways. The present process is systemless, siloed and pathetic. We deserve it all and we can have it all.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 12, 2014 at 13:28:44 in reply to Comment 102376

I just spent a week in Vancouver, and traffic congestion has actually eased in the last couple of years as more people switch to walking, cycling and transit.

We drove several times from downtown Vancouver to the North Shore over Lions Gate bridge in the afternoon rush hour, and traffic flowed smoothly with no problems. Other people confirmed that traffic indeed has improved recently, at least downtown.

And we drove several times over Burrard bridge, which is being renovated and is down to only one lane in each direction. Despite this traffic flowed smoothly (although fairly slowly) and there was nothing even approaching "gridlock" (which means traffic does not move in any direction at an intersection for several light cycles). Slow is fine in dense urban areas.

The road blockages in the West End largely solved the rat running there in the 1970s.

And, as others have pointed out, free flowing high speed traffic is not a very attractive or important competitive advantage of a City's downtown ... in fact every big successful city has become and stayed big and successful without it. But you do need good options (like high quality transit, cycling and walking facilities).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-06-12 13:31:02

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2014 at 12:27:58 in reply to Comment 102376

On the other hand, Vancouver is successful, has a vibrant tourism industry, and is some of the most desirable real-estate in the country. Hamilton is mostly a punchline to jokes about poverty and urban decay.

So maybe slow traffic is just part of the price of success?

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2014-06-12 12:28:18

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By screencarp (registered) | Posted June 12, 2014 at 13:24:57 in reply to Comment 102378

Perhaps the ocean, the mountains and the mild climate have something to do with it? Geography has likely has much more to do with Vancouver's success and the myriad of social problems that have accompanied it. I'm not sure "slow" is a popular reason to live in an urban core, but once you have Gridlock, your best recourse is transit, bike and pedestrian.

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2014 at 12:32:48 in reply to Comment 102378

There are people in Hamilton who are more than willing to keep the city depressed as long as it doesn't affect THEM and they can still drive quickly past all the despair.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 12:58:34 in reply to Comment 102331

Thanks for the info on Vancouver. What you've provided is an intriguing snapshot. It sounds like it came down to numerous elements combining to create something organic. I'd love to see a timeline, a fulsome portrait of 'How They Got To Where They Are'.

I think it's important to recognize and weight appropriately the difference between the two cities. I'm not making excuses here, merely being realistic. I would tend to think some of these differences, when combined, explain a lot. As well, having spent time on the 'left coast', I know the general mindset is different. (And Hamilton could never even dream of hosting an Olympics, so it's safe to say that on some levels, we're talking apples and oranges, yes?)

So, beyond decrying how the Traffic Department here has mangled the cause of 'complete streets', what would you say are the lessons Hamiltonians could learn from Vancouverites?

And are there other cities in Canada that have managed to evolve into more humane environments?

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2014 at 19:56:13 in reply to Comment 102337

My personal experience in Vancouver was that the Rapid Transit backbone ALRT was the engine that transformed the city. It was put in place by the Social Credit government as part of EXPO 1986 which had a transportation theme. The Social Credit provincial government in the mid 1980s was essentially what Harris PCs were in the late 1990s. The opposition to the train was immense. We heard all the same lies, queries, vitriol, and FUD that we are hearing today. You could take articles and speeches and replace Vancouver with Hamilton and you would think it was 2006 (even some of the haircuts are the same). So I have heard all the garbage before. The Main difference is that we have the internet today and Hamilton's media is disproportionately controlled by the advertising service called CHML and the deadline hacking Hamilton Speculum. The internet clearly has not been helpful as this potential tool for changing the world has become a retard amplifier. So what is needed is something or someone with power, or more nicely put a champion, to ram the B-Line LRT so far up the ass of Hamilton that its rails land in Dundas. In 1986 it was bullies like Hudak and Harris. Who would have thunk it?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 13:05:52 in reply to Comment 102337

You could read this article I wrote a few years ago comparing Hamilton and Vancouver:


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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 16:55:38 in reply to Comment 102341

Yes. I remember this article. And the ensuing discussion. It certainly got me thinking. Great stuff then, just as great now.

So how do you see the walkable streets cause successfully moving forward? How do you see changing the paradigm? Do you focus on changing the mindsets at City Hall? Do you focus on developing better understanding of all this in communities, in all communities, including those for whom 'walkable streets' isn't on their radar, and then use this understanding (and hoped-for accompanying support) as leverage to get Those Making Decisions to see things differently?

'We don't just get the government we deserve, we get the governance we don't demand.'

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 17:07:55 in reply to Comment 102352

I think the paradigm is slowly changing, and it is changing because the Ward 1 and 2 councillors have been supportive, the attitude among staff is slowly beginning to shift (and some very good people have been hired recently), and the community is becoming more active and demanding change rather than just politely asking and hoping someone will eventually get around to it (think Cannon bike lane, 30km/h North End zone and tactical urbanism).

I don't think it is helpful or practical to try to change the attitude of everyone all over the city before pushing for change in the neighbourhoods that want it. But I don't really think we really need to since no one actually wants their own neighbourhood to have dangerous high speed traffic and street designs that make walking uncomfortable and challenging.

The main message to the rest of Hamilton needs to be that Durand (and other lower city neighbourhoods) are also densely populated residential neighbourhoods and that this is what the residents want, it will be good overall for downtown (including economically), and please ask your own councillor to be supportive (and I'm sure our councillors will support your efforts, just as they did for Wilson street. But there needs to be some trust that the residents have a pretty good idea of what's needed, especially groups like the DNA that have studied this issue for decades.

The participatory budget process has also been very helpful in Wards 1 and 2 as it has removed the "but there's no money" argument.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-06-11 17:09:21

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 13:04:39

As part of the Ward 2 Participatory Budget Process, right now City staff have been submitted proposals to implement some of the improvements that the DNA has been fighting to achieve for the last 38 years. Specifically, proposals to eliminate some of the cut-through "rat-running" car traffic that poses the greatest danger to us residents and our children.

It is not difficult to predict that if these proposals actually make it onto the ballot, they will have the same overwhelming support from the people that they have had for the last 38 years.

These proposals are certainly nothing new or radical. They simply ask for the same consideration granted to virtually every residential neighbourhood in The Netherlands. As well, there are numerous examples in Toronto and Vancouver with a proven track records of success. It is not hard to predict that, if implemented, this success will continue in Hamilton and that after implementation there would be overwhelming opposition from the people to the very idea of ever going back to our present hostile and dangerous environment.

It is my sincere prayer that City staff will catch up to the year 1976 and condescend to allow the people of Ward 2 to vote to take back their streets and their neighbourhoods for us people and our children.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted June 11, 2014 at 16:50:46

Great article, as usual, Nicholas. Your research is fantastic.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted June 13, 2014 at 06:50:09

A great observation from Christopher Hume in today's Star that can be applied to the complete streets cause regarding educating the general public:

"If we don’t know what we want, we’ll never get what we need."

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