Special Report: Light Rail

Dreschel Defends Whitehead's Attack on Safer Streets

Or, How to waste a billion dollars and keep the city divided against itself in one easy step.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published November 27, 2015

Unfortunately, Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel has decided to throw his support behind Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead's proposal for a moratorium on any new changes to streets along the LRT route.

Whitehead's willingness to question, if not necessarily oppose, everything from two-way conversions to complete streets has all but branded him an urban rube in the eyes of progressives. So it's unfortunate he's the messenger in this case, because the proposed pause makes sense.

The closing paragraph is a slight caveat that the moratorium is perhaps too broad:

Chances are Whitehead's blanket proposal is far too sweeping, far too indiscriminate. Presumably staff can shed some light on that during the debate, hopefully without having to generate yet another complicated time-consuming report that pulls them away from their tasks at hand.

Dreschel also blows the dog whistle, singling out "cyclists and neighbourhood advocates" for opposing the moratorium, when it is clear that support for complete streets is broad among all lower city residents, not just those pesky urban activists. (A road diet on Aberdeen was also one of the top-voted projects in the 2014 Ward 1 Participatory Budget.)

Dreschel claims that 17,000 car trips will be "displaced". I assume he means that the capacity of King street will be reduced by this amount, but that seems incorrect since King only carries a total of about 30,000 cars on 4-5 lanes.

What's more, the idea is that the upcoming light rail transit (LRT) line will "displace" car trips into transit, not that we assume everyone will continue to drive everywhere just as before. If so, what's the point of LRT?

Even if we accept the 17,000 number at face value, that is not huge, especially given the under-capacity of adjacent streets. It's the equivalent of less than two lanes excess capacity - at moderate traffic levels - to be accommodated over the entire lower city street network!

Area of Councillor Whitehead's proposed moratorium on new street safety improvements (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Area of Councillor Whitehead's proposed moratorium on new street safety improvements (Image Credit: Google Maps)

Best Practices for LRT Success

But the worst thing about this - aside from the fact that it ignores the obvious wedge politics that Whitehead playing here, as he has done consistently in the past - is that it rejects everything that the Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis and every other study has said must be done for LRT to be a success.

The evidence is clear: to maximize the transformational benefits of this $1 billion LRT investment, we must shift away from our auto-centric transportation policy, and our streets must be redesigned in a complete, people-first way. This is necessary to create the right conditions for transit oriented development and densify the LRT corridor with new residents, shops and businesses.

Doug Morgan, Calgary's Transit General Manager, told a City-sponsored meeting on Wednesday evening at Mohawk College - in Mr. Whitehead's own ward! - that it is vital for the City to take a holistic view of land use and transportation planning to make the most of its LRT investment.

Calgary has firm limits on parking downtown, resulting in the highest prices in the country - whereas Hamilton has the lowest.

Calgary also ensures that the entire transit user experience is top quality, from the time customers leave their front door to their arrival at their destination. That means a high quality pedestrian experience, not trying to cling to an auto-centric status quo.

Hamilton Moving Backwards

Unfortunately, despite Morgan's advice, the political discussion in Hamilton is going completely the wrong way: let's try to keep everything just as it is and avoid making necessary changes.

And what is Dreschel going to say if and when Whitehead opposes a staff recommendation for the two-way conversion of Main, Queen, Bay and Cannon to improve vehicle traffic movement?

What if they conclude that there is plenty of excess capacity, or that the pedestrian experience is sub-standard for a rapid transit corridor and sidewalks need to be widened or crosswalks added?

It is clear that the street network will need to be re-configured for LRT, but it will need to be changed in ways that support LRT and transit oriented development - and Whitehead will certainly oppose these changes.

He is justifying his current motion based on concerns he apparently heard from senior staff. However, he ignored staff recommendations - and his own survey - on the King Street bus lane when they didn't back up his preconceptions. He even "challenged the objectivity of staff's bus lane report" according to Dreschel's January 15 Spectator article on the issue.

It sounds like the only thing that is really motivating Whitehead is his desire to attack the lower city and thwart the efforts of its residents to improve their neighbourhoods.

Hobbling the LRT project and setting it up for failure is just icing on the cake!

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 z jones (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 13:46:32

No surprise, Dreschel trades on this stuff and keeping the city divided keeps him busy fanning the flames.

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By Op Ed (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 14:03:13

That's the beauty of opinions. Everyone has one.

It's just sad when opinions are devoid of facts to back them up.

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By stefancaunter (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 14:09:32

There are thousands of people who feel this way. They like driving, and find Hamilton awesome for it. They buy that newspaper and vote for these councillors. While I am not one of them, and dearly wish that things were like Amsterdam here, and am terrified of having my kids anywhere near Aberdeen (I live south of Aberdeen around Locke), the situation is not going to change until the younger generation demands actual local representation and control over a city.

There is no local representation, and there has not been for 20 years. Municipal councils are not interested in their "downtowns", they are interested in the entire surrounding population that, generally, drives to work and shopping. There is still a very large older generation that thinks life is sitting in a big house, and driving a big car. Lower energy prices are not helping. Sensible energy tax policy would assist in changes in patterns, but again, given the distaste for any fuel tax increases, this is unlikely.

Until the base, underlying political organization changes, to have a downtown city be allowed to control itself, Hamilton gonna Hamilton, and Toronto gonna Toronto. No one, ever, votes against their short term interest.

Comment edited by stefancaunter on 2015-11-27 15:12:11

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 14:45:31 in reply to Comment 115185

Problem is - desire aside - we can't afford it. We simply don't have the money to have a car city. And it is inexcusable for a councillor to not understand this fundamental reality.

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By cars (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:19:56 in reply to Comment 115186

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:28:06 in reply to Comment 115197

Bike lanes are made of paint and signage. That's cheap. Building roadway is literally hundreds of times more. For example, the most expensive bike-lane project in the history of the city cost under $800k to build, and that involved planters and traffic lights. That's 4X larger than the city normally budgets for an entire year of cycling improvements. Normally the city spends about $200k.

Meanwhile, there's over $100M in spending planned around Clappison's Corners on road widening and intersection upgrades. That's over 100X larger than the biggest bike lane project you've ever heard of.

Did you even know there's that much money planned to be spent in Waterdown? Did Council debate it? Does anybody care?

You're welcome to be cranky about urbanist designs for our city, but get your numbers straight first.

Bikes are cheap. Pedestrians are cheap. Cars aren't.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 15:15:57

if only we had 2 empty traffic lanes somewhere in the lower city that could accommodate 17,000 cars........

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By YOUR street (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2015 at 07:33:34 in reply to Comment 115187

Your street, perhaps?

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 15:23:16

watching the old boys club flail around wildly in a last ditch effort to not see 'the good ole days' come to end lands somewhere between sad and comical.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 15:29:25

1 -- Personally: I agree with Nicholas that the motion is ridiculous, in its current exact wording.

2 -- That said: I have to take a nuanced "glass-half-full" view in how to respond to this.

Here are some points:

  • Waterloo ION LRT starts up by end of 2017, and Ottawa Confederation LRT starts up 2018. We will see one or two Toronto LRTs start up firt too (e.g. Finch West). This will expose Hamilton to the existence of modern LRTs, and change the discussion atmosphere.

  • During the September 23 meeting, it was mentioned that this would be a rolling construction. This suggests that many sections of LRT won't see construction till 2021 or 2022. This is consistent with what we see in Kitchener-Waterloo LRT construction, some sections had no evidence of planned LRT until just 2 years prior to completion.

  • There's a wide range of years between now and 2023 that sections of street networks can be converted.

  • There are compensatory actions we can do. It's possible to productively advocate the city for traffic simulations to happen ASAP, even outside the context of LRT but in generic "keep traffic flowing while sections of Lower City are generically shutdown" context -- and have answers as soon as next year to allow recommendations to happen.

  • As seen in construction in other cities, several streets are not going to see construction for another 7 years, which is literally 2 election cycles away: There are healthy energies we'll be focussing on.

We definitely have a lot of work to convince the city and population of doing the right thing on reformulating the Lower City streets incrementally. We can't wait 7 years and, suddenly, at the last minute, panic about street changes. It's easier to do it now incrementally, without the moratorium.

But if we unavoidably must deal with the moratorium, it absolutely should have a sunset clause (~1 year) and relinquish traffic decision making of the LRT corridor completely to the LRT team (including all 1-way and 2-way decisions, unhindered by councillors, while considering the results of the traffic simulations (that Jason Thorne told me about), and the capacity-versus-speed perspective). These minor changes may turn this ridiculous motion into a palatable compromise. I do get the sense, Terry, may not be amenable to this; but it is an otherwise relatively small wording change, in theory. Rather than being stuck in this moratorium for, say, 5-7 years.

Imagine, amazing indeed, that just a mere few-word change (e.g. 1-year sunset clause & traffic planning relinquishment clause to let LRT team replan the Lower City traffic network) to the moratorium, may cause some of us to end up agreeing or tolerating it.

North-south Lower City Streets, have mostly very little opposition. Even 1-way Main advocates that some of us may disagree with, are often pro-North-South-2-way (Allan Taylor, the treasurer of the Sherman Hub community meetings -- for example, is pro 2-way for north-south streets.) Some of us us famously disagree with him on certain elements on Hamilton urbanization and topics (disagreeing on LRT), but we personally have no disagreement on north-south streets and apparently we agree many should become 2-way immediately, independently and irregardless of LRT! I ask a genuine rheoretical question for people to think: How does this motion on the moratorium consider this?

There is simultaneously "not much time" and "plenty of time" depending on point of view. Representing a wide variety of Hamilton residents on both sides of the Escarpment, with very diverse views (elements that I may not always agree with, but must take into consideration!) --

For myself, I necessarily take the glass-half-full view. We'll have deal with obstacles like these in a positive approach. It creates more work for our advocacy organization, especially as I have to represent the views of a wide variety of Hamilton for our advocacy organization. Unfortunately, I expected motions similar to this to happen. That said, we are prepared to face these challenges.

On a related note; we're making a presentation at the next LRT sub-committee meeting to introduce our advocacy organization at 3:30pm on Nov 30 (agenda with my name). Please Note -- Our presentation isn't about this topic or motion on the moratorium -- the presentation agenda/plan predates this particular recent discussion

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-11-27 16:59:46

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:43:20 in reply to Comment 115189

I sincerely appreciate your optimism, and I agree with all of your points, EXCEPT when it comes to holding out any hope for anything other than mind-numbing chatter from city hall. These guys/ladies travel the world. They see how successful cities work. It doesn't matter if it's Vancouver the last 2 decades or K-W and TO when their LRT lines open. The response from Hamilton will be same old, same old.
Not sure if you've ever read 'Their Town: The Mafia, Media and Party Machine' but it gives good insight (100% relevant in 2015) into how this city works (or doesn't work if you're looking for progressive ideas)

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:49:44 in reply to Comment 115204

I already know. Doesn't prevent my plan to keep up optimism for 10 years nonstop. I can run a very fierce debate when it comes to it; but this isn't my role for this specific moment.

I lived in Toronto during the Rob Ford era, remember? ;-)

RTH does an excellent job of doing this, and that is their definite job to make the brutal callouts -- but Hamilton also needs more diplomats and positive minds too. I've helped to convert a few negative-minded residents about Hamilton already, and I prefer that to be my own role.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-11-27 18:50:23

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:50:17 in reply to Comment 115206

great work. Keep it up! I'm sure you'll have success among regular citizens. City Hall tho......

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:51:38 in reply to Comment 115207

...Okay, a positive spin: Hamilton did successfully vote for a fairly progressive slate of Lower City councillors. And we did vote in for a mayor descended from progressive Amsterdam. And I spent an hour talking with the amazingly engaging JP Danko -- of Ward 6 candidacy -- at the Hamilton Citizen Jury meeting. So if my positivity helps residents decide to warm up to voting for him, then perhaps I've done my little bit. We are arguably in a better situation than Brampton, with more pro-LRT mindset locally as an example.

I'd rather let unleash Ryan McGreal et al and do the loudly important call-outs that needs to be raised and being hammered (pun intended) loudly on the issues. RTH does a very important and critical job here and absolutely must keep it up, without fail.

That said, we know Hamilton also simultaneously need positive spokespeople/diplomats during Hamilton's generational transition and recovery, as Hamilton is also starving for positivity in the general negative Hamilton sentiment ("can't have it here", "it'll never happen" mentalities) -- as you are all most familiar.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-11-27 19:05:35

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By Stephen Barath (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2015 at 13:14:53 in reply to Comment 115208

"Hamilton did successfully vote for a fairly progressive slate of Lower City councillors. And we did vote in for a mayor descended from progressive Amsterdam."

Jeez, I'm not sure spending your first six years of life in 1950s Amsterdam qualifies someone as a "progressive." Eisenberger seems to me fairly competent but not particularly forward-looking or risk-taking. I'm not sure that his re-election means Hamiltonians are ready for change. More likely the opposite.

It's true that the lower city councillors seem willing to explore new ways of doing things, and I think they're good representatives of their constituents. They aren't a majority on council, however.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 15:33:48

Stop feeding the trolls! The Spec loves that Dresch writes this kind of retrograde garbage because it gets us "cyclists & neighbourhood advocates" all twitchy and angry, so we tweet and post and drive others to their awful website to read their poorly informed "commentary". That prods the car-loving loyalists out of their mountain homes just long enough to give Dresch the outcry he needs to say, "See! The people have spoken!"

Anyway, after subscribing, cancelling, re-subscribing, re-cancelling, being lured back by free papers, and finally cancelling for the last time, I started to wonder if is their idea of a business model. Sure it's "cute" but it's a far cry from good journalism.

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By stefancaunter (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 15:50:54 in reply to Comment 115190

Clickbait is the 201x version of a large sensational headline. It helps advertising.

And I also have this opinion...

Advertisers don't want messages that will screw up their business appearing on the website or in the paper. Lots of ambulance chasers advertise. That is the unkind term for personal injury lawyer. If that's my business, I don't want slower traffic or fewer cars. That's less customers.

Car companies advertise. They don't want less cars or anything to interfere with carefree motoring images they constantly push out.

Just my opinion, but there is more going on in the newspaper than you think...

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By Mohawk (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2015 at 22:02:29 in reply to Comment 115192

Hey Stef, are you still teaching at Mohawk? I was in your class about 13 years ago for intro to Unix.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 15:46:30 in reply to Comment 115190


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By stone (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:01:34

This seems like posturing for his constituents on Whiteheads part. He gets to say what ever he wants and if it goes through he gets to take credit and if it fails he get to look like he tried.

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By Sleeping Giant (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:25:56

Maybe a sleeping giant is waking up.

Most people have no idea what complete street really mean, or that the LRT is just a step to the ultimate goal of cordoning off the downtown from the rest of Hamilton.

I read one comment in the on line Spec from one guy who said he had no idea any of this was on the table, yet it is clear everyone has heard about the LRT - they just have no idea what it really means.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:34:43 in reply to Comment 115199

the LRT is just a step to the ultimate goal of cordoning off the downtown from the rest of Hamilton.

1) Whitehead has voted in favour of the LRT, repeatedly.

2) Nobody is cordoning off downtown. The LRT provides better integration between Westdale (not downatown) the North End (not downtown) and the East End (not downtown). It would have gone clear to Eastgate (also not downtown) if not for funding problems and a stubborn councilor.

The argument in question is primarily about Aberdeen. Aberdeen is a minor artery being used as a major artery, despite that it is in the heart of a residential area. It is also not downtown. Would you want to live on a 4-lane high-speed road with small children with no grassy boulevard or anything separating the sidewalk from fast traffic? Of course not. So don't ask people along Aberdeen to do so.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 27, 2015 at 17:47:37 in reply to Comment 115202

every single urban expert who has come to Hamilton the last 15 years has said "fix these awful one-way freeways ASAP". Not ONE of them has said, "close off your entire downtown to cars".
Guys like Whitehead and the Speculator purposefully lie to the listeners and try to rile them up with talk of 'no more car access to the 403 via Aberdeen' etc....
Waiting for specific data, but it appears Aberdeen carries the same # of cars as West 5th near the Linc. Having family at West 5th and Linc for many years, I can confirm the 100% green colour shown on Google Traffic maps. It's wide open 24-7. And it has this cross-section after recently being rebuilt:


So, that design is great for ward 8, but not Ward 1?

Comment edited by JasonL on 2015-11-27 18:49:10

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 18:37:38 in reply to Comment 115205

....and y'know, that 3-lane Aldberdeen proposal already moves 25,000 cars daily in some other cities.

Indeed, it is not an International Village style bottleneck being proposed for Alberden, here. It's just a fairly minor slowdown tantamount to a lowered speed limit.

There's many who's still upset about that bottleneck, after all these years. Even upset at James Street North, too. The fist swinging back then, and the blood splatters in the boxing ring...

The silver lining, though, we no longer see Mountain city councillors upset about James St N anymore, unlike back in the day of the fateful 2-way conversion. Just only a very few smattering of a few residents complaining after all these years, most conceding how well it has turned out.

(...BTW, we're hunting the Archives for old ~1992 photography of the run-down James St N 1-way urban expressway, complete with shuttered storefronts back in the aftermath of the 1991 recession, the steel decimation, and Eaton Centre bankruptcy, for comparative purposes. Leads welcome! It was a very unmemorable street back then, tantamount to pre-Internet era, and thus very hard to find a large trove of old photos of James St N.)

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-11-27 19:42:52

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2015 at 22:08:56 in reply to Comment 115209

There's many who's still upset about that bottleneck, after all these years. Even upset at James Street North, too.

I am reminded of a public meeting at city hall in 2013 or 2014 about ... streets? Anyhow, an angry middle-aged man stood up to denounce the changes downtown, citing the mess that had become of James North since the reversion to two-way traffic.'

For years, he loved to go to his favourite Portuguese restaurant on James North. He would drive in quickly and always find a parking spot right in front. But now! He never goes there any more ... the parking spaces are always full! And the traffic is slowed down by cars and pedestrians! It's terrible! And now the city wants to do this to more streets?

He was pretty angry about how all these people on the streets were destroying commerce downtown for people like him.

My point? There is a large, angry demographic comprised of people who are able to spout transparently nonsensical justifications of the status quo.

Comment edited by moylek on 2015-11-27 23:10:48

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted November 28, 2015 at 12:05:15 in reply to Comment 115213

I was at that meeting and remember the gentleman talking about this.

"Nobody goes there anymore -- it's too busy"! Love it.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 28, 2015 at 02:33:17 in reply to Comment 115213

There always was such a demographic. See this video from 1932 of the noted philosopher Groucho Marx accurately describing the people that we deal with today.

These people will always be with us. We need to succeed in spite of them.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2015-11-28 03:35:03

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By Viv (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2015 at 11:29:09

One other piece of the puzzle that might be worth noting: even after all the planning the city might do, at the end of the day, it's quite possible the contractor who is awarded the construction of the LRT will likely recommend one way conversion of streets to 2 way to help ease congestion if those streets aren't converted now. This is exactly what my husband recommended, and did, during TO tunneling. Far less confusion for motorists to have these changes in place now and not mid-stream. In other words, street design changes should proceed now and asap so human behavior can adapt long before construction phase.

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By Viv, right on (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2015 at 14:26:12 in reply to Comment 115219

Exactly right--of course two-way on all streets adjacent to construction of LRT, e.eg., is necessary, not just a good idea--for residents to get around, for emergencies, and for everything.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted November 29, 2015 at 15:37:42 in reply to Comment 115221

Main, Wilson and Sherman going two-way would make a massive difference not only in our ability to get around, but in keeping with the goals of walkable, complete streets around the LRT neighbourhoods. We knew we would get some of the old boys club on council try to fight against LRT and water it down so it becomes the 2nd worst system on the continent after Buffalo, but hopefully Metrolinx will simply take 100% control of ALL planning, design and construction and not let our council ruin this once in a lifetime opportunity. Metrolinx is the one making the financial investment. They have full authority to make sure their investment pays off. This is probably the only way any legitimate city-building will take place in Hamilton for the rest of our lives: other levels of government imposing the 21st Century on us, even when we don't want it.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2015-11-29 16:38:03

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