Special Report: Light Rail

Loomis, Whitehead Clash Over Complete Streets Policy

The Chamber of Commerce President and west mountain Councillor exchanged strong words over motions that undermine the goal of a more balanced transportation system.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 30, 2016

Yesterday's Light Rail Transit Sub-Committee meeting included a sharp and revealing exchange between Hamilton Chamber of Commerce President Keanin Loomis and Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead. You can watch a video of the exchange on Joey Coleman's Facebook page.

Loomis addressed Councillor Whitehead's cute war against safer streets by noting the clear pattern in Whitehead's recent motions, specifically his proposal last December to declare a moratorium on all new street safety initiatives across the lower city and his more recent motion asking staff to study changing the City's traffic Level of Service target from LOS D to LOS C.

Loomis submitted a letter on behalf of the Chamber as correspondence to the Sub-Committee (we can't link directly to the letter because the City's agenda website is unusable-by-design, but it's item 8.1 under "Discussion Items"), but he was also on hand to speak to the concerns raised in the letter.

Loomis: I don't know what the status of the December moratorium motion is, but we have since received a notice of a motion put to Public Works on February 29, 2016 requesting Transportation planning staff to study changing the Level of Service on our arterial road network from Level D to Level C, in effect making our streets even more car-friendly, if that is even possible.

And these motions, I believe, are a very disturbing pattern. There seems to be a troubling attempt to undermine the professionals in the city as they look to plan for LRT using best practices and look to bring Hamilton finally into the 21st century - just when we are finally awakening to the need to rebalance our streets to build them for people and the businesses on them, not just cars.

We have to be vigilant as a task force against these types of efforts, which are anti-science, anti-progress, anti-everything we know about placemaking and city-building in the modern age. These efforts fly in the face of all the citizen engagement that has been done with Our Future Hamilton and with the Citizens' Jury [on Transit], which is real evidence, not just anecdote. And it flies in the face of our obligations as a City in our agreement with Metrolinx and could dangerously undermine the City's efforts to build this project and to reach its full potential. I just thought it was important to bring that to the Committee's attention.

The Citizens' Jury on Transit recent presented their final report to the City, making several recommendations to ensure the success of the Provincial LRT investment. The recommendations include starting now to prepare Hamiltonians for the changes that are coming by nudging people to change their transportation habits before construction starts.

Whitehead's moratorium proposal would do the opposite, desperately holding the line on the status quo for as long as possible instead of embracing the transformation and reconfiguring our transportation system to maximize the benefits.

Whitehead was the next speaker and he responded to Loomis' sharp words by defending his moratorium proposal.

Whitehead: Thank you, Mr. Chair. It's surprising, in fact it's really surprising the Chamber of Commerce doesn't get it. When you are going to build an LRT that is going to disrupt over 10,000 vehicles a day, then our staff are doing their due diligence to try and figure out in a predictable way how you will mitigate that traffic flow, especially during the construction phase.

When I talk to staff the issue is, if you continue changing capacity on roadworks during the period where they're trying to provide a solution to mitigate the impacts of the construction phase, they wanna work with predictability. And the only way you can get predictability is to freeze out any changes during this phase until they determine what those alternative transportation routes are to mitigate the transportation - sorry, the traffic that are impacted.

Anyone that can't figure that one out and doesn't understand that when you shut down a major corridor that's gonna have major implications, and that staff need to be able to predict what roads are gonna have what capacities through that construction phase, I just, I just, it's naive.

Just to be clear, Whitehead is suggesting that we put a hold on any changes to the lower city transportation system until after the LRT construction phase - in other words, between now and 2024.

But the question was regarding the current status of the moratorium proposal after Whitehead opted to table the motion instead of introducing it. He responded:

I still plan on working with staff, I think it's about staff sitting down and articulating the same message I'm articulating now. This is not about a permanent, this is not a permanent issue, this is temporary issue just to accommodate the construction phase. So if everyone, anyone thought the moratorium was expanded beyond the LRT, no. You go right back to business as usual, and then what roads need to be converted, or can be converted, will be converted.

"Business as usual", of course, is the depressing state of suspended animation in which even very modest street conversions that were approved 15 years ago pass by uncompleted year after year - in large part because of the steady opposition of councillors like Whitehead himself.

But right now we are in a sensitive stage in planning and this is an issue of predict- again, predictability to ensure that our staff have had the ability to move car traffic around knowing what the capacity of the road network is without it changing every month, every three months, etc etera. So it's about predictability, it's about good planning and you know it's unfortunate that anyone thinks it's an attack otherwise.

Again, Whitehead wants to put a freeze on any new traffic calming project for the next nine years, but you shouldn't worry because it's only a temporary measure and then we'll be back to "business as usual". Feeling reassured yet?

Next, Whitehead defended his motion calling on staff to look at the implications of moving from a Level of Service D to a Level of Service C.

So the second piece is, Mr. Chair, if you look at Toronto, Vancouver and so forth at the designation or the threshold they look at, let's be clear that C still has congestion, no question about that.

This is only true if you define "congestion" as anything short of totally free traffic flow 24 hours a day. Level of Service is a scale of traffic flow with Level A - free flow with low volume - as the highest level of traffic flow and Level F - traffic jam - as the lowest level.

Currently, Hamilton's Transportation Master Plan has Level D as its goal. For vehicle traffic, Level D means that during rush hour, vehicle speeds decrease slightly due to heavy peak traffic volume. There are slight delays of 25-55 seconds at intersections, and a collision can be expected to cause a backup.

Whitehead wants to change the city's goal to Level C. At Level C, traffic is at or near free-flow speeds at all hours of the day. Delays at intersections are limited to 15-35 seconds during rush hour.

But in a city where some people cry "gridlock" with a straight face after getting stopped at a red light, Whitehead's hyperbole likely has some political currency even if it is sharply at odds with reality.

Then he went into a dance between two contradictory conclusions:

What staff explained to me is that if you want to push more people off into - and I think [Ward 4] Councillor [Sam] Merulla heard the same explanation - want to push off more traffic to bicycling, pedestrian traffic and the whole bit, it would actually create a process in which to alleviate the congestion that you would utilize more that alternative transportation network to do that. So actually it's not a negative thing, it's actually a positive thing.

What Whitehead is suggesting here is that staff may come back and argue that the only feasible way to improve transportation level of service is precisely to create more space for walking, cycling and transit so that people have more choices in how to get around and some vehicle trips are replaced with other modes.

This is actually correct, given that it is fiscally and even technically impossible for the City to build enough lane capacity to eliminate congestion. However, I do not believe for one minute that Whitehead will really embrace a staff report telling him the only way to improve traffic flow is to invest more in walking, cycling and transit connections.

As we saw during the transit lane debacle, Whitehead loves to praise the expertise of staff right up to the point where they disagree with him, at which point he accuses them of pushing an agenda.

So for all those urbanist [sic] that wants these more cycling lanes, more, more pedestrian walks, then the real issue is: how do we push that envelope to ensure that we are pushing that alternative form of transportation, whether it's public transit, cycling or pedestrian, and still have an adequate flow of traffic.

There were a lot of words in that sentence, but the only ones that really matter to Whitehead are the last seven.

So the way you get adequate flow of traffic doesn't mean you necessarily have to change anything other than ensuring that you're providing reasonable alternative forms of transportation that people will go to. So to jump to a conclusion again, the way it's been suggested, when the Traffic department clearly indicated to me, no, this is not necessarily a negative thing.

Except that the very next thing Whitehead did was to reiterate his routine absurd claim that Garth Street has a serious congestion problem.

And I also want to address, Mr. Chair, that currently on Garth Street it's a parking lot nine times out of ten, especially at peak hours.

Even if we're generous and allow for some dramatic hyperbole, this claim is straight-up ridiculous. Barring a major highway collision, the only time Garth Street has any congestion is at peak hours. The rest of the day, the biggest problem on Garth is dangerous speeding, not traffic.

Google Maps includes a Traffic layer, which determines vehicle flow on streets based on how fast Google Maps-enabled mobile devices are moving down the street. It provides both a Live and Typical Traffic view. A look at typical traffic on Garth at various times of the day - including during AM and PM peaks - shows that Whitehead's claim is nonsensical.

Animation: Typical Traffic on Garth on a weekday at various times (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Animation: Typical Traffic on Garth on a weekday at various times (Image Credit: Google Maps)

Here is a photo I took of PM rush hour traffic on Garth Street last November:

PM rush hour traffic on Garth Street, November 2015
PM rush hour traffic on Garth Street, November 2015

That is one empty parking lot!

A recent comparative study by mapping company TomTom found that Hamilton has among the lowest congestion levels of Canadian cities. Along with that, we are the second-most dangerous city in Ontario for pedestrians, we have long-stagnant transit investment and ridership, and we are looking down a $2 billion unfunded road infrastructure maintenance backlog - all while spending another $17 million this year to build new roads.

It's almost as if these disparate facts were somehow connected...

Not content with how he left things at yesterday's meeting, Whitehead went on the Bill Kelly Show on AM 900 CHML this morning to expand. You can listen to the clip on CHML's Soundcloud. Kelly opened the issue diplomatically, suggesting there was a "difference in philosophies" but Whitehead was having none of it.

I don't think it's a difference in philosophy. Honestly, I think it's a complete naive misunderstanding by somebody that's anti-democratic, anti-car, anti-good planning, bridge-burning, naive, self-serving.

He even went on to red-bait RTH, referring to us as "Raise the Hammer and Sickle". Given that he was in the context of a debate with the head of the Chamber of Commerce, this seems even sillier than usual.

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 Surbanite (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 12:25:03

When you read everything Terry said he constantly refers to Staff and implies he's the Good Guy who's just bringing motions forward that Staff want. It would be interesting to delve deeper into this and find out if that is actually true; or who those Staff people are?

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2016 at 12:41:13

For readers interested, via the meeting agenda, here's the Hamilton LRT Advovacy PowerPoint presentation we did yesterday. (Link valid 3/30/2016; go via agenda if invalid)

Four student team-members are working with us to launch new hamiltonLRT media (new full website, videos). Keep tuned.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-03-30 12:44:43

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 31, 2016 at 13:10:36 in reply to Comment 117330

Keep up the good work and pass on my thanks to the rest of the team.

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2016 at 14:03:11

Have you ever been a commentator on or read Raise The Hammer?

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By wha? (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 14:31:31 in reply to Comment 117331

What you mean, Joe?

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By mountaingoat (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 16:12:17 in reply to Comment 117334

Joe McCarthy?

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By Lrt (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 14:22:57

This may hurt but Whitehead makes more sense than the rebuttals that often miss the point. We can't continue to make one off modification that impacts the ability to implement a transportation master plan. For example making physical changes to Main St before deciding on one way vs 2 way may permanently prevent 2 way conversion in a way that serves buses or bicycles.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 18:41:56 in reply to Comment 117332

What is hurting Hamilton's ability to implement a transportation maater plan is the total unwillingness of its leaders to implement that plan.

This is to be expected. A top down approach assumes city staff can understand the city road network way better than they really can. We should be doing small, incremental projects and using the feedback from these to inform our transportation master plan.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 15:16:14 in reply to Comment 117332

Hamilton, where building rapid transit is an excuse to NOT make our streets safer and more pedestrian friendly.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 14:40:24 in reply to Comment 117332

The problem with that interpretation is that Whitehead is not proposing a moratorium on all changes only until the final LRT alignment, neighbouring street re-configurations and construction plan are determined. This would make sense and it is indeed already city policy not to make changes to Main and King until the LRT plans are finalized.

Instead, he is proposing a moratorium only on those street changes that will reduce capacity for the entire period of the LRT planning and construction in the entire lower city, possibly nine years. And this is regardless of what the Rapid Transit team's recommendations are and what traffic modelling show.

Taken at face value, this proposal would prohibit staff from implementing the sort of changes that might be necessary to optimise LRT if they would reduce capacity. But it would allow big changes to the road network if they would increase capacity, even if they hurt the LRT project.

Indeed, his second motion, to increase the minimum service level from D to C goes in this direction and is clearly counter to his claim that his motion is about not modifying the street network until staff have studied how it will be affected by LRT and what changes will need to be made to make sure LRT is successful.

Similarly, he insisted the city end the bus lane pilot project prematurely despite the fact one of its main goals was precisely to measure how adding a transit lane would affect traffic, and to nudge motorists towards transit and other routes ahead of LRT construction.

The basic issue for Whitehead is to preserve the current low traffic congestion conditions along Main/King regardless of LRT and to pre-emptively block complete street conversions throughout the lower city.

And these changes would make it impossible to have a successful LRT system which requires making the entire LRT corridor as pedestrian friendly as possible and prioritizing the efficiency of LRT movement over motor vehicle movement.

Whitehead's three motions (to kill the bus lane, impose a moratorium on a street changes that reduce capacity for the entire period of LRT planning and construction and increase the target service level from D to C) are all aimed at hobbling the LRT project and efforts to make Hamilton's streets more complete (i.e. comfortable and safe for all road users).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-30 14:55:25

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 14:28:06 in reply to Comment 117332

Whitehead's argument that changes to lower-city streets must be minimal or not-at-all during the LRT process is a defensible position, even if I disagree with it.

His position of raising the city streets requirement from D to C is not.

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By mountain66 (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 15:48:51 in reply to Comment 117333

I agree with this posting, also right now the Liberals in Ontario have the lowest approval rating of any government in Canada. There will be a provincial election before the shovels hit the ground so I think this is far from a done deal. By 2018 the electricity rates will be up because of their short sighted plan to privatize Hydro One, a policy that they didn't campaign on and had no mandate to sell. The McGuinty government spent over $1 Billion to save 2 seats so don't think they won't cancel a project that would save them the same amount.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 14:53:08

I don't understand this claim that wanting complete streets is "socialist" (or even "communist").

It has nothing to do with socialism since the streets are currently built and maintained in an entirely "socialist" way: built, owned and operated by the government and paid for communally through taxes (property taxes in the case of municipal streets).

The debate is not about whether our streets should be privatized ... it is a debate about how they should be designed! It has nothing to do with socialism or capitalism.

Indeed, to the extent that the current design in Hamilton is bad for businesses, those who want government-paid for streets that only cater to car traffic are the real socialists. They want the government to cater to one special interest group and the rest of society to pay the price.

And that's why the Chamber is now stepping up to defend the interests of business in the design of our streets!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-30 15:01:57

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 19:03:58 in reply to Comment 117336

The only people paying user fees to use the Hamilton street network are public transit users. Everyone else is a beneficiary of government socialism.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 20:22:58 in reply to Comment 117351

Pedestrians pay less as a proportion of the infrastructure costs they impose on society than do transit users. Cyclists probably do too. Transit is certainly a better deal for society than cars, which I think is the real point.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 15:37:02

Were Clr Whitehead's moratorium city-wide I might entertain his logic about planning for capacity. Targeting Wards 1-5 exclusively given the complexities and exigencies of traffic flow seems a bit unduly political.

I'm not sure that there was a winner in that exchange, though.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 15:56:46 in reply to Comment 117338

And remember the moratorium covers every street, even local residential streets, but only in the lower city.

But it would allow increasing capacity on streets connecting to Main and King which makes no sense since LRT would reduce their ability to handle the extra traffic!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-30 15:57:15

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2016 at 18:04:41

You have to admit, "Raise the Hammer and Sickle" is fairly witty.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 18:08:05 in reply to Comment 117345

I suppose, except it has nothing much to do with the main subject of this site ...which is focused on urban design:


including the rather non-communist principle:

Regulations should be as simple as possible, and they should encourage open, diverse, creative development within a coherent framework that supports street life.

and the clearly non-socialist principle against government subsidies and favouring a true non-government distorted price:

Public policies (tax and regulatory) should not subsidize sprawl or car-based transportation. If people had to pay the real price of living in the suburbs, fewer people would do so.

I'm surprised Whitehead didn't also refer to Loomis as president of the "Chamber of Communists" while he was at it!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-30 18:11:37

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted March 30, 2016 at 18:14:46 in reply to Comment 117346

Chamber of Communists is pretty good too.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 18:45:03

Let's hear it for those communists who publish articles in Raise the Hammer.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 19:01:08

Just to be clear, Whitehead is suggesting that we put a hold on any changes to the lower city transportation system until after the LRT construction phase - in other words, between now and 2024.

Thought it was only a moratorium on road work during the construction phase? His tweet exchange here https://twitter.com/terrywhitehead/statu... suggests that.

And he's way out there complaining about Garth. My wife commutes down there 5 days a week and it backs up at Scenic for 1 light cycle, maybe 2, at 8am. 9 times out of 10 it's not that busy. We've also noticed traffic can back up at rush hour at Garth and Lime Ridge, due to that silly de-timed light. Add an advance, make the inside lane a turning lane, and voila, problem solved.

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2016-03-30 19:02:09

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 19:26:34 in reply to Comment 117350

He means from now until the end of construction. Construction is supposed to start in 2019 and last 3 to 5 years which would take us to 2024 before even considering street changes presumably even those recommended by the rapid transit team.

It is also unclear what "reduce capacity" even means since 2 way conversions could increase capacity and traffic flow will change as downtown becomes more of a destination so does he mean cut through capacity or capacity to reach down town destinations. But Whitehead seems to oppose 2 way conversion on principle.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-30 19:37:22

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 19:39:05 in reply to Comment 117353

Still scratching my head on how now is 2019.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 31, 2016 at 06:18:49 in reply to Comment 117354

The moratorium would be immediate, ie before construction starts (read the motion and Whiteheads opposition to calming of Aberdeen which was its catalyst ). The motion clearly applies to all new projects except 'maintenance' (or anything that would increase capacity) and it would apply immediately.

It's goal is to preemptively block any more street calming in the lower city except those already approved for the forseeable future. There is in fact no explicit time limit to the moratorium in the motion.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-03-31 06:48:22

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 21:09:48

The future is not now.

Or ever.


Comment edited by JasonL on 2016-03-30 21:10:13

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 31, 2016 at 13:25:32 in reply to Comment 117356

You're living in the "reality" based world. You need to start referring to imaginary conversations you've had with "real" people at the Fortinos Plaza on Dundurn if you want people like Terry to take you seriously.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 31, 2016 at 13:27:01 in reply to Comment 117367

Oops. Make that imaginary conversations you've had with "real" people at the drive thru Tim Hortons at Dundurn and King ... sample bias, works every time.

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By Greened out (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2016 at 21:34:02

It's interesting when councilors make random statements about other countries the ward 3 councilor is up in arms. But when a fellow councilors condemns his ward to be highway. He is silent. Mr Green.... Time to look after your own house

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By stone (registered) | Posted March 31, 2016 at 11:32:43 in reply to Comment 117357

Matthew Green was not there. Whitehead is pulling a Cobra Commander on the city of Hamilton, if the mountain gets nothing, the rest of the city gets nothing!

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By Green Election Worker (anonymous) | Posted March 31, 2016 at 10:18:19 in reply to Comment 117357

Wow thats so wrong words cant explain how wrong. Councillor Green actively advocates for traffic calming transit improvements bicycle lanes etc on a daily basis. We have many initiatives ongoing that are happening because of that advocacy. Please point out specifically what you believe to be Matthew's failure to speak of

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By Disgusted (anonymous) | Posted March 31, 2016 at 22:01:06

Whitehead is a bully.

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By haveacow (registered) | Posted April 01, 2016 at 07:59:14

Actually, considering the growls and grunts Councilor Whitehead normally spews out regarding subjects like LRT, I think that his, Raise The Hammer "and Sickle" comment is quite clever, for him anyway! I have worked in the urban planning and transportation planning industry for a long time now. Councilor Whitehead is a right winger however, I can say with 100% certainty that, whether he was left, right or in the centre of the political spectrum, he and people like him have no idea what good urban planning is. He also has no idea what the development industry or modern big business (the kind Hamilton desperately needs) wants or desires. Quite frankly, he should be nowhere near or involved with the decision making process for development in your city. He believes in a development model that is thankfully, dying across North America and he is desperate to hold back something like LRT because it would clearly show how out of touch he really has become. He is trying desperately to remain relavent and is frankly and graphicly showing what kind of world and era he truly prefers. He neither agrees or wants to understand why LRT combined with "commie, leftist and granola munching" concepts like "smart growth" and "complete streets" are the future and far better for the city and ward he represents. He is a dinosaur from another era that, sees the changes around him and is so scared, is so clueless as to what to do about them, all he can is continue screaming into the wind, to try and stop them. The only problem is that he is an elected offical, completely out of touch, but he has been elected and in this present position, that makes him very dangerous towards any positive, forward looking developments in Hamilton.

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By Excusemeh (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2016 at 13:31:46 in reply to Comment 117405

Are you insinuating by your comments that Mr. Whittyhead is a Neanderthal?

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By Sticks and Stones (anonymous) | Posted April 01, 2016 at 13:54:17 in reply to Comment 117417

I hope not.

That would be an insult to Neanderthals everywhere.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted April 01, 2016 at 14:44:57 in reply to Comment 117419

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

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted April 01, 2016 at 14:25:30 in reply to Comment 117419

Agree! Geez, why does everyone use "Neanderthal" to insult a person's intelligence? They had larger cranial capacity than Homo sapiens. Just stop it! Thanks, sticks and Stones!

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