Downtown Bureau

One Less Car

The potential for the HSR to become a leader in increasing ridership in Canada is very possible due to the urban nature of our city.

By Jason Leach
Published January 10, 2007

You may have seen the stickers around town, usually on a bicycle frame or backpack - One Less Car.

Most folks probably read such a statement and think, well, good for that guy. I wish I could ride my bike everywhere, but it's just not feasible.

Depending on where you live in Hamilton, you just might be right. Climbing the escarpment isn't the easiest task in the world, and most of us probably think we're wasting 30 minutes riding in from the east end when we know darn well that all the lights are timed and I could be zipping downtown at 65 km/hr instead of "getting my exercise".

One Less Car in Seattle

Well, the city of Seattle, Washington has put together a wonderful page on their website devoted to a One Less Car challenge they have put out to city residents.

It discusses various options such as becoming a one-vehicle family instead of two and encourages folks to carpool, walk, use transit and cycle as a regular means of transportation. There's even a feature that will allow you to calculate the amount of money your second car is costing you.

Seattle's main daily newspaper has a blog site and one of their blogs is the Bus Chick.

This young Seattle resident offers great tips and info on car-free living and much of her experience can be easily applied in a city like ours.

I know what some of you are thinking: i's Seattle, a big city. They've got light rail and subways. Of course using transit or walking is easier than in Hamilton.


Seattle, like Hamilton, is bus-only. No trains. No rapid transit. No subway. They are developing plans for a BRT system as well as a possible LRT system and here in Hamilton all indications point to the HSR and city doing the same.

Our first batch of new articulated hybrids will roll out in March. According to Ward 1 Councillor Brian McHattie, this is the first of many good announcements regarding transit in the upcoming year.

A Bus Guy

I was never much of a bus guy until a couple years ago when I decided that I would try using my bike, feet and buses for regular travel instead of always taking my car.

I've been more shocked than anyone at how much I have loved it. I'm in better physical shape, I am far more connected to my neighbourhood and city, and I've met some fabulous people that I wouldn't have met driving by in my car.

My wife and I have seen our budget for car expenses such as gas and maintenance unchanged in the past five years even while gas prices have steadily risen.

Now we regularly use the bus with our kids and on days where we both need to be in different places at the same time.

Latent Demand for Transit

A recent CATCH article quoted HSR head Don Hull saying, "Demand throughout the city far exceeds our available capacity."

He went on to say that the HSR could gain many new riders if City Hall would allocate more money to transit. Other Canadian cities are seeing a rapid rise in transit ridership while the HSR is seeing ridership increase by about 1-2 percent a year.

The potential for the HSR to become a leader in increasing ridership in Canada is very possible due to the urban nature of our city. Other cities that are seeing much larger increases in transit ridership are very suburban in nature ­ Brampton and Kitchener-Waterloo, for example. Mississuaga is also seeing huge increases in transit ridership.

Hamilton should be leading the pack, not lagging behind.

The Money Is There

Hull says that Council needs to "find sufficient funds" for HSR expansion.

He's partly right. A more correct statement would be, "Council needs to begin using the provincial and federal gas tax money for transit instead of more roads and highways."

In 2007 Hamilton will receive $11.8 million in provincial gas tax money and $11.9 from the feds. By 2010 ­ only three years from now ­ the federal money coming to Hamilton will increase to $32 million per year.

That's almost $43 million from the province and feds that will be coming to our city each year thereafter. The HSR coul pay for many great initiatives with those funds.

The provincial money must be used for transit, but the federal money can be used for other things. And Hamilton, of course, has chosen other things for the federal money up to now.

Eight Steps to Better Transit

Beginning in 2007 I urge City COuncil to adopt the following approach:

  1. Use all gas tax monies for transit, for both expansion and operating expenses.

  2. Follow through on Mayor Fred Eisenberger's campaign promise to install bike lanes whenever roads are repaired and rebuilt.

  3. Develop a comprehensive BRT and LRT plan for the HSR and aggressively pursue money from senior levels of government. The experience in other cities shows that they are more willing to pay for good transit initiatives now than they have been in many years.

  4. Put those bike racks on the buses.

  5. Begin a program of regular HSR expansion by adding new routes, and expand service on existing routes ­ such as the busy east/west corridor and Mountain routes such as #35 College that are always overcrowded.

  6. Deploy new technogies such as live bus arrival and departure times on digital screens at stops and on personal handheld devices.

    Live Bus Times
    Live Bus Times

  7. Start announcing major stops (either by having the operators announce each main stop, or on pre-recorded messages).

  8. Start planning for both short-term and long-term changes to our road network toward transit-only lanes and transit-priority signal lights throughout the city.

Last issue I laid out some ideas for transit expansion, especially as related to BRT and LRT lines.

Some good ideas have come my way since then, such as having Main and King reduced to two car lanes in the same direction that they currently operate with BRT lanes in the opposite direction. Many folks agree with me that this plan is not only doable, but should be acted on quickly.

Hamilton's new mayor and Council seem to have a good grasp on the policy changes that are needed to bring Hamilton into the 21st Century. They need to demonstrate leadership by moving quickly and efficiently to change the political climate of our city that has been held back by special interest groups for too many years.

You and I can be a part of that culture shift by deciding that One Less Car is a worthwhile initiative and motto to adopt.

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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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted January 10, 2007 at 11:35:11

Some great points here, Jason.

But I suspect the biggest challenge here is to start breaking down the 'automobile-as-Life-definer' paradigm. Tough task. And if we're talking about revitalizing the downtown, then-

Oh, I think I'll just save that point for now...

: )

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2007 at 19:07:49

We should have ski lifts at each of the mountain stairway accesses on which you can hang a bike. It is quite a challenge to walk up the escarpment stairs with a bike over your shoulder!

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By derek (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 12:22:15

It has been real refreshing to move right near the heart of downtown. Walking to the market, or meeting up with a friend without having to bring your car is great. I am in much better shape and can even fit back into my old security guard pants from college, now. A true testimony in deed for anyone that has ever been a security guard.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 12, 2007 at 13:40:30

ha ha...keep showing off those tight buns. Those security pants will never die!

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 14, 2007 at 22:03:12

I noticed at my church this morning that someone had a sticker in their car window that said "This car shares the road with cyclists". It was probably about 6 or 8 inches in diameter. I didn't know whose car it was...anyone know where I can pick one up?

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