The Walkability Dividend

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 08, 2013

While the City of Hamilton tries to decide how to deal with an annual $200 million infrastructure spending deficit, we could do worse than consider the potential for a walkability dividend to help ease the financial pressure.

Jeff Speck, author of Walkable City, explains in a recent interview in The Atlantic Cities:

The Walkability Dividend is a concept advanced by the economist Joe Cortright and the non-profit CEOs for Cities, a group that has brought me into a small handful of downtowns with the understanding that all the events and amenities in the world won't make a difference in the absence of pedestrian culture.

In his 2007 white paper "Portland's Green Dividend" [PDF], Cortright showed how that city's urban growth boundary, coupled with its investments in bike lanes and transit, resulted in a remarkable phenomenon: Portland's per-capita vehicle miles traveled peaked in 1996.

Now Portlanders drive 20 percent less than the national average. This 20 percent results in financial savings and time savings that total almost four percent of GDP, ignoring all the wonderful externalities such as cleaner air and slimmer waistlines. Unlike driving dollars, 85 percent of which are sent out of town, much of those savings are spent locally, on housing and recreation. Portlanders are said to have the most roof racks, independent bookstores, and strip clubs per capita — all exaggerations, but only slight ones.

Not only that, but the best way to make our street infrastructure more affordable is to stop building more of it and to start realizing more productive use of the infrastructure we've already got.

We absolutely should not be rezoning and servicing far-flung rural farmland as long as the built environment of the lower city still looks like this:

Blocks of surface parking in downtown Hamilton
Blocks of surface parking in downtown Hamilton

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 Dane (registered) | Posted January 08, 2013 at 23:10:25

whoa, portland ... again

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 01:02:31 in reply to Comment 84898

Well of course. Why would you compare Hamilton to any comparable city? Is there a city that is more different than Hamilton? I doubt it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 08:41:11 in reply to Comment 84904

actually, Portland is a great comparison. Sure, it's becoming less and less like Hamilton with each passing year of great leadership there and none here, but it's bones and history are very similar.

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 07:08:27 in reply to Comment 84904

Main difference is that in Portland people who think like you aren't in charge. Hence the dividend.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 22:04:45 in reply to Comment 84914

Here we go again. Hamilton is or at least was a heavy industrial city and has suffered greatly as those jobs have declined or have been eliminated. Portland has always been the commercial an corporate centre for the state and beyond. Here that designation goes to Toronto and to a lesser extent Brampton and Mississauga. Hamilton is as much a suburb of Toronto as it is a city in its own right. Portland does not face these difficulties.

How many times have I explained this and yet they refuse to listen and grasp the simplest concepts. Wishing Hamilton was a city just like Portland does not make it so, no matter how hard you wish.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:04:16 in reply to Comment 85026

OK then, let's hear all of your great ideas for how to make Hamilton better!

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2013 at 20:57:24 in reply to Comment 85056

Housing units downtown that are relevant and desirable. Large, multi bathroom, well wired for modern communications. Safe secure both for the units and the parking. Easy access to highways and GO. If we can lure people with money, a disposable income, downtown all the rest will fall into place. One way streets didn't drive people away and two way streets will not lure them back. People left because they didn't want to live in old small housing and they still don't. People live there because they cannot afford to live in nicer places.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 13, 2013 at 11:53:06 in reply to Comment 85138

People live there because they cannot afford to live in nicer places.

Someone should tell that to the person who just bought my "old small house" on a two way street in downtown Hamilton for $450,000.

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:39:12 in reply to Comment 85056

Let me guess: raze the old buildings, one way streets through downtown, and more suburban sprawl because that's what people like LOL want. Paradise awaits!

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 10:19:40 in reply to Comment 85026

Well lets see lets compar Hamilton to Pitsberg and Pitberg are getting like to Portland

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 06:20:47 in reply to Comment 85026

Here we go again. A bunch of irrelevant stuff about how Hamilton is different from everywhere else and nothing that works anywhere else could work here because we're so different so we should keep doing the same things over and over again.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 08:46:00

It's been two weeks since our snowstorm and there are blocks and blocks of sidewalk that haven't been cleared. I'm cringing at seeing mothers try to walk their young children inches from the roaring cars on Cannon (the roads were cleared within seconds of the snow stopping) to school and seeing them slip and fall and land so close to the live roadway. I've seen so many seniors walking down the middle of the street and short of encouraging this behaviour (because I don't want to lead someone into a dangerous situation) I would actually love to see hundreds of people walking down the middle of live lanes instead of risking their limbs and safety navigating the mountains of ice and snow on sidewalks. Hamilton refuses to act like a real city, and there is still a mindset at city hall that 'surely anyone without a car is a lazy, out-of-work slob'. And so we have urban neighbourhoods where 50% of the residents are risking injury simply trying to get around after a snowstorm. Perhaps it will take hundreds of pedestrians walking down Main Street or King Street to get city hall to pay attention? I don't know what the procedure is for getting sidewalks cleared, but if the red-tape parade involved means it takes longer than 2 weeks, the system is broken. I suspect that it's not really a broken enforcement system, but rather a lack of enforcement because after all, if you don't own a car......

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 09:34:33 in reply to Comment 84924

By-laws are typically enforced by complaint, as fans of built heritage are well aware.

Q: What does the By-law say?

A: The City Of Hamilton’s By-law requires that homeowners, tenants and businesses clear snow and ice from walkways, stairs, entrances and all City sidewalks adjacent to their property within 24 hours of a snowfall. The By-law also requires that residents and businesses remove the snow and ice that builds up on roofs or eaves that overhang sidewalks for the safety of persons passing.

Q: Why does the City have By-laws regarding snow and ice removal?

A: It is important that pedestrians have a safe place to walk and there is enough room to allow for wheelchairs, power chairs and strollers. Remember if you have a neighbour who is unable to clear their snow and ice – lend them a hand.

Q: Where can I put snow and ice?

A: It is more important to note where you cannot place snow and ice. Snow and ice cannot be placed near a fire hydrant, where it would block access, beside a traveled portion of road, boulevard or anywhere that would block a drain or sewer. When ice is difficult to remove applying gravel, salt, clay kitty litter or sand can help.

Q: What happens if I don’t remove snow and ice?

A: Failure to remove snow and ice may result in the following actions being taken by the City:
•A "Notice to Comply" issued (A Notice to Comply is a document provided to the property owner/occupant that gives direction on what actions need to be taken in order to comply with the By-law).
•Charges being laid under the Provincial Offences Act, which provide for a maximum fine(s) of $5000.00, in addition to other court proceedings necessary to obtain compliance.
•The City performing the required work at the property owners expense, with all costs being added to the property taxes.
•"Fee for Inspection" charge added to the property taxes.

Repeat offences will be treated more harshly. Usually with the first complaint of the season, officers will educate the property owner about the By-law and issue an Notice to Comply, if appropriate. If compliance is not met immediately, the officer will take the appropriate action, which could mean any or a combination of the above charges and fees.

Q: What if I’m not physically able to clear my snow and ice?

A: If you have neighbours or family who are able to shovel ask if they can give you a hand. The City of Hamilton also offers Community Assistance Programs such as Helping Hands and Snow Angels aimed at helping seniors and disabled persons with snow and ice removal. Helping Hands provides a variety of home support services that includes snow shoveling for senior citizens and disabled citizens on a limited income. To contact Helping Hands, please call 905-546-3057. To contact Snow Angels, please call 905-523-1910 or visit them online at Please note that these programs are not responsible for removal of snow and ice within 24 hours of a snowfall; it is the property owners/occupant's responsibility to ensure snow and ice are removed.

Q: Who do I contact if I want to make a complaint about snow and ice that has not been removed after 24 hours of a snowfall?

A: If you would like to register a complaint about the Snow and Ice Removal By-law, please contact the Municipal Law Enforcement Section at 905-546-2782 (Option #1), Monday - Friday, 8:30 am to 4:30 pm or 905-546-CITY(2489) after business hours.

Should you consider legal recourse:

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2013 at 10:15:46 in reply to Comment 84933

I notice their page says nothing about what the protocol is for sidewalks in front of city-owned properties

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 10:31:13 in reply to Comment 84936

If only withering sarcasm could melt snow and ice!

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 10:30:10

Also, if increased pedestrian traffic means reduced vehical traffic, our roads and bridges are going to last longer, which reduces cost to maintain them.

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