Belonging

Walkability? We Can't Manage Driveability

Making changes to improve walkability and liveability would go a long way to ward improving driveability, too.

By Michelle Martin
Published February 20, 2010

Not long ago, RTH reader schmadrian made a point about Brits loving driving rather than loving their cars and how this may contribute to a different mindset about traffic planning. I thought this was a very apt observation since, having lived here almost ten years now, Stephen and I don't find Hamilton very driveable, for all that it seems to be designed with cars as a priority.

Our family tries not to rely on the car too much. The youngest kids walk to elementary school, the high school kids and the undergrads use the HSR to get to school and get to part-time jobs the same way. We walk to church on Sunday, and middle-of-the-week milk and bread runs are taken care of on foot, at the Delta No Frills.

The kids use the Kenilworth library (one of them works there), a twenty-minute walk. Swimming lessons are at the YWCA, also walkable. Summertime team sport of choice is softball in Gage Park, five minutes from our front door.

Of course, living in Hamilton where the car is king, the age at which we determine that various trips on foot can be taken independently depends not only on the presence of stop signs, traffic lights or push-button crosswalks, but on the behaviour of drivers that we have typically observed on each route.

The Ottawa and King St. E. intersection, for example, has lights that give barely enough time for a parent to accompany small children through on the walk signal, and drivers who make left turns from Ottawa St. (traveling north) to King St. E. (traveling east) both behind and in front of pedestrians while they are still crossing. HSR drivers are not, in my experience, above this behaviour.

Everyone is in a hurry, I guess, to get home to Stoney Creek. I've never seen anyone I recognize from the neighbourhood (and between school, church, the library, the Y and softball, that would be a lot of people) drive this way, even though they, like us, do need to drive in the lower city, too.

Driving, just like walking, can be unpleasant, stressful and dangerous in a city where everyone is conditioned to feel entitled to get where they wish to go in the fastest possible way-where east-west and north-south routes are designed to move vehicles not in or out of the lower city but through it, and good riddance.

Making changes to improve walkability and liveability would go a long way to ward improving driveability, too.

I've already remarked about the behaviour of drivers who are traveling east on King St., just past the Delta, where it becomes a two-way route, and how it is dangerous for pedestrians.

You can put in all of the button-activated crosswalks you like, but drivers in the greater Hamilton area have to grow up - by which I mean understand that their responsibility for the safety of others trumps the need to get somewhere five minutes faster.

I challenge you to drive to the bottom of any of the streets in my immediate neighbourhood (where the corners are a little blind: see map above) and try making a left-hand turn onto King St. E. in the face of cars speeding eastbound along King from around the corner of Gage Park. Or drive the speed limit along the southern boundary of our neighbourhood, Lawrence Rd., in a small car while being tailgated by a pick-up truck that's going 80 along a road that has bike lane on it, for crying out loud. Must. get. to. Red. Hill. ASFASTASHUMANLYPOSSIBLE!

Or be surrounded by transport trucks on all sides when taking Cannon to get to the 403. Or try to get into the lane you need to be in on King or Main when everyone drives these roads like they're expressways (especially when you've just exited off the 403 onto Main and there are dozens of cars in the lanes to your right speeding along from Westdale - never mind making a stop to run an errand.

No wonder one-way streets killed the downtown. And is it just me, or are more and more people not pulling right and stopping when an emergency vehicle approaches?

Just think about what a different experience it would be for drivers, walkers, residents and business owners if people were willing to take five or 10 minutes more to reach a destination, and if Hamilton managed these routes as more than just a way to pass through the lower city, between expressways.

They are and should be treated like ways to get around within our city, to help us go about our day and live our lives, to be sure, but in a way that respects the time and safety of others as being just as valuable as our own.

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton where she and her husband are watching their 10 children fly the nest, one by one. She has been published in both the Hamilton Spectator and Raise the Hammer, as well as in the online edition of the National Post and, more recently, in the Canadian Urban Transit Association's Urban Mobility Forum. Michelle is coordinator of the Community Access to Transportation program. She was formerly on the writing/copy editing team of the original Crown Point hub paper, The Point. However, the opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own. She sometimes tweets @deltawestmom

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted February 20, 2010 at 19:56:18

I might have added a sentence to the following effect:

Speaking as a lower-city resident and driver, I insist that the city should be doing whatever it takes to slow cars down: traffic lights, crosswalks, two-way streets, bike lanes, and an LRT (did I miss anything?).

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By lukev (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 02:09:35

Michelle, don't be silly, nobody cares what lower city residents want for the lower city.

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By geoff's two cents (registered) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 05:19:15

Great piece, Michelle. You're absolutely right: Considering how SOV-centric Hamilton is, it's a pain to drive as well as walk in.

Having once rented a car during my stay in the Hammer, I recall making my first left-hand turn from Dundurn onto Main, heading east. The experience was horribly stressful. The absolute worst was being in the middle lane and moving one lane to the left or right amid five lanes of 60kph+ traffic, not knowing whether someone on the outside would try to move in at the same time. Driving this road when it's busy, in my opinion, takes the expression "calculated risk" to a ridiculous extreme (though it's a chance most Hamiltonians, it seems, are quite willing to take). Taking cabs home from the grocery store could be equally terrifying. If I absolutely have to drive, I'll take the standard 2- or 3-lane arterial (at most) over Hamilton's 5-lane expressway anyday!

Comment edited by geoff's two cents on 2010-02-21 04:19:57

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 08:34:25

unfortunately this is a great piece Michelle. I live between York and King in Strathcona and it is absolutely horrendous. No Mountain or suburban councillors would ever allow such a brutally dangerous situation to exist in their areas, yet they are the first ones to speak up and complain when someone suggests that us lower city peasants deserve a mediocre quality of life (that's all we're looking for at this point - we'll worry about 'world class' or 'sustainability' or 'best place to not have your child flattened by a transport' in a few centuries)

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By Skeptic (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 11:51:54

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 John Neary (registered) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 14:35:06

Skeptic, if you disagree with the consensus opinion on this site regarding proper transportation policy, I would love to hear your argument. If you think transportation is not a serious issue in Hamilton, I'd love even more to hear your argument. But if you don't care to offer one, please stop littering on the message board -- or I'll have to call bylaw crawl.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 14:44:14

Further to Michelle's excellent piece, perhaps the crux of the problem is not that our city prioritizes cars over people but that it prioritizes long-distance over local travel. To a certain extent, that may be a consequence of our physical geography. Few cities are five times as long as they are wide (as the lower city of Hamilton is), and few have topographical obstacles as challenging as the escarpment. With our small number of east-west streets and our similarly small number of routes up and down the escarpment, it's not surprising that we designed our infrastructure to minimize car bottlenecks, while sacrificing the interests of pedestrians, cyclists, and short-trip motorists.

Foolish, but not surprising.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2010 at 14:55:18

Michelle, don't be silly, nobody cares what lower city residents want for the lower city.

You know, after living here for ten years, I've come to that conclusion independently. One of the saddest days of my life as a new Hamilton resident was when I learned about how the proposed LRT didn't go through in the 80's. We do like living in Hamilton, but that was one of those "Wow. Did we do the right thing moving here?" moments. By the time we finally get one, it will be too late for even my youngest child to benefit from it much. The older ones, I'm beginning to expect, will have moved somewhere else-- they're planning to pursue careers that give them relative mobility. Which mine and my husband's give us, to be sure-- it's why we were able to relocate here. But we're not about to uproot everyone at this stage of the game.

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By Al Rathbone (anonymous) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 18:36:50

Having grown up in that neighbourhood, I completely agree!

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 19:51:39

Last week, I spent more time than usual driving. I was chauffeur to my father for medical appointments. By Friday, I'd been reminded of a truth, and mentioned it to my father. (He's a hard-core driver, and as a senior, defines his independence by his ability to drive his relic.)

I expressed to him that even as a passionate pedestrian (in Toronto I would routinely walk from Union Station to Bloor and beyond), even with as much disdain as I feel for the very notion of cars and their place in our world (Ask Ryan about this. Go on; I dare ya...), I had to admit that when I'm behind the wheel...something takes over. It's a quantum shift in mindset, it's like a variation on the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. Don't get me wrong; I'm a very conscientious driver (I have to be; to have an accident or even a 'problem' with my dad's vehicle is potentially catastrophic), when I drive, that's all I do, there's no cell phones, there's no iPods...there's not even a working radio on in the car. But I want to get where I want to go, I want to do it safely...but I WANT TO GET THERE. NOW.

So to a great extent, I'm a prime example of how the system limits how a driver (and their car) behaves. The thoroughfare known as Main Street allows, when the Lights Gods permit, a very steady speed, consistent progress from one end of the city to the other. If it didn't? If the prime function wasn't to effect this result as efficiently as possible?

I'd drive slower.

EVERYTHING would go slower.

And I'd adjust.

As would everyone else.

My point?

I've often wondered what the result would be if all speed limits were abolished. Everywhere. How fast would people go? On any given street? Logic says that some semblance of 'common sense' would kick in...for most of us.

The truth is that we need limits on our behaviour when devices such as cars are concerned. And it's up to Those In Power to craft these limits, these laws according to the agreed-upon goals.

Which is why we see the traffic patterns and habits that we do in Hamilton. Because someone decided at various points that these were the goals, this was how we were going to reach them.

Want a different environment, as Michelle suggests in her penultimate paragraph? It might not be easy, but the answer is simple: we need to change our goals. (Don't change the goals? Then nothing will change.)

Um...it's called a shift in our value system. (Yup, that's me; the Endless Broken Record.)

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 21, 2010 at 21:10:23

great post schmadrian. You're right on. Hamilton needs to aspire to more lofty goals than just allowing transport trucks to whiz through our city as fast as they please. Maybe someday we'll have some leadership that sees more potential in this city than just being a thoroughfare to somewhere else.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted February 21, 2010 at 21:41:45

One answer to that question is Shared Space. Now that's a shift in our value system that I could seriously get behind.

I get the psychology of that, and see how it works. My background in developmental services, though, and the fact that I have a child who is hearing impaired, makes me question how well it would work for those among us who require a little more predictability in the surroundings as well as some distinct kinds of barriers and signals in order to navigate city streets. Anyone here who can put my fears at rest on that score? Have we got a good example of how this would work for everyone, in the most inclusive sense of the word?

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 08:35:17

Regarding the reference to New Road in the Wiki link...

I lived in Brighton. I was very familiar with this part of the city; I worked a stone's throw away. And it's a success...but then there are some long-established pedestrian sections nearby: the North Laine neighbourhood and The Lanes. Clearly, this section of town is an anomaly and if an area like this is cited, then the entire context should be entered into the discussion.

Besides which, Britain, as it never went through the post-war sprawl, has as its shopping default the 'high street' in most villages, towns and cities. (Brighton's sister city, Hove, has its own 'high street' in George). This is akin to our old model of 'main street', from bygone days. (Dundas still has its 'main street', and Locke Street has been trying its best to become this, not to mention Ottawa Street, etc.) But because they're coming from a different tradition than we are, the transition to 'shared spaces' is an entirely different one.

Again, I'm not pointing out all this to be a dyed-in-the-wool naysayer, merely to remind people that wishing doesn't make it so, and in order to get somewhere, you first really, really need to understand (and accept) where you've been (physically...and psychologically), and fully appreciate what's involved in attempting the migration. To do otherwise is folly.

Comment edited by schmadrian on 2010-02-22 07:37:04

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By frank (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 08:48:26

I was driving around downtown last night and being a former resident of the area, I would have normally called myself knowledgeable. However last night while I was trying to find a parking spot (or get to an entrance to one) relatively close to my destination it struck me how confusing the core can be to someone who doesn't normally drive there. One way that way? or the other way? or two way? Main Street was dead (as in no pedestrians) but there were tonnes of cars. That's normal I guess but now how I want it to be.

For too long politicians in the city have been pandering about the IDEA of turning one way streets to two way streets and have done nothing about it. Some loud mouthed individual comes forward and yells "what about my customers?" or "how will I get home quickly now?" and we're automatically destined to study how traffic moves through the core to get a better understanding of how the change will impact traffic patterns. I know this is a stretch but how about politicians step up and do their job for once? I didn't vote for someone to put ideas forward then balk when someone disagrees, I voted for someone to lead... That's essentially the job of a politician is it not? I get that at times you're going to be making decisions that may be unpopular, but let your worth be determined by the outcome of your leadership, not how well you play the game of politics...

IMO, time for a new breed (or maybe just getting back to what they should be) of politician.

Comment edited by frank on 2010-02-22 07:49:55

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 09:06:04

"This, he suggests, is why driving in London is a notoriously haphazard experience."

LOL

Well... London, New York City... These are worlds unto themselves. For everyone concerned, pedestrians and motorists and cyclists alike.

The funny thing is that Britain already has a great degree of 'shared spaces' in its smaller living centers. When you bring in the 'cities', where vehicular traffic dominates...then all bets are off.

So your starting point influences a lot.

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By turner (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 10:34:28

schmadrian, great post. I have a great disdain for cars and their place in our world as well. I understand your statement about being behind the something taking over when you're behind the wheel. Normally the most I drive is once a week, getting my son from the East Mountain to a guitar lesson on Locke. Returning home we usually drive up Queen St to Garth and take Fennell East. It's so easy to get caught up in that mentality of getting where you need to go and getting there now. I like to think I'm better than that. I and I hope I am but I do sometimes find myself doing it on those trips and the odd other times I drive.

It's quite amazing how upset people get with you when you drive according the rules fo the road, whether it's driving the speed limit, stopping at an amber light, allowing a pedestrian to clear the intersection before turning, making a left turn in the right lane or right turn in the left lane.

I've never been much of a speeder but a couple of months ago I decided to always drive the speed limit where ever I was going. Last week I was returning from an appointment driving East along Fennell just after 4:00 PM driving 50-55 km/h. The car in the next lane was driving about the same speed but a about car length ahead of me. In the rear view mirror I could see a Lexus SUV coming up really fast. The woman driving it pulled up beside me and rolled down her window and was yelling at me while banging on her steering wheel, giving the finger and hunching over so as to insinuate I was driving like a little old lady. I smiled and waved and kept driving as I was. The person in the other car did not speed up or give this woman the opportunity to pass but did finally turn and the Lexus sped away. There is often a speed trap on the stretch of Fennell between West 5th and Garth but sadly not this day.

I completely agree with you we need a "shift in our value system". Keep being the broken record, maybe it will sink in with some people.

Frank, it's unfortunate but I don't think most people want politicians that lead. They want politicians that follow, that will do whatever they want them to do. They aren't interested it what is good for the city in the long run, it's all about "me" it's all about now. That's the attitude voters have and it seems to be the attitude the politicians have - how many votes will this get me in the next election?

There's a definite pattern here with this council and this mayor. Everything needs to be studied, first by consultants then by staff. If it's not the "popular vote getting answer" they say it needs more study regardless if it's the right answer. I have trouble believing that this council and previous councils don't really believe that this needs to be done. They have to know this, it's painfully obvious.

They're following not leading. They're not looking at what's best for the city and the people. It's a difficult position to take but isn't that what we elect them for?

Hamilton, the best place to raise a child to be an aggressive driver.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 10:51:57

Turner: "Frank, it's unfortunate but I don't think most people want politicians that lead. They want politicians that follow, that will do whatever they want them to do."

I agree to a certain extent...but don't you find that it's more a case of a) apathy, and b) 'Just don't screw-over my interests!'?

That is, most people are far too 'busy' with their lives to really have a solid understanding of what's going on in their world-at-large, and therefore just want things to be taken care of...leading to 'Get the job done that needs to be done, don't bother me with the details...and don't screw-over my interests!'

The funny thing is that if you have politicians who possess that rare mélange of vision and common sense, and the bureaucracy does its job as it's be hired to, then really, this attitude on the part of the populace is all that's required. Think about it: politicians who are voted in to do a job, being able to properly execute their mandate, working hand-in-hand with civil servants who, like employees in the private sector, actually do what they're paid to do.

What a concept, huh?

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By frank (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 12:00:44

I agree with schmadrian... I think you'd find that if you asked people if they wanted a politician who led or one who did whatever people wanted, you'd find a lot of answers would be leaning towards one who leads. People recognize that leadership sometimes means those leaders are required to make relatively unpopular decisions if they feel it's for the betterment of the community they represent however I don't think they actually stop to think about it. It'd be refreshing to have a politician who isn't afraid to lead.

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By turner (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 12:24:30

Yes schmadrian makes a lot of sense. I think most people will say they want a politician that leads. But I still think most people want them to lead as long as it doesn't affect them in any way they perceive an inconvenience. How often does a politician get elected with unpopular ideas that are truly beneficial to the community as a whole?

I'd be really happy to be wrong about it. Maybe I'm too cynical, it wouldn't be the first time. Maybe I'm just hearing those few "loud mouthed individuals" and no one else.

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By frank (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 14:53:44

Turner, it may be. However I think you will find that while many people will argue at first, if a leader can demonstrate to those people that the short term pain is going to generate significant long term gain, they will side with them, even if it is begrudgingly.

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By turner (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 15:19:13

I can agree with that frank. The question is does such a leader exist in Hamilton?

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 22, 2010 at 16:41:39

Here's a few questions for everyone:

Who was the last candidate that you were exposed to, who seemed capable of inspiring people? Who was the last candidate that possessed something greater than 'capability'? Is there anyone currently serving in local government who can be labeled this way? A grounded visionary?

I guess as a corollary to these, I'd ask 'How many people do you know who are 'exceptional', within the context of this discussion? Managers who really understand what it means to get the most from their personnel, who are able to execute goals, teachers who are naturally inspiring, coaches who are able to motivate towards excellence?' Because these are our next leaders. And if you're not rubbing elbows with these sorts of people...if nobody in Hamilton is...then I fear we've got more of the same ahead of us in terms of our government. Ugh.

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By frank (registered) | Posted February 23, 2010 at 10:29:39

Good point. The reason a councilor or mayor HAS to be a person with vision who can inspire people is twofold. An old proverb goes something like "where people have no vision they live unrestrained". I know that sounds like a good thing but what it means is that they kind of go all over the place, there's no common goal. In a city's case the common goal should be the betterment of the various neighbourhoods in it. If our "leaders" have no vision for those neighbourhoods then they (the leaders and the neighbourhoods) are destined to fail. Other quasi-leaders will come along and take some people in different directions diluting what should be a central focus. The other relates directly to being able to communicate that vision to the people around them... If the leader has a vision but can't communicate that vision to anyone, then not only will the vision not inspire, it will make the leader look like a pie-in-the-sky type of person and cause other people to think they're odd and that would make them loose their seat.

Unfortunately in Hamilton we currently have politicians who play one against the other in hopes of not having to make difficult or unpopular decisions. Politicians who are more interested in lining their friends' pockets than telling them to bide the law and risk making them angry. How can that be fixed?

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By frank (registered) | Posted February 23, 2010 at 10:30:19

I'm sorry, I think I derailed discussion on the actual topic...

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 23, 2010 at 11:25:31

No, frank... I'm more guilty of that than you are. And so plead mea culpa.

But in my defense, I'll say that any good discussion has an organic element to it. These online Comments sections are approximations of actual conversations, and therefore, sometimes associated issues get attached. This isn't a bad thing, because none of the articles or editorials have power in themselves...only if they spur exchanges and get people into action.

But I'll accept my metal ruler-whacks just the same.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 23, 2010 at 11:44:58

But I'll accept my metal ruler-whacks just the same.

Ok, now you're getting off topic.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted February 23, 2010 at 12:07:24

I'll accept my metal ruler-whacks just the same.

⇐ RaiseTheBDSM.org is that way.

Comment edited by z jones on 2010-02-23 11:08:37

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted February 24, 2010 at 20:16:53

Um...it's called a shift in our value system.

Absolutely. And part of making people the priority over cars involves, I believe, a change in vocabulary. Instead of cars or drivers traveling, we should be referring to people who are passengers in cars, people driving cars. We should be calling cyclists people riding bicycles, pedestrians people who are walking, commuters people who are traveling to work. And when we say the word people, in our heads we should be hearing it like this: people who have loved ones waiting at home who need them to arrive alive and in one piece.

No one is immune to forgetting about others when they're behind the wheel. I find, if I'm running late, it sometimes requires a conscious effort on my part to think to myself "I will simply have to arrive late and apologize for it-- it is not worth risking the lives of others and my own by driving like a fool."

Yes-- human nature being what it is, we just have to make sure as many measures as possible are in place in this city to make people drive as if they are driving in a place where there are people. A few extra stop signs won't do it, neither will a few bike lanes to nowhere.

Sorry for the sermon/rant. Just saw too many people going too fast for conditions with the weather earlier this week.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-02-24 19:18:43

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 24, 2010 at 20:34:35

Michelle, love that first paragraph. Powerfully and poignantly put.

(And I never accept apologies for sermons or rants. Especially when they address vital points such as yours did.)

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