Citizens, staff and councillors have dedicated countless hours of discussion and debate developing the Downtown Transportation Master Plan, but there is a terrible gap between what the plans call for and what has actually occurred.
By Kelly Foyle and Simon Kiss
Published June 12, 2012
We've recently seen a flurry of articles on the benefits of converting the one-way thoroughfares in the core into two-way or 'complete' streets.
We thought it might be worthwhile to provide a recent history of where the city stands on one-way street conversions and how plans for conversions actually get implemented. Hopefully, this will make clear what is currently approved to be converted and provide a framework for those of us working to see these actions implemented.
Most of the information presented below has been gleaned from the city website in a variety of locations and key references are listed at the end. As we'll make painfully clear, the city has a lot of impressive plans, but we will show below how seldom these plans actually get implemented.
In the 1990s, a series of community actions and workshops culminated in the city beginning an initiative called "Putting People First: Downtown Land Use and Transportation".
The goal of "Putting People First" was to improve the economy in the downtown core, improve the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and create an "attractive" environment. A vision based on these goals was summarized as follows:
The Downtown Hamilton of the future will be a vibrant focus of attraction where all our diverse people can live, work and play. The future Downtown must be built on a human scale, with streetscapes offering comfort, access and safety for pedestrians. The future Downtown will combine the best of our heritage with new commercial and domestic architecture and use. The future Downtown will redirect our gaze from the urban core to the surrounding neighbourhoods, the waterfront, and the escarpment, seamlessly linking commerce, housing and recreation. (p. 4)
In 2001, the City of Hamilton approved "Putting People First", which meant it was part of the city's Official Plan and thus it dictates what the city's priorities should be for publicly funded initiatives in the downtown.
A cornerstone of "Putting People First" was the Downtown Transportation Master Plan (hereafter DTMP). It encompassed an area from Queen Street to Wellington St and from Barton Street to Hunter Street and thus was focused solely on the core. It provided a series of recommendations for pedestrian facilities, cycling networks, transit, parking and road infrastructure.
A key component of the DTMP was the recommendation for both primary and secondary roads to be converted from one-way to two-way. The primary roads included: King, James, John and York/Wilson. The full list with target dates for conversion as of 2001 is shown below:
|Street Name||Target Date for Implementation in 2001||New Target Date after 5-yr Review||Date Completed|
|King||beyond 2006||2010 (pending LRT)||X|
|Bay||beyond 2006 (optional)||optional||X|
|Hunter||2006||removed from list||X|
|Hess||2004||2009||2004 (South section instigated by DNA, north extension outstanding)|
|Caroline||2002||2009||2012 (only from Main to King - York Street extension outstanding)|
In 2005, James Street South and John Street South were successfully converted on schedule according to the DTMP, costing $1.5 million. By and large these conversions were well-received, particularly in the north end. There were a number issues in the south end, which, after proper signage, seem to have been improved.
It should be noted that the year before, in 2004, the Durand Neighbourhood Association conducted a traffic study which led to the conversion of the south section of Hess street (note: the north section was also recommended to be converted as part of the DTMP, but has yet to be completed) and also confirmed the conversion of Caroline.
Thus, while the DTMP has provided the main list of conversions in Hamilton, it is clear from this that neighborhood associations can also play a pivotal role in converting streets.
In 2008, a five-year review of the DTMP was conducted and published. While James Street and John Street had been converted on time, the city had yet to even begin efforts to convert the remaining streets, putting the plan far behind schedule. Valiantly, the authors of the 2008 review suggested a new timeline.
As part of the five-year review, a number of the originally forecasted conversions were scrapped.
Hunter street was removed from the list of streets to be converted after results from a traffic study by the Corktown Neighbourhood Association. Bay Street was also removed with a recommendation for "further study". Finally, King Street was also set aside in anticipation of a possible LRT line.
This left the York/Wilson conversion the only primary street left on the list. This conversion took place in 2010, on time according to the five-year review.
In 2012, Caroline Street was partially converted between Main and King. This project was part the DNA traffic study, but the extension to York Street, which still remains incomplete, was part of the 2001 DTMP.
Although the DTMP is a fairly limited vision for two-way street conversion, in that many important streets are not addressed including Wellington, Queen, Main and Cannon, it does represent some evidence of progress toward the city's own vision set out in "Putting People First." But the fate of the 2008 plan is intriguing, to say the least.
Looking at it in detail can shed some light on policy development and politics at City Hall, especially regarding one-way streets.
The five-year review of the DTMP was to be approved by council in the summer of 2008. When it first came up for approval, some councillors (Chad Collins) balked at the idea of converting two-way streets in principle and some used it as an opportunity to extract some concessions to improve mountain access to the downtown on John and James Streets (Duvall and Whitehead).
In the final motion that was approved, Public Works was authorized and directed to "program and include the recommended projects, in the five year review of the Downtown Transportation Master Plan in the capital budget for future years." (Those projects included the two-way conversions we noted above).
Accordingly, in the 2009 capital budget, there was one line-item, marking $200,000 for the Downtown Transportation Master Plan Renewal and Implementation, but after that, the initiative completely disappears from the capital budget.
The only reference to two-way conversion in later capital budgets is a reference for the conversion to Hunter Street, but that plan appears to be off, anyway, in favour of bike routes.
This suggests that there is a gaping disconnect between the numerous feel-good plans that are adopted by the city after untold hours of effort and participation by citizens, councillors and city staff and cold-hard cash, divvied up by council every year in the capital budget.
Citizens and community groups interested in actually translating a plan into reality are best advised to pay close attention to the city's budgeting process, putting as much pressure as possible on their local councillors at key moments.
Although the city likes to talk a good game of long-term planning by laying out ten-year capital plans, these are, again, just plans, and subject to the annual whims of council's budgeting.
A staff person in the city's budget department confirmed in a question about the budget process that ten-year plans are subject to changing priorities, funding constraints and new subsidies from higher levels of government.
So what does this annual budget-making process look like? First, we're only really interested in the capital budget, so we can leave the operating budget aside.
Fortunately, the recent flurry of articles and debate about two-way streets comes at a timely point in the annual budget process. Last year, the process started in July with the circulation of a memo outlining options for the budget process.
The 2012 budget started with general discussion of priorities and guidelines in September and then staff and councillors held workshops specifically dedicated to the capital or the operating budgets in the same month.
It's perhaps important to note: in 2012, city staff held one-on-one meetings with ward councillors in preparation for the capital budget, meaning that there is discussion about very local priorities that can feed into the budget.
Given that the two-way street conversions in the DTMP are entirely in Ward 2, this represents a real potential for communicating to Councillor Farr just how important people view the conversions and, ultimately, for holding him to account for his ability to get those projects in the capital budget.
After these discussions, there were two GIC meetings in December dedicated strictly to the capital budget. While discussions carried on about the operating budget from January to April, the key time frame for citizen pressure regarding the capital budget was August and September and for monitoring the process through to December.
Lastly, while it is true that Hamilton, like most Canadian municipalities, suffers from crumbling infrastructure without the financial resources to pay for them, there are also important choices that are made every year in the capital budget.
The 2012 capital budget included $44 million for the renovations to Ivor Wynne stadium and $10 million for McMaster University's downtown health campus. By contrast, the conversion of John and James Streets cost $1.5 million and the conversion of Caroline Street between Main and King cost $200,000.
Citizens, staff and councillors have dedicated countless hours of discussion and debate developing "Putting People First" and the Downtown Transportation Master Plan, but there is a terrible gap between what the plans call for and what has actually occurred.
It's clear the city needs to implement its own plans and citizens have to put pressure on council to do that. Going forward, citizens also need to be a little bit wary about any future plans that city council solicits.
The fate of the two-way street conversions shows that there is one process for soliciting citizen opinions, and another process entirely for getting things done.
Executive Summary of 2001 Downtown Transportation Master Plan
Five-Year Review of the Downtown Transportation Master Plan
Minutes of Committee of the Whole, July 8, 2008
Minutes of Council Meeting, July 10, 2008
Amended report By Committee of the Whole, August 7, 2008
Minutes of Council Meeting, August 7, 2008