Special Report: Walkable Streets

Draft Complete Streets Policy Adds to Momentum in Hamilton

Complete Streets policy is becoming understood by more and more organizations, businesses and residents across Hamilton as a key to improving health, quality of life and economic opportunities.

By Sara Mayo
Published July 31, 2013

On June 26, the SPRC hosted a policy event to gather feedback about a draft Complete Streets policy for Hamilton. The success of this event is one of many indicators of momentum for Complete Streets in Hamilton and beyond.

Justin Jones speaking at the Complete Streets Policy Event (Image Credit: Sara Mayo)
Justin Jones speaking at the Complete Streets Policy Event (Image Credit: Sara Mayo)

Complete Streets policies have been adopted in over 500 communities in North America. A Complete Street is designed for all ages, abilities, and modes of travel. A Complete Street policy ensures that safe and comfortable access for pedestrians, bicycles, transit users and the mobility-impaired is not an afterthought, but an integral planning feature.

One of the items that got the most positive feedback at the SPRC's event was a section of the policy that stated, "Complete Streets shall contribute to reducing the social, health and economic impacts of disparities between Hamilton's neighbourhoods." Most of the draft policy text is adapted from parts of policies from other cities, but this explicit equity call would be a "made-in-Hamilton" innovation to include in a Complete Streets policy.

Equity issues are one of the main reasons the SPRC is involved in the Complete Streets issue. The built environment is an important social determinant of health, as the SPRC reported in a report last year, titled 7+ ways your neighbourhood can improve your health. It has a disproportionate impact on groups living on low income, or facing stigmatization and discrimination.

We are presently working on a new report, due to be released in the Fall, that will present striking data about the equity impacts of our current urban design.

In the meantime, we welcome more feedback about our draft policy (PDF). The draft policy includes the Ten Policy Elements recommended by Complete Streets for Canada:

You are welcome to leave feedback about this policy through the comments on this page, or you can email myself, Sara Mayo, directly: smayo@sprc.hamilton.on.ca or by phone: 905-522-1148 x310. The final draft policy will be presented to Hamilton City Council in September.

Complete Streets policy is becoming understood by more and more organizations, businesses and residents across Hamilton as a key to improving health, quality of life and economic opportunities. But to achieve this potential, we must ensure that Hamilton adopts a robust and comprehensive complete streets policy and the SPRC will be doing its part to advance the public conversation in the months to come.

If readers are interested in more information about Complete Streets, take a look a video we showed and two of the presentations from our event:

Sara Mayo is a Social Planner, Geographic Information Systems with the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton.

20 Comments

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By JoeyColeman (registered) - website | Posted July 31, 2013 at 17:11:43

Thank you Sara for this opportunity to engage.

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted July 31, 2013 at 20:58:43

The sooner we adapt a real commitment to complete streets the better - way to go!

However, I'm a bit concerned about the focus on equity issues recently. I suppose equity issues are important to some people, but frankly I'm not sure the kinds of people who are against something as simple as two way streets really care about such things.

Maybe equity is a nice spin-off - but personally I'm more interested in the simple fact that complete streets make communities more livable, are much nicer to look at, lead to perks like nice places to get a drink on a patio - and subsequently make property more valuable to property owners.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted July 31, 2013 at 21:14:36 in reply to Comment 90573

Equity issues are important to everyone, eventually. How's this for a spin? Complete streets are accessible streets, and we're all getting older... the more we age, the more important accessibility becomes to us, when we want to get out to a nice place for a drink on a patio.

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By lip service (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2013 at 21:21:07

Oh great another policy that staff and council can ignore just like the downtown master plan.

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By lip service (anonymous) | Posted July 31, 2013 at 21:24:00 in reply to Comment 90575

... and the two way conversion list and the cycling master plan and the recommended historical buildings of interest list, brown field improvement plan etc etc

Making "plans" is easy when you know you have no requirement nor intent to follow them.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted July 31, 2013 at 21:57:45

How can I share this document to my Facebook

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By Sara (registered) | Posted July 31, 2013 at 23:43:56

Thanks for you interest. We'll post the policy on the SPRC's Facebook account tomorrow.

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By Not A Socialist (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2013 at 11:10:27 in reply to Comment 90573

I would suggest everyone should get online and research "Complete streets agenda 21" This is more about losing our community autonomy, than fixing streets to be universally accessible. The U.N. and its majority of authoritarian governments is trying to undermine liberal democracies sovereignty By pushing "sustainable development" a nice sounding name that hides a sinister and deceitful plot equitable with Soft Jihad or Fabian Socialism. < 2 more things people should research.
They are trying to supplant our democratically elected governments by implementation of U.N. directives which although not forced yet, will if the agenda is fully implemented carry force of law ... laws decided and ruled upon outside of our nations borders by a group of representatives dominated by Totalitarian regimes. The U.N. has been co-opted by Socialists and Sharia and this is their Agenda. AGENDA 21

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By Ismism (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2013 at 11:21:01 in reply to Comment 90586

Looks like you got lost. The John Birch Society is that way ->

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By Reality (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2013 at 20:35:53

The reality is these groups can waste all the time they want on this, but nothing will ever come of it. Why, because the majority of the people in this city will not go for this or anything else that impedes their travel, vehicular travel, around or through this city.

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By Cynicism (anonymous) | Posted August 01, 2013 at 21:06:32 in reply to Comment 90594

That's not reality, that's the same cynicism that has held this city back for decades. We're not buying it anymore.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 01, 2013 at 22:37:51 in reply to Comment 90594

will the majority of people in this city go for something that builds the economy, adds to the taxbase, lowers their residential taxes, draws new residents and businesses here, increases quality of life, improves safety for them, their kids, grandkids, increases health and wellness of citizens and saves millions of $$ in health care costs???

Comment edited by jason on 2013-08-01 22:38:11

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted August 02, 2013 at 10:13:30 in reply to Comment 90586

This is why I love the internet.

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted August 02, 2013 at 15:00:17

All the concepts quoted are American concepts. Apparently there are no Canadian examples of "Complete Streets". How this will reduce "poverty" has me stumped. The HSR is the cheapest form of transport there is, unfortunately it's not reliable or convenient. Cars are not the problem, bad drivers are. That is the Police's responsibility. Compliance is free.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted August 02, 2013 at 15:14:25

Yes, I agree with you, Mark Allen, how does all this eliminate poverty. I asked on a another thread, just exactly is this new economy? Since the trend for food service is employers offering minimum hours in order ot avoid the payroll taxes.

Since ms Mayo works for the SPRC, we do have to account tht her voice is one that represents her employer. I ahve issues with this emploer as it is clear that they have interfered in the development of the grassroots, those who really struggle.

People may doubt me, however, the truth will be ocming out soon enough. Not to say that Sarah is a bad perso, however, she is restricted by her employer, who relies on funding in order to operate.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 02, 2013 at 17:43:00 in reply to Comment 90602

How this will reduce "poverty" has me stumped.

Nowhere is it claimed that complete streets will reduce poverty. Rather, complete streets will reduce social inequity between affluent and impoverished neighbourhoods.

Currently, Hamilton does not incorporate complete streets principles as a matter of course into its roadway designs anywhere. However, streets are generally far worse in poor neighbourhoods than in wealthy neighbourhoods. The former suffer the daily trauma of multi-lane one-way expressways like Cannon Street and have minimal bike lane coverage, narrow sidewalks, long distances between pedestrian crossings, poorly marked crosswalks, no button-activated crosswalks, no zebra crossings, very few street trees, and so on.

The HSR is the cheapest form of transport

Actually, walking is the cheapest form of transport. The next cheapest is cycling, since a cheap bike costs nothing to operate and almost nothing to maintain. Streets designed so that it is safe and easy to walk and cycle will make it easier for families who cannot afford multiple automobiles to get around. In combination with a better-funded and more reliable public transit system, complete streets not only make it easier for people to choose to drive less (or not to drive), but also help people who can't afford the luxury of driving.

Complete streets will not eliminate poverty, but they will provide real, tangible improvements in quality of life for people living in poverty.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-08-04 09:26:37

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By Reality (anonymous) | Posted August 04, 2013 at 10:55:45 in reply to Comment 90599

The general public doesn't look at it that way and will never believe what you are telling them.

It's about the credibility of the messenger and in this case as with many of the issues writers on this site support you just don't have any credibility. There are two sides to every story, unfortunately for you the perception is that this site only presents the one side and does not tell the whole story.

If you want to be an advocate you have to acknowledge that all points of view have valid arguments, without denigrating them, while putting your position forward.

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By Mark-AlanWhittle (registered) - website | Posted August 05, 2013 at 08:11:24

Hamilton has a lot of organizations like the SPRC. I call them collectively the Poverty Industry. Funny thing is, not a single person has been raised out of poverty by any of their prognostications. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to understand the dynamic of enabling of poverty to continue and expand. This industry is self-perpetuating. I'm retired now, but worked and saved for three decades so I could retire at 55. The best way out of poverty is a full-time job. Presently we have over 10,000 individuals, couples and families with kids collecting Welfare (OW) and another 20,000 individuals collecting ODSP. This is why we have numerous food-banks throughout the city. Almost anyone can go there to get food. Even Binbrook has a food-bank. All of them rely on government funding to survive. Personally, I've never been to one. The average stay on Welfare is two and a half years. How is this possible when every person signs a participation agreement, and must show progress. These agreements are rarely audited to ensure compliance. If Welfare is like a job, perhaps able-bodied recipients could do some work for the money, like Graffiti removal or other tasks (picking up litter) that could help individuals escape the rut they are in. Real reforms are needed, as just throwing money at the problem won't work, as we have been doing it this way for years, yet nothing has changed. Hundreds of millions of dollars are given to the Poverty Industry every year, yet the OW and ODSP rolls continue to expand. Better to give this money directly to people who need it, than organizations that only talk about the problem endlessly. According to the Provincial government if you are making $10.25 per hour full time, you are above the (LICO) poverty line. Perhaps one day the government will start fixing the root-causes of the plight of those collecting government assistance. I can recall city-hall used to have a 50/50 program. People were subsidized to work long enough so they could collect Federal EI payments. This got a lot of people off the system. Unfortunately city-hall unions got rid of it, saying their members should be doing this menial work, shoveling snow at intersections and other tasks. Perhaps that program should be re-introduced. Anything would be better than what is happening now.

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By Evie (anonymous) | Posted August 06, 2013 at 14:06:27

Hi Sara,

Great article, I support the idea of Complete Streets in Hamilton and I quickly read the draft policy. The policy does not speak to the issue of curb side parking. The only mention of parking is the creation of parking lots built by private developers. On existing streets or new developments where space permits, the City should be endorsing curb side parking as it protects pedestrians from moving vehicles and is a more affordable and convenient form of parking and the profit goes back to the City. Private developers building parking lots will surely have inflated parking rates and fines as is the case with imperial parking. In the case of Downtown Hamilton, the idea of adding parking lots might mean tearing down existing buildings. Accessibility to shops/restaurants/facilities by mobility challenged and elderly individuals will be limited if the only parking available is lot parking and could marginalize such persons from utilizing all Hamilton has to offer.

You and I conversed via twitter a while back concerning the removal of curb side parking on Hunter and you seemed to be endorsing the removal of the curb parking to accommodate a two way bike lane (that was my interpretation of your tweets, I may be wrong?), while I believe that the street could accommodate a bike lane, street parking and a single moving vehicle lane which would calm the street and leave it accessible to cyclists and motorists needing to park their vehicle. If you didn’t believe that Hunter could become more ‘complete’, how do you believe any other Hamilton Streets can become a complete street? Maybe my definition of a complete street is different from yours? I couldn’t find a clear definition of where parking is addressed in the draft.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2013 at 22:45:51 in reply to Comment 90602

Actually there are several examples of Complete Streets here in Canada. It's true that the idea has more traction so far in the US, but recently Complete Streets policies have been adopted by Edmonton, Waterloo and Ajax, among others. The difference is that, like many things to do with active transportation, many US jurisdictions are about 3-5 years ahead of jurisdictions here in Canada. So the examples that exist in Canada are simply too young to really point to just yet, but give them a couple of years, and they'll be showcased as well.

To reiterate the equity component, Complete Streets are about making our streets, which are public space, work for all users. This includes children, seniors, people with disabilities and those who choose to walk or cycle to get around as well as those who drive. It really all boils down to giving people choices. As you mention, the HSR is currently not very reliable or convenient, and walking and cycling around the city is not very hospitable or safe, so your choices are currently quite limited - if you're like me, an experienced, strong adult male cyclist, then choosing cycling doesn't seem so bad, but the age and gender divide among those who choose to ride around Hamilton is particularly stark. For most people, the only choice for reliable, (perceived) safe transportation is vehicle ownership, and that means paying car payments, insurance, gas, maintenance and other costs that average $8,000 - 10,000 per year in Ontario. Someone in the mid-to-high income bracket might not notice those costs that much, but someone living below the poverty line certainly will, so giving people the choice to use their car less or to explore other means of transportation certainly is an equity issue. So to my mind, it seems like a pretty simple equation of how this addresses equity.

When someone making $20,000 a year has to pay $8,000 a year for transportation, that doesn't leave them a whole lot of discretionary income, but if they feel like that is their only real option to get to and from work, the grocery store, etc then they don't really have much of a choice. If that same person lives in a neighbourhood where amenities and employment opportunities are close by, then maybe they won't use their car as much to go to work, the grocery store or to take their kids to school, and maybe they'll save a thousand bucks or so a year, which means more money in their pocket at the end of every month.

As for your last point, I somewhat agree with you - cars are not the problem. The problem is that we are not providing people with any viable alternative to using a vehicle as their only means of transportation. We can build our cities to work better for everyone and, indeed, if we want to continue to compete in a world where people are increasingly making their choices about where to live work and play based on livability, we have to start doing better right now.

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