Special Report: Walkable Streets

Complete Streets? Stop the Madness!

This is the road network we need and deserve - free from the irritation of cyclists, pedestrians, stop lights, turning lanes, oncoming traffic, and pretty much any other users of the road, allowing you to get anywhere in well under 20 minutes.

By Chris Higgins
Published December 19, 2013

Over the past several months there has been what appears to be an ever-increasing wave of attention paid to the issue of designing streets that promote safety, security, and economic development - streets that are more 'complete'.

From organizations such as the Clean Air Partnership, the Hamilton/Burlington Society of Architects, Yes We Cannon!, and Open Streets Hamilton to Gil Penalosa of 8-80 Cities, Toronto Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, and the President and CEO of our own Chamber of Commerce, as well as initiatives from local residents and city councillors, it's almost as if some sort of consensus is being reached that the current design of our downtown streets is just not promoting a healthy, safe, and vibrant place to live and do business.

What would such a street look like? Last June, a series of pictures detailing a New Vision for Main Street West were published in RTH, taking the street from a one-way arterial to two-ways with bike lanes, and finally to an avenue with on-street parking.

Main Street West, reimagined as a complete street (RTH file photo)
Main Street West, reimagined as a complete street (RTH file photo)

Similar measures have been taken in a number of cities across North America, including Toronto, New York and Seattle.

Even our neighbours in Buffalo have gotten in on the game, taking Delaware Avenue down from four lanes to two with the addition of bike lanes and a centre turning lane! The result?

Delaware Avenue, Buffalo
Delaware Avenue, Buffalo

Gridlock. Is this really the Hamilton we all want?

Stop the madness!
Stop the madness!

Stop the madness!

Hamilton today is a "20-minute city", wherein the ability to travel anywhere in the city by car in up to 20 minutes is central to making Hamilton the best place to "raise a child, promote innovation, engage citizens and provide diverse economic opportunities."

But if such a characteristic is truly the source our competitive urban advantage, is 20 minutes really the best we can do? Why can't we be an eight- or nine-minute city? Certainly we can do 15.

I say, stop selling yourself short Hamilton! Let's end gridlock, kick-start our renaissance, and cement our place as one of Canada's progressive urban leaders!

Everyone knows the heart of our economic engine is the city's complex network of one-way streets, many of which feature timed traffic signals to expedite flow. Between King, Main, Cannon, Wilson, Aberdeen, Homewood, Markland, Stanley, Herkimer, Charlton, Robinson, Duke, Bold, Hunter, Canada, and Jackson on the east-west direction and Queen, Bay, Hughson, Catharine, Mary, Wellington, Victoria, Wentworth, Sanford, Birch, and Sherman on the north-south, just to name a few, lower Hamilton is a commuter's dream.

Main Street West
Main Street West

Frictionless Commute

Readers of RTH might want to reduce speeds on these streets, widen sidewalks, add parking, and paint bike lanes so that their lattes don't fall out of their baskets when a transport truck rumbles by. Nonsense.

Hamilton's real problem is the other areas of the city that are hotbeds of gridlock and threaten our dream of a frictionless commute.

Take Ancaster's Wilson Street for example:

Wilson Street, Ancaster
Wilson Street, Ancaster

Recently I wanted to get from West Hamilton to Meadowlands, and was shocked at the congestion that results from having only one lane in each direction. Cars were turning every which way into businesses along the street, and pedestrians served to confound things further. Some sections of Wilson have even added bike lanes in each direction, much to the local city councillor's delight!

Sound multi-modal planning in support of local businesses and residents? Poppycock! Let's help Wilson reach its full potential by solving its traffic issues once and for all:

Wilson Street, Ancaster - Fixed
Wilson Street, Ancaster - Fixed

You know what also grinds my gears? All of the roads going into McMaster from Westdale. You just can't get there! How about Sterling:

Sterling Street, Westdale
Sterling Street, Westdale

Issues? You got 'em all: two lanes of traffic with parking, big sidewalks, hundreds of students, and more bike lanes. Solution?

Sterling Street, Westdale - Fixed
Sterling Street, Westdale - Fixed

Now with traffic heading in one direction for the drive to Mac, we naturally need to add more capacity in the other for the drive home. Luckily there are many good candidate streets in Westdale that can be upgraded from this:

Barclay Street, Westdale
Barclay Street, Westdale

To this:

Barclay Street, Westdale - Fixed
Barclay Street, Westdale - Fixed

Back to Main Street

With all this new added traffic flow, we will undoubtedly find our existing arterials get clogged up. Hamilton's new vision for the future will not be complete without a re-engineering of our existing thoroughfares, upgraded to again become our pre-eminent traffic arteries:

Main Street West - Fixed
Main Street West - Fixed

Six lanes of free flow traffic. Barriers reduce opportunities for other drivers to slow down and turn, while also serving the second purpose of protecting drivers from other potentially hazardous uses of the roadway. And the large street signs now give you ample warning to find your exit to Locke Street.

It has become clear to me that Hamilton's two-way street debate and arguments over complete streets have it all wrong - I say we should instead go all-in on maximizing our competitive advantage and extend the one-way network to the rest of the city. What's the worst that could happen?

This is the road network we need and deserve - free from the irritation of cyclists, pedestrians, stop lights, turning lanes, oncoming traffic, and pretty much any other users of the road, allowing you to get anywhere throughout the city in well under 20 minutes.

We had just better hope that something worth travelling to still exists after all these changes.

Chris Higgins is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics. His full departmental profile is available here.

44 Comments

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 08:32:10

Well done. It would be funny if we didn't have elected officials who actually believe this. Awesome touch with the overhead freeway signage in the 6-lane version of Main.

Anyone want to place a wager on how long it will be before someone at city hall sees this and presents a motion to investigate this 'well-thought out idea'?

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 11:32:53

Finally, an RTH article that makes sense to me!

Let the upvoting begin.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 12:43:29

Bringing this satire to its' absolutist conclusion - we might as well just euthanize the entire human species, except for one Hummer driver. Amirite? Then we don't have to share anything with anyone. Ever again. Just don't run out of gas - then you'll be like the guy in Twilight Zone who finally got all the time in the world to read, but broke his glasses.

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By higgicd (registered) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 13:16:02

I think my favourite part of these images is that one person on Barclay Street who now has to park on the sidewalk. Oh well - make way, can't you see we're driving here!

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 20, 2013 at 00:49:03 in reply to Comment 96168

that's normal in my hood. The city puts driveways in for people barely big enough to fit a smart car....but none of them own a smart car. Just another obstacle for scurrying pedestrians.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2013 at 13:31:59 in reply to Comment 96168

The obvious solution is to get rid of the sidewalk.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 13:41:49

Making traffic more Swift.

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By SeanM (registered) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 17:05:45 in reply to Comment 96172

Great pun.

I love these modest proposals for getting Hamilton moving.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 14:37:55

Also, LULZ

http://raisethehammer.org/wots/1543/toronto_rv_expo

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 19, 2013 at 15:31:07 in reply to Comment 96174

Now that's a social media expert who knows their market!

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By no people (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 16:48:04

Well, the obvious solution is to get rid of the people! Cars only.

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By SCRAP (anonymous) | Posted December 19, 2013 at 23:08:53

Sorry to comment, but should not the focus be on reducing the use of cars? This seems tl be a stigma, that people do not want to discuss. Until people are willing to talk about that , then all is endless rhetoric.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted December 20, 2013 at 09:50:02 in reply to Comment 96196

Careful, you may be asked to leave for wasting taxpayer's herp derp.

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By SmokeFreeYeah (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2013 at 15:02:38

One great concept which is not being used in Canada is parking at 45 degree angle. You can fit twice as many cars in the same area, and you remove the need for awkward parallel parking. With parallel parking, if a driver behind you fails to recognize you want to park, they pull up behind you and you are screwed. With 45 degree parking you see a spot and you just drive into it. Leaving your parking area is equally easy, just pull back and you are on your way.

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By SmokeFreeYeah (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2013 at 15:05:05 in reply to Comment 96228

To add to that, implementing 45 degree parking along the streets is as simple as painting new lines on the road

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By Read a history book (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 07:52:04 in reply to Comment 96230

Oh, Hamilton used to have a ton of angled parking. Along our majors, too, like King and Main. Take a look at pictures of the city from the 40s-60s; there's plenty of angled parking. Maybe the city had the foresight to try and reduce vehicular traffic by putting in fewer spaces to force people to walk? Nah, wouldn't be that, it would clash with this site's council-bashing of groups long gone

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2013 at 15:04:53 in reply to Comment 96228

1) Not sure how that's relevant

2) It is being used in Canada. Right in Hamilton in the Westdale Village. Downtown Guelph uses it too.

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By Smoke (anonymous) | Posted December 20, 2013 at 15:08:09 in reply to Comment 96229

1. This is an article about efficient road design. I am not sure how you can not see how that's relevant
2. OK, so it is barely used. Could be easily used much more with great benefit

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 20, 2013 at 15:19:57 in reply to Comment 96231

If you're going to do angled parking, it's much safer to have reverse-in, drive-out angled parking.

Reverse-angle parking

It significantly reduces the risk of backing out into an automobile or bicycle. It is also specifically safer for adjacent bike lanes because it eliminates the "door prize" - drivers opening their door into the path of a cyclist. Further, it is safer for loading and unloading car trunks.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted December 20, 2013 at 23:38:46 in reply to Comment 96232

But again, "...if a driver behind you fails to recognize you want to park, they pull up behind you and you are screwed."

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted December 20, 2013 at 17:38:23

Delaware Avenue looks terrible!!!! There's only enough room for cars, cyclists, pedestrians, turning, and parking!!!! THERES NO ROOM FOR SPEEDBOATS!!!!

Those pedestrians crossing the street safely makes me sick!!!! The thought of my future children walking their dog alongside a cyclist and a car makes my skin crawl. For shame Hamilton. For SHAME.

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By ComeOn (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 10:28:42

Really, guys? The purpose of a road is to get you and your car to its destination as quickly as possible. We used to have that here. It began with changing Stonechurch to 3 lanes years ago and keeps on coming.

They closed Upper Mount Albion due to too many cars and no sideways. Now, go take a look at the immediate area. Massive gridlock. Is that what you desire? Because I don't believe people going to Home Depot to buy a bathtub are going to ride their bikes in January. I would bet that a car-congested area is more hazardous to pedestrians and bicyclists than a flowing street.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 21, 2013 at 13:18:12 in reply to Comment 96252

I don't believe people going to Home Depot to buy a bathtub are going to ride their bikes in January.

You're right! Our citywide transportation network should be designed for people driving to Home Depot to buy a bathtub in January.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-12-21 13:19:45

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 15:05:47 in reply to Comment 96256

haha....forget HOV lanes, Hamilton should install the first ever BO lanes - bathtubs only.

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By higgicd (registered) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 11:17:34 in reply to Comment 96252

Hear hear! You're exactly who this post is for. ComeOn for Mayor 2014! Lets fix this GRIDLOCK

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 14:45:08

comment from banned user deleted

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 20:10:41 in reply to Comment 96258

Nice try Allan Taylor. Please go back to trolling thespec since you were banned here.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 15:08:21 in reply to Comment 96258

are you aware of any 'extremists' on the complete streets side of things? I'm not. I've only heard thoughtful, proven ideas to bring complete streets to Hamilton. I haven't once heard anyone suggest to get rid of cars, or close streets to cars. People have suggested that our 5-lane streets with a capacity for 50,000 cars a day, but only carrying 15-20,000 per day should lose 2-3 lanes for other purposes, but that's exactly what a complete street is.

The only extremism you hear in these conversations is from dinosaur councillors or people dead-set against anyone daring to move around the city by any means other than car.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-12-21 15:08:58

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 21:45:04 in reply to Comment 96261

Close some streets to cars: http://raisethehammer.org/article/079
I neither agree not disagree, just pointing out it has been said.

5 lane is a pretty general term thrown around. There is parking on either side of main during non rush hour and following a bus or being behind a stopped delivery vehicle might as well eliminate a lane. 3 lanes 20 hours of the day.

I take what Home Depot says and read it more like both sides of the debate are on two extreme spectrums of the debate. I believe a lot more would be accomplished with a phased in approach. The photoshopped picture above minus two way streets would be a lot easier for the other side of the spectrum to digest and allow for two way conversions in the future. Lower the speed limit, create a bike lane, keep sync'd lights and continue to improve our streets. Unfortunately many on the other spectrum of the debate don't see a way one street as complete though it can be.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 22, 2013 at 22:12:29 in reply to Comment 96270

I take what Home Depot says and read it more like both sides of the debate are on two extreme spectrums of the debate. I believe a lot more would be accomplished with a phased in approach.

There are not two extreme sides of this debate. There is an extreme side that wants our streets to continue to cater overwhelmingly to automobile through traffic at the expense of all other modes (including even local automobile traffic), and there is a moderate side that wants complete streets which balance the various ways people use to get around in a city: walking, cycling, transit and driving.

As for a "phased in approach": at the rate we have been converting the streets that were already approved for two-way conversion way back in 2001, we will be done by some time in the middle of the century. Our approach is altogether too phased in, to the extent that we are barely making any progress at all.

Frankly, I'm feeling exhausted with the relentless strawman attacks accusing people who support complete, balanced, equitable streets of "extremism" while giving a pass to people who want our streets to continue to cater overwhelmingly to fast automobile through traffic, despite all the proven harm and devastation our almost 60-year love affair with fast through traffic has caused.

Enough is enough: I'm not going to apologize for demanding safe, humane, functional streets that serve a broad, diverse interest of uses and support healthy, vibrant, economically successful communities.

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2013 at 01:29:41 in reply to Comment 96294

Each side views each other as extreme. You just proved that. I don't give a pass to dangerous streets. I empathize with both spectrums of the debate and everything in the middle. Don't apologize for your passion that may be mistaken as extremism.

The first image posted would be extreme to a significant number of hamilton residents overall from many aspects from capital costs to lane reductions. The audience of hamilton could be sold on a phase 1 : bike lane on north, off hours parking on 2nd north, 3 lanes of mixed vehicles at a fairly low cost to implement. Then phase 2 : add dedicated bus lane then further refinements etc.

Pictures like the first one seem extreme to your "opponents" or the general Hamilton audience, recognizing that is important. To change the transportation culture here, think of it like an onion, peel the layers back. I understand hamilton has been slow to implement, but I believe you have an audience now more than ever. I think you just need to figure out how to sell it to the rest of the citizens in a way they can buy in, and buy in, and then buy in some more.

And don't feed the real trolls (as opposed to the ones that just disagree), how this even justified a response: "It should be designed so people are able to drive to Home Depot in January to buy a bathtub." Is a waste of effort. Let those go. That kind of comment stands out for its own reasons. I was merely commenting on the psychology of your "opponents".

Jason, I merely dug up an article you wrote that was ironic to your comment and Ryan, thank you for not debating a one way street can be a complete street.

Happy safe holidays. See you in 2014.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 23, 2013 at 09:35:02 in reply to Comment 96302

Each side views each other as extreme. You just proved that.

"Each side views each other as extreme" does not mean both sides are extreme. An unreasonable opinion does not become reasonable or correct just because it's widely held by a given constituency, and equivocating only helps to provide cover for the actual extremists in the debate, who are implacably opposed to making Hamilton streets more sane and livable.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 22, 2013 at 00:40:08 in reply to Comment 96270

so that's the article Home Depot was referring to? From several years ago, suggesting that the south leg of the Gore be pedestrianized, and an idea floated to have a few blocks of King William and Hughson car-free on weekends??

Yea, it sure sounds like the "get rid of ALL cars extremism" got the best of me that day. Lol

Main only has parking on it's south curb for a few short blocks west of Sherman. Nowhere from McMaster to Sherman is parking allowed on the south curb lane. So, for 20 hours a day, Main is 5-lanes. By the time one hits Wellington, traffic is down to 20,000 cars per day. That's slightly less than the Queen St hill carries with it's 1-lane each way.

As for your phased in suggestion above, I see merit to that, but still don't understand the issue with going two-way. Almost all of the opponents to two-way streets live in other parts of the city with NO one-ways. What exactly is the phase-in for? Most streets in the city are two-way. They know how to navigate them.

It's gotten so bad now that complete streets opponents simply have no data or good reason to oppose complete streets so they pull out boogeymen like "extremists" or "anti-car" stuff.

Let's get on with rebuilding our once-proud city already instead of embarrassing ourselves with these 1950's relics roaring through our neighbourhoods.

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2013 at 02:07:40 in reply to Comment 96274

North parking = 1 lane
Bus = 1 lane

That's the extremism he might be referring to.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 22, 2013 at 22:13:46 in reply to Comment 96279

That bus lane on King Streets moves more people a day than all the other lanes combined, so let's talk about the effective, responsible use of scarce public transportation space.

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2013 at 00:58:52 in reply to Comment 96295

I would never dispute efficiency of buses. I agree. I am a presto user.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 22, 2013 at 16:09:18 in reply to Comment 96279

north parking isn't allowed in rush hour. Buses drive on all streets. Now we are pretending that cars never use the south lane on Main because of a few buses? What about Concession? 1-lane each way with buses. Again, proving the point that opponents are really stretching to find anything these days. Sadly they don't need too much thx to city hall.

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted December 23, 2013 at 00:58:15 in reply to Comment 96289

People tend not to follow the buses when they are in that that lane. If bus usage is to increase, we could expect more buses in that lane. Concession is not comparable. I'm not a opponent.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2013 at 15:15:41

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 seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 22, 2013 at 14:08:19 in reply to Comment 96262

I don't believe there have been any cries in the complete streets articles to "get rid of cars".

The fact that Hamilton's streets are currently overbuilt and cater almost exclusively to cars means that, by definition, some of the car-carrying capacity will be lost in the creation of complete streets. But building complete streets doesn't mean removing anything remotely close to all of the car capacity.

Converting a fraction of the space currently devoted to cars into space for bikes, pedestrians and transit also means that fewer people will need to drive for every single trip. Many of us will still drive when necessary, but having safe, efficient alternatives means we won't have to drive for every single transportation movement.

This discussion is not (and has never been) about eliminating cars. It is about using the unnecessary extra vehicular lane capacity in Hamilton to accommodate more efficient modes of transport in order to be able to move more people in less space, so that our city can house more people in less space, so that our per-capita expenditures are more efficient.

We will all still be able to drive a truck to buy a bathtub at home depot. But perhaps we'll feel more comfortable about riding a bike two blocks to pick up milk and eggs instead of using that truck every time we leave the house.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted December 21, 2013 at 19:31:15 in reply to Comment 96262

I don't really know how I "wander" - so I'd be interested in hearing some clarification on this.

I've only ever made the same point, time and again: We need to make out road network work better for all road users. We need to start thinking about creating safe spaces for those that don't drive, can't drive or choose not to drive to get around, and we need, most importantly, to start thinking about moving people rather than moving cars. If we're trying to do more with less with our scarce road resources, to move more people in less space, then that means reducing the number of people using their vehicle as the be-all and end-all when it comes to their transportation options - which means making it safe and convenient for them to choose other modes like walking, cycling or transit. And that means investing in infrastructure and occasionally reducing lane capacity for automobiles, especially where it makes sense. Luckily for us, there are VERY few roads in Hamilton that it doesn't make good transportation policy sense to reduce lane capacity. We're spending a lot of money on road infrastructure that is under-utilized, and we could be using that scarce public space much better to create spaces where people feel safe and comfortable travelling by a mode other than a car. It's important to note that nowhere in my arguments have I ever said that we need to get rid of cars, and I've never heard anyone who claims to champion complete streets in Hamilton make those assertions.

I, much like Ryan, Jason and most other complete streets advocates in Hamilton, use a car on occasion. Heck, I used mine today. I see my car as another tool in my transportation toolkit. The best analogy I can give you is one from my kitchen.

I'm a pretty active home cook - I make most of the food around our home. When I am cutting up an apple in the morning, I'll usually reach for a small paring knife. When I am preparing veggies for dinner in the evening and I have a stack of things to cut, I'll reach for my prized chef's knife - it requires a bit more effort to clean, so I don't use it all the time, but it's great for my every day cooking needs. Now on those occasions where I'm cutting up a bunch of stuff - say, making salsa or making a big batch of coleslaw, I'll pull out my food processor. My food processor is the most expensive, most powerful piece of equipment in my stuff-cutting arsenal - but that doesn't make it the right tool for every job. I think of walking as my paring knife - the thing I use for all my small jobs. My bike is like my chef's knife - the tool I turn to most often for most jobs. My car, much like my food processor, also has a place in my toolkit - but it's certainly not the only thing I rely on.

And that's really what Complete Streets are all about. It's about giving people the choice to use the right tool for the job when it comes to their transportation. Right now, we have a road network set up only for cars - it's like telling someone to peel and core an apple and then only handing them a food processor. 50% of our car trips in Canada are under 5 km, 30% of them are under 3 km. Here in Hamilton, about 33% of people live within 5 km of their work - 59% live within 10 km. So for 33% of Hamiltonians, their workplace is an easy 20 minute bike ride away from their home. For an additional 26%, it's not a stretch to think that they could get there in 35 min or less on a bike. The way we've been building our roads encourages people to use the wrong tool for the job - it makes the most expensive, most powerful and least efficient option for transportation the only one that feels safe and seems viable. Complete Streets is about reversing that trend, about giving people the choice in how they move around back, and about making our streets places where life, commerce and community life can play out. Nobody's talking about getting rid of cars - that's not realistic, nor is it something any of us want. I like being able to take my dogs and wife camping, being able to drive to Niagara with my neighbours to go wine touring, and to be perfectly honest I love a good road trip. What I don't love is community streets where vehicle mobility is prioritized over all else, and that's what we all (the complete streets advocates) want to change.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2013 at 08:33:30 in reply to Comment 96264

• 2,425 cyclist commuters, average commute time 21.1 minutes.
• 21,715 car, truck or van commuters (1 passenger), average commute time 21.2 minutes
• 18,275 car, truck or van commuters (2 passengers), average commute time 19.0 minutes

http://is.gd/rMyhdJ

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 22, 2013 at 00:41:41 in reply to Comment 96264

all of this is so bang on. You get the city you plan for. Always.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted December 21, 2013 at 19:33:01 in reply to Comment 96264

Sorry - source for the employment data I cited.

http://www12.statcan.ca/census-recenseme...

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