Will the Transportation Master Plan review become yet another exercise in public consultation that goes nowhere?
By Jason Allen
Published October 13, 2015
For the past six months, the city has been involved in a lengthy consultation process to revise the Transportation Master Plan (TMP). Hamiltonians have been asked how we get around, how we feel about our travel options and what our vision is for the future.
Traffic calming on Wilson Street in Ancaster (RTH file photo)
Now only one question remains: is it all worth it?
First, a little history.
The city last revised the TMP in 2007 after broad public consultation and extensive research. It was a thoughtful, forward-looking document that called for greater cycling and pedestrian opportunities, complete streets and traffic calming - all things that modern cities do to try and attract businesses and workers, things cities that are slowly dying are fighting to avoid.
The TMP outlined not only the benefits and costs of the changes, but also the risks of doing nothing differently. It was a watershed in Hamilton in how streets, sidewalks, the entire transportation network would be designed.
Except it wasn't.
Every time a motion was proposed that would support the goals of the TMP - such as making Queen Street two-way or adding a bus lane - some member of Council would begin to rail about gridlock and the inability of everyone to get to work, school, or their doctor.
What was lost in all of this: not everyone travels by car, and if you give people a safe, reliable travel choice, more people would like to be able to leave their car at home.
Rather than respecting the guidelines of the plan that most of them had voted for, many Councillors parroted the fears of a small vocal minority of people.
Now we have a legacy of death and injury at lower city intersections like Queen and Herkimer, and an appalling lack of safe, convenient alternatives to the car on the Mountain.
Police cruisers responding to a collision at Queen and Herkimer (RTH file photo)
For years, even with a planning document that encouraged active transportation and cycling, the cycling network in Hamilton was an embarrassment of short, disconnected lanes that led to and from nowhere. Only extensive public pressure led to innovations like the Cannon Street cycle track, despite a master planning document that called for just those sorts of things.
Similarly, it wasn't until the public shaming of the Tactical Urbanism movement that the city began to get serious about properly marking pedestrian crossings, calming traffic at intersections, and other-people friendly adaptations to the road network.
'Guerrilla' bumpouts installed at Locke and Herkimer led the City to install permanent bumpouts (RTH file photo)
So now we are on the cusp of a new Transportation Master Plan. From the looks of the public consultations I've attended, and from talking to the consultants, the message Hamiltonians have sent to Council is loud and clear: City roads designed for cars above all else are unsafe and unhealthy, not only to people, but also communities.
Creating a better balance between how much room we dedicate to cars, buses, pedestrians and cyclists is crucial for fulfilling our goal of making Hamilton the "best place to raise a child."
The question that hangs over the whole process is: Will the political will be there to allocate the money and vote for the motions to make these changes, or will this year's TMP review become yet another exercise in public consultation that goes nowhere? Will this review be placed on the same shelf as the last one to begin collecting its own layer of dust?
Cannon Cycle Track (RTH file photo)
For the past decade or so, Hamilton's transportation network has been on a slow march to modernity.
Some days it feels like it was being dragged kicking and screaming, but it's important to celebrate our milestones: Protected bike lanes, narrowing intersections so pedestrians can cross safely and two-way conversions on streets like James and John. Much of this progress has been made through leadership in our community that has embarrassed Council and City Hall into action, not because of leadership by our Council.
Now it's time for our elected leaders to step up, and to not only approve the Transportation Master Plan, but to listen to the people who have been consulted, to take action and to commit the resources needed for its full implementation.
The Transportation Master Plan will come before Council for approval in January. Hamilton will be watching.
This article was first published in the Hamilton Spectator on October 10, 2015.
The City is holding more public consultation on the Transportation Master Plan review. The following public meetings are upcoming:
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