Ideas

Measuring Progress on the Red Hill Parkway

Improvements in net economic development, municipal taxes, road congestion, and air quality helped sell this project and need to be verified or refuted.

By Ted Mitchell
Published November 27, 2007

On November 20, the Spectator published my letter to the editor on testing the positive claims about the Red Hill Valley Parkway against actual results. The subject deserves a more detailed treatment.

It is important to avoid framing the history of the Red Hill Creek Expressway (RHCE) debate as simply "progress versus environment". Although I am firmly an environmentalist, I think the story of this highway destroying the valley is overstated and diverts us from the real issue.

As for the real beneficiaries, The Spec also published Ken Stone's letter, "Red Hill parkway winners and losers", and he makes good points, namely, cui bono? I think that the average Hamiltonian is resigned that big pavers and developers will take an excessively big chunk of pie, and that's just a fact of life.

My real point is this: in the interests of honesty and to avoid future mistakes it is much more useful to frame the debate as "real progress versus the impression of progress". I assert that we were sold a bill of goods.

You will notice that the big name proponents of the expressway often adopt a tone of preaching (e.g. Larry Di Ianni's numerous quotes in the Nov. 16 Spectator) or demonizing opponents for impeding progress (Jack MacDonald's particularly resentful opinions also in the Nov. 16 Spectator). These high profile proponents, in slippery political fashion, generally avoid actual claims like what I have listed above. Rather, the claims come from underlings and average Joes, firmly endorsed but without written proof from the powerful people.

I will take that accusation back if the Terry Cookes, Larry DiIannis and Jack MacDonalds of the project will put their names to those, or similar, measurable claims.

As for economic development, industrial and to a lesser extent commercial uses could be positive for Hamilton tax revenue. Residential uses are of course a drain on revenue, since sprawl costs more to service than it brings in from taxes. But business uses will only have a positive effect if they represent net growth, that is, not competing with small, locally owned businesses which retain much more of the customer's dollar in the community.

As long as any lower city land is an unused Brownfield or dying a slow death, this is an economic noose around Hamilton taxpayers' necks that will drag down all sorts of large new Greenfield development revenues.

Road congestion is an obvious consequence of building free-to-use highways with government funds. Unlike other social programs which benefit us all, this massive transportation subsidy goes largely to those who use our road infrastructure most wastefully. Experience from all over has shown road miles traveled growing at a rate exceeding population growth and usually also economic growth.

This is due to the well-established concept of induced demand, a predictable and ubiquitous consequence of the strategy of building roads to ease congestion. This approach has caused freeway occupancy to drop to less than 1.2 people per vehicle. Surely there is no precedent for that degree of inefficient resource use in the civilian world.

The commissioned iTrans study, Assessment of Updated Auto and Truck Forecasts, has traffic growing at three percent annually, resulting in expressway peak hour gridlock around 2019, unless aggressive transit capacity is added under Vision 2020 guidelines.

This is based on growth rates of local existing roads and makes no correction for induced traffic from new lane capacity. A 1998 study by Dittmar quoted in walkablestreets.com/diet.htm shows that every 1% additional lane capacity induces 0.9% additional trips, measured after four years.

Considering the never-modeled factors of induced traffic and truck route shortcut, it will not take many years before the RHCE is saturated.

Another of the "studied to death" supporting documents at the City website is called "Vehicle Air Emissions Inventory" prepared by RWDI. The document also does not consider induced demand, only replacing trips on slow, congested Centennial etc. with expressway trips, in order to come up with a drop of 3-17 percent in total emissions.

It also treats the RHCE as flat: "The effects of grade changes have been ignored". So much for congestion and pollution modeling.

You do not have to be an engineer to notice that pollution is nasty along Hamilton's most similar stretch of highway, the Hwy 403 Ancaster hill, and in the valley around the exits to Aberdeen and Main streets. Mobile pollutant monitoring done by Clean Air Hamilton corroborates the evidence from your nose, showing possibly the worst readings in the City.

Still more questionable study results can be found. KPMG's Capital and Operating Costs - Build vs. No-Build Scenarios (see pages 19-20) claims that maintenance costs for the Linc will be 8 to 42 percent higher if RHCE is not built. Can they really assume traffic on the Linc will go down when the RHCE is completed?

Two years ago, while doing a University project on the RHCE issue, I contacted Chris Murray, project director, to ask if any post completion validation of these studies would ever be done. He did not reply.

We have to move on, but in an informed fashion. Know the claims, know the studies, and collect the data to validate or refute them. Otherwise, history will have taught us nothing.

I would rather not win this argument, because by winning it, we all lose.

The picture I paint can be avoided by bold planning decisions. Tolling the expressway and severely limiting residential development near it are unpopular but necessary actions. Otherwise, all the promises of the RHCE will evaporate.

Ted Mitchell is a Hamilton resident, emergency physician and sometimes agitator who recently completed a BEng at McMaster University. He is fascinated by aspects of our culture that are harmful, but avoid serious public discussion.

15 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Frank (registered) | Posted November 29, 2007 at 08:56:43

I think that some extensive studies need to be done as well to validate or at least hold the council accountable for decision reasoning. However with respect to one issue, the pollution at Aberdeen and the 403, let's check the pollution levels at the same time next year with the RHCE open. Traffic gets diverted so pollution goes elsewhere. It'll be spread out a bit more than before. Is that better? I'm not sure...

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 29, 2007 at 09:07:07

Well, I don't see how anyone's going to drive up Red Hill instead of the 403 - they're on opposite sides of the city.

Also, don't forget that just building the new highway will create new traffic that didn't exist before. All those people moving into Summit Park are going to be driving up and down the RHVP, so they're brand-new traffic that wouldn't exist if not for the highway. Supply creates its own demand.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By futurelook (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2007 at 18:34:55

Was against Redhill, attended protest meetings, wrote to the Ham. Spec.and all those other handwringing things.
Now I use it twice a day and NOW feel it is a great artery. This road worked out . You have to wonder now how we ever got along without it. I'm a convert,, sorry dr. ted

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By liveD (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 08:32:24

no use 'futurelook'; these people just want to hear from each other...don't confuse them with facts.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 09:52:52

lived, I didn't notice any 'facts' in futurelook's post, just feelings. Now feelings are as valid a topic for discussion as anything else, but facts they aren't. It appears that you are the one who is confused.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By liveD (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 12:35:47

I see highwater. The fact that futurelook now likes the highway isn't a fact, it's a figment of his imagination! Interesting.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 14:01:32

that's the very basis of my article - people love the promise of mobility of expressways, which is actually true for a fleeting period which you are now experiencing.

From the individual perspective (and most people are experts on this) you might as well use it as much as you can because you pay for it anyway - this perverse economic self-subsidy of wasteful behaviour is precisely the reason why it will fail to deliver long-term on any of the promises.

"futurelook" (har har knee-slap!), remember what you said, and what I said, 10 years from now.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By highwater (registered) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 14:18:41

That's right, liveD. 'Liking' the highway is a feeling, not a fact. I'm not trying to invalidate futurelook's feelings, he's entitled to them, just don't confuse them with facts.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By liveD (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 16:03:44

Highwater is using syllogisms that don't hold up.
Ted, interesting point but in 10 years time lots will happen. How is one to know?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By futurelook (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2007 at 18:56:49

WOW.. exposed nerve endings.. well , folks, I guess a lot of people "like" Red Hill because a lot are certainly using it !! BUT that could be just an emotional thing or is it "facts" we are still married to our autos ?: OH YEAH ! Start working on better public transit / reduce the sprawl / intensify. Has our city council bought in yet?I'm willing to try but give me a better way to transport myself in under two hours to work (each way transit) Maybe we will get off the R Hill. Case in point: my aunt lives on the Mtn. near the old Sanitorium hospital browland complex. She tells me some new guy from out of town wants to build a mid-rise condo site and those big lot owners on Scenic have gone nuts. Anti-condo lawn signs. None of those fancy condos for us/ they just love having the bus route there run empty all the time.And just about all of them have 2 and 3 some 4 cars in their huge driveways.Go figure. . Great bus service, by the way ..Aunt B.never has a problem getting a seat. , maybe , just maybe, bundle the kids up and take the bus to visit her next week.As santa says ho ho ho .

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted December 13, 2007 at 11:46:58

I think we have enough data to closely predict what will happen in 10 years. If nothing serious is done for sprawl, transit, tolls and gas tax, RHCE will be like the DVP. Functional, but frequently congested and no longer siphoning off traffic from centennial etc. The only unpredictable externality that could change the picture is peak oil drastic price spikes and shortages.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 13, 2007 at 13:29:13

Peak oil drastic price spikes and shortages is the most likely, predictable outcome in the next decade, given the supply situation and projected demand growth.

This is why Richard Gilbert recommended making energy production and conservation Hamilton's economic Plan A in his report to City Council.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By beansoup (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2007 at 00:18:03

gilbert was dead on with his plan A / our city has done nothing / councillors love the current way of life i e don't confuse me with good ideas and economic growth.. we need someone like hazel macallion

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted December 17, 2007 at 11:09:23

A question we should also be asking is does this investment into a new highway improve the image of the city? Beyond its basic function of transporting people, does it affect the way outsiders percieve us? I believe we must accomplish that in order to see a true return in terms of business investing in the city. If it's just a catalyst for more lowest common denominator retail and housing development, of the same variety that is being built everywhere in the country, can we really call it progress? Hamilton does not need simply population growth. We need to be seen as some place with something going for us, something that sets us apart or at least puts us on the same level as our neighbours in southern Ontario. At the very least, some viable industry besides steel. The impression we are giving is that we can at best replicate what every other city is doing, but only in a half assed effort.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Reader (anonymous) | Posted December 18, 2007 at 06:47:12

Land developers and shopping mall builders have to develop or lose their jobs because their companies lose market share. So it makes perfect sense that they will continue to act as they do. Until we can create an alternative to the one-armed bandit that is the global money market, whose main reason for existence must be to reward the bottom line, in the words of Jonathan Porritt on the BBC, the planet is stuffed.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds