Open City

Truck Traffic, Open Data and Citizen Participation

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 22, 2011

This should by rights be filed under both walkability and open public data. It's a story of a neighbourhood struggling to convince the city to prioritize community needs above through traffic on local streets, but it's also a story of city staff coming to terms with the reasonable request of local residents to access public data collected about their own neighbourhood.

Last year, when the City was going through the process of updating its city wide truck route master plan, the Strathcona Community Council (SCC) advocated to have Dundurn Street North removed from the truck route.

Dundurn Street North is two lanes northbound and one lane southbound with no curbside parking and anemic 4'10" sidewalks right next to the street. It is residential on both sides, connects to Strathcona School and Victoria Park, and has no signalized pedestrian crossings for the entire 700 metre length between King Street West and York Blvd (though crosswalks are painted on the road at Hunt St and at Lamoreaux St).

In what has become depressingly common in Hamilton, the final staff recommendations dismissed the community input into the truck route study, sacrificing neighbourhood livibility to the goal of maximizing traffic flow.

The SCC knew anecdotally that truck traffic on Dundurn was heavy, but they wanted hard data to present to staff and councillors. To get it, volunteers monitored traffic on Dundurn at King St. over a ten-day period and collected 24 hours of round-the-clock data. You can see their presentation (in PPT format).

In brief: 424 trucks were observed during that time, 313 (65%) of them southbound and the other 111 (35%) northbound. 371 trucks, or 88% of the total, passed between 6:00 AM and 6:00 PM. On average, during that 12 hour period, a truck passed every 1 minute and 57 seconds. The volunteers also observed that 70% of the trucks heading south on Dundurn did not continue on Dundurn Street South past Main Street.

The SCC launched a cheeky campaign titled Tell them to Truck Off! to raise public awareness of the issue and put pressure on the public works committee and council to reject the staff recommendation and put the neighbourhood's community needs above the convenience of through truck traffic.

Against the objections of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, which decried the "political influence" of the Strathcona residents, Council voted to remove Dundurn from the truck route for an 18-month pilot project.

Staff Truck Counts

As part of the project, staff conducted their own truck traffic data collection prior to implementing the change so they would have a baseline for later comparison when the change came up for review. SCC volunteers contacted the city and asked to see the data and to understand the methodology the city used to collect the data.

The request was forwarded to Hart Solomon, the city's manager of traffic engineering and operations. He replied, "The data has not yet been compiled in a format that is suitable for distribution." He stated that city staff did not intend to publish the data but would publish a summary report once the "after" data had been collected and compiled at the end of the 18 month study.

Solomon added that the data was collected through "a combinatiion of manual short-term and automated longet term counts." A later email from Bob Butrym, a truck route technologist with the city, specified that the data was collected from 6:00 AM - 9:00 AM and from 2:00 PM - 6:00 PM.

After follow-up requests from SCC asking to see the data, Butrym released a summary comparing the "before" results with an "after" snapshot taken four months after the street was removed from the truck route and signage on the street was updated.

Two "before" snapshots were taken near York Blvd and near King St., and one "after" snapshot was taken mid-block. The studies excluded heavy vehicles that were exempt from the restriction.

Truck Traffic, Before and After
Study York Blvd King St Mid-Block
Before 98 113 N/A
After N/A N/A 32

Butrym concluded that the 32 illegal heavy vehicles observed in the four-month snapshot was "a 70% decrease from the volume sample taken when Dundurn St. N. was still a designated truck route."

Change of Culture

After multiple requests and several months, public works staff finally released a summary of the data they had collected on truck traffic on Dundurn Street North - but not the data itself.

To be clear, there's absolutely nothing controversial about this information. It's not embarrassing or incendiary. There are no privacy implications that might warrant keeping it out of the public view. It's merely a count of trucks driving on a street.

Why were staff so reluctant to share it? Why are they still so reluctant to share the underlying line-level data? Solomon's original response may hint at an answer: "The data has not yet been compiled in a format that is suitable for distribution."

Is it a technical limitation? Hamilton Police Service, for example, has been using a proprietary crime database using non-standard formats that do not provide the capacity to export data, meaning police officers must manually count crimes in the system to provide summaries. (The new police system will at least have the potential to export data, though no resources have been earmarked to do this.)

Is it a fear that the general public will get confused by line-level data that has not been compiled and summarized, as Larry Di Ianni recently suggested?

It is simply a corporate silo-mentality of playing things close to the chest? Over the years I've heard off-the-record from a number of city staffers who feel real frustration at their own inability to get information out of other departments.

In any case, this culture needs to change if Hamilton is ever to move up the ladder of citizen participation from the tokenism that prevails today.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:11:08

Relevant note:

The current chair of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce is Demetrius Tsafaridis (owner of the company I used to work at). He owns Carego Holdings, which includes Steelcare (steel warehouses throughout the city) and Transcare (a trucking company that carries steel coil throughout the city). His trucks are carrying steel from point to point within the city and so he has a substantial amount to gain from protecting the city's current truck routes and traffic structure.

edit: I should clarify that he was not the chair when the comments about "political influence" were made by somebody at the Chamber. He's only recently taken those reins.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2011-03-22 11:20:45

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:22:53 in reply to Comment 61330

ugh, depressing to know anyone related to Steelcare is in charge at the Chamber (although not surprising). The other day I saw more of their trucks just barreling past the Market on York, presumably headed back to Eastport Dr (that's where they've gone in the past when I've followed them). Maybe someone should remind Mr. Tsafaridis that Hamilton has these amazing things called freeways that lead right to his buildings on Eastport Dr AND Aberdeen Ave. Amazing! The trucks can move around the city easily and safely on highways without driving past children playing in Strathcona or shoppers at the Market.

Great work by the SCC. We'll need to keep up the fight to keep trucks off Dundurn permanently and maybe we'll slowly see livability and higher quality of life return to Hamilton (essentials in drawing new companies to our urban core - a priority long forgotten by our chamber)

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:11:50 in reply to Comment 61333

>> The other day I saw more of their trucks just barreling past the Market on York, presumably headed back to Eastport Dr

And if Hamilton would connect Burlington St to the 403, there would be even less reason for these trucks to use city streets. Shucks, even Portland has a highway wrapping around its downtown.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:22:50 in reply to Comment 61356

we did connect it. Linc, Red Hill, QEW, 403. If you can find somewhere disconnected in that route, please inform us.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 11:17:58 in reply to Comment 61359

Problem solved, then. All you need do is circulate a memo!

If only it were that simple.

Pedestrians on this site have pilloried signage that asks pedestrians to close short gaps by an inconvenient workaround.

Cyclists would fault a bike lane network that demanded that they travel several kilometers out of their way to manage a route that might have been arrayed in a different way had they not wanted to cross Ward 6, for example.

Not that I think direct 403 linkage is politically viable, but suggesting that the existing trucking linkage that exists is completely efficient is kind of coy.

Consider Bermingham, which is to take over the old Lakeport plant at Burlington and Wellington. If you were a worker hungry for a thrift-conscious IKEA hot dog, you’d save yourself almost 3km by heading east along Burlington/James/Cannon/York/Plains Plains rather than west along Burlington/QEW. Now imagine that you’re not a hungry worker but part of a competitive just-in-time supply chain, and you’re heading to Brantford rather than Toronto. Rat drifting through the lower city is still a shorter distance than the Victoria to Linc route (by about 2km).

Gas prices don't help a high-ground stance. Seems to me that business will either default to the quickest A to B or the simplest A to B. Road repairs and congestion conditions keep the algebra hairy enough that this will be an ongoing headache.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 13:48:11 in reply to Comment 61396

Seems to me that business will either default to the quickest A to B or the simplest A to B

Bingo. That's why we need a wholesale conversion to two-way in the entire lower city with more stop lights and NONE of them synchronized. Fast moving freeways will then become the fastest moving route for them, and will enable us to have safe neighbourhoods again that can be 'the best place to raise a child'.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 14:12:39 in reply to Comment 61417

Sure, you can petition the city for a wholesale conversion, and that'd work, but it might also serve as a hobby into your retirement years. But if a factory-to-403 advantage comes down to 2-3km over a distance of 12-14km, reducing road speeds in residential neighbourhoods by around 15% – from 50km/h to 40km/h, as you'd generally see in a school zone – would probably eliminate any incentive to plot a truck route through them.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2011 at 16:17:02 in reply to Comment 61418

Kirkendall now has a new 40 km/h speed limit posted around Earl Kitchener School.

Kirkendall Neighbourhood Traffic Management Study: http://goo.gl/3SPrA

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 11:43:02 in reply to Comment 61396

Not that I think direct 403 linkage is politically viable, but suggesting that the existing trucking linkage that exists is completely efficient is kind of coy.

You make a good point, however one of the arguments used to justify the construction of the Red Hill Exwy was that it would take through truck traffic off our downtown streets. It didn't happen because of all the realities you mention, but it's hard to resist reminding the Chamber of their promise whenever they whine about inner city truck routes being removed.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:06:22 in reply to Comment 61399

I'm all for riding the Chamber, but the "efficient regional road system" was only part of the argument. There was also the selling point of accommodating phenomenal exurban population growth in upper Stoney Creek (projected $820 million of new residential assessment), developing employment lands in North Glanbrook and Airport (projected $330 million of new industrial assessment) and addressing the lack of local job growth and reliance on external employment were also arguments for Expressway construction. Lancing policymakers for the trucks alone cuts them an exquisite amount of slack. Show me the alleviated tax load on citizens, or the increased live-work viability of the city. The ecdev brief may as well have come with a colouring book filled with perspex apartment bubbles and high speed hovercraft ferries.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:41:13 in reply to Comment 61401

Now you've done it. You've Red Hilled the thread.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:51:08 in reply to Comment 61412

"Paved the valley" is the new "jumped the shark"?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:47:53 in reply to Comment 61412

Godwin's Law, Raise the Hammer edition.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:27:22 in reply to Comment 61401

There was also the selling point of accommodating phenomenal exurban population growth in upper Stoney Creek

You mean enabling that growth. It would not have been possible without the completion of the RHVP, which may help to explain why so many sprawl developers were on the list of over-contributors to the campaigns of candidates who supported RHVP in the 2003 election.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2011 at 13:44:13 in reply to Comment 61410

That growth was happening either way. One thing the RHVP did that is commendable is pull mountain-bound traffic off the horribly overburdened 403 through Aldershot, which gives us ammunition for complaining about in-city truck traffic.

Before RHVP, the 403 was functionally a parking lot during rush-hour. Now the 403 trundles along, so there's no reason for trucks to head down Main instead of the expressway.

I actually think the RHVP was sadly necessary to support our existing city for that reason. The problem, of course, is that council as always bent over backwards to developers who are hell-bent using the RHVP to feed their new sprawl grounds, turning the East Mountain into Mississauga's Mississauga.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 23, 2011 at 14:17:42 in reply to Comment 61416

That growth was happening either way.

It only happened because we built the public infrastructure to enable it. We could have directed that capital money into intensification instead, as a number of other cities have done with great success.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 11:20:52 in reply to Comment 61396

Having said that, the staff vs SCC situation described in the article above is a load of old bollocks. That exemption should have been implemented and studied within an inch of its life, so that rational exemptions could continue to spread.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 11:35:03 in reply to Comment 61397

Read closer. The pilot project was born in controversy but "Council voted to remove Dundurn from the truck route for an 18-month pilot project."

All things being equal, of course, advocates tend to identify most strongly with their own neighbourhoods. Eastbound truck routes still bisect neighbourhoods. It’s a matter of whether a trucking route carves through Landsdale or Strathcona.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:10:00 in reply to Comment 61398

All things being equal, of course, advocates tend to identify most strongly with their own neighbourhoods.

Nothing wrong with that. Think globally and act locally. Having the greatest stake in something tends to lend credibility to your arguments.

It’s a matter of whether a trucking route carves through Landsdale or Strathcona.

Not sure what you're implying here. Are you suggesting that Strathcona got preferential treatment because they're more affluent than Lansdale? The Strathcona community fought long and hard for this.

Now, I'm not naive enough to suggest that social and economic advantage doesn't affect a community's ability to organize and advocate for itself, but we need to keep some perspective here. Strathcona is only marginally more advantaged than Lansdale, and only because Strathcona has recently become a more desirable place to live for a various confluence of reasons.

The gradually improving fortunes in the east end will no doubt bring about similar social changes in Lansdale in time. If they ever succeed in removing truck routes from their neighbourhood, will we attribute it to the fact that they are more privileged than the Keith neighbourhood?

Let's not take away from the SCC's hard won victory by implying they had some sort of unfair advantage.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:18:44 in reply to Comment 61402

Apologies if I suggested anything sinsiter in the Strathcona victory. I'm definitely not trying to take anything away from the SCC or local residents – just pointing out that when someone suggests that Victoria/Linc is preferable to James/Cannon/York/Dundurn they are fobbing the problem off on someone else. Ryan and Jason live in Strathcona, and their sympathies are understandable and completely reasonable. I was simply underlining the point that the distance travelled within residential neighbourhoods is not necessarily any less.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:23:55 in reply to Comment 61405

NB: More hasty writing. I'm not insinuating that Ryan and Jason have argued that Victoria/Linc is preferable to James/Cannon/York/Dundurn. Both are longtime advocates of livable, walkable neighbourhoods. It does seem to me, however, that part of the victory in a situation like that obtained by the SCC would be in outreach to similarly affected neighbourhoods, imparting insights and sharing tactics and tools.

Now if you'll excuse me, I must go off and hang myself with my tongue.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:22:14 in reply to Comment 61405

Ryan doesn't live in Strathcona, and I don't recall either of them advocating Victoria as a through truck alternative.

You're right that we need to be mindful that we're not simply fobbing off our own quality of life issues onto other neighbourhoods, but it's not necessarily a zero sum game. These fights are worth fighting not just for our own communities, but because they set precedents and offer models of engagement for other communities.

Edit: seems I wrote hastily too. Didn't see your subsequent comments before I posted my now redundant remarks.

Comment edited by highwater on 2011-03-23 12:30:10

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:26:42 in reply to Comment 61406

My mistake. Somehow I got the impression that he was Stratchconan.

Again, the noose beckons. Please down-vote me into the mists.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:27:43

Against the objections of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, which decried the "political influence" of the Strathcona residents

This part is awesome. Shows how out of touch these guys are.
Heaven forbid citizens actually get involved in their own neighbourhood and try to make it a safe place to raise a child (where have I heard that statement before?) A child was hit at that painted crosswalk at Lameroux several years ago. A stop light has been approved and will be installed later this year. Also, I know a move is afoot in the neighbourhood to see the second northbound lane removed and bike lanes added to both sides of Dundurn. One - it will slow down the speeders flying north. Two- it will allow cyclists to move around safely (nobody from the chamber would know this, but people in this neighbourhood use bikes to go to work and be productive citizens). Three - it will create a needed buffer between traffic and the aforementioned tiny sidewalks.
Let's hope to see these simple, yet vital changes made to Dundurn.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 11:42:49 in reply to Comment 61335

My big dream would be a crossing at Head and a bi-directional bike lane on the west side of Dundurn connecting Head to Hunt. This would provide a continuation of the King st. bridge bike lane, through to the path across Victoria Park, which in turn connects to Napier Street which will take bikes all the way down to Bay. There are a handful of breaks in a low-traffic bike route that runs from Downtown Hamilton all the way to the Rail Trail (which, in turn, connects all the way to Brantford) and this is a big one.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2011 at 13:32:02 in reply to Comment 61339

I'd also like to see the Dundurn Street South bike lanes connect to the York Blvd bike lanes - and for the York lanes west of Dundurn to connect to the York lanes east of Queen. I still can't understand how staff managed to miss such an obvious connection, but the response I got is that there is no plan to do this.

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By hipgnosis (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 12:35:25

Living on Dundurn I have seen a noticable change in the traffic patterns since the trucks have been removed. I live a block from York and routinely in the evening rush traffic would back up to the Admiral Inn. Now there is rarely traffic backed up to Tom and if there is it is still moving relatively quick.

The removal of those trucks was a wonderful feat and I am grateful for the SCC and the volunteers who took the time to advocate for our neighbourhood.

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By Billabong (anonymous) | Posted March 22, 2011 at 14:43:43

I can't believe that Jason would criticize Stelcare...oh wait. It's jason after all.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:12:31

Going back to the just-in-time rationale: I wonder if clamping down on traffic speeds wouldn't be the most effective way of discouraging truck traffic from defaulting to residential neighbourhoods?

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By hammertime (registered) | Posted March 24, 2011 at 21:25:45

How about we just pass a by-law, no heavy traffic in the city limits..

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2011 at 21:37:35

comment from banned user deleted

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 05, 2011 at 10:34:43

California Senate Bill 910 proposes a maximum 15 mile per hour speed differential for motor vehicles passing bicycles – in addition to a three-foot passing distance.

http://www.cyclelicio.us/2011/15-mph-passing-speed

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted April 06, 2011 at 11:09:01

"...we have spent an untold fortune on incremental gains in the first and last mile of each trip without any obvious additional value to the macro economy. And, in the process, we've subsidized a living arrangement that has made our towns and neighborhoods fragile, dependent on too many variables beyond their control or even ability to influence."

http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2011/4/4/mobilitys-diminishing-returns.html

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