Transportation

A Trip Down Highway 6

By Ryan McGreal
Published May 21, 2013

this blog entry has been updated

There are lots of interesting discussions we can have about what policy goals the City of Hamilton should pursue and how we should go about pursuing them. Those discussions are most productive when the people participating commit to an honest, good-faith treatment of the evidence and arguments.

Unfortunately, every open discussion attracts a few trolls who refuse to let mere facts, or indeed basic principles of discourse, get in the way of squelching and stonewalling any idea that might move our city forward.

One of the more common excuses for why we can't have nice things is because the municipality spans an area of 1,100 square kilometres. The argument is that if you divide the city's population by its area, our density is too low for walkable neighbourhoods, effective transit, functional bike lanes or anything else aside from single-family suburban houses, wide, multi-lane streets and mandatory free off-street parking.

There's a quick and easy answer to this claim, but I want to put this meme to bed, so I hope to indulge you for a few minutes by taking you on a trip. Or rather, by bringing you back from a trip north of the city.

Maybe you were enjoying a recursive experience on an island on a lake on Manitoulin Island. Maybe you were SCUBA diving for shipwrecks in Fathom Five. Maybe you were hiking the northern stretches of the Bruce Trail. Maybe you were cottaging in Lion's Head or Wiarton. Maybe you were getting high, happy and healthy in Mount Forest. Maybe you were camping in Elora Gorge. Maybe you were visiting a friend or family member at U of Guelph. Maybe you were enjoying an entertaining murder-mystery dinner theatre at the Aberfoyle Mill.

But you're on your way home now, and you're coming south toward Hamilton on Hwy 6. You're on a rural highway, 80 km/h dropping to 50 km/h when it passes through a village. You're surrounded by farmers' fields, stables, livestock pastures, copses of northern carolinian trees, a cheerful red barn, a stately rough-hewn stone house.

Just south of Puslinch you pass a blue sign welcoming you to Hamilton. It's just outside the gravel shoulder in front of an evergreen thicket. You're in Hamilton now, but you're still in farm country, surrounded by rolling fields and distant farm-houses.

After several minutes, you pass the turn to go to Valens, a relaxing campground operated by the Hamilton Conservation Authority. Keep driving, you're still in the country.

After several more minutes, you pass the turn to go to African Lion Safari, the bizarre drive-thru zoo where the monkeys have fun tearing off your wiper blades. Keep driving, you're still in the country.

Several minutes later, you pass the turn to go to Flamborough Downs, which an investigative report by Steve Buist in today's Spectator tells us is one of the few parts of OLG's casino operations that is actually making money, unlike its resort casinos. Keep driving, you're still in the country.

All in all, it's a 15-20 minute drive through the rurals before you finally reach Clappison's Corners and the top of the Escarpment, with a highway design that looks like something you find in a city.

It's fully 21 kilometres from the northern border of Hamilton to the downtown - a 21 kilometre wide band of farmland that happens to be inside the official borders of the city thanks to amalgamation.

So remember: the next time someone tries to say Hamilton can't have a functional mixed-use, mixed-mode, mixed-density because of its area, what they're really trying to get you to believe is that we can't have livable streets in downtown Hamilton because there are farmers in Flamborough and Glanbrook.

Update: this entry originally described Hwy 6 as one lane in each direction south of Hwy 401. However, it soon expands to two lanes in each direction and the entry did not make this clear. RTH regrets the oversight.

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 Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 15:56:03

What is the population density of the built-up areas of Hamilton? I know that some Lower City census tracts approach those of downtown Toronto, but does anyone happen to know what the density is like when we exclude the rural areas of the city (weird oxymoron), but include the suburbs and everything else?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 17:33:39 in reply to Comment 88847

Population density by ward was published here in http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/15...

For example, ward 2 has a density of 6100/km^2 and wards 1-10 have an average density of 2800/km^2.

For comparison, the City of Vancouver (which is entirely urban) has a population density of 5,249/km2.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 17:43:48 in reply to Comment 88848

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 18:14:43 in reply to Comment 88850

what is the minimum required densities that should be reached before we build new freeways and cloverleaf interchanges?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 18:12:04 in reply to Comment 88850

What do you think the minimum population density necessary for LRT is? Why?

Why do you think residents of other urban wards don't want improved transit service? That's not what the City found when they surveyed over 1600 Hamiltonians throughout the city.

The B-line LRT is proposed to run through the wards that already have high population density and very high transit demand. That is a good place to start, and LRT will lead to increased development and density as it has elsewhere. The question of whether LRT is feasible and justified for Hamilton has been addressed in numerous studies, described and discussed extensively on this site.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 17:35:54 in reply to Comment 88848

comment from banned user deleted

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 18:08:00 in reply to Comment 88849

The contrast is between rural and urban, not urban and suburban. Hamilton does not distinguish between urban and suburban, only between rural and urban.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 18:57:59

The province isn't fooled by these games. EIther they think Hamilton LRT is viable or not, and if so, they'll be able to attach a priority to it just as with Lakeshore West service and eventual electrification. They're taking the 50,000 foot view, and aren't distracted by council shenanigans.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 19:49:14

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By More Like TROLL (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 21:44:10 in reply to Comment 88856

If you set out to prove the authors claim that "every open discussion attracts a few trolls who refuse to let mere facts, or indeed basic principles of discourse, get in the way of squelching and stonewalling any idea that might move our city forward" well you succeeded.

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By LOL@LOL (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 21:35:15 in reply to Comment 88856

Psst, the urban part of Hamilton is 235 square kilometres and has 480,000 people. Now please go do something less useless with your time.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted May 21, 2013 at 20:40:37 in reply to Comment 88856

Well, if you're only considering Canada then Calgary and Edmonton are the only cities that have actually built LRT (as opposed to skytrain), and they were similar in size to Hamilton when they were first planned.

In the USA, Sacramento has a population almost identical to Hamilton's, Charlotte is similar in size (750k) and Norfolk, VA has a population half of Hamilton's.

25 French cities have built LRT, and most of these cities are tiny (e.g. Dijon at 150k) compared to Hamilton http://fr.wikipedia.org and have similar population densities /wiki/Liste_des_tramways_de_France. But then I suppose that we have nothing to learn from their experience because they are 'European'.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2013 at 21:48:13 in reply to Comment 88857

Let's take another look at your claims. Sacramento proper has a population of 466,000. The urban area has a population of 1,440,000 and the metro area has a population of 2,600,000. Hamilton proper has a population of 520,000 and the metro area swells that number to 720,000. A far cry from the real numbers of Sacramento which also happens to be the capitol of one of the most populous states in the U.S.A.

Charlotte proper has population of 750,000 the urban area increases that to 1,250,000 and the metro area stands at 2,300,000.

Norfolk proper has a population of 245,000 but the urban population is over a million and the metro population is over 1.6 million.

Again and again the numbers show that no city as small as Hamilton has a LRT system. There is a reason for that. The cost. Again and again we see that LRT is found in MAJOR urban centers not small cities like Hamilton.

LRT here and now makes no sense, especially economic sense.

Let the downvoting begin.


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 11:09:26 in reply to Comment 88873

Here is a table comparing Hamilton to several mid-sized French cities that have modern LRT lines in operation.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
            City Centre             Urban Area               Metro Area                      
City        Area  Pop      Density  Area   Pop      Density  Area     Pop      Density  Lines
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Angers      42.7  147,305  3,449.8  188.6  215,132  1,140.7  2,353.8  394,710  167.7    1
Le Havre    47.0  179,751  3,828.6  182.5  246,195  1,349.4    615.4  291,765  474.1    2
Nantes      65.2  284,970  4,370.7  524.6  580,502  1,106.6  2,242.6  873,133  389.3    3
Rouen       21.4  111,000  5,191.8  448.0  494,382  1,103.5  1,800.0  650,000  361.1    2
Strasbourg  78.3  272,975  3,486.3  222.0  440,264  1,983.2  1,351.5  759,868  562.2    6
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Hamilton    52.5  142,860  2,721.7  235.0  480,000  2,042.6  1,371.8  721,053  525.6    0
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Notes: Data sourced from the Wikipedia pages for the respective cities. Hamilton city centre numbers sourced from the 2011 census data. Areas are in square kilometres and densities are in people per square kilometre.

The only column in which Hamilton compares poorly with these cities is the population density of the city centre, which has suffered after decades of precisely the public policies you continue to endorse in the face of all evidence to the contrary.

LRT itself is well-understood by people who actually pay attention to evidence to anchor private investment and boost population densities around the line. Building LRT in Hamilton will help to bring our lower city density in line with the cities that already have LRT.

By the way, I have no illusion about whether you are willing (or able) to be persuaded by this. I'm posting this reply so that other people reading your comment aren't misled by your tortuous abuse of numbers to prop up your absurd thesis.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-05-23 11:16:36

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 23:01:26 in reply to Comment 88882

And every one of these French cities is tiny compared to Hamilton. In small compact high density cities transit, any transit, makes more sense than in spread out typical North American cities. I bet there those transit systems might even make money not lose it by the bucketful as is typical here.

No matter how much transit we have the possibility of transforming Hamilton into a the type of city that is typical in France is totally non existent. There is no city in North America that is like a typical French city with the only real exception being NYC. If you think we can transform Hamilton into another NYC then I want some of whatever you are smoking.

Compact high density cities with virtual no single family homes, no parking, incredibly high gas prices are ideal for transit any transit. Large spread out cities with thousands of single family homes, loads of parking, and lower gas prices then transit makes a lot less sense.

I understand LRT. Really I do. It is very expensive to build cheap to run and very expensive to repair and upgrade. Its bad enough to have a bus rolling down Main Street with 5 people on board and to have a LRT train capable of hauling several busloads of people rolling with 5 people on board is even worse.

In a city like Toronto which has real traffic problems with hundreds of thousands of commuters streaming into the city every day LRT makes sense. So do subways and huge investments since it is the driving force behind the province's and maybe the country's economies. In Hamilton a small city by almost any one's standards it does not.

Funding the transit improvements in Toronto might be possible but in Hamilton I don't see it.


Let the downvoting begin.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 24, 2013 at 06:24:19 in reply to Comment 88918

Once again, you clearly have no interest whatsoever in an honest discussion so this will be my last comment.

You have actually made the argument, over the past few comments, that only cities that are bigger than Hamilton or smaller than Hamilton can have LRT. You literally went from, "no city as small as Hamilton has a LRT system" to "every one of these French cities is tiny compared to Hamilton." Perhaps we can just let that sink in for a moment.

You also entirely neglect to acknowledge that French cities define their boundaries differently than Canadian cities, as was already explained to you in a previous comment by someone more patient than you deserve.

A city like Rouen, for example, looks "tiny" because the official border of the city corresponds to the city centre. That's why I compared it to Hamilton's city centre. When you do an apples-to-apples comparison of city centres, urban areas and metro areas, the cities I included in the table are in the aggregate comparable with Hamilton.

Some are a bit bigger, some are a bit smaller, some are a bit denser, some are a bit sparser, some have a higher metro population, some have a smaller metro population - and all of them have successful LRT systems, some with several lines, and most with plans to build more.

Yet you maintain against all evidence to the contrary that Hamilton exists in some kind of civic planning Bermuda Triangle where none of the normal rules apply.

Now please stop trolling this forum. You've wasted enough time and energy already.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted May 26, 2013 at 00:09:43 in reply to Comment 88923

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By Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 10:49:35 in reply to Comment 88923

I don't know what made it clear to you that he had no interest in an honest discussion. Seems to me as though he was wanting to discuss…

I know Strasbourg best of the French cities used as comparison above. It is both a bigger and denser city than Hamilton (according to the information above, but not much more dense than Hamilton), and anchors an urban area that is both bigger and denser than Hamilton's (again, not much more dense).

Strasbourg receives many tourists a year, and is the parliamentary capital of the European Union. Its economy is much larger than Hamilton's. Its transit ridership is something like five times that of Hamilton (300,000 versus 65,000).

By the density numbers (which is what the post was originally about), there is not much reason Hamilton would not be able to support an LRT (and definitely SOME kind of higher-order transit!). I think that the bigger barriers are cultural and political. He's not wrong in saying that there are buses in this city that run at times with almost nobody, and he's not wrong in saying that some routes are subsidized to a degree that would make most people cringe, were they to find out. These are the real barriers to Hamilton getting an LRT.

I really do wonder whether the best way to convince people that LRT is worth spending their money on is to accuse them of being closed-minded or unwilling to have honest conversations. I wonder whether alienation is the best way to sign people aboard a risky and costly project, instead of appealing to their self-interest.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 24, 2013 at 12:20:45 in reply to Comment 88931

I'm willing to have an honest, evidence-based conversation with anyone who is willing to argue from evidence. RTH always welcomes respectful disagreement and has published articles and blog posts representing a variety of different positions.

My conclusion that "LOL All Over Again" is not debating in good faith comes from years of reading and responding to literally hundreds of his comments.

Of course the barriers in Hamilton are political and cultural, but LOL continues to insist against all the evidence that Hamilton is simultaneously too small and too big for LRT, and that the lower city is comparatively impoverished and under-invested because people just don't want to live downtown, not because we have made it so inhospitable over the past several decades. Never mind the dozens of examples we have from other cities similar to Hamilton that have achieved dramatically different results by changing how they do things.

The real issue is that LOL is implacably committed to an automobile-centric culture, economy and built form in the face of all evidence to support a more balanced approach to city planning, and no amount of evidence, no meta-analysis of comparables from other cities, no collection of data from our own city will change his mind.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2013 at 23:46:13 in reply to Comment 88945

Total and utter crap and you know it. Hamilton's population is too small. Hamilton's area is too big. You know exactly what I meant but just decided to be a total jerk about it. (as is your right I guess) YOU are the one who refuses to debate in any kind of meaningful way by repeatedly using examples that are downright lies. NOBODY can believe that Sacramento and Hamilton are comparable cities and yet you keep trotting out silly examples like that.

You are hooked on having LRT in Hamilton and damn the facts that get in the way. You want what you want no matter what.

The reason you keep having to use such ridiculous examples is pretty easy to see. There are no truly comparable cities like Hamilton that have LRT. You just don't care. You want LRT here and damn the facts that get in the way.

Let the downvoting begin.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted May 23, 2013 at 12:30:02 in reply to Comment 88882

Ryan, any municipality can have LRT, but you analysis above does not include the cost of implementing and operating LRT. For all we know the LRT systems in these cities are bankrupting them, or they are receiving substantial subsidies from the federal government to keep them running.

Just because LRT exists somewhere doesn't provide a case for it too exist in Hamilton or that it is cost effective.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 13:12:34 in reply to Comment 88885

This comment was merely a reply to the spurious claim that no city of Hamilton's size has an LRT system.

The case for LRT as a cost-effective investment has already been made many times on this site and elsewhere, including the feasibility study conducted by the city, the benefits case analysis conducted by Metrolinx and the review of LRT in North American cities conducted by the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics.

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By TB (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 07:12:06 in reply to Comment 88873

Actually we had the foundations for a comprehensive LRT system more than 100 years ago:

Hamilton & Dundas Street Railway 1873-1923 Hamilton, Grimsby & Beamsville Electric Railway 1891-1931 Hamilton Radial Electric Railway 1893-1925 Brantford & Hamilton Electric Railway 1896-1931 Hamilton Terminal Company 1907-1930s

It included incline railways to move man and machine up and down the escarpment quietly, cleanly and efficiently in a matter of minutes.

Some cities kept their early systems and expanded them as they grew. Unfortunatley in Hamilton it was probably those with views similar to yours that caused the systems to be abandoned in favour of "modernizing".

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 23, 2013 at 08:34:30 in reply to Comment 88878

It's sadder even than that. In 1946, the Hamilton Street Railway was bought by Canada Coach Lines, a bus company. They immediately announced their plans to decommission the streetcars and rip up the tracks to replace them with the buses and trolleybuses the company was already running in their other operations. The streetcar lines were all shut down between 1949 and 1951. Hamilton lost its streetcars not because they didn't meet the city's needs but because they didn't fit into the transit company's corporate strategy.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 22, 2013 at 11:07:54

comment from banned user deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-05-24 10:28:09

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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 22, 2013 at 12:04:28 in reply to Comment 88864

Allan Taylor, is that you?

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 10:08:24

comment from banned user deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-05-24 10:28:03

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 13:13:52

comment from banned user deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-05-24 13:28:07

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By z jones (registered) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 13:32:17 in reply to Comment 88948

Wow, all of a sudden Allan Taylor is real desperate to suck up the oxygen on RTH again like he used to before getting banned. Maybe he got kicked off thespec.com and has nowhere else to troll...

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 13:35:02

comment from banned user deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-05-24 13:36:51

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted May 24, 2013 at 15:02:42

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By Sky (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2013 at 14:02:54

Ryan,
I seriously wanted to scream when I read your VERY INACCURATE description of Highway 6!

It is a FOUR LANE Highway (plus turning lanes) for MOST of the stretch with the exception;North of Puslinch...it goes down to two lanes in parts of the smaller villages and then back to FOUR+ all the way through to Guelph.

There are MULTIPLE multi use COMMERCIAL properties on both sides of the Highway.

The "turn for Flamborough Downs", is Highway 5, a King's Highway established before there was a City of Hamilton. This intersection of 5+6 is known as Clappison's Corners and was considered the most prestigious development areas in the 70's and 80's for all of Hamilton Wentworth...

"keep driving, you're still in the Country" ~ WRONG~ in less than 2 minutes you HIT THE 403, (less than 3km from Clappison's) not more farmland~ a candle factory on the West, a golf range on the East, an exit to head into Dundas or Aldershot.

If you had glanced to your right aproaching Highway 5 (West side) you SHOULD have noticed the INDUSTRIAL BUILDING known as Corselab...to your left (East side) TARGET, KEG, DOLLAR STORE, VALUE VILLAGE, BOSTON PIZZA, CANADIAN TIRE...ETC...(Post amalgamation, yet slated for expansion pre; my Father's companies have been at Clappison's since 1976)

If you had glanced to your right (west side) just past this intersection; you should have seen 'Innovation Drive' a large building housing multiple companies PLUS the other large scaled retail, commercial and industrial buildings. (All were in place PRE amalgamation.)

"So remember: the next time someone tries to say Hamilton can't have a functional mixed-use, mixed-mode, mixed-density because of its area, what they're really trying to get you to believe is that we can't have livable streets in downtown Hamilton because there are farmers in Flamborough and Glanbrook."

No Ryan, there are also multiple businesses, some second and third generational operators; who thanks to the mindset you have echoed (simular to our municipal Employees) cannot fathom that we have our own world away from the core...NO BETTER, NO WORSE ~BUT we do not have the TRANSIT system to get our kids to their jobs AND we don't mind doing so...(unlike Canada Bread that has City subsidized bussing).

Please paint an accurate picture and try not to blame what our Government FORCED upon ALL OF US ~ to those of us who continue to live where we were brought up. That is NOT going to solve any of the issues whether we live in Durand or Dundas, Flamborough or Glanbrook.

I would support better Transit in the core if it were capable of sustaining itself...until then, I support repairing what needs to be repaired/replaced and ADDING SAFE pedestrian + cycling venues through out our City.

Have a GREAT day Everyone.

Danya

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2013 at 14:12:23 in reply to Comment 89174

Danya, you're correct that I neglected to point out that Hwy 6 expands from two lanes to four. That was an oversight, not an attempt to mislead.

More generally, I think you seriously misunderstand what I'm trying to say. I'm not saying that there are no retail businesses or industrial facilities in the rurals. I'm not saying that there isn't a distinct economy or culture in the rurals.

I'm certainly not blaming the rurals for the problems in the urban part of the city. In fact, I'm doing the exact opposite: I'm saying that it is disingenuous to claim downtown Hamilton can't have walkable streets on account of the rurals.

I'm saying that people who take the total population of Hamilton, divide it by the total area and conclude that Hamilton is not dense enough for urban neighbourhoods or effective transit are misrepresenting both the urban core and the rural communities.

They are distinct, and rightly so; and it makes no sense to lump them together in a naive, handwavy calculation of density that ignores how diverse the city is.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-05-30 14:22:49

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By Sky (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2013 at 17:16:48 in reply to Comment 89175

Whoops, sorry population vs. area (meaning our entire geographical boundaries)

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By Sky (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2013 at 17:13:51 in reply to Comment 89175

Thank you Ryan for the update and clarification.

Anyone would be foolish to do the math based on population vs. people for something that would only be constucted in the core.

What must be kept in the equation is area serviced vs. people who will make use of the system.

In a perfect world, we could accomplish more ~yet that is where the money has to be factored in...

Our City cannot keep up with our declining infrastucture ~ we NEED walkable, cycle friendly streets; a rapid transit system cannot be maintained at the rate we are going.

Over time, I would hope that we can get there; but for now, let's get on with what we can do; think forward to the day we can expand (make sure our road choices would be LRT capable/ready) yet concentrate FIXING what is ALREADY BROKEN and ensure SAFETY for those who choose not to drive a car.

Have an awesome evening everyone.

Danya

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