Climate Change

20/20 Challenge Initial Proposal

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 26, 2005

With the Ecoplan's recommendations in mind, here is an initial list of proposals that Hamilton can implement immediately without major new expenditures. There are surely more good ideas that meet these criteria, and all are welcome. This list is intended to start the discussion, not to end it.

If you have an idea that meets the criteria of the 20/20 Challenge (local, affordable, timely), please post it to the Comments section of this page (if you haven't already, you will need to create a free user account) or send it to 2020@raisethehammer.org.

1. Speed Limits

There's no question: as driving speeds go up, the risk of serious injury and death from collisions rises exponentially.

Lower speed limits to 40 km/h on main streets and 25 km/h on side streets. This will cost very little, level the playing field for cyclists without having to install bike lanes, and make the streets quieter, safer, and more welcoming to pedestrians, particularly children, who spend a lot of time playing outside.

Note on Bike Lanes: Bike lanes can cause mayhem at intersections where cyclists are riding straight through and motorists to their left are trying to turn right. Also, confining bikes to narrow lanes wastes road space where cyclists are absent at the same time that it ghettoizes cycling in general. It's much better to slow the cars and integrate the bikes onto the road so there's one set of rules.

2. Two-Way Streets

Make all major streets two-way, with curbside parking. The city already plans to do this eventually, but in the meantime, today's roaring thoroughfares are uninhabitable to pedestrians. Making the streets two-way will also slow traffic, making it easier for cyclists to keep up.

In particular, James St. and John St. should be made two way, with two lanes in each direction and market-priced curbside parking (see #5) where applicable.

3. Gore Park Buses

Remove the buses from the south side of Gore Park. With James St. and John St. two-way, this cross-over will no longer be necessary. Ideally, the lane should be closed to automobile traffic, which will allow for bigger patio areas for King St. businesses during summer months.

4. Zoning Regulations

Replace Hamilton's labyrinthine zoning regulations with the following simple rules: build to the sidewalk, make buildings compatible with their neighbours, open directly onto the street, and place parking in the rear, if at all.

This will lower the bar for smaller investors and allow building owners to use their properties the ways they want. The aggregate result will be a richer, more diverse tapestry of homes and businesses that are built at a human scale and offer more reasons to be on the street at all times.

5. "Free" Parking

Eliminate all parking requirements from zoning regulations, and install "smart" meters at curbsides and municipal lots that charge market rates based on time of day. As Professor Donald Shoup of UCLA explains, "free" parking actually amounts to a massive hidden subsidy for driving that undercuts other modes of transportation. The per-kilometre subsidy is highest for the shortest trips, meaning "free" parking does the most to discourage exactly those trips that can most easily be made without a car.

In addition to covering the landscape in half-empty lots, "free" parking encourages drivers to "cruise" for curbside spaces during peak times, adding to traffic congestion and air pollution.

The meter price should be high enough to maintain 15 percent vacancy, which is considered optimal for entry and exit. All new money collected by these meters should go to local BIAs and neighbourhood associations to spend on local improvements.

6. Anti-Idling

Establish an anti-idling by-law based on public health rather than noise and couple it with a moratorium on new drive-through commercial facilities. Ideally, this should also entail the power to ban existing drive-through facilities and small engine tools (e.g. lawn mowers) on days when the Ministry of the Environment has issued a Smog Advisory or a Poor air quality forecast (an AQI of 50 or higher).

7. Property Tax

Property tax should reflect the real cost of providing public infrastructure. Under current laws, lower density properties are under-taxed and higher density properties are over-taxed. This amounts to a hidden public subsidy for sprawl, which increases demand for low density developments.

8. Lister Block

The only part of Hamilton that already enjoys a compact public environment is the downtown core. City Council may be able to support downtown redevelopment without incurring additional costs by agreeing to relocate city staff into the Lister Block while City Hall is being renovated.

If the rental price is reasonable and consistent with what the City is paying elsewhere, the terms of the rental agreement meet the City's needs, and there are no additional requirements for the city to finance the project (three big ifs), then this idea makes sense. A landmark downtown building is restored, the city obtains a temporary location for staff, and the daytime population of the core is increased significantly, which will help local businesses and facilitate alternate transportation choices.

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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