Special Report: Truck Routes

Council Approves Modified Truck Route

While the Chamber decries Council tinkering with the plan in response to citizen complaints about safety, the plan itself amounted to little more than tinkering with the patchwork that preceded it.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 10, 2010

Last night, City Council went ahead and approved the Truck Route Master Plan that was altered in last month's Public Works Committee meeting to remove Dundurn Street North, Kenilworth Access, Upper Ottawa Street and Concession Street from the route.

Council removed those segments in response to community groups like the Strathcona Community Council and the East Mountain Community Association, who managed to convince councillors that through transport trucks are incompatible with community safety and vitality.

Unfortunately, the Downtown BIA was unable to persuade Council to remove the downtown routes from the plan, meaning 18-wheeler transport trucks will continue to rumble through the downtown core.

As Kathy Drewitt, executive director of the Downtown BIA, told the public works committee:

We continue to believe that the truck traffic in downtown is not consistent with the city's attempt to create and attract residential and office use and to make it a pedestrian-friendly people place.

It's encouraging to hear clear evidence that the Downtown BIA understands the role of people-friendly streets in fostering a people-friendly downtown. A downtown public space composed of two-way streets, light rail transit, a bike lane network and a pedestrian-friendly Gore Park would go far toward undoing the damage of today's one-way expressways and block-busting surface parking lots.

Chamber Objects to Ad Hoc Removal

Daniel Rodrigues, a member of the transportation committee for the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, argues that the study's parameters fall short of what is necessary to create a modern, progressive truck route policy.

In particular, he points out that the city draws no distinction between a cube van and a 78-foot transport; or between a truck passing through the city and a truck making local stops.

He argues that the city should have tabled the study and proceeded to work with the McMaster Institute for Transportation & Logistics (MITL) on a comprehensive Origin-Destination Survey, which had been part of the original Truck Route study but was later dropped from the process.

The Chamber and the Ontario Trucking Association object to Council's "last-minute" removal of some routes in response to "political influence" - what we normally call "democratic citizen engagement" - because the impacts of those changes have not been studied.

Council voted to remove the trucks from the selected routes for 18 months and then evaluate the impacts of the removal, though they did not clarify how the evaluation will take place.

Yet the most obvious impact, it seems to me, is that the neighbourhoods which managed to get the trucks removed from their thoroughfares will start to experience an improved quality of life when transport trucks are no longer blasting through their community.

Having written that, it remains to be seen whether those displaced trucks will simply overflow to streets still on the truck route, and not decant entirely to the highways where they belong.

Rethink Needed

The Chamber raises some important issues, particularly in regards to the city's antiquated definitions. For all that we talk about holistic planning, Hamilton is notorious for framing its studies narrowly to deal with multidimensional public policy issue one dimension at a time.

This narrow framing preempts creative solutions and blinds us to opportunities to introduce new perspectives into old problems.

It is laudable that Council listened to the perspective of local residents affected by transport trucks and agreed to remove some streets from the route; but as commentators on RTH have pointed out, this amounts to tinkering when what is needed is a fundamental rethink.

The sole purpose of the "comprehensive" study was to consolidate a fragmented truck route made up of the pieces of the former municipalities that were amalgamated in 2001 and balance the logistical needs of trucking companies and businesses with the economic, social and environmental needs of the city's communities.

Clearly that is not what happened. While the Chamber decries Council tinkering with the plan in response to citizen complaints about safety, the plan itself amounted to little more than tinkering with the patchwork that preceded it.

Next Steps

But let us close on a positive note. Four communities managed to have their streets removed from the route, including a recently-formed community organization on the East Mountain. The upper city has traditionally not been a hotbed of civic activism, so I hope this signals a shift toward more engagement.

Many communities with less social and political capital remain stuck on the truck route; but we can use the coming months to turn the positive examples of the streets that were removed into pressure on the city to address the lingering unresolved issues.

This is also a good time to pressure staff and Council to update the city's truck definitions and draw a distinction between a delivery cube van and a long-haul transport truck. Small trucks making local deliveries should not be caught in the net of antiquated rules.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 10:35:25

If there's one thing this city needs more of, it's "political influence" - with quotes. Until now the city has had too little "political influence" - with quotes - and too much political influence - without quotes. :P

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By trucksareonlydeadlytopeople (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 12:40:14


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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 13:46:55

I've spent a lot of time with truckers. Enough to criss-cross this country a couple times over.

Trucks are not gods. In the middle of the night, on some desolate highway in Saskatchewan, one's truck can still be pulled into the "scales" for an inspection. They'll weigh you, check your log-books, and even inspect your cargo. And they should - trucks are as dangerous to a house as a car is to a port-a-john. They can crush your car without sustaining a scratch, and stopping a double-trailer loads (a little over a hundred thousand pounds total), even in the best of circumstances, is like trying to hit the breaks on a rolling parking garage. Oh, and if it "jacknifes" because you hit the breaks too hard, you're talking about the potential for harm of a cruise missile in urban centres.

And after this time with truckers, I've developed a lot of respect for them. Particularly, I try not to cut them off. But I've also learned that if I see a truck behaving erratically on the highway to STAY THE HELL AWAY. Maybe he's tired, has been driving way too long and has put down over 3 litres of coffee that day. Or it's because (in rare cases) he's been up for 3 days smoking crystal meth and faking his log books - a very profitable way to make extra cash, if you make it alive.

If stretches of northern Sask. highway are going to invest this kind of effort in regulating and policing trucks, why is Hamilton so afraid to do the same?

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By mikeyj (registered) | Posted June 11, 2010 at 16:02:43

Is this really a non-incendiary Truck Route piece from The Spec? http://www.thespec.com/Opinions/article/...

Or am I just in a good mood this fine Friday.

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