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.
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.
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.
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.
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