Special Report: Walkable Streets

A Complete Streets Policy for Hamilton

Come to a public event on June 26 to help grassroots policy development for Hamilton's upcoming Complete Streets policy.

By Sara Mayo
Published June 13, 2013

Changes to make Hamilton streets safer and more complete are happening in many ways: local advocacy with ward councillors, participation [PDF] in city consultations, online campaigns, letters to media, deputations at city council, appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board, and citizen-led demonstration projects. All these individual and group actions are having tangible effects.

But there's also some frustration among many residents that change only happens when there are complaints or campaigns. Safe streets should be the default, not the exception. The current approach seems to be missing whole parts of the city, especially where residents are not as vocal or don't know the best campaign strategies.

This is more often the case in low income than high income neighbourhoods. A more systematic and city-wide approach is needed to ensure that the city doesn't deepen disparities between neighbourhoods.

A city-wide approach will help to increase equity across Hamilton since residents in lower income neighbourhoods are more likely to be pedestrians, cyclists and transit users.

Complete Streets Policy

One solution used in many cities is a Complete Streets policy, now adopted [PDF] in almost 500 communities in the US. In Canada. Waterloo was the first to adopt a Complete Streets Policy and there are policies in the works in Calgary, Edmonton and Toronto among many others.

Hamilton's City Council recently adopted a new transit strategy, called Rapid Ready: Enhancing Mobility Choices in Hamilton [PDF], which includes as a next step the development of a Complete Streets Policy for the city because staff realize that promoting more walking and cycling in the city will also help the transit system.

A Complete Streets policy creates the framework for the ultimate goal of broad city-wide changes in the allocation of road budgets, construction priorities and overall modernization of culture within Public Works departments. Complete Streets are designed to be "safe, convenient and comfortable for every user, regardless of transportation mode, physical ability or age."

A Complete Streets policy "ensures that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire street network for all road users, not only motorists."

Complete Streets Policy in Hamilton

The Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton has been working with community partners Hamilton to develop a robust Complete Streets policy draft that the city could use as a model to adopt as a made-in-Hamilton Complete Streets policy.

In an effort to open the discussion on this policy a broader group of residents, there will be a public event on Wednesday, June 26 from 6:30 to 9:30 PM at the Freeway Coffee House, 333 King Street East. Childcare will be available for those who register in advance.

This event will be an opportunity to comment on the draft policy and find out more about how to get involved in the campaign. Key strategy issues such as how to ensure broad public support for a robust complete streets policy that will change streets in all parts of Hamilton, how two-way street conversion goals should be integrated into a complete streets policy will also be discussed.

I encourage Raise the Hammer readers to attend and help to make this policy a reality. Together, we can make our city better.

Sara Mayo is a Social Planner, Geographic Information Systems with the Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton.


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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 13, 2013 at 07:32:07

If it whould not be poeples like you Sara and Ryan and Jason these complete streets whould still be lost in the shoffle i envy yous very much for speaking out to city hall and the peoples on Hamilton thanks again

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2013 at 09:33:35

Infrastructure's ability to enhance social opportunity and equity and improve public health should be key considerations.

Given the City's history of failed momentum, it's essential that early inroads be made where they will do the greatest good.

"Complete streets" initiatives should go to Code Red neighbourhoods first, not just precincts of privilege.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 13, 2013 at 15:25:19 in reply to Comment 89527

Infrastructure's ability to enhance social opportunity and equity and improve public health should be key considerations.

I ask in all seriousness and without belligerence: what do you mean by equity in this context, and how can it be enhanced by infrastructure?

Comment edited by moylek on 2013-06-13 15:26:40

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 13, 2013 at 17:10:43 in reply to Comment 89531

Too abstract-grand in my wording. Should have been more specific. Really just meant that if we're trying to close gaps in our community, it might be helpful to not just amass toys in the southwest, but to spread the wealth.

East-west pedestrianization/bike corridors suggested elsewhere (Dunsmure, Cannon) would enhance quality of life in areas that have been neglected or written off by politicians, planners and most of the public for generations. I don't intend for a moment to suggest that complete streets will erase income gaps and confer miracles upon the neighbourhoods they touch. Just that if you make it easier for people to move around safely in something resembling a healthy, holistic neighbourhood, they might do so.

Maybe I'm still muddied. And any/all of this might be naive. But I can't shake the sense that if we believe that complete streets are transformative investments, would we not want them to be implemented in ways that do the most good?

If the momentum dies, my preference would be for the legacy to be some sort of connectivity that humanizes a hard cityscape rather than further prettifies a quiet, moneyed, well-treed neighbourhood.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 14, 2013 at 06:59:14 in reply to Comment 89532

Respectfully, you may wish to refine your wording a little further. I'm having trouble with the black and white notion that the southwest is a 'quiet, moneyed, well-treed neighbourhood', whose only benefit from complete streets will be aesthetic.

There are a couple of myths at play here that I would like to address: one, that wards 1 and 2 are 'moneyed', and two, that city hall bestows goodies on them because of this.

First of all, west Hamilton is very socio-economically diverse. While the poverty rate may not be as high as the 'code red' neighbourhoods, it is nonetheless higher than the city average. I don't have specific stats on the southwest, through my involvement in school issues, I have a very good idea of the socio-economic makeup of Central and Strathcona schools. Many low-income families live in these neighbourhoods who will derive just as much social and economic benefit from complete streets there as families living in code red areas.

While I don't have specific stats on the southwest, a recreation study of Ainslie Wood/Westdale a few years back revealed that 19% of families in those areas live below the poverty line - 5% higher than the city average (the study did not include students in case you are wondering if the student population boosted the poverty numbers). In addition, 17% of students at Westdale live below the poverty line - only 4% fewer than Delta. Again, I realize that this is lower than code red, but I fear the needs of the many low-income families in these areas may go unserved if their neighbourhoods are stereotyped as being privileged. (I dare say, there are lots of quiet, moneyed, well-treed neighbourhoods in Ward 3 as well. Ward 3 is also a lot more socio-economically diverse than the stereotype suggests.)

As for myth two, while the relative 'privilege' of Wards 1 and 2 may confer social capital that allows their citizens to organize and work for positive changes to the infrastructure in their neighbourhoods, we cannot overstate the role that the councillors of those wards have played in this. The fact that some of the changes to street design we have seen in Ward 1 lately haven't spread to ward 3 yet, has more to do with lack of action on the part of Cllr. Morelli than any conscious decision on the part of the city to deny those benefits to poorer neighbourhoods. Ask yourself this, would we even be having this conversation if Ward 3 had elected someone like MacHattie or Farr in the last election?

Comment edited by highwater on 2013-06-14 07:05:31

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted June 16, 2013 at 23:06:12 in reply to Comment 89536

Highwater, I cringed a bit at "precincts of privilege" as well, but it is nevertheless true that (1) Westdale and the southwest end of the lower city are in aggregate more affluent than Ward 3 and the eastern end of Ward 2, and (2) the city has generally treated the former areas better than the latter. I would grant you that Dundas and Ancaster have been treated better than either but that's beside the point.

None of the recent walkability improvements have been in the area of Strathcona or Central schools. They've been near St. Joseph's School and McMaster University -- far from any high-volume, high speed streets. Neither Locke nor Herkimer nor Sterling nor Forsythe is anywhere near the top of Hamilton's list of problem streets.

I really don't understand the point of your last paragraph. Are Ward 3 voters getting what they deserve? I know you don't think that, but you know as well as I do how hard it is to unseat an incumbent councillor. So what use is that argument to someone who lives in Ward 3?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 17, 2013 at 02:33:16 in reply to Comment 89566

Absolutely Westdale and the Southwest have lower poverty rates than the 'code red' neighbourhoods, but they also have higher poverty rates than the stereotype suggests, and many low income families whose needs, and indeed very existence, need to be recognized.

I support the idea of infrastructure decisions being based on need, but if we truly have equity as our goal, our assessment of those needs is going to have to be a lot more granular than southwest = rich, code red = poor. Otherwise we'll just be robbing Peter to pay Paul.

As for my last paragraph, you're right. By no means was I suggesting that the residents of ward 3 are getting what they 'deserve'. It's just that I believe the improvements we have seen recently have as much if not more to do with direct involvement on the part of McHattie and Farr, as any 'privilege' on the part of the neighbourhoods in question. I don't think it serves the goal of positive change to labour under the idea that 'rich' neighbourhoods have goodies showered freely upon them simply by virtue of their being rich. The reality is far more complex, and the role of the councillors has been critical to date. It may not be easy to unseat Morelli, but I don't think it does the residents of ward 3 any good to pretend that doing so isn't an important step in bringing about the changes they would like to see.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2013 at 13:24:40 in reply to Comment 89567

Economic circumstance is certainly part of it, but it's the cumulative effect of health and socioeconomic variables such as those used in the construction of Code Red that I felt would be helpful in clarifying "complete streets" strategy. (It's hard not to see things like cardiovascular and pulmonary-related ER admission rates as a helpful indicator when developing what is, at least in part, an urban health strategy.)

Maybe Code Red data isn't sufficiently granular. It obviously has certain practical limitations. But there are certainly organizations such as the SPRC that would be able to offer valuable contributions to the wayfinding, and of course neighbourhood associations would have instructive input as well.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted June 17, 2013 at 08:47:07 in reply to Comment 89567

It is easy to get ward blinders on. It seems that poverty is spread throughout multiple dwelling types in ward 3, whereas the ward 1 and 2 it is concentrated into huge high rises like the Camelot Towers etc.

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted June 15, 2013 at 08:17:56 in reply to Comment 89536

Allow me to answer your last question. NO! I can't tell you how many times I wished that we (ward 3') had either one of them as our ward representative.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2013 at 08:22:57 in reply to Comment 89536

No disrespect intended. I was referring to the post-amalgamation city. Although it's relative to where you're standing, I don't think of Ainslie Wood/Westdale as Southwest, but merely west. Ancaster/Dundas I would say is southwest... and yes, I certainly concede that there is socioeconomic want within Wards 12 & 13. I specifically mentioned "Code Red neighbourhoods" because it was a reasonably quantifiable measure of where the greatest disparity exists (or, more accurately, where the greatest disparity existed at the time of the census used in the study).


I've never suggested that any neighbourhood in the city is undeserving of "complete streets," by the way, just that if we're only going to wind up completing two or three conversions (as history suggests is possible), it would be nice if we made the greatest impact possible. In terms of evidence-driven policy, Code Red is a widely acknowledged data set. (And yes, there are privileged residents of Code Red census tracts.)

It would be better if there was more fresh, progressive blood on council, but while ward representation is important, council math is everything. Three councillors are only a minority voice until such time as they bring another five or six along for the ride.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 13, 2013 at 21:14:16 in reply to Comment 89532

Completely agree.

Folks have a misconception about Portland that it's flashy with glass towers everywhere and like a mini-Vancouver. Sure, right downtown there are new glass walls all through the Pearl District, but the city is really known for it's transportation system and ability to revitalize not only the downtown, but inner city SE neighbourhoods with a high quality of life in the form of an always-expanding tree canopy, incredible cycling infrastructure, walkable streets, local commercial/retail permitted right in the neighbourhoods and not just certain areas that everyone needs to drive to. The old, inner city hoods are desirable, funky places to live and visit now. In most cities, you'd avoid these very same neighbourhoods. Take a Google Streetview tour along Division. Venerable Stumptown Coffee is a few blocks ahead from here. Nothing fancy or 'pretty' about this hood. But it's vibrant, successful, eclectic and it works. Note the food truck pod you'll pass on the left:


How about SE Belmont - home to the original Stumptown location. There's a great food co-op here, local businesses etc....


Again, nothing fancy. Or as my wife said last fall when we visited, "this is an ugly city". She was expecting some modern city based on it's reputation. My fascination with Portland is the very fact that it has working class roots and neighbourhoods and can teach Hamilton so much about how to make these hoods livable and fun again. Portland Does NOT restrict little restaurants from opening in the neighbourhoods like we see all the time in urban Hamilton.


Our neighbourhood supported a business owner who wanted to put an ice cream shop here: https://www.google.ca/maps?ll=43.263432,...

Councillor McHattie supported as well. City planning staff said the ground floor must revert back to residential (apparently it was residential 7 decades ago).
It's small things like this that make a huge difference in urban neighbourhoods. Portland nails it. We suck at it.

I agree with your comment above about humanizing our urban neighbourhoods. The principle is no different than the great level of road service residents expect in the suburbs where virtually everyone drives. In some of our urban neighbourhoods more half of the residents don't even own a car. Yet look at the options we give them to travel by bus, foot or bike.
Cities the world over have proven that old, inner city neighbourhoods can revitalize off of quality of life, safe streets, livability and having all the necessary amenities at residents doorstep. Why is Queen Street so fantastic in Toronto? It repeats itself over and over - butcher, pharmacy, grocery, bank, cafes serving each neighbourhood in repeating fashion all the way down the street. Some areas aren't very 'pretty' either. But they are fun, livable and they work.


Hamilton's lower city hoods could become just as livable and desirable if we make the right investments and give it a chance.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted June 14, 2013 at 10:23:26 in reply to Comment 89535

You got that wright Jason , the poeples at Barton crawl yesterday evening looked great also and Barton street is looking better everry year since the last time i lived ner it on Robert street

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted June 13, 2013 at 12:05:36

Good stuff. Hopefully the momentum continues to build.

Aside: just noting the irony of the name of the meeting place: "at the Freeway Coffee House, 333 King Street East"

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