Special Report: Cycling

Cannon Bike Lane Consultation Complaint Reflects Double Standard

Status quo projects costing millions of dollars pass unnoticed while small projects to promote active transportation are subjected to impossible levels of scrutiny.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published March 25, 2014

The claim by Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel that the Cannon Street bike lanes are illegitimate because the City didn't do any "official" public engagement reveals a major double standard in how the City makes decisions.

Support for Yes We Cannon in Beasley (Image Credit: Beasley Neighbourhood Association)
Support for Yes We Cannon in Beasley (Image Credit: Beasley Neighbourhood Association)

We are forced to confront the question: do we want our policy informed by genuine public engagement or do we prefer the sham version?

Everyone knows that the usual Public Information Centre (PIC) approach is ineffective. Hardly any members of the public attend, those who do are written off as "the usual suspects", and staff usually ignore whatever public comments they receive, opting to do more or less what they had already intended (because they don't believe the consultation was effective).

In contrast, the Yes We Cannon citizen campaign engaged thousands of Hamiltonians by going to where people are, reaching out to neighbourhood associations and engaging the public directly.

Double Standard

Initiatives with huge amounts of public consultation and grassroots engagement - like two-way conversion, bike lanes, light rail transit and so on - are sidelined and marginalized if they don't fit the default 'cars-first' approach to city planning.

One of the few public projects that had both extensive citizen engagement and broad public consultation - the city's light rail transit plan - is routinely undermined and dismissed by the same people who are outraged that staff didn't hold a PIC for the Cannon bike lanes. Yet that public consultation found overwhelming support for LRT from every part of the city!

Meanwhile, status quo capital projects costing millions of dollars to build, like the reconstruction of the Beckett Drive mountain access or the Kenilworth/King overpass, are approved and put into action with no consultation and certainly no grassroots citizen advocacy.

The planned Aerotropolis - a massive expansion of the urban boundary costing hundreds of millions of dollars to attract mostly low-density, low-value warehousing and logistics around the airport - is approved with barely any public consultation and indeed no way for the public to reject it.

When the City undertook its Growth-Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS) land use planning process, six growth options were offered to the public for consideration and all six included the Aerotropolis, which will cost three orders of magnitude as much to build as the Cannon bike lane and saddle us with decades of unaffordable infrastructure lifecycle costs.

Just recently, Council voted in a closed in camera meeting to expand the Aerotropolis boundary further in contravention of a recent Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) ruling. Where was the outrage then?

We've also recently learned that Hamilton Mayor Bob Bratina has been championing the mid-peninsula highway, which the Province has studied extensively and determined it will be "a complete waste of money" in the words of Transport Minister Glen Murray.

Where was the broad public consultation on that multi-billion dollar project?

Impossibly High Bar

According to Dreschel's analysis, the councillors for Wards 2 and 3 are not allowed to vote based on their knowledge of and engagement with their constituents, and the support of the neighbourhood associations and business improvement areas can be ignored.

He accuses the ward councillors (and the engaged citizens who support Yes We Cannon) of having "an avowed interest" in the bike lane. Yet I don't remember him complaining that Councillors are allowed to exercise a unilateral veto on segments of the citywide cycling network that run through their wards for no other reason than that they believe their constituents don't want them.

I suppose Dreschel also opposes the participatory budget processes in Wards 1 and 2 because projects are adopted by direct votes of hundreds of residents, rather than have staff develop plans on their own, present them to a handful of people at a PIC and then implement them largely unchanged after dismissing the comments they receive.

It is rich for Dreschel to be concerned about public consultation now, after routinely dismissing those citizens who participate in PICs as 'the usual suspects' and assuming he already knows what ordinary people think.

This is a bike lane, for crying out loud, on a road with huge amounts of excess lane capacity, and the cost is being paid out of the special area rating funds from the affected wards, which councillors are free to spend as they wish on infrastructure. We're not talking about a waste incinerator!

So are we to conclude that multi-million dollar road projects for cars don't require any input, but relatively inexpensive infrastructure to work toward complete streets and livable communities in the inner city can never reach the impossibly high bar of demonstrated community support?

The City's Vision is "to be the best place in Canada to engage citizens". It's hard to think of a better example of engaged citizens than the Yes We Cannon campaign.

Likewise, it is hard to think of a more effective way of disengaging citizens and breeding apathy than to reject this campaign in favour of tokenism and the imagined opinions of those citizens who don't want to be engaged.


with files from Ryan McGreal

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.


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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 16:00:01

I would like to know the lifecycle cost for the Burlington St. elevated expressway. For instance, the Wilcox street fly over seems unnecessary given that US Steel no longer has any interest in making steel in Hamilton. That vestigial piece of industrial infrastructure should probably be removed altogether. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this expressway!

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By What (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2014 at 10:42:56 in reply to Comment 99130

If you want to get cross city truck traffic off of Main and King and Cannon, Where do you propose it go?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 26, 2014 at 11:11:58 in reply to Comment 99163

While there must always be some truck traffic in the city, if you commute across town you will see usual suspects that using this route to go from Longwood/Aberdeen to Burlington Street. For these trucks, the 403/QEW or the Linc/Red Hill absolutely provides the route they need. Particularly relevant are trucks carrying steel from the Aberdeen railyard transloading facility (disclosure: I used to work from them) to the industrial lands.

Besides livability, there's cost to consider: these are trucks laden up to the legal limit. They're heavy. How much are they costing the City in extra road maintenance? The rail crossings on Victoria, Wellington, and Burlington Street are basically destroyed within days of their repair (I'm not exaggerating, I work at HGH and the city re-built the Victorial/Wellington CN rail crossings in the last few years - the smooth ride was lost within a week).

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted March 26, 2014 at 13:03:01 in reply to Comment 99165

We have enough railway capacity in Hamilton to shift heavy goods movement from truck to rail.

But, of course, railway companies have to pay for the maintenance of the rail lines, and pass those costs on to their customers. Truck users get "free" roads paid for out of my pocket.

I predict that if truck users had to pay for their true costs then a lot of heavy goods movement would shift back on to railways. Where it belongs.

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By Sara (registered) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 16:37:35

This is such a great piece, Nicholas!

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 16:54:11

I am encouraged that for once a city project got started in a year and might get finished in a couple years, rather than the 10 years we're used to. The method of engagement used by Yes We Cannon is obviously more effective at getting projects off the ground.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 18:27:42

Dreschel and other old boys clubbers should also check out the list of projects nominated and voted on in the ward 1 and 2 PB processes. So far I've yet to see "more car lanes for Cannon and Main St" come across the ballot. People are tired of dealing with city hall because they know all their suggestions and ideas for creating livable neighbourhoods will simply be watered down to a few new stop signs instead of legit change, traffic calming and revitalization of these urban neighbourhoods.

I'd be happy to never see another PIC board, and instead see local organizations actually get something meaningful done in shorter amounts of time in the years ahead. City Hall can choose to leave the 60's and be part of the solution, or be prepared to be bypassed as much as possible in the future.

Comment edited by jason on 2014-03-25 18:27:51

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 19:03:29

With credit to City staff in public works, they were able to get through the design phase quickly and bring it back to Council with a budget to approve. PIC's would add to this time. The way it worked with Yes We Cannon, citizens did the legwork and thus saved both time and money with respect to the usual process of staff carrying all of this out. This is the way it should work. If a great deal of public support can be demonstrated for a project, Council should have the confidence to vote it straight to design and implementation. Things work efficiently when Council does their job as decision makers and staff do theirs to design, engineer, budget and build the project.

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 19:07:09

Don't feed the dreschel troll.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 19:12:35

Excellent post. We elect our councilors to take "an avowed interest" in these matters. As a resident of Ward 2, I can't see why my elected representative on councilor shouldn't vote on the Cannon bike lane. Is Dreschel implying that it's a conflict of interest for us to want our interests represented at city council?

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 21:58:20

"Remarkably, only Brian McHattie seems to understand the need to formalize how the money is spent by formally bringing the public to the decision-making table. This year McHattie relied on informal community feedback. Next year, he’s creating a citizen advisory committee to choose which ward projects to focus on. That’s the modern, respectful, and responsible way to go. It’s also politically astute."


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2014 at 22:03:20 in reply to Comment 99138

"Leaving project decisions in the hands of the ward councillors potentially leaves them open to allegations that they’re using the money like a slush fund to build or maintain political support in targeted neighbourhoods. True enough, all projects ultimately have to be approved by council as a whole. But, realistically, what are the chances of councillors calling into question each other’s integrity by questioning their choices? They don’t like to meddle in each other’s ward business at the best of times. There’s little doubt that good councillors really do have their fingers on the pulse of their wards. They know, or at least should know, what and where the greatest infrastructure shortcomings are. But there are always competing needs at play and councillors not only need to be neutral in apportioning extra queue-leaping funds, they need to be seen to be neutral. McHattie has the right of it. A community advisory group compromising a broad range of constituents from across the wards not only removes any slush fund taint it’s simply more impartial and fair."


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By huh? (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2014 at 03:40:50

meanwhile in waterdown the city is chipping in $1.2 million (!!!!!) FOR A SKATING PATH! seriously? is the city so fixed that we have reached the point that a community of 20,000 needs a skating path in a park in addition to the brand new twin pad arena? is there nothing better we could have spent $1.2 million dollars on? can any of the councillors who voted for this say with a a straight face that the budget is too lean to add pedestrian crosswalks or sidewalks or traffic calming? where was the debate? where was the outrage?

i know where city council can go and what they can do to themselves.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 26, 2014 at 07:31:49 in reply to Comment 99148

I absolutely recognize and agree with the absurdity of approving 1.2mil for a skating path, while simultaneously resisting bike lanes, crossings, streetscaping, etc.

You are absolutely right to call out the double standard there! I, a West Mountain resident, didn't get a flyer and a chance to vote on Waterdown's skate path! But if it's a downtown project, let's hold it to that kind of pointless nuance!

However, while I'm not familiar with the details, would the skating path not have been a Parks'n'Rec project? So a different animal altogether. Whereas those other things are road/transportation/safety infrastructure and should be prioritized as such.

But if the locals of Waterdown wanted a skating path, and it came out of the right budget, or perhaps discretionary funds - who freaking cares, let them have a neighborhood they like. Where do we draw the lines on how much autonomy locals have over their neighborhoods, versus amalgamated requirements? It can be a tangled web at times it seems. I don't want to live in a world where absolutely everything creative is stifled. Some localities do cool little knick-knacky things that gives our world some personality and variety. I think a skating path is cool, I'll check it out cuz I like to skate! We have hiking trails, horse trails, kayaking/sailing, all sorts of things ... good on them for another upgrade to a park, and a good contribution to "stuff to do around here"!

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-03-26 07:59:59

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By jeffreygeoffrey (registered) | Posted March 26, 2014 at 09:25:50 in reply to Comment 99151

I agree - it is worth pointing out the double standard. I also don't know the details – I only found this online, and it's from last June (I'm assuming this is the same project): http://www.flamboroughreview.com/communi...

Anyone have more details?

And it's also worth remembering that currently council unanimously supports the Cannon bike lanes, without any expectation that tomorrow's ratification vote will be different. We're just getting caught up in the troll war here that pits what someone else gets vs what we want, and vice versa. We can want bike lanes and skate paths. Or maybe we can't have either but it can't just all be about car travel and nostalgia for urban planning from the 1950s to 1970s. Most of the folks here are advocating for a balanced approach. Like Glen Murray, Minister of Transportation, tweeted: "Ontario will treat cycling, pedestrian & motorist infrastructure as one."

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted March 26, 2014 at 07:40:36

YesWeCannon was awesome. I like Consultation 2.0. More effective at reaching and educating a broader audience, more able to answer questions and concerns on the fly, pools everyone's experience and input, good stuff.

The processes used so far, have been largely inefficient and ineffective. And that's a polite phrasing. Way too many positive initiatives disappear into an event horizon of infinite recursive studies. It takes years, decades, to even pick low hanging fruit.

Tactical urbanism has gotten things done much faster, because it left no ambiguity of public support. Where neighborhoods resorted to literally doing the work themselves, then the city engaged more seriously because it must stay credible.

Consultation 2.0 is a wonderful solution to both. It calls out and exposes the red tape for selectively enforcing and abusing the process to guard the old status quo that people are tired of. But still respects the need for the city (which is collectively "us") to have structured procedures so that it can function. But it also avoids frustration escalating into civil disobedience and taking matters into our own hands, which tactical urbanism was the beginnings of.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-03-26 07:49:25

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By dumbfound (anonymous) | Posted March 26, 2014 at 09:10:32

We need to be asking WHY it is that large projects that undermine Hamiltons best interest are passed without challenge or input even, compared to projects like the cannons bike lanes. I'm not into conspiracy theory, but it does make me wonder... what is going on?

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