Hamilton has a huge head start with our many walkable prewar neighbourhoods, yet we continue to push ahead with 1970s-style car-dependent sprawl.
By Jason Leach
Published May 16, 2014
this article has been updated
This week, a very informative and pointed report came out of a collaboration between the Medical Officers of Health for Toronto, Peel, Simcoe Muskoka and Hamilton. Titled Improving Health by Design in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area [PDF], the report identifies neighbourhood design as one of the great public health issues of our time:
How we live and move impacts our health. Over a period of decades, we have removed physical activity from people’s lives including designing communities that require the use of cars. Currently, obesity and physical inactivity cost the Greater Toronto-Hamilton Area (GTHA) $4 billion a year. Diabetes-related medical costs attributable to inactivity are over $550 million each year with over 12,500 new cases of diabetes occurring annually due to inactivity.
Building our communities and lives with the motor vehicle at their centre have not only contributed to inactivity, but have resulted in the longest commute times in Canada with an annual economic cost of $6 billion in lost productivity. Furthermore, traffic-related air pollution is responsible for over 850 premature deaths a year and thousands of hospitalizations.
Please note the financial cost of obesity and number of premature deaths each year.
These are massive costs that we need to take seriously when planning new communities and retrofitting older communities, such as our unbalanced streets that discourage any activity other than driving.
Peel - the poster child for GTHA sprawl - seems to have learned from its mistakes and is feverishly working to fix their region with bold investments in light rail transit, bus rapid transit, pedestrian plazas and corridors, and high density housing all through the region.
Hamilton has a huge head start with our many walkable prewar neighbourhoods, yet we continue to push ahead with 1970s-style ideas like the Aerotropolis and building new low-density car dependent housing on beautiful orchard lands in Stoney Creek.
Toronto is growing rapidly and is accommodating 100% of their growth in the existing urban area. They are being creative with mid-rise development along major corridors and hubs of high-rise communities downtown and in appropriate spots elsewhere.
Hamilton has massive urban zones with lower population than they had 50 years ago. We can not only replace that lost population, but can add in hundreds of thousands of new residents along corridors like Main, King, Barton, Centennial, Ottawa, Upper James/ Wentworth/ Gage, Mohawk and so on.
Let's not fall further into expensive, debt-producing, low density and health-destroying car-dependent development when we all know what makes a city truly healthy and financially prosperous.
We have no excuse to keep repeating the mistakes of the mid-twentieth century decade after decade.
Take a look at the poll at the bottom of this CBC Hamilton article on the report. Note the top reasons for not using active modes of transportation: not "winter weather" or "I love my car", but "Transit is inconvenient" and "Not enough bike lanes or paths".
Obviously not everyone will switch modes, but many people will when give legitimate, convenient, safe alternatives.
At some point, we need to take the evidence from Public Health and start applying it to how our traffic engineers and planners design streets and neighbourhoods. To do that, we need Council to listen to the health experts and start providing leadership.
Update: this article originally stated that the report came from the Public Health Departments, but it actually came from the Medical Officers of Health collaborating personally. RTH regrets the error.
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