Special Report: Walkable Streets

Let Hamilton Be Ambitious Again

There will always be people who complain when any change to the status quo happens. We expect better from our leaders.

By Jason Leach
Published December 01, 2015

I feel compelled to share a few thoughts in light of the recent discussion surrounding safety improvements on Aberdeen Avenue, and particularly the mind-boggling motion proposed to prevent any road safety improvements in the entire lower city.

Here are my thoughts as a car-driving, cycling, walking, transit-using Hamilton resident with three kids:

Move the City Forward

First, our politicians are elected to move the city forward. Safe, complete streets projects that are good enough for one district should be good enough for all, regardless of their income levels or whether they are a code red neighbourhood.

There will always be people who complain when any change to the status quo happens. That's part of life.

Leadership and long-term visioning are what allow elected officials to kindly remind those folks that shaving off ten feet from a 43-foot roadway in order to allow safer usage by cyclists, pedestrians, kids, seniors and families in the neighbourhood does not mean: "nobody will be able to drive on Aberdeen to Highway 403 ever again!"

I expect such sound bites from people who call talk radio shows to complain about the colour of their fire hydrant. I don't expect them from people I am helping pay to lead and improve my city.

Insanely Overbuilt Downtown Streets

Downtown Hamilton has a slew of vastly overbuilt, dangerous, highway-style streets cutting through neighbourhoods and retail districts. Interestingly, not one of these one-way freeways exist in downtown Ancaster, Dundas, Stoney Creek, Concession St, Waterdown or Binbrook.

Golf Links Road in Ancaster carries 25-40,000 cars a day - more than twice the number of cars as Wellington Street, which carries 10-15,000 cars a day southbound. Golf Links is two lanes each way. Wellington is four lanes one-way.

Wellington Street South (Image Credit: Google Street View)
Wellington Street South (Image Credit: Google Street View)

Likewise, Victoria Avenue only carries around 10,000 cars a day northbound and is between four and five one-way lanes!

Victoria Avenue South (Image Credit: Google Street View)
Victoria Avenue South (Image Credit: Google Street View)

Combined, Victoria and Wellington are nine lanes wide to carry only 25,000 cars!

And we wonder how it is that humans can be sliced right in half while trying to cross the street in the lower city.

Neighbourhood Action Plans

Our Code Red neighbourhoods have worked on fabulous neighbourhood action plans in conjunction with the planning team from City Hall. Every single neighbourhood action plan has requested traffic calming, safer streets and complete streets suitable for cycling and walking.

Do we really care about improving our Code Red neighbourhoods, or will we continue to dump on them because there are a few people who are resistant to change have labelled residents who desire safe streets as 'whiny, latte-drinking activists'?

Code Red residents are giving feedback how to improve their daily quality of life. Awful stereotypes from old-fashined media - and even worse, from elected officials - do a great disservice to the needs of our urban neighbourhoods where 50 percent of residents don't own a car and rely on these dangerous speedways to walk with their kids to school, swimming, grocery shopping and work.

Surely taking ten feet from the 50 on Victoria and the 45 on Wellington (and many others) can be repurposed to allow safe transportation for all people, regardless of mode choice.

LRT Success

One of the goals of LRT and the HSR Ten Year Transit Strategy is to change how we can move around our city. The goal is not to fight to maintain the car-centric mindset of the 1970s with a 21st century LRT running through a mini Los Angeles.

Every study done by City Hall, Metrolinx and transit planning consultants has spoken clearly of the need for complete streets city-wide to help make transportation options easier and more comfortable for residents.

Now, well ahead of LRT, is when we should be working to add complete streets to our city. Anyone truly concerned with traffic disruption to King Street during construction should be proposing a full examination of converting Main, Bay, Wilson and Sherman to two-way traffic.

The ample, overbuilt nature of these roadways gives us a rare chance to rather easily mitigate any disruption caused on King by offering alternatives for cars, bikes and transit during construction.

Bright Future with Leadership

Hamilton has a very bright future, but it will only be realized if council shows leadership to take us there.

Residents aren't impressed anymore with fancy conferences trying to compare us to Brooklyn or other progressive cities. 2015 Brooklyn wouldn't dream of opposing complete streets just to maintain the 1970s high-speed car dominated culture.

The future is coming to Hamilton eventually. Will we be one of the rare cities on the planet to try to oppose it, or will we embrace it and lead Hamilton to prosperours and successful future like leaders in Brooklyn, Copenhagen, Portland, Vancouver and Stockholm have?

Let's be ambitious again and dream of a walkable city, linked with safe cycling routes, great transit and incline railways.

Hamilton is already blessed with a fantastic stock of neighbourhoods and green respites. We need to start bringing balance back to our transportation network, and improving the quality of life for everyone.

Let's Be Ambitious Again

A civic brainstorming session to develop a list of ideas for our future would be amazing, yielding both grand and small ideas. Imagine how our city would improve with the following:

The possibilities are endless in this city given the fantastic foundation we have to work from. It's time we start to see our future as more vibrant, economically successful and exciting than simply a place to live behind a car windshield.

Let's not copy Buffalo and butcher the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity LRT is presenting to us. Let's be ambitious again.

A version of this article was sent to Hamilton City Council as a letter.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By ConstantGardener (registered) | Posted December 01, 2015 at 09:39:24

In the comments section of this CBC article, the mountain trolls are wishing the core would go back to being like the 70's again. In-between saying other horrible things. Are these the voices that are worth holding the city back for? Several councillors think so. Let's educate and lead our leaders and their voters.


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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 01, 2015 at 11:47:40

"There will always be people who complain when any change to the status quo happens."

You forgot the link to the brilliant analysis of this phenomenon by the noted philosopher Groucho Marx:


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By point of order (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2015 at 15:58:51

>First, our politicians are elected to move the city forward.

This is an intriguing and highly abstract assertion, whether true or false. How you define "moving the city forward" is probably very different from someone else. Someone who will never ride a bike or take transit unless dragged kicking and screaming might view changes to a roadway to make space for bikes and buses as a move backwards. What is your answer to them, other than "Everyone else is doing it!"?

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 01, 2015 at 20:42:27 in reply to Comment 115283

My answer is, "I have zero tolerance of car drivers launching their lethal cancer poison attacks against my children."

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By Dave_From_the_East_Mountain (registered) | Posted December 10, 2015 at 17:08:46 in reply to Comment 115293

I would like to see active transportation and public transportation become more a part of the picture in Hamilton. I especially love the possibility of the BLAST network. However, I imagine cars will be with us for a long time yet, perhaps long enough for the vast majority of cars to no longer emit lethal cancer poisons with which to attack anybody, not even your children. If the vehicles all ran on sustainably-produced, carbon-emissions-free hydrogen or electricity, how would you feel about them then?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted December 14, 2015 at 11:42:38 in reply to Comment 115607

They could run on fairy farts and emit peace and goodwill toward humankind, but we would still have the problem of the tremendous amount of space they take up in the public realm. Yes, cars will be with us for some time to come, but we have to make sure fatalism doesn't slow our efforts to dramatically reduce the number and length of trips taken in single occupancy vehicles. The alternative is simply unaffordable.

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By feel the love (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2015 at 11:38:44 in reply to Comment 115293

Righteous indignation might make you feel good but it hardly brings non-advocates into the fold.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted December 01, 2015 at 17:16:34

I love the idea of creating a mall downtown and burying King Street ( I would do it from Wellington to Bay.)

But I have just seen the future of two way streets in Hamilton. I drove from downtown Dundas to Queen Street at 4:30 today. It was not pretty.

Anyone who thinks driving in this city will improve with two way streets needs to take that trip. Driving will definitely not improve. (it will in fact become horrid.) So tell me again, when the vast majority fo people in this city get around by car, why this is the panacea for the City we have all been waiting for?

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted December 01, 2015 at 19:04:44 in reply to Comment 115288

if we continue to allow our infrastructure to exist only for cars, in 15 years every trip on every kind of street will be horrid. Developing a balanced network means thousands of people will choose to bike, walk or use transit.

Was there a massive crash on your trip today? I make that Dundas to Queen trip all the time at that time of day and just fly right along.

I've never seen normal city rush hour in Hamilton in my 38 years here. There's one known short bottleneck in Hamilton: the one lane ramp from Linc to 403. Otherwise, it's full throttle 24-7


We have to remember: there's a reason LA just announced massive policy changes that will PRIORITIZE transit, bikes and pedestrians going forward. If Whiteheads' cars-only concept of city-building worked, L.A. would be the world's leading city for transportation expertise and planning advice. Instead, the rest of the world laughs at them as they sit in their cars.

Comment edited by JasonL on 2015-12-01 19:06:55

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 01, 2015 at 20:47:34 in reply to Comment 115291

Car driving is if anything even more disfunctional in Toronto.

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By Mr. Ambitious (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2015 at 22:03:06

You can't be ambitious if there's still height restriction in the city, let the 100 story condo's come in.

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By jorvay (registered) | Posted December 02, 2015 at 12:23:46 in reply to Comment 115296

The Plateau neighbourhood in Montreal is one of the most population-dense in North America. There are very few buildings taller than three stories in the whole neighbourhood. It's also one of the most vibrant neighbourhoods in the country. Building tall solves the density issue but does nothing to solve the lack of community that many sprawl-dwellers report. Would you rather live here: https://goo.gl/maps/n8yJpPdg8ko

or here: https://goo.gl/maps/g6bcwDJkH422

Comment edited by jorvay on 2015-12-02 12:25:05

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By Mr. Ambitious (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2015 at 23:30:25 in reply to Comment 115305

Well first of all, who said that this city is ambitious? This city cancelled the 60,000 solar panel Samsung deal, this city canceled a big water slide event last auagust. What else is there for the city to cancel? Oh and as long as the height restriction is there, this city will never prosper.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted December 02, 2015 at 11:28:24

Ambition is great, but we're talking about projects that will cost billions; each of your first, second and fourth bullets would cost over a billion dollars, each for seriously questionable public benefit. We should aim our ambitions at improving the lives of our citizens, not building trains up a mountain that no one will use.

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