Special Report: Walkable Streets

Hamilton Needs to Design for Health and Illness Prevention

This is a time for serious talk and meaningful action. Instead, we have some members of Hamilton City council who would have us get sucked into a time warp. That's a dereliction of duty.

By Maureen Wilson
Published September 22, 2016

Bruce Trail sign and blaze on Radial Trail west of Chedoke Stairs (RTH file photo)
Bruce Trail sign and blaze on Radial Trail west of Chedoke Stairs (RTH file photo)

103

That's the number of pedestrians and cyclists I counted on my 20 minute ride up the Escarpment's southwest portion of the Bruce Trail on a mid-week morning. That's a one way count and it includes the gaggle of folks at the bottom of the Chedoke stairs preparing to get their freak on and do the stairs to the top.

176, 78, 123

I've been writing down the number of people I see on the trail and stairs all summer long. Imagine if we did a count over an entire day. There are more people walking and cycling near the Chedoke municipal golf course than golfers using the course.

And yet, we make it easy for golfers to golf. We supply them with not one but two 18-hole courses in a single location, despite their dwindling numbers. We also offer a heavily-subsidized public course in the east end of our city.

Chedoke Golf Course (RTH file photo)
Chedoke Golf Course (RTH file photo)

Designing for Inactivity

What's my point? Hamiltonians are eager to move, for whatever reasons. Just look at the wildly successful Hamilton Bike Share program. Hamiltonians are hunting for safe places to be active, which is hard because we have designed our city for inactivity.

We have built our city to move cars and to move them as quickly as possible through neighbourhoods where children live, where seniors live, where you might live.

We have taken our largest and most expensive public asset - our roads - and created a monopoly. We have handed our roads over to a single use, the car, and we have sought to quash competition in the form of walking and cycling, even though people walking and riding bikes are doing us all a favour.

I asked a friend of mine why she commutes to work using the Sobi system. It's hard trying to carve out exercise when you are working and have kids, she said. "That 15-minute ride to work on the bike provides me with both the exercise I crave and it helps me cope mentally. I think it makes me happier and more productive."

Hamilton has an above provincial average obesity rate. Hamilton has an above provincial average pedestrian death and injury rate.

Respiratory illness among adult Canadians has climbed from about 2.8 percent to over eight percent in the past 30 years. Outdoor air quality is a contributing factor. Respiratory diseases account for nearly $12 billion of expenditures per year (and that's in 1993 dollars). The economic hit is huge.

Senior citizens represent just over four percent of Canada's population right now. Over the next 25 years, this will climb to almost ten percent.

All of these issues present a huge challenge to and financial burden on our publicly-funded health care system. And they present a huge challenge to our cities.

Street sign outside St. Joseph's hospital directing pedestrians to cross on the other side of the intersection (RTH file photo)
Street sign outside St. Joseph's hospital directing pedestrians to cross on the other side of the intersection (RTH file photo)

Designing for Prevention

We could start by building a preventative city that accounts for the real costs of inactivity.

The best place to raise a children and age successfully demands that we make it easier to move around our city - all parts of our city. This is a matter of economic, health, social and environmental justice.

It also demands better public transit. It demands that we talk about the costs of loneliness, exacerbated by a built form that makes it impossible for neighbours to connect. It means we have to start accounting for the cost of bad air and why more kids are having a hard time breathing.

We need to talk about these realities and the tsunami of costs that await us if we don't change our city's built form and tackle these real issues and the consequences of more of the same.

But, we are not doing that. Instead, we get some Hamilton city councillors who either sit silently and do nothing or other city councillors who speak loudly but say nothing.

They aim to fan the flames of divisiveness to inject their otherwise vacant political careers with some type of purpose that serves their needs but not our city's and the people who live here. Look south of the border to see how that's working on a national scale.

This is a time for serious talk and meaningful action. But we aren't getting that. We have some members of Hamilton City council who would have us get sucked into a time warp that wants to take us 20 years back. That's not vision. That's not leadership. That's a dereliction of duty.

Maureen Wilson is the Councillor-elect for Ward 1 in Hamilton. She is a member of The Useful Knowledge Society of Hamilton.

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By rgelder@cogeco.ca (registered) - website | Posted September 23, 2016 at 18:03:20

The #warongolf continues. Just kidding, another thoughtful piece by the indomitable Maureen Wilson.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted September 26, 2016 at 20:24:08

They aim to fan the flames of divisiveness to inject their otherwise vacant political careers with some type of purpose that serves their needs but not our city's and the people who live here. Look south of the border to see how that's working on a national scale.

Dialogue and civic discourse is no match for shameless demagoguery if most people aren't informed and engaged on key issues. We greatly overestimate the power of the better argument (and facts) and vastly underestimate social capital and emotive responses in politics ... the line connecting Rob Ford and Donald Trump is a kind of populism that is built around resentment and mistrust, and ultimately fear: of change, of elites, of the other, of the unknown and uncontrollable.

Comment edited by RobF on 2016-09-26 20:26:11

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