Special Report: Light Rail

Lessons from Car-Dependent Phoenix on Transit and Active Transportation

This could be Hamilton if we could get one or two terms of progressive, courage leadership.

By Jason Leach
Published November 03, 2014

I just read a fantastic piece in CityLab (formerly Atlantic Cities) about Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton's leadership on transit and active transportation.

The entire piece is very much worth reading, but here's just a sample:

To call Mayor Greg Stanton of Phoenix a mere transit supporter would be an understatement. "I love public transportation," he says. "I love light rail. I love bikeability. I love walkability. I talk about it all the time. I'm a passionate advocate." Such passion might seem like an odd fit for a city with a reputation for car-reliance, but the truth is that Phoenix is having a love affair with transit, too.

Just look at its recent resume. The light rail system, which opened in 2008, has already reached 2020 ridership projections. Its success has sparked a wide push for walkability and transit-oriented development in the corridor. The Valley Metro transit agency had a record year in 2013. The share of car-less households is increasing. A bike-share system is nearly ready for launch. And there's Stanton at the helm.

"A great city, a great community, is truly multi-modal, and has many forms of transportation that work well," he says. "I want to make sure that people understand that from my perspective, great public transportation, great bikeability, great walkability, is of equal value as those cars on the road."

I love his answer when he's told that it's kind of strange for a mayor of a car-centric city to be so passionate about walking, cycling, LRT and so on.

He says the fact we have been so car reliant is why he's passionate. "We've been overly car-reliant in the past and our planning efforts have been geared toward that."

I've been to Phoenix, about six or seven years ago. It was totally car-dependent with nothing going on downtown. Now read the latest LRT numbers and new development in Phoenix - it's amazing. This could be Hamilton if we could get one or two terms of progressive leadership.

Mayor-elect Fred Eisenberger has an exciting opportunity here.

We need leadership to move quickly and not keep getting bogged down for decades just because a few loud opponents complain. Build LRT, install protected bike lanes city-wide, build calm streets and safe sidewalks with trees and trust that even the opponents will be on board once they see the transformation.

All we have to do is copy the successful strategies that are already working in other cities. Check out the list of traffic calming measures the City of Portland is out actively looking to implement city-wide: speed bumps, curb extensions, diagonal diverters, semi-diverters, skinny streets, raised crosswalks, choke points, speed cushions, median barriers, etc.

While Hamilton eliminates curbside parking on Rebecca Street as part of its two-way conversion so cars can go fast in both directions, Vancouver is installing bumpouts so deep that only one car can pass at a a time.

Bumpout in Vancouver: note the 'Yield to Oncoming Traffic' sign
Bumpout in Vancouver: note the 'Yield to Oncoming Traffic' sign

I love the use of mid-block bumpouts or choke points to cause opposing cars to defer to each another. In other words, a street wide enough for two-way traffic to pass each other is narrowed so only one car can pass at a time, slowing everyone down.

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation's Bike Plan comes with a Technical Design Handbook with great designs for friendlier streets. It includes the use of chicanes, alternating mid-block bumpouts that force cars to 'slalom' and slow down.

Chicane in Austin, Texas
Chicane in Austin, Texas

People in every neighbourhood across the city want and value safe, inclusive streets. This was one of the most pressing issues at the door during the election, and it's one of the top issues mentioned in every single Code Red neighbourhood action plan.

Let's get going!

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 markalanwhittle (anonymous) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 12:40:28

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By PoorMAL (anonymous) | Posted November 05, 2014 at 11:38:17 in reply to Comment 105870

Poor Mark Alan Whittle - Knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 20:15:03 in reply to Comment 105870

the same place we got all the money for those handy wheelchair ramps and access elevators.

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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 14:24:27 in reply to Comment 105870

Where will all the money come from to pay for the roads we have now that we're barely using?

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By the son of Toronto (anonymous) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 00:38:19 in reply to Comment 105877

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 12:06:06 in reply to Comment 105899

ummm, we don't need 'extra money' to build bike lanes. We can take away lanes from these overbuilt road that are barely used. Once a lane of roadway is off limits to vehicles, it's lifespan is insane. And just so we're all clear here, it cost US money to re-pave, fill potholes, rebuild roadways all the time.
But not having to do all that means we are getting money back from our current roadways.

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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 07:08:09 in reply to Comment 105899

No, I mean where will we find the money to maintain roads we don't even use. Are you able to understand that logic?

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 20:27:19 in reply to Comment 105877

How about from the $511 million per year that we currently spend on health care costs for people poisoned by car drivers?

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By the son of Toronto (anonymous) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 00:44:26 in reply to Comment 105894

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By budget-eer (anonymous) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 14:08:31 in reply to Comment 105870

How about from the 100 million we spend on roads every year? By putting off one or two repaving jobs we could outfit the entire city with these initiatives. And their total life cycle costs are fractions of their car-infrastructure brethren.

You should stop talking about this stuff until you actually understand it. You're embarrassing yourself.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 13:20:28 in reply to Comment 105870

Where did the money come from to pay for what we have now. This type of infrastructure could actually be cheaper than what Hamilton builds now from a life-cycle costing perspective.

Is it cheaper to remove parking meters or to leave them in and collect revenue from them?

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 13:18:42 in reply to Comment 105870

Some of it has already come from the Participatory Budget processes in Wards 1 and 2 where residents have voted to spend their own hard earned tax money on many traffic calming projects (instead of fixing potholes, or widening streets, for example). It seems that when residents are actually given a choice, most would like to spend money on complete streets!

We could also save money spent on unnecessary excess lanes on many of our downtown streets by using them for traffic complete streets.

Didn't you ask where the $75 million we spent on re-doing the Clappison's corners intersection came from? http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/3104... Or the $18 million for a new arterial road on the Mountain? http://www.hamiltonnews.com/news/18-mill... These are far more expensive and will also incur millions in ongoing maintenance.

Shifting to complete streets is relatively inexpensive in the short term, and saves huge amounts in the long term.

Oh, and it save lives and injuries too!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-11-03 13:19:23

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 17:59:08 in reply to Comment 105872

Some of it has already come from the Participatory Budget processes in Wards 1 and 2 where residents have voted to spend their own hard earned tax money on many traffic calming projects (instead of fixing potholes, or widening streets, for example). It seems that when residents are actually given a choice, most would like to spend money on complete streets!

When I voted both times in this in Ward 2, I don't ever recall there being an option on there for either of those suggestions. Fixing the crumbling infrastructure on well-used streets should have been on there last time. Let's champion that in the next one!

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By Duh (anonymous) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 09:36:49 in reply to Comment 105887

Yeah. Let the old city pay extra for their roads. Brilliant.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 20:37:23 in reply to Comment 105887

You may take comfort in the fact that cycling proposals have also been marginalized in PBW2 sessions. In the 2013 round, Pilot Project for a Network of "Urban Trail" Alleys (funded at $230K) got three times as many votes as Complete Cannon St W (unfunded at $130K). In the same session, Six Bike Parking Stations (unfunded at $20K) was less than half as popular as Ten Poster Kiosks/Message Boards (funded at $20K). In 2014, there was PBW2 support for downtown bike rack sculptures (funded at $50K) and Rail Trail Reconstruction (funded at $86K) but no other cycling-related measures made the ballot.

PBW1 has been the most cycle-positive to date, endorsing bike lanes on York Blvd between Dundurn and Downtown (funded at $100K) and Bike lanes on Longwood Road North (funded at $50K) as well as Bike racks across Ward 1 (funded at $25K) and bike-friendly improvements to Emerson (funded at $60K) in the 2014 season alone.

No word as yet on PBW3. ;)

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 18:13:04 in reply to Comment 105887

The "options" were those proposed by the residents!

If you have other priorities you can research, propose and promote them. That's how the proposals got on the ballot in the first place in these new examples of participatory democracy. Or you could organize a "Yes we Cannon" type initiative if you are even more ambitious.

I'll look forward to seeing your carefully justified and well-promoted proposal on the ballot next year.

But we have gotten used to seeing many millions spent on new roads and road maintenance without the need for resident-led campaigns ... no one asked me or any other Hamilton residents to vote on the $75 million for Clappison's, $18 million for the new road on the Mountain or the $6 million re-build of the Queen St hill. They just happened. Other sorts of initiatives require a lot more resident involvement, even when they cost a tiny fraction of the budgets of these projects (the PB process has $1 million per year, which is spread over many small projects).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-11-03 18:16:28

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 19:21:57 in reply to Comment 105888

I've since moved out of ward 2 and into a home on the mountain. If I were still in the core I'd be involved. Not sure how "outside influence" plays in these type things - I was of the impression that the submissions need to be "from the ward, by the ward, of the ward". But please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 20:22:03 in reply to Comment 105889

OK, you're wrong. I know because I was a Participatory Budget Delegate for Ward 2.

Public submissions were taken from everyone who chose to participate. People were not required to live in Ward 2 to make a submission.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-11-03 20:24:52

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 21:24:05 in reply to Comment 105893

When can I submit something, and to whom?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 20:19:06 in reply to Comment 105889

Instead of complaining about the ward 2 participatory budget why don't you ask your councillor to start PB in your new ward. Talk to your neighbours and build support. Then you can submit proposals to ignore crosswalks and fill potholes on your streets. But stop complaining about how the people in Ward 2 choose to invest.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 21:26:15 in reply to Comment 105892

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 22:03:27 in reply to Comment 105962

great news! which neighbourhood planning team are you working with?

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 05, 2014 at 06:37:36 in reply to Comment 105966

Rolston. Our assistance from the city has been fantastic, so far. I am actually interested in writing a piece on the hard work the residents and city staff are doing.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 05, 2014 at 09:25:58 in reply to Comment 105974

please do. That would be great. I'ma huge fan of these neighbourhood planning teams and hope city hall won't just pile their reports on a desk somewhere.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 20:47:00 in reply to Comment 105892

maybe residents on the Mountain can finally get those sidewalks that we're told they so desperately want, yet haven't been built in the past 20 years with the same councillors being re-elected in landslides over and over.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 21:28:20 in reply to Comment 105896

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 21:38:09 in reply to Comment 105963

yea, but he didn't 'sit' for 11 years. He revolutionized our neighbourhoods, economy and quality of life while casting a big vision view for the entire city that folks weren't quite ready for yet.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted November 09, 2014 at 22:52:54 in reply to Comment 105965

That's semantics. Choosing to focus on the word "sit" instead of the actual double standard. He was in power for over a decade and in your estimation is just short of walking on water. Other councillors who were elected for less time are somehow bumbling fools who only look out for their own necks. What a double standard.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 13:22:47 in reply to Comment 105872

Yup. 'Where will the money come from' ignores life-cycle planning costs, which benefit from trading some car traffic for pedestrian / cycle traffic. Just because the roads are already built doesn't mean it's cheaper to leave them as-is.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 17:43:18

September 13, 2017 can't come soon enough.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted November 03, 2014 at 21:34:54

"...in the past 20 years with the same councillors being re-elected in landslides over and over."

I feel your frustration but while Ward 6 is something of a wax museum, councillors for mountain Wards 7 and 8 were elected in 2006 and 2003 respectively. (I believe that Clr Duvall, elected eight years ago, was the one who voiced the sidewalks complaint.) Perhaps you mean to fault their tri-term predecessors Bill Kelly (Ward 7 1997-2006) and Frank D’Amico (Ward 8 1991-2003) and their pre-amalgamation aldermanic counterparts (say that three times fast).

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 12:08:24 in reply to Comment 105897

yes, it's kind of a blur of rare change up there. Duvall def the newest of the bunch. I recall hearing Jackson and Whitehead chime in on the whole '20 years with no sidewalks' thing which is rich considering they've been in office for at least 11 of those 20 years and never mentioned it before. I thought the best part of that whole 'can't we just have sidewalks' hoopla was Bill Kelly freaking out on his show about it. Ummm, you were in office for over a decade up there and couldn't get some sidewalks poured??

Comment edited by jason on 2014-11-04 12:09:45

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By The son of Toronto (anonymous) | Posted November 04, 2014 at 22:10:12

Why do we have to maintain the roads we don't use? I would against building new road while we don't have money. Look at the Cannon bike lane, personally I don't support bike lane and calm traffic in neighborhood. However I see it clearly should not be priority in Hamilton

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