Special Report: Bus Lane

On Transit, Hamilton Feels Like the Dark Ages

We need to build infrastructure for the city we want to be, not the one we think we are now.

By Sean Meister
Published January 20, 2015

I admittedly follow city council at arm's length at the best of times. So I'm not a big time advocate, and am hardly a municipal affairs expert and am not an urban planner - not even an urban planning enthusiast.

However, the bus lane and the transit system in Hamilton is a big deal for me. I moved to Hamilton three years ago from Calgary - partially because of a job offer, partially because it seemed to be a city on the way up.

In some ways it is, but seemingly only at a grassroots level. When it comes to municipal government decisions, I'm often left scratching my head.

When it comes to transit, Hamilton feels like the dark ages.

In Calgary, I heavily used their LRT system. Two main streets in their downtown were inaccessible to cars and were for LRT and pedestrian use only.

Congestion was a typical level for a downtown and people just dealt with it. Citizens used alternate routes; or, surprise, surprise, they took transit because it was faster.

I think we can all agree that fewer single occupancy cars on downtown streets is a good thing.

If Hamilton operated like many councillors wanted it to, our downtown streets would be highways, as if they want people to zoom through as fast as possible and get the hell out of there.

I have no idea how that falls into the category of logical and progressive thinking. That's not how cities get designed anymore. It's not how many of the young professionals we need to retain want to live.

I'm a resident of the east mountain. I'm a suburbanite. I use a car to get to work out of necessity, not out of desire. There are plenty of needs in our ward, and transit is one of them.

I want to get around my city in a timely way, using something other than my car sometimes. At this point, that's just not possible.

The logical place to start in transit reform is the downtown. It's supposed to be the heart of a city and where all transit flows.

The bus lane is hardly perfect. It's downright annoying at times, but it's necessary. It's the first step in something bigger and we need to make it work.

(And we haven't even grazed the surface of the need for better biking and walking options. Being a pedestrian in this city is one of the most dangerous things I've done in my life.)

Bus lanes, LRT and complete streets are foundational transit reforms needed by a city wanting to compete with the likes of Toronto.

I've lived in three provinces and seen the good, the bad and the ugly of municipal politics. I've bought a house in Hamilton, made major purchases at Hamilton businesses, work in Hamilton and have tried to get engaged in my new community.

But I'm also only 30 years old. To be blunt, I don't need to stay here. The people, the community and my employer are things that make me want to stay.

Municipal government decisions have the most direct impact on my day-to-day life. So if council continues to operate in this bizarre state of fear and culture of mediocrity, then my life in Hamilton suffers.

This decision around bus lanes will tell me a lot about what this council is made of. If so many councillors continue to operate with blinders on, in self-interest and based on feedback from only the people they choose to engage, it will tell me a lot.

I don't know my Councillor's record of voting when it comes to transit. Trying to find that information on the City website is like trying to find the Holy Grail.

But I'm imploring Council to make the bus lane work. Not because the bus lane is the saviour of Hamilton transit - there are no silver bullets for that - but because it has to work if we're going to become the city we can be.

Like in life, you need to dress for the job you want, not the one you have. We need to build infrastructure for the city we want to be, not the one we think we are now.

I plan to be in at City Hall for the bus lane debate tomorrow and look forward to seeing how my Councillor votes.

This article was adapted from a letter to Council.


Please add your voice to the Support Hamilton Transit campaign to keep the bus lane.

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted January 20, 2015 at 18:25:57

Fantastic article and i'm very happy to see that you sent this to council. I hope you sent it to all of them.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 20, 2015 at 18:54:45

I'm glad this was sent to city councillors. They need to see how their behaviour and their myopic view affect newcomers to our city.

Let's face it, newcomers can see the vast potential of Hamilton, possibly having a clearer vision than those who have lived here their whole lives. But it doesn't take long for the antics of city council to discourage people who can see potential in Hamilton, once they do a quick calculation of how long it takes to change the things that could so easily be changed.

If we have to put this much effort into a 2 km bus lane, what will it take to have our expresssways converted from one way to two-way, complete streets?

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted January 20, 2015 at 20:49:53

Being 29, and having bought a house downtown to move here from Toronto 18 months ago, your letter certainly resonates with me. I saw, and continue to see, the potential in what is now my new home, but it's a tough PR campaigne that the city wages. I don't know how it's perceived out west, but throughout Southern Ontario, Hamilton is historically the punchline to a joke. I relish the opportunities I have to show my network of friends and colleagues in Toronto that their idea of Hamilton is outdated, and cringe when council allows it to stagnate and confirm their preconceived notions.

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By ck (anonymous) | Posted January 21, 2015 at 09:23:46

I moved here 30 yrs ago...I find Hamilton hasn't changed as far as politics are concerned. Hopefully your generation will get involved and change things for the better,or Hamilton will never keep young ppl here.

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