Special Report: Bus Lane

Council Answers Civic Engagement with Hypocrisy and Contempt

Such flagrant disrespect for civic engagement makes it almost impossible to figure out how to organize a campaign that would effectively get Council's attention on an important issue.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published January 23, 2015

I was at the Council meeting on Wednesday night and I don't know what I found more appalling:

Councillor Arlene VanderBeek had the audacity to say she actually supports lots of bus lanes - just not the one we already implemented.

Given that bus lanes will always take space from motorists and therefore annoy them, it's hard to see her ever actually supporting a real life bus lane in the face of motorist or business complaints.

Comprehensive Plans Ignored

Don't all these Councillors talking about a "comprehensive plan" know that Hamilton is already sitting on piles of plans, goals and vision statements that all support and endorse the bus lane on King Street?

Haven't they heard of Rapid Ready (2013) or the HSR Operational Review (2010) or the last Transportation Master Plan review (2007), or indeed the original Transportation Master Plan (2001) that first established the goal of doubling per capita transit use? Every one of those strategic plans was approved by Council.

When will they ever be ready to make a decision to improve transit that involves either a) increasing the City funding to HSR by a large amount, or b) annoying drivers?

Money and road space are zero sum games. You can't get better transit without taking money from something else or space from driving.

As Councillor Sam Merulla very rightly said last night, since the Councillors who rejected the bus lane are apparently such big supporters of transit improvement, he looks forward to their support when he moves to abolish area rating for transit which is a big obstacle to improving and extending transit in all urban areas of the city.

Don't hold your breath.

Failure of Collegiality

The Councillors whose wards the bus lane actually runs though strongly support the lane, and yet this was completely irrelevant to those suburban Councillors who voted it down. This was a blatant failure of collegiality.

One thing seems clear: although Councillor Chad Collins talks about downtown not being welcoming to everyone (by which he means, I guess, that suburbanites can't speed through the core as fast as they'd like to), what is really going on is a sustained war by the suburbs on the downtown and lower city.

Time after time the mountain and suburban Councillors attack initiatives that have very little effect on their ward residents, but are strongly supported by the residents and Councillors of the wards where the initiatives are actually being proposed. Often these initiatives are either free to the city (like the bus lane) or paid by the individual Councillor (like the cycle lane) or low cost (like two way conversion of side streets).

These Councillors seem to viscerally resent downtown residents working for the sort of neighbourhoods they want and feel that attacking those efforts will make them popular with their own wards.

The strange thing is that there is absolutely no reciprocity: I don't ever recall the lower city Councillors ganging up on some popular suburban or rural project - a skating rink, bocce court, road widening or street calming - to shoot it down out of sheer spite. The collegiality runs in only one direction.

It would be one thing if the suburban Councillors didn't support some sort of city-wide change that the urban core is pushing for, but many of these changes are entirely local with marginal effects on their residents.

How many of Councillor VanderBeek's residents are really affected by the peak five-minute delay for motorists on King Street? And how many of her residents are in the bus?

Engaging Citizens

And what about Hamilton's official goal [PDF] of being "the best place in Canada to engage citizens"?

We repeatedly see suburban Councillors simply ignoring hundreds or even thousands of engaged residents who take the time and effort to make their views known. Instead, they favour their "feelings" based on a handful of phone calls.

As Mayor Fred Eisenberger pointed out at the meeting, Council received more than four times as many emails in favour of the bus lane as against it, and the pro-bus lane supporters were a massive majority in the Council gallery. Eisenberger was one of the few who even referred to the fact that those who bothered to express an opinion massively support the bus lane.

In addition, a city-wide survey taken a day before the vote found that 67 percent of all Hamiltonians support keeping and modifying the bus lane according to the staff recommendations.

This really is disrespectful and completely out of line with our vision statement. Citizen engagement is about more than just picking up some garbage during Pitch-In Week.

Such flagrant disrespect for civic engagement makes it almost impossible to figure out how to organize a campaign that would effectively get Council's attention on an important issue.

How many people would they ignore? They just demonstrated that a petition with over 1,000 names in just a few days isn't enough. What about a petition with 10,000 names? What about 2,000 people crowding the forecourt of City Hall? What about a march of 50,000?

At what point would they actually start listening and re-evaluating their "hunches" about what Hamiltonians really want? Uncharacteristically, I ended up joining in the shouting last night on the grounds that "I'm shouting because you aren't hearing me!"

Hamilton: best place to be a disengaged citizen. That's the message the "scrap the bus lane" Councillors sent loud and clear by favouring the perceived opinions of those who couldn't be bothered to organize and get out in support of their view that the bus lane should be cancelled.

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

28 Comments

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By Stever (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 20:30:57

"Councillor Arlene VanderBeek had the audacity to say she actually supports lots of bus lanes - just not the one we already implemented."

votearlene.com, tells me everything I need to know. A federal election losing Liberal candidate, who brands her municipal election website in Conservative blue, with a Liberal red stripe.

If that doesn't scream, "I want to pander to all sides of an issue", I don't know what does. IMHO, she obviously lacks scruples.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 20:34:01

What is really disturbing is that downtown Councillors have in many instances deferred to the wishes of their suburban colleagues in the placement of bike lanes in suburban wards. They even gave a veto to individual Councillors to bike lanes that travel over many ward boundaries!

And yet these suburban bullies ganged up on the downtown Councillors whose wards contain the affected bus line!

They can't have it both ways. Nicholas is right to identify as "hypocrisy and contempt" the suburban attitude of "my ward is mine, and downtown is mine too!"

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By Stever (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 20:48:13 in reply to Comment 108241

"They can't have it both ways."

But they did.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 20:40:46

well said Nicholas. Enough is enough. Let's make life miserable for these jokers the next 4 years.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 21:19:34

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By Jason (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 07:18:22 in reply to Comment 108248

Any better ideas than turning up the pressure? Hoping for the best has gotten us nowhere. They need to start being barraged with messages, council meeting turnouts like the other night. It's called living in a democracy.

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By yourstoneycreek (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 23:41:27 in reply to Comment 108248

"whinge whinge you aren't doing it right" and 5000 more useless words of blathering nonsense after the break

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By Yoda (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 21:52:53 in reply to Comment 108248

Enlighten us learned one.

Give me a break.

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By YouJustAint (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 21:26:47 in reply to Comment 108248

Please get stuffed.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted January 22, 2015 at 21:33:07

I have no intention to be even polite anymore. All the hard intelligent work of Nicholas, Ryan and others is regularly skewered by a collection of visceral fuck wits. It is beyond painful to watch this year in year out. It is like talking to gun nuts and retarded fervants of all stripes. No science, no logic, no plan; just a corrupted faith vomiting their destruction on one and all.

As I said to one friend today "you cannot reason with a rabid dog that is ripping your scrotum off."

I for one will be attacking with humour. Not the nice kind. I plan to give each of the nine fingers around the neck of public transit a plastic dinosaur for their efforts. Anyone want to help with this email me.

(hash) jesuisbuslane

Comment edited by misterque on 2015-01-22 21:34:06

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By Double Decker Bus Tour (anonymous) | Posted January 22, 2015 at 22:38:01

Lest we forget that this is the same crew of 40 watt bulbs that are bringing the world the Hamilton Industial Past Present and Future Pan Am Parking Tour.

Stadium location. Priceless.

Hamilton City Council.......still winning!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 22, 2015 at 23:26:06 in reply to Comment 108261

That's what gets me. You keep hearing the same voices on the opposing side saying the same things - they were wrong about James North, they were wrong about the stadium. I don't think anybody can argue either of those points.

Now they're in control again, and eventually it will become obvious they were wrong again. But other than a "I told you so AGAIN" what the heck do we get for it?

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By AS (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:40:00

Tellingly, I tweeted Mr. Eisenberger asking if he secretly wants to kill LRT. I asked why he promised in advance to not use his political capital for this issue. If not for this issue then for what? No response yet, and don't feel confident I will get one in fact.

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By proudofthemountain (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:58:05

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By Dane (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 13:52:43 in reply to Comment 108282

Voting and making comments can't be seen in the same light. There is obvious political "slinging mud" that directly effects citizens (not in some immature school yard sense).

Off topic - it is a shame you can't see that "one stop shops" and big box stores are horrible for the economy. Huge corporations hold the economy hostage.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2015 at 11:14:54 in reply to Comment 108282

Some of the hipsterier folks downtown may mock your suburban tastes because we consider them environmentally unsustainable and somehow politically unfashionable, here's the thing:

We don't actually stop you from doing it. At no point has any downtown Councillor advanced a motion to shut down Lime Ridge Mall. Nobody is trying to take the Linc from you, or the Meadowlands Power Centre.

You and your elected representatives, on the other hand, have actively taken something from downtown.

See the difference?

Mind your own house.

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By proudofthemountain (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 12:55:31 in reply to Comment 108283

I bow to you almighty holier-than-thou downtown dweller.

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By Whitlock (registered) | Posted January 24, 2015 at 11:45:18

Everything is connected. When the Linc is full, local east west mountain streets are clogged (Stonechurch, Mohawk Roads especially). If more transit was available and dependable maybe we would have fewer people using the Linc to get home or over to Stoney Creek Mountain. Make the city more transit accessible and we will all enjoy the benefits. As I said, all things are connected.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 25, 2015 at 00:21:49 in reply to Comment 108341

Thereby demonstrating the reality of Induced Demand.

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