Special Report: Bus Lane

Sooner or Later, Council Will Have to Confront Reality

Better days are still ahead for Hamilton. I just wish it didn't feel like a majority of Council was a millstone for us to drag there.

By Rob Fiedler
Published January 23, 2015

More than a day removed from Council's latest foray into city "unbuilding," is there anything else to be said? Well, I have few things to get off my chest.

Let's review. Council wants development. It wants downtown revitalization. It wants to improve our downtown tax base. Yet City Council - six councillors and the mayor notwithstanding - doesn't seem able to connect the dots between providing a modicum of support for the urbanism that might help achieve any of this.

Like magic it will just happen - perhaps "organically".

Galling Spectacle

I went to City Hall on Wednesday evening hoping to be surprised, but more or less knowing what to expect. Nevertheless, this "whiny urbanist" took it all in and still managed to find it a galling spectacle.

The wrecking crew seemed to be pleading with us in the gallery: we love transit, we want better transit, we just don't support a two-kilometre bus lane on King Street.

You'd have thought they were debating putting a transit-only lane in.

To remind myself we really have a great city - and to cool off - I did the only thing that made sense to this North End Neighbour. I walked home with a couple of fellow neighbours, stopped for a coffee on James North, and later met another neighbour for a skate down at the outdoor rink by the Discovery Centre.

By the time I finished (not playing hockey, which isn't permitted) I had almost forgotten the whole thing. Well, more like convinced myself that it was a bad dream - kind of like the sprawl-inducing Airport Employment Growth District - and that I'd wake up and all would be fine.

A day later, all isn't fine. The bus-lanes are going and Aerotropolis is still coming.

Making Lemonade

Still, I ask whether we can turn this lemon of a situation into lemonade. The short answer is yes. (What can I say, I'm an eternal optimist).

Several councillors voted against the bus-lane but nonetheless went on the record supporting the need for improved transit service across the city. Others insisted that this wasn't a vote about LRT.

Most of them seem to support and understand the need for a vibrant and accessible downtown.

Let's hold them to this when the new director of transit David Dixon presents Council with a 10-year Transit Plan next month.

Let's talk about a ridership growth strategy and service standards. Let's remind a certain Councillor about best practices should he chose to ignore them or cherry pick.

Most importantly, let's make it clear that successful cities don't focus on making it easy for everyone to drive downtown. Successful cities can't afford to have valuable downtown land sitting as surface parking.

Likewise, successful urban streets can't function like expressways.

What Revitalization Entails

Naysayers can say, "The future is not now". That we aren't Toronto. And they'd be right.

Toronto needs subways and GO for a reason. Crunch time for them happened almost immediately after World War II. I've seen a late-1940s story in The Globe and Mail that described Toronto's downtown as "suffering acres".

As they put it in the byline: "more than 105,000 cars jam downtown area, parking lots hold 16,500".

When we talk about modal shift, this is what we mean. A successful, vibrant downtown makes it less convenient to drive than take transit. Parking lots become buildings and people take transit to get to them.

That's the nub. Presumably, everyone on Council seems to want downtown revitalization. Only some seem to understand what it entails.

Confrontation With Reality

Should we be fortunate enough to have our current renaissance continue, developers will increasingly achieve what Council seems unwilling to do - make it hard to park downtown.

Will the suburban 9 oppose development applications on the grounds that surface parking will be lost, and congestion will be increased?

Then again, Council's anti-urbanism may just save them from that "essential confrontation with reality".

After all, would you want to buy a condo in downtown Hamilton given the blatant disregard shown to residents across the core by a majority of this Council on Wednesday?

That's probably over the top. Better days are still ahead for Hamilton. I just wish it didn't feel like a majority of Council was a millstone for us to drag there.

Affordable Housing

There's another issue that badly needs more attention from us. House prices and rents are rising in the North End (and other parts of the core).

We've been "affordable" for so long - and remain so relative to cities like Toronto and Vancouver - that it's tempting to see this as a non-issue. But we are seeing the amount of affordable rental housing shrink.

There is considerable development planned and anticipated for the West Harbour Area, which includes the Barton-Tiffany lands, the Waterfront, the opportunity spaces identified in the James North Mobility Hub Study, and a few other places.

Before "the future that is not now" arrives, maybe we should start a serious conversation about inclusionary zoning and affordable housing. Intensification and revitalization doesn't have to mean displacement.

Rob Fiedler is a member of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association executive. Expresses himself in a 280 characters or less @rsfiedler.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:31:07

Well written piece, but I wouldn't hold your breath on this:

Several councillors voted against the bus-lane but nonetheless went on the record supporting the need for improved transit service across the city.

Many of them were the same people saying we should build a full BRT network instead of LRT during the election. Then they killed a 2-km bus lane. BRT would require dozens of km's of bus lanes.

They tried to talk a good talk with 150 people wearing yellow all intently staring at them. Remove the transit users from the room and they would have went on and on about their 3 minute delay in their cars like they usually do.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 12:27:03 in reply to Comment 108277

Thanks Jason. I think my point is we need to keep having a 150 eyes at council making them uncomfortable. They need to be forced to live up to their rhetoric. We also need to think about those 2 elusive votes that would have saved the bus lane ... that's politics.

When not being an eternal optimist on RTH, most people find me to be a realist. I've watched my share of council (and other political forums) ... i realize the row we have to hoe with this council. I'm under no illusions them a better argument will work with most of them. But i see faint glimmers of hope with at least a couple of councilors. A few more rounds and we'll know if that faint hope is real. If not, my commentary on RTH may burn a little brighter. Ryan's piece the day after captured my immediate thoughts pretty accurately ... especially with regard to our "shadow mayor" Chad (or Lord Voldamort at the moment and the real straw that stirs this council's drink). Optimism is what keeps us going, however.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 14:21:49 in reply to Comment 108287

Yes, agreed. Would be great to have 150 sets of eyes in there on a regular basis.

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By Harry (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:37:25

F Pasuta, that SOB. Asking people to be respectful as that hypocritical biotch speaks out of both sides of her mouth, and they all end of killing the lane. Where is their RESPECT FOR THE MAJORITY?

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By sanctimony guy again (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2015 at 21:00:52 in reply to Comment 108279

what's an SOB? a really sad Councillor?

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By sanctimony guy (anonymous) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 12:19:35 in reply to Comment 108372

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 10:53:04

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By sanctimony guy yet again (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2015 at 21:02:18 in reply to Comment 108281

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 12:17:06

Great point on the issue of affordable housing. Toronto is also struggling to address this issue from the other side,, already having high housing costs --- our affordability issues make it challenging for even middle class families to live in the core, let alone people of low income.

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By TIH (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 13:15:00 in reply to Comment 108286

This is Hamilton. We could deal with it proactively but instead we'll wait until we're in crisis and THEN deal with it. Maybe.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 23, 2015 at 15:16:21 in reply to Comment 108292

I've lived in this city my whole life. I saw what happened when downtown Hamilton hit real crisis-mode.

Jack.

Squat.

Don't kid yourself, we're working without a net. If we can't get it when we want it, we won't be able to get it when we need it either.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 12:47:45 in reply to Comment 108286

Yes. That is my general concern. When i look at what's happening i'm watching the neighbourhood that welcomed me when i arrived several years ago, become too expensive for me (if we hadn't bought a house almost a year and a half ago ... a decision hastened by our experiences in Vancouver and Toronto).

That last paragraph was prompted by a conversation I and a couple of other NEN members had with Pastor Dwayne Cline over coffee on the way home from Wednesday's council meeting. I'd been working on something for RTH of this sort, but his comments on the matter pushed me to add it to this piece ... I wrote it yesterday, but submitted it this morning. I just came across a piece on CBC Hamilton that covers the same subject far better than me, and is based on an interview with him. Worth a read.

see: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/hamilton/n...

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By InsideScoop (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 13:58:30

Thanks for bringing the issue of housing affordability back into these discussions. Gentrification is eroding Hamilton's housing affordability at a remarkable rate and, combined with declining federal funding and provincial downloading of housing responsibilities, Hamilton is barreling towards a huge and costly housing crisis. The treatment of a "no brainer" agenda item such as the bus lane, does nothing to instill confidence that this Council can tackle anything nearly as complex as housing and homelessness.

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By Shawn Selway (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 14:02:23

Yup. Great overview of where we are. Land use and transportation issues are thoroughly intertwined. On Wednesday night Council gave the go-ahead to the Connolly - thirty stories at James and Jackson which the Shadow Mayor thinks will be worth 750K in increased assessment. Why is that building going on the market? Because prospective tenants can expect to find most services and amenities quite near, and save themselves a bundle by using Car Share or SOBI for the rest. We hope. (On a worrying note, the Councillor also said that the Connolly Project " Has gone from almost a heritage disaster to poster child for adaptive re-use." Uh-oh. Demolition of the greater part of a building does not constitute "adaptive resuse".)

Meanwhile, the Red Hill is being extended to Rymal and acres and acres of cornfield between Stone Church and Rymal are signed for townhouses and single detached, just as mountain councillors grumble about getting more transit on the hill. The densities Council permits at the boundaries will not sustain affordable transit. Yet Council will not sustain transit in the lower city corridor where it actually makes money. Boing! As Rob points out, the nine can pound on that round peg as long as they want, it isn't going in that square hole.

However, ease in getting from here to there is kind of pointless if there's no there there anymore, so to speak. To my knowledge, Council has not even begun to grapple with the housing affordability problem. All boats do not rise on the same tide and new pressures need new policies. This is a very large topic but we really need to get going on it.


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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 14:06:56 in reply to Comment 108300

The Red Hill expansion is a disaster. Just look at what is happening in Mississauga you dimwit councilors! You sell off all your land to developers, build mindless sprawl and then cry poor when we can't afford to support it. I wish a more responsible "parent" would step in and stop the stupidity down at city hall.

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By sanctimony guy once again (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2015 at 21:04:54 in reply to Comment 108301

"dimwit" is a good thing, right?

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By mayornot (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 15:26:17

How come when I wrote this as anonymous it got called spam? S. Selway gets it right as usual--well, he does. And then there's the so called aerotropo thing cumin down--in secret too. Hundreds of hectares of residential "opportunity" cause nobody thought to ask where's the billions for the great jobs beside this failing airport. By the way,when CATCH analyses the Mt Hope airport, they use Transport Canada's most recent postings. Pretty sad for folks not telling the truth about that airport: Tradeport? Good letter in the Spec on Wed. Jan 21 about the big aero thing, and our council, as phony baloney. Won't put the link here cause don't work if I do.

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By Stever (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 23:04:37 in reply to Comment 108309

Just put the URL like this raisethehammer.org

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By Stever (anonymous) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 23:09:39 in reply to Comment 108331

If determining what is on the "spam list" then I'll contribute 3 w's in a row is on the Spam list.

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted January 23, 2015 at 16:49:35

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By sanctimony guy (anonymous) | Posted January 26, 2015 at 12:23:23 in reply to Comment 108317

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By sanctimony guy (anonymous) | Posted January 25, 2015 at 20:59:58

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