Transportation

Same Old 'Traffic Trumps Everything' Thinking

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published December 01, 2008

Apparently, the City Traffic department still doesn't get it.

After turning James and John into two-way streets that slowed traffic down, the city is now looking for ways to speed things up.

City staff want the green light to tinker with signals on the two major roads, in order to shave anywhere from five seconds to one minute off driving times during peak hours.

Staff would also like to spend $60,000 to convert four intersections to actuated operation, meaning the light would only change when it's tripped by a road sensor or pedestrian push button.

After the two-way conversion sparked a revival of James N by slowing traffic, the City now wants to speed traffic up again by installing a new 'green wave'! This is despite the fact that many merchants don't want traffic speeded up.

This the same old 'traffic flow trumps everything' thinking that I thought we were moving away from.

The worst part is that the pedestrian actuated lights don't respond to bicycles, so cyclists will face permanent red lights on the East-West crossings (unless they realize that the light is never going to change and they ride up onto the sidewalk and press the pedestrian button).

There should be a moratorium on these 'active' traffic lights until they work out a way for them to detect bicycles.

Will we never learn what makes an attractive and vibrant community?

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.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 12:50:38

sadly, this isn't at all surprising. Backwards, yes. But not surprising.

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By mindboggled (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 13:49:48

Seriously what is the matter with these traffic planners? Are they just caving in to drivers from the Mountain complaining that it takes an extra 30 seconds to get downtown now? have they actually walked around on James street - not driven but walked to see how much better things have gotten? why do we have to keep having these same stupid fights over and over again? I'm so embarassed of my city right now.

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 14:18:15

Toronto use bike sensors at their traffic (and now just needs to inform their cyclists about them). These should be a minimum requirement in any Hamilton plan to actuate the traffic lights (something I strongly agree that they should do!). See www.thestar.com/News/GTA/article/525643 for more info.

P.S. IMHO, increased use of dedicated turning lanes and real enforcement of parking/no-stopping by-laws could probably do more to improve traffic flow (and safety) for everyone than actuated lights. Check out Charlton and some of the other streets around Saint Joe's at 8:45 on a weekday. The idlers in the no stopping zones cause chaos (and make cycling almost suicidal) but somehow the loss of one-way streets gets the blame. If red light cameras are allowed at intersections, why can't something similar be used to nail the folks who feel it is their right to get cheap parking for a visit to the area. Bring on the tow trucks!!!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 14:20:10

Nicholas, that's the problem with letting politicians make decisions, they mess things up. If local business owners were allowed to control their environment this would not be a problem. Make politicians servants, give them very little power and let people with money on the line make the decisions. Until people stop drinking the "government as saviour" kool-aid, you will never stop stupid things like this from happening. Since political decisions are made by people with very little connection to the local neighborhood, why does anyone expect the decisions to reflect the will of the community.

Central planning (even on a city level) has never worked, will never work and the people who try to make it work are fools. Just compare the centrally planned China of the sixties and seventies with the decentralized China of today, and ask yourself, which one is more effective at allocating resources?

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By Eugene Hausmann (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 15:39:54

I got two words for you, Smith: Paris, France.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 15:55:24

I seem to recall that Portland Oregon has a system where they have bicycle sensors on the roads that are indicated by a painting of a bicycle. Simple and easy.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 16:34:34

I shudder to think of what Hamilton would look like if we removed all zoning and all regulations and let builders do whatever they want. It'd be a sea of parking from Hwy 403 to Centennial Pkwy with nothing but big box stores at every turn. On the bright side, the 'Vanished Hamilton' publishers would be multi-millionaires.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 01, 2008 at 23:06:32

Eugene, the city of Paris is a net contributor of taxes to the French government, therefore it is private citizens and businesses that drive the city, not government planners. If you want Hamilton to be more like Paris, then I suggest you start by pushing for a smaller role for government in the local economy. As it stands today, most new money coming to Hamilton is from the government, including the recent Centre Mall development, which is being funded by the Federal government and don't forget about the government funded LRT.

If politicians would stop trying to help the citizens of Hamilton, the private sector would take on a larger role and true value creating jobs would begin to be created. A robust private sector economy would attract many new residents, which in turn would create demand for high quality homes, retail establishments and perhaps even private mass transit. Failure to embrace the free market in favour of big government schemes will only lead to more of what we've been experiencing for decades, but I guess some lessons need to be learned the hard way.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 09:22:06

A Smith, your naivete surprises me. I can find very few major private sector companies that in actually interested in anything other than increasing the little black number at the end of tbe balance sheet.

Simply because the funds come from the federal government doesn't mean that the federal government designs the project. I've worked on many government funded projects and have yet to see a government official tell me how to design the buildings I've worked on. It's the local government, elected by the public to represent them that has failed. The private sector simply can't take on the a larger role without forcing smaller companies to unite and become larger corporations etc which makes that move futile.

I've read a lot of idealist notions in your posts but have yet to see a happy surviving example of the ideals you purvey.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 09:32:00

How exciting! Eugene Hausmann came back to life and is posting on Raise the Hammer!!

ASmith, allow me to save you any future embarrassment by providing this bit of light reading. Enjoy.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baron_Hauss...

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By Eugene Hausmann (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 09:38:06

"Eugene, the city of Paris is a net contributor of taxes to the French government, therefore it is private citizens and businesses that drive the city, not government planners. If you want Hamilton to be more like Paris, then I suggest you start by pushing for a smaller role for government in the local economy."

Smith, your ignorance is palable. Modern Paris is the brainchild of one master-planner, Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann, who devised VERY strict planning rules for the size, shape, height, position, design, and layout of almost every building in Paris, as well as its world famous boulevards, ped-friendly sidewalks and celebrated lively street life. Haussmann more or less single handedly INVENTED modern urbanism and in many ways his city still does it best, 150 years after he designed it pretty much from scratch. Paris is an embarrasing repudiation of your silly antiplanning 'let the market do it's magic' nonsense.

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By Wiccan (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 11:31:26

I think that A Smith is the voice of reason on this website. Obviously those of you who don't agree with him don't pay property or income taxes. Most of the big construction projects in Hamilton are all government related: hospitals, universities, downtown welfare housing. These places don't pay any property tax yet there is little private sector development in Hamilton. That is why property taxes in Hamilton are so high and jobs are so scarce.

In respose to Frank: "A Smith, your naivete surprises me. I can find very few major private sector companies that in actually interested in anything other than increasing the little black number at the end of tbe balance sheet".

Really Frank? Do you have any idea how much money private businesses donate to charity? Or how about this one - all those hospitals, universities, roads, welfare housing for bums, and other "social programs" come from the taxes paid by "...the little black number at the end of the balance sheet"

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 15:54:03

Eugene, I am not arguing the historical facts, I am simply pointing out your ignorance as to what makes a great city. Cities that are considered excellent places to live are like that because they have vibrant private sector economies, unlike Hamilton. Buildings and building style are not unimportant, but style alone does not attract people to create wealth creating industries that form the foundation of any urban environment. Without disposable income, you can have as many works of architectural splendor as you want, but they will all end up as bingo parlours, or better yet, follow the path of the Lister block.

My argument is that businesses create jobs, jobs create wealth and wealth creates the dynamic and fun experience we love about great cities. Wealth also allows people the ability to create impressive works of architecture, without relying on the government to pay the tab, unlike the example of "Haussmann" Paris. Furthermore, the free market does not rely on force to move people from their homes, but instead relies on mutual consent between buyer and seller, but why get thrown off course with things like private property and morality, they're just a funny old concept anyway.

Keep in mind that the area that rings the inner city of Paris is not all that great a place to live, the riots of 2005 coming to mind. These areas are also the product of urban planners, with the obvious difference being that they have poor local economies. Are you starting to see the connection, poor economy equals crappy place to live.

Once Hamilton learns the lesson that the private sector is the real driver of great cities, not government, this city will once again be a great place to live.

Frank, look at any community in the world where government is the main source of economic development, they all suck (First Nation reservations, Africa, inner cities that rely on welfare). Conversely, every city that is considered a great place to live is dominated by the private sector. If you want a partial example of what the free market can do with very little, look at Singapore. Although hardly a bastion of freedom, its low government involvement in the economy (at least in terms of government spending) has created a wealthy, fast growing economy, with excellent public health, 3% unemployment and a standard of living that outstrips Canada.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 16:22:58

no offense, but how can ASmith be the 'voice of reason' on this website when he/she makes comments about no city ever being successful under a 'central planner' and then when a poster named Eugene Hausmann comes on and mentions Paris, ASmith responds to "Eugene" as if he's alive and clearly has no clue of the development of Paris which was entirely centrally planned and is still one of the greatest models of city building to this day. Strange, you'd think that some 'free market', unrestricted city would have been built by now that blows Paris away. So far most attempts have ended up looking like Centre Mall or the Meadowlands.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 02, 2008 at 22:44:10

Jason, I love when you make statements about people that are complete lies. As soon as our friend Eugene ( I called him that because was easier than referring to him as posting #5) mentioned the Paris example, I did a search to learn more about the history of the city. During this research, I learned about the Baron and his place in the history of Paris' development. Therefore, my response to Eugene was done so with full knowledge of Mr.Haussmann, (which by the way was spelled incorrectly, but then again, maybe that's his real name, who's to know?), but why believe me when you can just as easily throw out falsehoods.

With regard to Paris being a great example of what central planning can do, what about the fact that Paris has 12 million people? Any city with 12 million people is by default an important city that will attract attention. What about the fact that it has over a thousand years of history to draw upon? Most importantly, what about the fact that it has a vibrant private sector driven economy. When people talk about Paris, they don't talk about the grandness of its flat profile, they talk about its restaurants, its shopping, its museums and cathedrals.

Take away the central planning and Paris would still be an impressive city, probably even more so.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 08:52:19

"even more so"??
Please find me another example then. There must be a city around that wasn't 'centrally planned' that is more impressive than Paris.

You can't make arbitrary statements with zero proof to back them up.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 03, 2008 at 10:33:05

A. Smith - businesses will not locate somewhere simply because the taxes are low. They need employees and infrastructure. If you do not build for density, the high quality businesses you desire will never show up. Your city will look like an industrial park with a city hall in the middle.

Businesses need people, yet people need jobs - check or egg? Not really. The lesson is that you ahve to build to accommodate residents AND businesses equally. It has to be a great place to live and a reasonable place to do business.

Hamilton has failed in several ways to pander to both of these groups, but hopefully we can do a better job down the road. But free reign of "the market" and complete de-regulation is not the answer. Smart planning is.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 03, 2008 at 10:33:34

sorry, check or egg should read "chicken or egg" :-)

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 03, 2008 at 17:25:17

Jason, you're accusing me of making arbitrary statements? Take a look at my description of what makes a city great and then compare it to yours. Here's Eugene's well thought out argument..."I got two words for you Smith: Paris, France."

Furthermore, I would say that cities like Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Toronto and Houston are much more interesting to look at than cities like Paris, Brasilia, Washington, D.C. and any other city that limits building height and any other such nonsense.

To me, Paris looks bland, the buildings are all the same color, everything is flat and the every building looks like a monument to the past. I suppose if you like museums, then Paris is for you, but I would rather have a little variety in my city, different types of buildings and a little chaos. Perhaps it all comes down to personal preference.

I would like it Jason if you would address my point about the importance of the private sector economy in the life of a city? I mean, what good are urban plans if the buildings stand empty or house bingo parlours?

Seancb, even without lowering business taxes from where they are today, by simply removing zoning restrictions, you would encourage more economic activity in Hamilton. Instead of making plans based on what they can't build, developers would start making plans based purely on the demand from the marketplace. If there was a demand for single family homes, then that's what would get built. If as you say, there was a need for denser housing units, they would get built as well. Development would shift from type to type simply based on what the market was telling the developers they wanted built the most. In this way, the shape of the city would not be restricted by plans that were developed for a different time period and economic reality, they would reflect "real time" consumer preferences.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 05, 2008 at 10:23:15

'Eugene's' argument is well worth repeating again: Paris, France.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted December 05, 2008 at 18:28:38

Jason, thanks for the clarification. The first time Eugene put forward this powerful argument I didn't fully grasp its significance. However, now that you have repeated it, I realize how misguided my own thinking has become. Instead of backing up statements with attempts at logical arguments, the quickest way to change opinion is to simply use repetition. You should think about running for office, your shallow thinking style and affinity for falsehoods would do wonders for this city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 08, 2008 at 22:11:24

I don't need to waste everyone's time with long posts full of nothing. Go research Paris. You'll find all your answers and then some.

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