The majority of car trips in Hamilton could be replaced easily by bicycles or even walking but that isn’t likely to occur until the city provides more complete streets argue alternative transportation advocates. And even the city’s limited cycling master plan won’t be in place until 2053 at the current rate of implementation.
Similarly, progress on Hamilton’s eight-year-old transportation master plan so far has been heavily weighted to expanding roads rather than making existing arteries more efficient by such steps as ‘road diets’ and conversion to two-way traffic flows. But four speakers at a well-attended forum last week contend these changes will actually reduce transportation costs for both residents and the city government, and slash Hamilton’s injury risk to pedestrians and cyclists that is currently one of the highest in Ontario.
The city’s manager of transportation demand management, Peter Topalovic, led off last week’s forum with a statistical breakdown that showed 83 percent of Hamilton trips are by motorized vehicle, 9 percent by transit and the remainder walking or cycling – with a full half of those trips being 5 km or less. But the startling statistic was that “55 percent of all trips of one kilometre or less were taken by automobile” – something that can be accomplished by walking in about 15 minutes.
Topalovic suggested this indicates “great potential out there to shift people to other modes” with multiple benefits to health, reduced pollution, lower greenhouse gas emissions and less financial burden on city taxpayers.
“Obviously if we have to accommodate that amount of automobiles, those take up more space,” he pointed out. So we have an infrastructure problem because we have to accommodate for the growth in the automobile or try to find other ways to do things more actively and efficiently.”
City staff have been warning council for several years that Hamilton is behind approximately $2 billion in maintenance of existing infrastructure, and is falling further behind by nearly $200 million each year. A third of the city’s $13.8 billion in assets is composed of roads and associated traffic facilities.
Last year the city spent nearly $90 million on its road budget – an average of slightly over $13,000 per lane kilometre of pavement. While the annual total varies depending on how much reconstruction or new construction takes place, the operational costs per lane kilometre are roughly $4000 per year.
Sara Mayo of the Social Planning and Research Council provided the forum with analysis on the city’s progress on cycling facilities. The 2009 cycling master plan promised a nearly four-fold expansion by 2029, but is already far behind that goal.
“At the current rate of implementation of 22 km per year, Hamilton cycling master plan won’t be complete until 2053,” calculates Mayo. “Although 30 percent of the 20 years of the plan timeline has gone by, only about 9 percent of the proposed facilities have been installed.”
That shortfall is not helping Hamilton’s unenviable status as one of the most dangerous places for both cyclists and pedestrians in Ontario with 42 percent higher injury risk for pedestrians and 81 percent higher risk for cyclists. Mayo notes that the city acknowledges most of its streets have been designed for higher than the posted 50 km per hour speed limit and risk of injury “increases exponentially with speed”.
Mayo also argued that increased emphasis on transit, cycling and walking will improve fairness and equity. The SPRC analysis of census data for Hamilton shows these transport methods are used to get to work by well over a quarter of residents with incomes less than $20,000, but by less than 5 percent of those making more than $80,000.
The forum – sponsored by the Sustainability Professionals Network – was also told that converting traffic lanes to cycling lanes and pedestrian buffers not only reduces injuries but also usually results in vehicles getting to their destinations more quickly because their route is less disrupted. One of the other speakers, Justin Jones, contended the real objective should be to move people, not cars, and utilizing excess road capacity for alternative transportation also reduces maintenance costs.