City File: Truck Route Reboot

Hamilton's Designated Truck Route prioritizes the convenience of businesses over the safety of pedestrians and this needs to change says Ryan McGreal.

By Ryan McGreal

Posted May 01, 2019 in Essays (Last Updated 00, 0000)

Herman Ohrt was a healthy, active senior who loved nature and enjoyed travelling through his urban neighbourhood under his own power. On Friday, August 17, 2018, a week after his 77th birthday, he was struck by a cement truck and killed at the corner of Queen Street North and King Street West while riding his bike to an appointment.

Two weeks later, On August 31, a truck driver heading east on Main Street past James Street knocked a utility pole into a building and then crashed into the awning of another building. Fortunately, no one died this time, though the driver was taken to hospital.

On Tuesday, November 20, a commercial truck driver struck an elderly woman walking at Barton Street East and Lottridge Street. A month later she succumbed to her injuries and died on December 20.

All three of these incidents took place on streets on mixed urban residential streets that are part of Hamilton’s Designated Truck Route, a network of city streets that transport trucks can use to shortcut through the city. These are not trucks making local deliveries but rather trucks that are just passing through Hamilton en route from their origins to their destinations.

Hamilton is in many ways a city where failed civic planning ideas go to retire, and the failed idea that our multi-lane traffic sewers are some kind of competitive advantage is enjoying a luxurious superannuation here.

The Designated Truck Route was last updated in 2010 after five years of study, public consultation and a new master plan. The review was undertaken ostensibly to address concerns about transport trucks in urban neighbourhoods, but as the master plan noted, “While the driving force behind the decision to undertake a truck route study was primarily the impact of heavy trucks on areas such as residential and business improvement areas, trucking has significant impact on the city’s economic development and growth and how the city is positioned as a major transportation hub.” In other words, the study pitted neighbourhood safety and livability against commercial interests and favoured the latter.

Sure enough, various community and business groups - including the Downtown BIA - appealed to Council to stop allowing through truck traffic to blast through urban communities, but Council rejected most of the appeals. (They did agree to remove a few streets: Dundurn Street North, Kenilworth Access, Upper Ottawa Street and Concession Street.)

As it stands, the Truck Master Plan leaves a lot to be desired. It makes no distinction between cube vans and 18-wheelers, and it essentially disregards health, safety and environmental concerns, limiting its assessment to the business desire to take the shortest path between two points, even if that path roars past people’s homes, schools, parks and neighbourhood amenities.

When staff recommended a plan to convert Queen Street to two-way, they limited the plan to Queen Street South, noting that since Queen Street North is on the Truck Route, it would not be practical to convert it to two-way. Never mind that a man was literally killed there last year.

This. Is. Not. Normal. It’s not normal to deform neighbourhood streets and terrorize their residents so that a transport truck can get to its destination a couple of minutes faster. It’s not normal to allow these gigantic, noisy, toxic exhaust-spewing behemoths to rumble and groan their way through our communities. Transport trucks simply do not belong in neighbourhoods where people are trying to live.

In my own daily anecdotal experience walking around Hamilton, I am continually shocked by the looming presence of huge trucks inches away from the narrow ribbons of sidewalk the city has reluctantly carved out for walking. Giant truck tires roll right over the curb when turning from Main Street onto James Street South. Trucks turning onto Cannon Street cut deep into the cycle track. Trucks block crosswalks when stopping reluctantly at red lights. Frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t more collisions and fatalities.

When Council approved the contentious Red Hill Valley Parkway and completed the continuous ring highway around the city, downtown residents were told it would take the transport trucks off downtown streets. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

With the tenth anniversary of the Truck Master Plan looming, Council has decided to undertake an 18-month review and has established a sub-committee to engage in public consultation. This is a vital opportunity to address the missed opportunities from 2010 and rebalance our transportation system to make human life and health the top priority.

Herman Ohrt’s grieving family members are paying close attention. They attended the Truck Route sub-committee meeting on Tuesday, March 26 to advocate for safer streets. Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson called on staff to clarify the terms of reference for the truck route study to put health and safety upfront.

The exercise got a surprise boost from Ron Foxcroft, CEO of Fluke Transport, a Hamilton-based trucking company, who wrote a letter to the Hamilton Spectator stating, “It is now time to take transport trucks away from downtown, away from Cannon Street, and away from the Queen-King Street right turn.”

A community group called Truck Route Reboot is organizing to ensure that the Truck Route review takes shortcutting transports off city streets. As they write, “Let’s tell the city that it is time for them to stop industrial trucks from shortcutting through our urban neighbourhoods. Other major cities in Ontario don’t allow gigantic industrial trucks to rumble through residential neighbourhoods and past elementary schools. Neither should we. Our families deserve safe, livable streets and clean air.”

You can follow the group on Twitter and Facebook under the name TruckRebootHam.

First published in Hamilton Magazine, Spring 2019 issue.