tag:quandyfactory.com,2024-4-9:/202449 2024-4-9T12:00:00Z Quandy Factory Newsfeed - Essays Quandy Factory is the personal website of Ryan McGreal in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.. http://quandyfactory.com/essays/72/hamilton_next:_good_ideas_come_from_urban_focus 2015-03-23T12:00:00Z HAMILTON NEXT: Good ideas come from urban focus <p>Hamilton is a city, not a bedroom community - a real destination for commuters and an important engine of economic development. Seventy per cent of Hamiltonians work in Hamilton, not Toronto or Mississauga. Another 38,000 people commute into the city from a region spanning Niagara, Haldimand-Norfolk and Halton.</p> <p>A recent study by the Centre for Community Study found that 23,400 people work in the downtown core, earning salaries well above the city and provincial averages. Downtown is already the city's single biggest employment cluster and still has plenty of room to grow.</p> <p>While our decision makers pin their hopes on "shovel-ready" suburban greenfields, everything we have learned from the study of economic development points to downtown as the place we need to focus for a more prosperous future.</p> <p>Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, explains that innovation emerges from a dense network of connections that provides a context for invention. He describes how new ideas are cobbled together using available parts and concludes, "Chance favours the connected mind."</p> <p>The environment Johnson is describing is an urban environment. Put simply, cities are the places where people cross paths and exchange ideas, and where "half-formed hunches" can combine into innovations that produce wealth.</p> <p>When we live and work in urban, mixed-use environments, two important things happen: the per-person cost of public infrastructure goes down, while the rate of innovation speeds up.</p> <p>It's a two-for-one productivity boost, and it's due to the distinctly urban economies of density, scale and association.</p> <p>Density brings destinations together, reducing travel costs and making activities more affordable. Scale gives us bigger markets so the fixed cost of production goes down per unit of output. Density and scale bring people into frequent contact, and that association gives us the networks of "connected minds" that result in an innovation boom.</p> <p>For these reasons, Hamilton must make urban revitalization its number one growth priority. The alternative of continued suburban development doesn't generate enough revenue to pay for the infrastructure that is needed to service it.</p> <p>Each new subdivision actually increases the city's net liabilities. And as the urban boundary expands, more distant suburbs are even more expensive to service.</p> <p>Council just voted to increase development charges by 2013, but the city will still charge only 60 per cent of what it is allowed to collect - even 100 per cent would not actually cover the full cost of development.</p> <p>We have been running this pyramid scheme for decades, paying for yesterday's expansion with tomorrow's. As a result, our existing infrastructure idles while we spend money we don't have to build more infrastructure that can't pay for itself.</p> <p>Our regulatory system reinforces this focus on sprawl at the expense of urban investment. The Zoning By-Law encourages low density, single-use development while actively obstructing adaptive reuse and intensification.</p> <p>Even a modest infill project can face hundreds of thousands of dollars in fees for building permits, setback variances, cash-in-lieu-of-parkland (that can only be used to build new parks in the suburbs), mandatory parking requirements, zoning variances for any use not explicitly listed in the zoning for that building, and development charges - even though the infrastructure the building will use is already built.</p> <p>The new Official Plan fixes some of these issues, but it will be mired in Ontario Municipal Board appeals for years. Meanwhile, the city continues to suffocate slowly under the current rules.</p> <p>We can move faster with an investment-friendly secondary plan (particularly along our east-west B-Line corridor) that establishes a dense urban form primed for mixed use. City staff are already working with businesses downtown on an intensification study that will address the major barriers to reinvestment.</p> <p>We must also commit to building the proposed east-west light rail transit line. The evidence is clear: LRT anchors new private investment and intensifies land use, increasing tax assessments and infrastructure productivity. It attracts residents and signals a city's long-term commitment to the area, which gives developers the confidence to invest.</p> <p>City staff have prepared a detailed inventory of development opportunities along the LRT corridor and the potential is staggering. If Hamilton's LRT performs similarly to other cities, we could see a billion dollars in new investments and tens of millions a year in new tax assessments.</p> <p>The province has said if it approves LRT, it will cover 100 per cent of the direct capital cost. The city will have to contribute some money - the amount is still being negotiated - but the cost of not building LRT is a steady erosion in our finances as the city's unfunded infrastructure liabilities get worse and worse.</p> <p>An urban focus doesn't mean an end to our suburbs. Rather, it means we need an economic engine that generates enough wealth to pay for those suburbs. As Indianapolis Mayor Bill Hudnut famously said, "You can't be a suburb of nothing."</p> <p><em>This essay was published in the Hamilton Spectator on <a href="http://www.thespec.com/opinion/columns/article/565673--hamilton-next-good-ideas-come-from-urban-focus">Wednesday, July 20, 2011</a>.</em></p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/76/light_rail_delivers_investment 2010-11-24T12:00:00Z Light rail delivers investment <p>As the public debate over light rail transit (LRT) in Hamilton heats up, I've noticed a big conceptual difference between people who support the initiative and those who oppose it.</p> <p>The common sentiment running through opponents is: Why would we spend more than necessary to provide rapid transit? LRT costs three times as much as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) to build but won't provide three-times-better transit service.</p> <p>If moving people were the only - or even the main - objective of a rapid transit system, I would agree completely. I'm as eager as anyone to hold the line on my property tax bill.</p> <p>The thing is, LRT is only incidentally about moving people around. Its more ambitious purpose is to transform the city's relationship between land use and transportation.</p> <p>LRT doesn't just get people from here to there and leave everything else static. It provides an anchor around which Hamilton can attract billions of dollars in new private investment - investment into dense, mixed urban uses that make downtown more valuable.</p> <p>Hamilton is currently stuck in automobile-path dependence. We design our neighbourhoods around the car, which pushes destinations far apart and makes car ownership necessary. High car ownership, in turn, increases pressure to design our neighbourhoods around the car.</p> <p>LRT breaks us out of that path dependence. Designing neighbourhoods around rapid transit brings many destinations close together and reduces the need to drive everywhere. A family with two cars can give one of them up. A family with one car can leave it at home more often and experience city living at its best.</p> <p>It's easy to dismiss this as pie-in-the-sky optimism, but we have hard numbers from cities across North America and around the world proving that LRT really does attract the investment Hamilton needs.</p> <p>When a city builds LRT and streamlines the regulatory investment process inside the area planners call the "transit-oriented development corridor" - a walkable stretch of land about half a kilometre to either side of the line - the return on investment is impressive.</p> <p>For every dollar the city invests in building LRT, developers invest up to $10. That translates into real, sustained growth in the city's property tax base, and on a building form that makes the most efficient use of public infrastructure - unlike low-density sprawl, which requires kilometres of new roads, water and sewer lines.</p> <p>Metrolinx, the provincial body co-ordinating rapid transit investment across the GTA and Hamilton, recognizes this. In its Benefits Case Analysis for Hamilton's east-west B-Line, Metrolinx highlighted the value of LRT in increasing investment and boosting economic development.</p> <p>BRT, in contrast, attracts only minimal private sector investment. While some people argue that LRT is fixed and therefore inflexible, this is actually a strength. It tells developers the city is committed to a long-term investment in urban revitalization.</p> <p>BRT is just too easy to reroute, reschedule or cancel. At its most full-featured, it's not much cheaper than LRT to build, but has higher per-passenger operating costs. In both cases, it leaves developers unimpressed.</p> <p>Len Brandup, the transportation director for Kenosha, Wis., put it best: "Streetcars have sex appeal. It resonates with folks. ... Developers don't write cheques for buses."</p> <p>This helps to explain why the Realtors' Association of Hamilton-Burlington heartily endorsed LRT. As the association stated: "We believe that light rail is one of the best ways to achieve ... revitalization of the downtown core, intensification along main corridors, increased economic development and broadening of the tax base."</p> <p>As residents, commercial businesses and employers start to cluster around the LRT network, downtown Hamilton starts to transform from a hollowed-out, underinvested pass-through for suburban drivers into a real centre that attracts both investment and people, and generates steadily rising property tax assessments.</p> <p>Clustering matters. The innovations that will drive tomorrow's economy will grow out of dense networks of well-connected researchers, developers, entrepreneurs and investors sharing and cross-fertilizing ideas. By promoting high-quality density, LRT will help set Hamilton up as a future economic growth node.</p> <p>Similarly, decades of economic research tells us young, small businesses disproportionately generate tomorrow's jobs - the kinds of businesses created by people seeking the high-quality density that LRT promotes.</p> <p>Hamilton needs LRT. For too long we have been a city without a centre, and the result is expensive, distributed infrastructure costs carried disproportionately by residential taxpayers.</p> <p>Even if you never come downtown and have no intention of ever setting foot on LRT, you should still support light rail in Hamilton - if only because a lively, economically healthy downtown means less pressure on your property tax bill.</p> <p>And who knows: After a few years of watching the core spring back to life, you might even decide to come down and find out what all the excitement is about.</p> <p><em>Originally published in the <cite>Hamilton Spectator</cite> on <a href="http://www.thespec.com/opinion/article/278661--light-rail-delivers-investment">November 24, 2010</a></em></p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/45/lost_opportunities_can_tell_us_much 2010-02-22T12:00:00Z Lost opportunities can tell us much <p><em>Published on February 19, 2010 in the <a href="http://thespec.com/article/724403">Hamilton Spectator</a></em></p> <p>Recent quotes from business owners on the rapid transit choices facing Hamilton add up to a dispiriting - but perhaps inevitable - lack of imagination and understanding.</p> <p>At issue are the three options in the Metrolinx Business Case Analysis for the east-west route:</p> <ul> <li><p>Full Light Rail Transit (LRT) from McMaster University to Eastgate Square</p></li> <li><p>Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) from McMaster to Eastgate</p></li> <li><p>Phased LRT from McMaster to Ottawa Street, with BRT from Ottawa to Eastgate until LRT is built in 2030. [*]</p></li> </ul> <p>Hamilton needs transformative change. Incrementing the status quo has not served us well - particularly the city's poorest neighbourhoods.</p> <p>LRT doesn't just carry more people more quickly. It attracts hundreds of millions of dollars in new investment and draws many more people to live and work in the area, frequent its businesses, generate demand for new businesses, and interact creatively and productively.</p> <p>Higher-order urban activity raises infrastructure productivity and boosts the rate of creative economic output. When cities intensify, energy and infrastructure costs grow more slowly than population, but the rate of innovation grows more quickly.</p> <p>That adds up to more of the net economic growth and employment opportunities that Hamilton desperately needs.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the business owners quoted lately seem to think LRT is merely about moving people around. I wish someone would organize a fact-finding trip with these business owners to the King-Spadina area in Toronto.</p> <p>Once a manufacturing centre, King-Spadina was a mess of empty factories and warehouses in the 1990s, when a group of visionary urbanists came together to develop a new plan for the district.</p> <p>Through a combination of planning rules that encourage mixed-use investment and an anchoring streetcar line, King-Spadina has experienced an impressive influx of new condominium developments, offices and entertainment businesses created through both adaptive reuse and new construction.</p> <p>When the plan was unveiled, skeptics scoffed. "How will people get there?" they sneered. The answer, of course, is that people moved there in droves.</p> <p>In just a 45-hectare area, King-Spadina attracted $55.6 million in new investment between 2000 and 2007, creating 700 new jobs and 230,000 square feet of property.</p> <p>The population has quadrupled since 1996, and the biggest cohort has been young professionals looking for an urban lifestyle close to employment and social amenities.</p> <p>One would be forgiven for assuming business owners would be head-over-heels about such an opportunity coming to Hamilton.</p> <p>Surprisingly, business owners may not be the best people to talk to when determining whether and how to transform a neighbourhood. When the economic system is failing most people, does it really make sense to base planning decisions around the few who manage to survive?</p> <p>The risk of owning a business and the fact that the current system works for them makes such business owners inherently risk-averse. Transformation may well bring huge benefits - particularly for property owners who will enjoy the windfall of rising property values - but it also means that the rules for success change.</p> <p>The business strategies that work in a poor, failing economic and social environment might not transfer to a booming, thriving environment.</p> <p>As a result, business owners feel they have a lot to lose.</p> <p>Compound the fact that many owners don't actually seem to understand that LRT is qualitatively different from buses, and it's a recipe for fear and doubt.</p> <p>But for every business owner worried that LRT might adversely affect their business, how many potential businesses locate elsewhere or simply never start up at all? How many potential customers never materialize because they chose to live elsewhere?</p> <p>In the case of a transformative initiative like LRT, there's a real danger that survivorship bias will lead us horribly astray.</p> <p>Survivorship bias is the error of studying only entities that survived some kind of selection process, and ignoring those entities that did not survive.</p> <p>Business writer Jason Cohen shares the anecdote of British engineers during the Second World War trying to determine how best to armour planes undertaking aerial raids in Germany.</p> <p>Studying the patterns of bullet holes on planes that returned from aerial raids, they noticed that the holes were mainly on the wings and tail, with few near the cockpits or fuel tanks.</p> <p>Survivorship bias means concluding that the planes need more armour on the wings and tail because that's where the returning planes have the most bullet holes.</p> <p>Of course, the planes that were hit in the cockpits and fuel lines were not available for study.</p> <p>The business owners along the B-Line are survivors of the economic battle downtown Hamilton has suffered over the past half-century.</p> <p>How many businesses were "shot down" because of Hamilton's low-quality transit, low population densities and pedestrian-repellent one-way streets?</p> <p>Who will speak for those failed businesses and lost opportunities? How can we incorporate them into our public discourse so the survivorship bias of existing businesses doesn't lead us astray?</p> <hr /> <p>* Note: under the phased approach, the route east from Ottawa Street would be served by the current BRT-like B-Line service, not by BRT on dedicated lanes.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/42/10_tough_questions_with_raise_the_hammers_ryan_mcgreal 2009-11-10T12:00:00Z 10 Tough Questions with Raise the Hammer's Ryan McGreal <p><em>This piece was originally published on <a href="http://www.thehamiltonian.net/2009/11/10-tough-questions-with-raise-hammers.html">The Hamiltonian</a></em></p> <p>Ryan McGreal has been a pioneer of sorts in promoting the use of social media in Hamilton. His successful blog, Raise the Hammer, has become a staple for helpful discourse in moving our city forward. When I first started The Hamiltonian, Ryan was one of the first to provide words of encouragement and support as well as tips on blog do's and don'ts. He's a class act! It is with great pleasure that I introduce him as a guest on 10 Tough Questions. Ryan has elected to answer all 11 questions posed to him. Enjoy! Comments encouraged.</p> <p>Ryan adds, "RTH is a collaborative exercise among a large group of volunteers, from the core writers to a larger group of occasional contributors to the many readers and commenters who make the site worth visiting. I'm proud of RTH but I can't by any means take full credit for it."</p> <p><strong>1. Raise the Hammer has certainly earned respect from bloggers and citizens. Have you achieved what you set out to do with the blog? What are the future directions of the blog?</strong></p> <p>Our original mandate was to encourage more public discussion around what we regarded as distinctly urban issues of downtown revitalization, sustainable development, land use and transportation, and so on in a city that has suffered several decades of suburban sprawl and a corresponding hollowing-out of the core.</p> <p>Cities are engines of economic development and productivity growth,but Hamilton's engine has long been stalled by its low population densities, poor transportation connectivity, and unsustainable growth model based on low-value, single-use residential development.</p> <p>We certainly haven't achieved our objective of transforming the public discourse, but I think many issues near to our hearts have moved from the fringes onto the front pages and we can take some credit for expanding the bounds of the mainstream discourse.</p> <p>It also helps that recent history is fast catching up with us. It became a lot harder, for example, to dismiss peak oil theory after the summer of 2008, when a super-spike in oil prices squeezed family budgets and triggered a sharp, deep recession. The utility of endless sprawl comes into question when you see pictures of exurban subdivisions full of abandoned houses.</p> <p>As for our future direction, it is becoming increasingly clear to me that RTH needs to move beyond a traditional news model to become a real platform for civic participation - a way for Hamiltonians to organize around important issues and start making a real difference. I've read too many comments over the years saying variations on, "This is awful! What can we do about it?" That's my next goal: to provide tools that make it easier for concerned citizens to get together and do something rather than just reading in frustrated isolation.</p> <p><strong>2. What was the most memorable interview, or dialogue that occurred on Raise the Hammer. Why have you selected this incident?</strong></p> <p>I would have to go with the recent "Mad Connaught" phenomenon. RTH's Jason Leach broke the news that the city had selected the Royal Connaught as the top choice to redevelop with public funds via the Canada-Ontario Affordable Housing Program, and all hell broke loose. A series of articles and blog entries over the next couple of weeks drew a remarkable discussion involving hundreds of comments - nearly all of it civil and respectful.</p> <p>A few themes emerged from the discussion that are worth teasing out because they exemplify what we're trying to do at RTH:</p> <ul> <li><p>There was a strong, palpable sense of outrage at how the decision was made, coupled with a deep mistrust that council and the developers actually have the best interest of the downtown at heart and will ensure that the development is done properly. The promises of economic revitalization, real mixed income housing, a future grocery store, and so on were met with extreme skepticism.</p></li> <li><p>The emerging story was extensively crowd-sourced, in that readers provided a lot of the information that contributed to the emerging story, including the serious questions about Council's process (e.g. the decision made in camera), the dubious legal information they acted upon, and so on. Some of the information was first reported in other local news media, but the platform on RTH allowed all the pieces to come together and be considered in a larger context. (Aside: It continues to amaze me that so many newspapers don't interlink their vast archives. Each article exists in its own little void, with no connection to other related articles. The result is an atomized, ahistorical set of data points - there's no easy way to form a bigger, more coherent picture of events by referring to reports in the context of other, related reports. It says a lot about the corporate structure of newspapers that they can't manage to implement something as basic as hyperlinks on their websites.)</p></li> <li><p>Readers were determined to do something about the issue rather than merely grumble. They used the site not only as a news source but also as a platform for democratic participation - a medium through which to organize, plan and carry out civic advocacy and action around the Connaught issue. For me, the exercise sharply revealed the limits of the current comment system and suggested a future course of extending RTH into a real platform for organizing around issues.</p></li> </ul> <p><strong>3. How important would you say blogs and other social media are to Hamilton politics? Do you believe that our elected officials are up to date with how social media is fast becoming an invaluable vehicle for discourse?</strong></p> <p>There are really two parallel discourses happening in this city: a primary discourse among what we might call the political and economic elites who effectively decide the course of the city; and a secondary discourse among engaged citizens trying to effect change from outside the circle.</p> <p>Much of the primary discourse takes place behind closed doors and among interested parties. Those of us on the outside are in the position of having to interpolate a lot of what goes on through a cumbersome, time-intensive effort of trying to reverse-engineer political decisions that defy the city's own stated goals and mandates.</p> <p>Raise the Hammer is part of the secondary discourse, trying to influence the primary discourse through the power of evidence-based arguments and popular support. In this context, I see our mandate to be twofold: to help increase the size, participation and quality of the secondary discourse; and to find ways to link the two discourses together so that citizens actually become a significant factor in making political decisions.</p> <p>The electronic media format allows us to leverage our very limited resources far more effectively than if we had to compete for attention via a newspaper or broadcasting station. Our capital costs were nil, our operating costs are around $20 a month, and the writing is entirely volunteer-based. On that last point, people are willing to write for free because they know someone isn't exploiting their contributions to make money.</p> <p>It also means we can write what we want, since we're not tied to any interests. Because they're beholden to their advertisers, the mainstream media are desperate to sell as many eyeballs as they can. That means they have to dig up controversy: a restaurant owner who believes a light rail transit stop outside his store will be bad for business; a sports team owner musing about moving the stadium to Aldershot; and so on.</p> <p>In what are supposed to be straight news stories, the paper is stuck emphasizing the most controversial aspects to provoke an emotional response. This kind of trolling for outrage cheapens the debate and sidetracks what ought to be evidence-based arguments. The city ends up making decisions based on fear rather than on good information and a sound understanding of the issues.</p> <p>In terms of our impact on the city, I'd say we've had a few successes here and there. In one memorable case, we managed to change Councillor Terry Whitehead's mind about converting our downtown one-way expressways back to two-way. We got his attention through a satirical campaign to convert the West Mountain thoroughfares to one-way, and that turned into a public discussion in which we presented Whitehead with arguments about livability and recent peer reviewed studies finding that one-way streets are far more dangerous - especially for children.</p> <p>To his great credit, he was willing to listen to evidence and to change his mind in the face of new information. I would argue that most councillors are fundamentally reasonable. The trick is to expand the discourse so that Council has the opportunity to hear a wider range of arguments and to see public support for change so that they have an easier time stepping outside the status quo.</p> <p><strong>4. How far away do you think we are from Light Rail and how critical do you think it is to our success as a city?</strong></p> <p>We're very close now, but ultimately it comes down to: a) whether Metrolinx, the provincial body coordinating rapid transit across the GTA+Hamilton, decides that light rail is the right choice for Hamilton (I am quite confident that they will make this conclusion); and b) where the Hamilton LRT fits into the provincial priority list. Because Metrolinx doesn't have long-term funding in place beyond its initial provincial-federal capital commitment, light rail delayed might well mean light rail denied.</p> <p>The successful Pan Am Games bid seems to work in our favour. Hamilton will need more high quality transit than it currently has, and the event will be a great way to showcase the province's success at building valuable public infrastructure. The 2015 deadline is ambitious but achievable, and can serve to focus the city's and the province's energies to get the line built in a timely fashion.</p> <p>As for how critical it is, we <em>need</em> high quality transit in Hamilton. It's essential for the city to achieve the urban economies of density, diversity, and scale that generate value and wealth. Hamilton absolutely cannot become a great city with a transit system running on buses.</p> <p><strong>5. Would you agree that efficient and affordable transit in Hamilton is crucial to all, but more so to those who cannot afford, or are unable to use alternates? How can we address this?</strong></p> <p>No. Transit is a public good, meaning everyone benefits from it whether or not they use it personally. It's like education: when you live in an economy that educates everyone, you benefit even if you don't have children yourself, because an educated workforce is tremendously more productive than an uneducated workforce. For example, if you're a business owner, universal public education is worth the higher taxes you pay because you benefit from more productive employees and wealthier customers.</p> <p>Transit is analogous, in that it boosts the productivity of society as a whole when people and goods can move around more quickly and effectively. However, like public education, some of the benefits of transit are external to the people who use it - if I'm driving, I benefit when more people use transit because I have less traffic to contend with (and the air is cleaner).</p> <p>Because transit is what economists call a positive externality, people tend to under-invest in it personally and everyone ends up worse off, spending more money on cars to sit in traffic and breathe polluted air that causes heart disease. When jurisdictions invest in high quality public transit - fast, convenient, well-connected - the economic growth that results more than offsets the higher cost of providing it.</p> <p>The GTA+Hamilton has done a poor job of building a high quality transit system, and our sluggish economic growth reflects this. Just last week, the OECD released an economic study of the Greater Toronto Area and one of their major conclusions was that the region's poor transit connectivity is a major drag on productivity growth. We lose billions of dollars a year in productivity because people and goods are stuck in traffic instead of cruising along on high speed rail.</p> <p>It gets worse: because everyone has to drive everywhere, we squander enormous amounts of land on lanes and parking, which further push destinations apart and require still more driving. At the same time, we lose out on economies of density and scale, as well as the innovation that comes from bringing productive people into close contact with each other.</p> <p><strong>6. Amongst our locally elected municipal politicians, who (you can choose more than one), would you say are the most attuned to the criticality of Light Rail, bicycle lanes, pedestrian walkways and the like?</strong></p> <p>Among all the councillors, the only one who really seems to have a deep grasp of how cities work is Brian McHattie (Ward 1, West Hamilton). He has a background in urban planning, and it shows in his keen understanding of how issues connect, his shrewd questions and requests to staff, and the balance he manages to achieve between close attentiveness to ward issues and a sustained focus on the bigger picture. (Disclosure: McHattie is my ward Councillor, and I campaigned on his behalf for re-election in 2006.)</p> <p>His detractors often accuse him of being "left-wing" - a catch-all pejorative in this city - but that doesn't make much sense to me. The policy proposals he supports and endorses are the very things that economically successful, business-friendly cities are already doing. Is it "left-wing" to support high quality transit when the Chamber of Commerce also supports it?</p> <p><strong>7. What must Hamilton do to move from being on the 'cusps of greatness', to being on the road to greatness?</strong></p> <p>Hamilton needs to stop thinking of itself as a big suburb and start thinking of itself as a <em>city</em>. That entails getting the city's political and business leaders to understand how cities work - economically, socially, politically - and prioritizing the kinds of public investments that support urban development. We need to:</p> <ul> <li><p>Stop subsidizing sprawl, which produces little value and actually costs the city money to provide public facilities to low-density subdivisions.</p></li> <li><p>Removing unreasonable regulatory and financial barriers to urban investment (like the ridiculous cash-in-lieu-of-parklands charge for infill development).</p></li> <li><p>Establish simple, clear, form-based building standards and enforce them consistently. (Toronto's King-Spadina Secondary Plan is a great model to follow.)</p></li> <li><p>Expand the downtown residential loan program to provide bridge financing for brownfields remediation.</p></li> <li><p>Establish a firm urban boundary so that cheap rezoned farmland stops artificially undercutting infill development.</p></li> <li><p>De-politicize the approvals process (right now, too much city business is conducted in backrooms in a conflict-of-interest haze of entanglements).</p></li> <li><p>Ensure that high quality public services like transit support economic growth (e.g. through zoning for transit oriented development).</p></li> <li><p>Work closely with our university and college to encourage better co-operation with industry and new business development in Hamilton. (McMaster Innovation Park is a step in the right direction.)</p></li> </ul> <p>One further note in this regard: young creative professionals coming out of school don't want to live in the suburbs the way their parents did. They want to live in cities. At the same time, aging Baby Boomers are starting to return to cities so they have closer access to civic amenities and high quality health care. If they can't find what they're looking for in Hamilton, they will go elsewhere. Hamilton stands to gain - or lose - both the most creative and the wealthiest cohorts in the Canadian economy.</p> <p><strong>8. If you had the undivided attention of every Hamiltonian for 5 minutes, what message would you want them to hear?</strong></p> <p>Let's be honest: the status quo isn't working. I know change can be scary, but we need to stop reacting in knee-jerk fashion to new ideas and start forming our opinions based on real evidence. Hamilton is not so different from other cities that we can't learn from their successes and failures - so enough with the tired excuse, "But that can't work HERE!" Instead, let's position ourselves for greatness by discovering what works and following best practices established in great cities around the world.</p> <p><strong>9. Do you think we can make the Pan Am games a huge success for our city, or do you have reservations. Please explain.</strong></p> <p>The city will lose money directly on the Pan Am Games - there's no way we will earn back in tourist revenue what we spend on facilities. The only way we can make the Games successful is if we invest strategically in facilities that will continue to generate value after the games are over.</p> <p>The stadium should be in an urban location with close integration to its surroundings and high quality transit connections so that it can spur neighbouring investments. A stadium in a suburban location surrounding by parking will generate no spinoff value for the city. (See, for example, "A Tale of Two Stadiums: Comparing the Economic Impact of Chicago's Wrigley Field and U.S. Cellular Field", by economists Victor Matheson, Robert Baade and Mimi Niklova.)</p> <p>Beyond that, the Games are an opportunity for the GTA+Hamilton to establish high quality transit - fast, frequent GO Train service connected to urban light rail - that will serve our economy for decades to come. That would indeed pay for itself many times over in productivity growth, urban intensification and improved quality of life.</p> <p><strong>10. How would you evaluate the present council? Have they been effective?</strong></p> <p>That's a big question, and it goes far beyond assessing how this or that councillor has performed. The problem is mainly structural, and a possibly intractable consequence of the forced amalgamation of Hamilton with its surrounding communities. We have a council split sharply between urban and suburban/rural representatives.</p> <p>Worse still, the number of councillors is wildly unbalanced by population; the half of council that represents the urban wards represents one and a half times as many residents as the half of council that represents suburban/rural wards.We saw this in the recent vote to increase transit fares: seven urban councillors representing around 300,000 people voted against it, and eight suburban councillors representing around 200,000 people voted for it. (The mayor broke for the suburban councillors.) The increase passed 9-7.</p> <p>Meanwhile, Hamilton is the only city in Ontario in which different wards pay different tax rates toward transit. For example, people in downtown Hamilton pay a transit tax rate five times as high as people in Ancaster. This area rating system costs the HSR $7-8 million in lost revenue a year, and results in minimal service for suburban residents, whose representatives are consequently reluctant to support increased funding since they don't see much direct benefit from it.</p> <p>A proposal is in the works to fix the area rating problem, but it has gotten caught up in the notion that any change should be strictly revenue-neutral - meaning that suburban transit tax rates would go up while urban transit tax rates go down. In other words, the proposal would further deepen the conflict between urban and suburban ratepayers without generating any new money for transit, and it would effectively force the HSR to redistribute its already inadequate resources across an even larger area!</p> <p>This is wildly dysfunctional, and it flies right in the face of the recent HSR operational review that Council received from IBI Consulting. The study concluded, "[A] paradigm shift [is] needed in City thinking and decision making to make transit a priority - recognition that transit and other City department goals are interdependent." Yet the structure of our municipal government all but ensures that such a paradigm shift cannot take place.</p> <p><strong>11. Upon reflection and consideration of other options, do you think we made the best decision when we opted to renovate the existing city hall? Please explain.</strong></p> <p>To be honest, much as I respect City Hall for its architectural significance, I rather like the idea of staying in the City Centre. The biggest benefit is strictly geographic: it forces city employees and councillors to walk around the downtown core and notice what's going on.</p> <p>Aside from that, I've been disappointed in Council's failure to show leadership in the renovations. At the same time that the emergency and community services committee was recommending that council mandate energy-efficient green roofs on new buildings, Council voted to drop a planned green roof from the City Hall renovation. Then Council voted to replace the marble facing with precast concrete to save a lousy $3 million over the cost of replacing the marble with limestone.</p> <p>In both cases, short term capital savings will result in long-term operating costs, in heating/cooling and necessary facade maintenance respectively (the concrete needs to be power-washed every couple of years to avoid staining, but Council has a poor track record on building maintenance, which is why the renovations are so expensive to begin with).</p> <p>Worse, when asked whether Council ignoring its own heritage regulations would reduce the city's moral authority to enforce such regulations on private owners, Councillor Ferguson approvingly agreed. ERA Architects, the city's heritage consultant, actually resigned in disgust over the City's disrespect for the most basic heritage considerations.</p> <p>Now we're supposed to feel grateful about an expected $2 million kickback to the developer because the project is coming in under budget.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/23/city_councillors_have_wrong-way_thinking_on_two-way_streets 2008-07-19T12:00:00Z City councillors have wrong-way thinking on two-way streets <p><em>Published in the _Hamilton Spectator_ on July 19, 2008</em></p> <p>In an appalling move, Hamilton council has choked on the downtown master plan, which the city has been developing since 2001 with careful study and extensive public consultation.</p> <p>At issue is the cost to convert several downtown streets to two-way. Some councillors still can't figure out why it's harmful to have an expressway running through one's neighbourhood. </p> <p>Councillor Terry Whitehead doesn't see how investing in two-way conversion will pay for itself in increased vitality. He says the conversion won't earn the city any money.</p> <p>The conceptual shift required to see streets as part of the essential public fabric of a community appears to be lost on them - despite the consistent message the city has been receiving from urban planners and architects for at least a decade. </p> <p>A 1997 downtown ideas charrette sponsored by Architecture Hamilton came out with one recommendation: If you do nothing else, convert downtown streets back to two-way right away.</p> <p>In 2001, the city started its downtown transportation master plan and began to look at the idea of street conversions. </p> <p>This led ultimately to the hugely successful two-way conversions of James Street North and John Street North, followed by the conversions of James Street South and John Street South.</p> <p>It spurred the city to look more seriously at converting other streets as well. The master plan recommends converting York, Wilson, Park, MacNab, Hughson, Hess, King William and Rebecca.</p> <p>Donald Schmitt, the architect designing McMaster Innovation Park, said in 2005 that the city should convert its streets to two-way "overnight."</p> <p>He later explained: "Two-way streets slow cars down. The environment on the sidewalk, particularly if (streets) are widened with parallel parking and street trees, becomes more protected from traffic and more conducive to window shopping ... and sidewalk life."</p> <p>Councillor Whitehead, there's your return on investment.</p> <p>Councillor Brad Clark says more research is required to determine whether the James and John conversions have been successful. </p> <p>This is just mind-boggling. After seeing the transformation on James, Chamber of Commerce CEO John Dolbec acknowledged in 2006 that he was wrong to be "skeptical" about the plan. </p> <p>Mayor Fred Eisenberger says the conversion "invigorated the businesses and offered a new view on what downtown looks like."</p> <p>Former regional chair Terry Cooke laid the case bare in a February Spectator column: "Hamilton council should summon the political courage to simply eliminate our anachronistic system of one-way streets ... </p> <p>"It's time to abandon an idea of the 1950s that serves only as a deterrent to restoring livable neighbourhoods in the heart of Hamilton."</p> <p>Bravo to Councillor Bob Bratina, who decried the double standard that sacrifices downtown neighbourhoods on the altar of expedience. Calling downtown's one-way street system a "freeway," Bratina rhetorically suggested, "Let's make Upper James one way."</p> <p>Why are downtown neighbourhoods uniquely expendable patches of the city fabric? With high-speed motorists mowing down pedestrians on an excruciatingly regular basis, can there be any question over what to do?</p> <p>In 2008, why are we even still having this debate? Council has no excuse to remain so ignorant of the basic facts of street safety and vitality after all the evidence over the past decade.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/22/rapid_transit_study_misses_big_picture 2008-04-16T12:00:00Z Rapid transit study misses big picture <p><em>Published in the _Hamilton Spectator_ on April 16, 2008</em></p> <p>Last year, Hamilton's Transportation Master Plan recommended bus rapid transit (BRT) along three "higher order" transit routes: McMaster-Eastgate, James- Upper James, and east-west across the Mountain.</p> <p>Then in June, the Ontario government announced $17 billion in capital funding for transit projects across the GTA, including $300 million for two rapid-transit lines in Hamilton.</p> <p>Suddenly light-rail transit (LRT) became a viable option. The Liberals even campaigned here on a promise of "two light rail lines across Hamilton."</p> <p>This January, Hamilton's public works department hired a consultant to prepare a Rapid Transit Feasibility Study comparing BRT and LRT to sketch out the respective opportunities and challenges.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the study suffers from glaring information gaps that obscure the advantages of LRT.</p> <p>First, the study is biased against LRT by forcing it onto routes that were chosen for buses.</p> <p>Consider the A-Line, which would run from the waterfront along James Street, up James Mountain Road to West 5th at Mohawk College, then over to Upper James and out to the airport.</p> <p>Due to the steep grade on James Mountain Road, the only way to run an LRT here would be to construct two 1.5-kilometre tunnels up the escarpment, boosting the cost by hundreds of millions of dollars.</p> <p>That's ridiculous. Why shoehorn LRT up James Mountain Road when it could travel on the Claremont Access instead? The "tunnel" is nothing but a red herring.</p> <p>Next, the study compares operating costs per revenue-hour per vehicle, claiming $80 for BRT and $175 for LRT.</p> <p>Comparing costs per vehicle just doesn't make sense. Since each LRT vehicle can carry three times as many people as a bus, the operating cost per passenger would actually be about 27 per cent cheaper.</p> <p>Most disturbing, however, is the total absence of any economic development analysis.</p> <p>The study acknowledges that rapid transit systems are "drivers of economic development, revitalization and assessment growth," but provides no comparative data.</p> <p>Instead it makes the wishy-washy claim, "LRT is often thought of as ... being able to provide greater economic spinoffs than BRT."</p> <p>The absence of actual results in the report is not due to a lack of quantitative data. Transit-oriented development is a hot subject among planners and economists, and the evidence is clear: LRT attracts far more economic development than BRT. There's really no contest.</p> <p>It's important to understand just what attracts developers to LRT. First, it's fast, comfortable, convenient and "sexy." People who would never ride a bus will happily choose to ride a sleek, modern tram.</p> <p>Overall, LRT is much better at attracting new riders. New lines regularly exceed ridership growth projections.</p> <p>Last year, the United States experienced its highest transit ridership in 50 years, and the highest growth rate was in LRT.</p> <p>Because it attracts more -- and more affluent -- riders, LRT also attracts more interest from developers, particularly in higher- density, mixed-use projects that combine residential, commercial and office space.</p> <p>LRT commits the city to a permanent, long-term capital investment based on access to the line. Coupled with strong ridership growth, this permanence lowers the risk for developers.</p> <p>A review of 22 major studies in 11 cities over the past two decades found, "commercial and residential property values generally rise the closer they are to light rail stations."</p> <p>Portland, Ore., is the gold standard in LRT return on investment. The 7.7-kilometre Portland Streetcar, completed in 2001 (and increased to 9.7 kilometres in 2005), single-handedly attracted $2.3 billion US in new development to an area of disused brownfields around the line.</p> <p>But with all the focus on Portland, it's easy to forget the many other cities also enjoying LRT's benefits.</p> <p>Last November, Charlotte, N.C., opened the LYNX Blue Line, a 15.4-kilometre LRT that has already brought the Charlotte Area Transit System its highest ridership in decades. Ridership on the Blue Line was projected at 9,100 passengers per week, but actual weekly ridership last month was more than 14,000.</p> <p>With the success of the Blue Line, Charlotte is already planning several additions, including a 17.7-kilometre line due to open in 2013, and a 16-kilometre line proposed for completion in 2018.</p> <p>The Blue Line has also attracted $400 million in new investments, with another $1.4 billion planned between now and 2011.</p> <p>LRT in Norfolk, Va., has generated more than $220 million in planned office, retail, apartment and hotel development downtown -- and they haven't started building it yet. Developers are calling the 12-kilometre LRT line a "key part" in their decision to invest.</p> <p>This pattern is the rule, not the exception.</p> <p>According to the American Public Transportation Association, every dollar of public money invested in LRT attracts $6 in new private investment.</p> <p>For Hamilton, $300 million in LRT could mean $1.8 billion in new development and about $50 million in new tax revenue. With 0 per cent assessment growth projected for 2008, Hamilton needs this kind of economic development.</p> <p>At a stroke, LRT can help us reach our economic development goals, intensify our land use around our major corridors, meet our goal of doubling transit ridership, improve our quality of life and boost our image as a progressive city.</p> <p>The Rapid Transit Feasibility Study is an important contribution to the public discussion, but we need to move beyond its limited criteria to appreciate the full benefits of a modern transit system.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/21/time_for_a_change_of_consciousness 2008-04-02T12:00:00Z Time for a change of consciousness <p><em>Published in the _Hamilton Spectator_ on April 2, 2008</em></p> <p>David Suzuki once said, "Look in your garage. If there's an SUV in there, you can't tell me you give a damn about the environment."</p> <p>I've been mindful of Suzuki's statement since reading last Saturday's Earth Hour editorial in The Hamilton Spectator, which noted, "Changing our day-to-day behaviour is much more important than flicking a switch for an hour - and that's going to be much more difficult."</p> <p>I find myself wondering what lurks in the city's "garage."</p> <p>One of the most glaring hypocrisies is Hamilton's plan to expand the urban boundary and create "employment lands" around John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport.</p> <p>The original study recommended cultivating airport-centred development: logistics, warehousing, light industrial and assorted multipliers.</p> <p>John Kasarda, the University of North Carolina economist behind the airport-centred concept, calls "the three As: accessibility, accessibility, accessibility" the main driver of the new economy.</p> <p>In Hamilton, we're betting the house on the three As. According to our employment studies, nearly all the new jobs in Hamilton will be in airport-related industries around the airport.</p> <p>The idea looks great in a consultant's report, but the glowing studies mask some serious problems.</p> <p>Airport-related development depends on growth in air transport, but air transport is only cost effective as long as fuel remains abundant and cheap. This is changing as the global rate of oil production starts to decline. The price of oil has quintupled in less than a decade.</p> <p>In addition to consuming the most energy, air transport also produces the most greenhouse gas (GHG). All the beer-fridge replacements in the world won't matter if we nullify our carbon reductions by growing air traffic.</p> <p>To halt and eventually reverse global warming, the world needs to reduce its GHG production by 70 to 80 per cent.</p> <p>There is no way to achieve that target without dramatically reducing every source.</p> <p>Unfortunately, "Aerotropolis" has become a sacred cow - immune to criticism, exempt from evidence, beyond the reasoning that applies to other decisions.</p> <p>When Hamilton chose among various models of long-term development through the Growth-Related Integrated Development Strategy (GRIDS) process, every single option included the airport lands.</p> <p>Hamilton tried to expand the urban boundary without first conducting studies and public consultation on whether and by how much to do so. An Ontario Municipal Board settlement between the Ontario government/ Hamiltonians for Progressive Development and the city mandates that the studies and consultations must take place first.</p> <p>When Hemson Consulting presented an employment lands study to Hamilton council in early 2007, it did not consider the energy situation or climate change, and it defined "employment lands" as "what occurs in business parks."</p> <p>Not surprisingly, it concluded that all of Hamilton's employment growth will be business park employment - warehousing, logistics, light industrial manufacturing. Forget about jobs in offices, information technology, creative industries and skilled trades.</p> <p>After the city defined "employment lands" as large, single-storey industrial buildings exclusively, a followup study concluded that there are not enough brownfield sites to provide a significant share of the total need for employment lands.</p> <p>Even the community liaison committee appointed to facilitate the consultation process is stacked with people who support and, in some cases, stand to benefit directly from the boundary expansion.</p> <p>After the peak oil argument gained prominence, many aerotropolis defenders tried to distance themselves from the original justification, arguing that the employment doesn't need to be airport related. Of course, if it's not airport related, it doesn't need to be located near the airport.</p> <p>The Hemson and other studies argue that we need the large greenfield sites to accommodate large industrial business parks, but this just hides the same argument behind a layer of abstraction. If the employment isn't airport related, it doesn't need to take place in large industrial business parks.</p> <p>Another argument is that Hamilton is only following provincial mandates, which "require municipalities to protect the employment land base and ensure an adequate supply for the future."</p> <p>The province is largely a mirror that reflects our own values back at us. The urban boundary expansion may be "consistent" with the provincial plan, but only insofar as the province compromised to allow a minimum urban intensification rate of 40 per cent.</p> <p>Whether we "need" 2,800-3,800 acres around the airport depends on what questions we ask.</p> <p>The airport lands are an obvious answer to the question, "Where can we find large, contiguous blobs of undeveloped land to build industrial parks?"</p> <p>This obscures the deeper question we should be asking: "What kind of city do we want?"</p> <p>Do we really want low-skill, low-value jobs based on transportation modes that produce the most air pollution and greenhouse gases and are the most susceptible to energy instability?</p> <p>Other cities have decided instead that they want high-skill, high-value jobs in research, innovation, information technology, entrepreneurship and sustainable development.</p> <p>They've set firm urban boundaries and picked unused and underused urban lands as the optimal sites for the kinds of jobs they seek.</p> <p>They've reinvested in their urban centres, investing in pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, modern light rail transit, density, street life and the arts.</p> <p>Those cities are growing their economies, creating high-quality jobs, spurring new industries, growing their tax assessments and dramatically increasing their quality of life.</p> <p>They're reducing commuting distances, reducing car use, reducing energy consumption, reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and achieving economic success while doing it.</p> <p>As those cities become more and more desirable places to live, they attract more and more of the very bright, ambitious, creative people who are making their economic and cultural transformations happen.</p> <p>The Spectator editorial concluded, "Earth Hour is a worthwhile effort. It is a gesture, but one that aims to change consciousness - and if it does that even a little, it will be valuable."</p> <p>Are we prepared to "change consciousness" enough to recognize that our obsession with highways and airports is incompatible with our professed goal of a clean, healthy, vibrant city?</p> <h3>Follow-Up</h3> <p>On April 8, 2008, the <em>Spectator</em> <a href="http://thespec.com/article/351268">published a rebuttal</a> to this piece by Steve Howse. I also wrote a <a href="http://raisethehammer.org/blog/965/">follow-up</a> to respond to the points he made.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/20/downtown_is_for_living_not_driving 2007-03-30T12:00:00Z Downtown is for living, not driving <p><em>Published in the _Hamilton Spectator_ on March 30, 2007</em></p> <p>Every politician since Lloyd D. Jackson has promised downtown "renewal", but their efforts have generally made things worse, not better. This is because most "renewal" efforts have been attempts to compete with the suburbs on suburban terms.</p> <p>Suburbia means separation and speed. The suburbs promise privacy and quiet through aggressive segregation of uses. Houses, stores, and offices stay far apart from each other.</p> <p>Car ownership is essential to get anywhere, but cars gobble space. Stores recede behind big parking lots and streets grow ever wider to accommodate more cars going farther. Only cheap, abundant, unbounded land lets the suburbs keep expanding.</p> <p>If the suburbs mean separation and speed, downtown means density and diversity. Rather than making it easier to travel, a livable downtown brings many destinations together so less travelling is required.</p> <p>The mix of people trying to exchange goods, services, amenities, and housing in a single place means the only way to fit everything is to maximize the use of available land.</p> <p>In other words, downtown is the opposite of suburbia. Making downtown more like the suburbs is killing it.</p> <p>Donald Schmitt, the architect designing McMaster Innovation Park, puts it bluntly: "While Hamilton's downtown is a quick, easy place to navigate in a car, it's not healthy in other respects.</p> <p>"In an era when Canadian downtowns in Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto are bursting with vitality, Hamilton has too many abandoned buildings, too many narrow sidewalks, too few trees on the street."</p> <p>Separating the uses of downtown is like unscrambling an egg, but the postwar "renewal" megaprojects made a pretty good go of it by hiding destinations inside malls and plazas as if ashamed of their surroundings.</p> <p>Jackson Square was supposed to "cut away the rot of the Victorian age," as David Proulx wrote in the early '70s in Pardon My Lunch Bucket, replacing it with indoor space and elevated walkways. But the new buildings never functioned properly as urban places and continue to languish.</p> <p>Worse, we converted all the major streets to fast one-way traffic flows, rushing potential customers past downtown businesses. In a misguided effort to attract motorists downtown, we demolished entire city blocks to make room for parking lots, crowding out real destinations in the process.</p> <p>The block framed by Wilson, John Rebecca and Hughson streets, for example, has no buildings at all, only surface parking.</p> <p>Gradually, some councillors and city departments adopted the idea that downtown isn't the same as the suburbs and that suburban solutions only make things worse.</p> <p>Echoing Vision 2020, the city's growth strategy extols the value of dense, mixed neighbourhoods and livable streets at providing a high quality of life.</p> <p>With Mayor Fred Eisenberger's election, many urbanists heaved sighs of relief. It finally looked as though a real urban agenda might be on the table.</p> <p>Unfortunately, the encouraging language has not translated into a real conceptual shift. We accept urbanism in principle but are unwilling to apply it in practice.</p> <p>As The Spectator's Peter Van Harten reported on the 50th anniversary of the city's switch to one-way streets, Hamilton "had come to see that speeding traffic through the core and surrounding neighbourhoods did nothing to help them and, in fact, was hurting attempts to revive them."</p> <p>Yet the city's plan to convert more streets back to two-way drags over several years. Worse, at a recent city-organized workshop on creating walkable streets, officials of the public works department explained they won't convert Main Street at all - because it carries too many cars.</p> <p>The whole point of a vibrant downtown is that people don't have to drive as much.</p> <p>Cities like Portland, Ore., are proof that if you put roads on a diet and improve street life and transit, people will gladly move back downtown and drive less.</p> <p>Suburban thinking grips even people who should know better. The Downtown Hamilton BIA believes the best use of the south leg of King Street by Gore Park is to convert it to angled parking - as if downtown didn't already have among the cheapest parking rates in Canadian cities.</p> <p>How can an organization of businesses that needs to attract people downtown to survive be so ignorant about how cities work? Downtown can have attractive destinations or abundant parking, but it can't have both.</p> <p>We talk like urbanists but still can't give up the suburban values of separation and speed. Urban revitalization must still compete with suburban auto-mobility for mindshare among our leaders and planners.</p> <p>If we want downtown to thrive, we have to dispense with half-measures and embrace urbanism in practice as well as principle.</p> <p>People will return downtown once its streets are destinations in themselves, not merely routes to someplace else.</p> <h3>Why two-way streets work</h3> <ul> <li>Comfort: slow-moving traffic, plus curbside parking and street trees, creates a welcoming public space for pedestrians and lets cyclists share the road. </li> <li>Safety: The British Department of Transport found that the death rate for collisions with pedestrians rises from 5 per cent at 32 km/h to a devastating 85 per cent at 64 km/h, such as the "green wave" of traffic flowing through synchronized Main Street lights. </li> <li>Redundancy: Motorists can follow direct paths to micro-destinations downtown rather than preordained routes to macro-destinations (i.e. the other side of town).</li> </ul> <h3>Conversions compared</h3> <p>The two-way conversion of James and John North is a resounding success, despite the dire warnings of its opponents. </p> <p>Even John Dolbec, CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce and a two-way skeptic, acknowledged last September that James North's renaissance "seems to have started about the same time the city made James North into a two-way street" five years ago. </p> <p>In contrast, the city punted on the James/John South two-way conversion. Instead of making them proper two-way streets, the city tried to hang on to the existing one-way traffic pattern. </p> <p>Each street is three lanes in one direction and one lane in the other, and turning is restricted at many intersections. This results in bottlenecks because drivers aren't free to choose their routes the way they can in a proper grid. </p> <p>Two-way streets trade speed for choice. On James and John South, drivers gave away speed, but received few choices in return.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/19/no_two_ways_about_it 2005-11-21T12:00:00Z No two ways about it <p><em>Published in the _Hamilton Spectator_ on November 21, 2005</em></p> <p>The perennial Hamilton debate is in full swing as city workers convert James Street South from one way to two way. Angry motorists are already expressing outrage that they can no longer get through the city in mere minutes.</p> <p>The debate is primarily over the purpose of Hamilton's streets. A recent letter writer expressed one side of the debate succinctly.</p> <p>"As a lifelong Hamiltonian, I've seen my taxes spent on the Claremont Access, the Linc and now the Red Hill Expressway. All of these construction projects have had one thing in common - trying to aid the flow of motor vehicles."</p> <p>One-way supporters view a street primarily as a means of getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. Speed and convenience define the street.</p> <p>But the shopkeeper halfway down that street does not feel the same way, nor does the person living in the apartment above the shop, nor the families of children playing in the park across the street.</p> <p>The shopkeeper wants people walking in front of the store so some will walk in. The person living upstairs wants street life - chances to see and interact with others. The children want to be able to run and play.</p> <p>For these people, safety and proximity, not speed and convenience, define the street.</p> <p>In fact, those who support one-way streets have in mind a special kind of street, as revealed by the letter writer's juxtaposition of one-way streets, escarpment cuts, and Red Hill. </p> <p>In one form or another, these are all examples of expressways and not city streets.</p> <p>City streets exist to encourage connections: between shopkeepers and customers, between browsers and vendors, between residents and acquaintances and among the critical mass of strangers who, by keeping an eye on each other, keep each other honest and keep the street safe and friendly for everyone.</p> <p>City streets are crossroads, places where people literally cross paths and interact. Markets form at these crossroads, as vendors try to position themselves where the most people will see them.</p> <p>Shoppers come to those places because of the concentration of vendors. Workers come because of the many opportunities for employment. </p> <p>Artisans and craftspeople come to join and enrich the markets. Artists come to increase their chances of meeting customers, supporters, and benefactors. More people come to enjoy the artists' work.</p> <p>So it goes. Gradually, the built environment comes to reflect this constellation of uses, bringing homes, shops, manufactories, art centres and so on into close proximity.</p> <p>Some of the excess wealth generated by all this activity - by the synergies and economies of scale that trading produces - further enriches the public environment, encouraging more co-operation, sharing and mutual support.</p> <p>It's a classic virtuous cycle. All the myriad encounters and interactions that take place in city streets collectively add up to city life, city economy, and city culture.</p> <p>The logic of the expressway is exactly the opposite.</p> <p>Where city streets encourage connections, expressways seek to prevent them. A connection on an expressway is called a collision. Things tend to go badly for the people who make connections on expressways.</p> <p>Conventional expressways discourage connections through restricted access, multiple wide lanes, guardrails, and wide medians to separate opposing traffic flows. </p> <p>Urban expressways - one-way streets - achieve this in much the same way with timed lights, multiple wide lanes and city blocks in lieu of guardrails.</p> <p>By preventing connections, expressways prevent interactions, which are the very substance of city life. Urban expressways are breaks, discontinuities, tears in the fabric of city life. </p> <p>With each new tear, the city further disintegrates. Areas between the tears are isolated from their surroundings.</p> <p>Soon, they start to die.</p> <p>Consider Main Street. It's a dead zone, devoid of street life. After receiving a recent complaint that the strip in front of City Hall is dangerous and unpleasant for pedestrians, city planners actually considered placing barriers along the curb in an unconscious echo of the guardrails that barricade expressways. The planners have lost sight of what the city street is supposed to do.</p> <p>By contrast, James Street North is rapidly coming back to life. When it went two-way a couple of years ago, many people claimed it would be the street's death knell.</p> <p>The street would be congested and no one would go there.</p> <p>In fact, the reverse is happening. New galleries and shops, like Loose Cannon and Mixed Media, sprang to life and existing shops and restaurants receive new customers. Boarded-up buildings rejoin the street with reinvestment and new tenants.</p> <p>Walk down James North and you encounter people there, a welcome return after a long absence.</p> <p>Hamilton is proving remarkably resilient. We have inflicted terrible wounds on our city over the years but given a chance to heal, it recovers quickly.</p> <p>One-way streets are cuts that we reopen on a daily basis. The tissues around them scar and become necrotic. All we need to do is stop inflicting those wounds and the healing process will begin.</p> Ryan McGreal 2 http://quandyfactory.com/essays/17/plugging_the_leaks 2005-04-30T12:00:00Z Plugging the Leaks <p><em>This op-ed was published in the _Hamilton Spectator_ on April 30, 2005</em></p> <p>When we bought our creaky Edwardian house, we knew it needed work. The place radiated heat in cold weather; breezes blew in from closed windows and the roof cleared itself to a glassy sheen within hours of a snowfall. We could see outside through cracks around the doors.</p> <p>We started with small changes that cost little but made a big difference. About $20 in caulking and weather-stripping helped to plug the more glaring leaks. </p> <p>Another $20 bought those plastic sheets that cover the windows. We found a bunch of old storms in the basement; most were still serviceable, and a bead of caulking set them in place.</p> <p>These simple actions paid for themselves in the first month or two. They certainly paid for themselves in added comfort.</p> <p>The second year, we splurged: $500 for an insulated screen door. Now we can sit in the living room without blankets.</p> <p>Planned major investments, like a new furnace and new windows, will take years to pay for themselves. In the meantime, we have been happy to pluck the low-lying fruit of low-tech renovations.</p> <p>As I shift focus, now, to downtown revitalization, bear in mind that I'm still thinking about weather-stripping and caulking - the cheap and cheerful ways we can make Hamilton more comfortable and efficient.</p> <p>By comfortable, I mean comfortable for people - streets that welcome visiting, window watching, shopping, strolling, chance meetings, and general goodwill. </p> <p>Jane Jacobs demonstrated almost 45 years ago that a city's essence is in its streets or it's nowhere, and planners are finally starting to catch on.</p> <p>By efficient, I mean able to make the best use of available systems to move people and goods around in a convenient and healthy manner. No, that doesn't mean more roads.</p> <p>Recent reports by such diverse groups as the Ontario College of Family Physicians, The Heart & Stroke Foundation, Clean Air Hamilton, The United Nations' Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, Statistics Canada, the American Planning Association, Simmons & Company International, Goldman-Sachs Global Investment Research, and The U.S. Department of Energy point overwhelmingly to a gathering "perfect storm" of public health, environmental, economic, and global repercussions arising from our addiction to cars.</p> <p>In other words, the windows are all open and the furnace is about to blow up.</p> <p>The province is giving Hamilton $15 million in gas tax. City Council doesn't want to invest it in new buses, citing ongoing maintenance and inflationary pressures on fuel costs.</p> <p>Fair enough. Instead of new buses, the following steps can improve both comfort and efficiency without tying the city into new spending commitments.</p> <ul> <li><p>Lower speed limits to 40 km/h on main streets and 25 km/h on side streets. This will cost nothing, level the playing field for cyclists, and make the streets quieter, safer, and more welcoming to pedestrians. There's no question: as speeds go up, the risk of serious injury and death from collisions rises exponentially.</p></li> <li><p>Make main streets two-way, with curbside parking. The city already plans to do this eventually, but in the meantime, today's roaring thoroughfares are uninhabitable to pedestrians.</p></li> <li><p>Replace Hamilton's labyrinthine zoning regulations with the following simple rules: build to the sidewalk, make buildings compatible with their neighbours, open directly onto the street, and place parking in the rear, if at all. This will lower the bar for investors and free building owners to use their properties the ways they want. The aggregate result will be a rich, diverse tapestry of homes and businesses at a human scale.</p></li> <li><p>Eliminate all parking requirements from zoning regulations, and install "smart" meters at curbsides and municipal lots that charge market rates based on time of day. As Professor Donald Shoup of UCLA explains, "free" parking actually amounts to a massive hidden subsidy for driving that undercuts other modes of transportation.</p></li> </ul> <p>In addition to covering the landscape in half-empty lots, "free" parking encourages drivers to "cruise" for curbside spaces during peak times, adding to traffic congestion and air pollution.</p> <p>The meter price should be high enough to maintain 15 percent vacancy, which is considered optimal for entry and exit. All new money collected by these meters should go to local BIAs and neighbourhood associations to spend on local improvements.</p> <p>Most of these initiatives will cost nothing. The few expenses can be paid out of the gas tax with no lingering obligations.</p> <p>These steps will serve simultaneously to impose market forces on driving and make it easier to choose alternatives. This will help downtown businesses, improve air quality, and encourage more people to use alternative transportation without new investments.</p> <p>More transit riders make the system more cost effective and less draining to the city budget. The savings can be reinvested in more pedestrian-friendly public infrastructure.</p> <p>By bootstrapping from inexpensive changes instead of betting the bank on a mega-project, Hamilton can start to tilt the scales toward sustainability. In the meantime, everybody benefits from a more comfortable, more efficient city.</p> Ryan McGreal 2