April 5th, 2012 (Hamilton, ON)
This year’s summit focused on the concept of ‘complete streets’. Complete Streets are defined as follows: Complete Streets provide for all road users – pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and motorists of all ages and abilities. This is exactly what the DNA has been advocating for years and it was a great inspiration to hear speakers explain how this has been accomplished in many jurisdictions. Greetings were made by the Public Works General Manager, Gerry Davis, Ward 1 Councillor, Brian McHattie and the Medical Officer of Health, Elizabeth Richardson.

It was clear from all the presentations that there is an urgent need for more active transportation options for all citizens. These have advantages from every perspective and are being adopted in more and more cities and towns. They mean better and more transportation options, improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists, reduced traffic congestion, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, more walkable and therefore more livable communities and the stimulation of economic growth with increased shopping activity, sales and property values. Also, as the Hamilton Medical Officer of health made clear, an active lifestyle – more walking, cycling and use of public transit – is critical to combatting the epidemic of obesity which is bringing catastrophic health costs and shortening of life.

The keynote speaker, Dave Cieslewicz, former mayor of Madison, Wisconsin, outlined how his city, about one half the size of Hamilton, achieved a gold level in complete streets in relatively few years. He has spoken numerous times on the subject and gave a precise description of the process and how to make it happen. Later speakers such as Councillor Diane Freeman of the city of Waterloo described what they have done and will do to make a transition to complete streets, although, as she commented, not everyone will be won over. She noted that she had no idea there were so many traffic engineers in Waterloo until she presented plans to change one road! I was also struck by her explanation that improving the road also would save millions of dollars in maintenance costs over the next 20 years – quite a benefit by any standard.

The luncheon speaker, Peter Lagerway, Senior Planner for the Toole Design Group in Seattle gave an excellent talk on what needs to be done in street design to make it safe and attractive for cyclists and pedestrians. It is interesting that he said the most important thing to get right is safety. For example, a good bicycle lane is one you would be confident that an 8 years old could ride on without danger. He also stressed that street design was critical. Cars will always move at the speed that the road allows. Speed limit signs do not work to guarantee compliance. I thought of Hunter and Bay Streets by Central School, the Queen Street speedway and other one way, multi-lane streets that we have identified as dangerous in the Durand Neighbourhood!

Hamiltonians should, however, be pleased with much good work that has been done by our city. We took a walk with Lagerway in the downtown and saw many areas where good changes have been made to make the streets better and more attractive to pedestrians and cyclists. There remains a lot to do but he advised that it is important to give credit as well as complaints.

I left the conference feeling confident that Hamilton can and will continue to improve our city and really achieve ‘complete streets’ in the foreseeable future. I see that on June 6 and 7 Hamilton will host the ‘Transforming and Revitalizing Downtown Conference’. The conference has a lineup of excellent speakers who are focused on the various elements of how to achieve the transformation of the city centres. This is another indication of just how serious and immediate the need is to transform our city.

Dennis Baker (DNA Board Member)