A good LRT plan does more than change tran­sit Take a page out of Jane Ja­cobs’ book and trans­form the very way we use city space

The Hamilton Spectator - - COM­MENT - BENITA VAN MITEN­BURG Benita Van Miten­burg wrote and sub­mit­ted this piece on be­half of Cy­cle Hamil­ton.

In her fa­mous book “The Life and Death of Great Amer­i­can Cities,” Jane Ja­cobs dis­cusses the com­plex re­la­tion­ship be­tween cities and au­to­mo­biles. She states that while au­to­mo­biles aren’t fun­da­men­tally bad for cities (for ex­am­ple, truck­ing is es­sen­tial to trans­port goods to busi­nesses), if we fail to limit their use in ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments, they will slowly but surely erode cities.

Ero­sion of cities by au­to­mo­biles en­tails so fa­mil­iar a se­ries of events that these hardly need de­scrib­ing. The ero­sion pro­ceeds as a kind of nib­bling, small nib­bles at first, but even­tu­ally hefty bites. Be­cause of ve­hic­u­lar con­ges­tion, a street is widened here, another is straight­ened there, a wide av­enue is con­verted to one-way flow, an ex­press­way is cut through yon­der, and fi­nally whole webs of ex­press­ways. More and more land goes into park­ing, to ac­com­mo­date the ever-in­creas­ing num­bers of ve­hi­cles while they are idle.

Each time a road is widened, or new park­ing is added, or a new high­way is opened, au­to­mo­bile travel is made more com­pet­i­tive and prac­ti­cal com­pared to other modes. The re­sult is that the road “im­prove­ments” don’t just ben­e­fit the ex­ist­ing driv­ers, they ac­tu­ally en­cour­age more driv­ing. This com­pound­ing ef­fect in turn cre­ates more de­mand for au­to­mo­bile travel and more pres­sure on in­creas­ing space for au­to­mo­biles, re­sult­ing in more road widen­ing and high­ways and park­ing, and so on and so on.

But the op­po­site ef­fect is also true. When cities im­ple­ment changes that make au­to­mo­bile travel more dif­fi­cult, the re­sult, as Ja­cobs de­scribes, is “at­tri­tion of au­to­mo­biles” by cities. Slowly but surely, side­walks can be widened, de­vel­op­ment can re­place park­ing lots, and bike lanes can re­place car lanes. Again, this is a com­pound­ing ef­fect. As other modes be­come more com­pet­i­tive and safe rel­a­tive to car travel, fewer peo­ple drive and even more space is freed for al­ter­nate uses. This has been rapidly oc­cur­ring in down­town Toronto in re­cent years, where it is now nearly im­pos­si­ble to find a sur­face park­ing lot that is not slated for re­de­vel­op­ment.

The ini­tial plans for the Hamil­ton LRT project showed some prom­ise for in­tro­duc­ing some at­tri­tion of au­to­mo­biles. Along the King cor­ri­dor, ve­hi­cle travel lanes were to be sig­nif­i­cantly re­duced, side­walks were to be widened, and bike lanes added through­out, while at the same time the LRT would in­tro­duce a new, time-com­pet­i­tive travel op­tion.

Re­cently though, pol­icy de­ci­sions from the project team have scaled back the ef­fects of this project on au­to­mo­biles. Rather than im­ple­ment poli­cies to en­cour­age at­tri­tion of au­to­mo­biles by cities, the project team has cho­sen to ac­com­mo­date ex­ist­ing ve­hic­u­lar traf­fic on par­al­lel streets through sig­nif­i­cant road widen­ing. This widen­ing will see Dun­durn Street North widened sig­nif­i­cantly, and bike lanes re­moved on im­por­tant stretches of the project. Main Street West will re­main one-way east of the 403, de­spite strong rec­om­men­da­tions from the 2011 en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment to con­vert it to twoway (the con­sul­tants ar­gued that a two-way Main would make the LRT more time-com­pet­i­tive to driv­ing and thereby en­cour­age more rid­er­ship).

Go­ing to such ex­ten­sive ef­forts to main­tain cur­rent traf­fic vol­umes will not only add sig­nif­i­cant cap­i­tal costs to the project, they will also un­der­mine the ben­e­fits of the LRT.

Think­ing about LRT sim­ply as an ob­sta­cle around which sta­tus-quo auto traf­fic needs to be redi­rected en­tirely misses the point and it is short-sighted. This per­spec­tive lim­its the LRT to noth­ing but an up­grade for ex­ist­ing tran­sit users along that cor­ri­dor, when in re­al­ity this project has the po­ten­tial to trans­form the way peo­ple move through Hamil­ton’s core, adding sig­nif­i­cant peo­ple-mov­ing ca­pac­ity with­out the ob­vi­ous draw­backs of adding ve­hic­u­lar ca­pac­ity.

When the Yonge Street sub­way was built in Toronto in 1954, Toronto be­came one of the small­est cities to ever open a sub­way line. The re­sults of this as­pi­ra­tional project went far beyond sim­ply mov­ing ex­ist­ing tran­sit pas­sen­ger from one mode to another. The Yonge sub­way cre­ated the peo­ple-mov­ing ca­pac­ity equiv­a­lent to a 26-lane high­way straight into the down­town core, with a frac­tion of the space re­quire­ments and no pres­sure for ad­di­tional car park­ing. This dras­ti­cally im­proved ac­cess to down­town Toronto, thereby in­creas­ing em­ploy­ment and help­ing to make it the mas­sive ur­ban cen­tre it is to­day.

Ar­gu­ing that the LRT will in­crease traf­fic in other parts of the city is a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy if the LRT is ac­com­pa­nied by in­creased ve­hic­u­lar ca­pac­ity. This project has fi­nally given Hamil­ton an op­por­tu­nity to be­gin to re­verse years of ero­sion of our down­town by the au­to­mo­bile — let’s not let this one go to waste.

BARRY GRAY, THE HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR

As other modes of trans­port, like cy­cling, be­come more com­pet­i­tive and safe rel­a­tive to car travel, fewer peo­ple drive — and LRT could help in this change, writes Benita Van Miten­burg.

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