CAUGHT IN A JAM
Call it a picture-perfect excuse for an election debate over road safety.
Ward 14 council candidate Terry Whitehead, who is also the Ward 8 incumbent, threw oil on an fiery Twitter debate over road safety by posting photos of a Queen Street traffic jam Tuesday.
The photos appeared to be taken from the driver’s side interior of a vehicle in a live lane of traffic. That spurred online questions about whether the Hamilton police board member broke the province’s distracted driving laws.
No way, said Whitehead online and in an interview. “I had parked the car. I actually got out to see what was going on, as others did,” he said. “There’s nothing illegal about that.”
Some Twitter users argued otherwise, posting snippets of the provincial Ministry of Transportation explainer page on distracted driving. It states you can only use a phone or hand-held device in your vehicle to call 9-1-1, if you are “lawfully parked” or safely off the roadway. (Putting your car ‘in park’ at a red light, for example, doesn’t cut it.)
A few online critics even tagged Hamilton police in their Twitter posts. But no one had formally complained to police about the photos as of the next day, a spokesperson said.
Whitehead dismissed the allegations as “silly” and driven by downtown “urbanists” on Twitter.
But at least one Mountain-dwelling election opponent picked up on the photo debate. “Let’s make sure he isn’t the one making the safety decisions come October 22,” tweeted Bryan Wilson, a Ward 14 council contender who called the photos a “clear violation” of the province’s road safety laws.
Whitehead said he tweeted to show the frustrations regularly faced by commuters and Mountain brow residents, some of whom become “trapped” in their driveways when accesses turn into “parking lots.”
A stalled bus appeared to be at least partially to blame for Tuesday’s traffic jam.
But the councillor argued similar snarls have become increasingly common since lower city street design decisions like the addition of downhill bike lanes on Herkimer and Charlton.
Some helpful Twitter users posted Google map alternate routes they felt would have allowed motorists to avoid the Queen Street jam. Others suggested a slower commute is a small price to pay for lower city road diets meant to protect vulnerable street users like pedestrians and cyclists.
The Mountain councillor has a history of colourful debate on Twitter – particularly over road design and LRT. At one point he erased seven years of tweets in 2016 and – briefly – vowed to stop arguing online.
Expect this type of debate to ramp up during and after the 2018 city election.
Coun. Terry Whitehead tweeted this photograph to show traffic congestion in the lower city.