Take a walk, cycle or drive along any major downtown Hamilton arterial roadway and, chances are, in a matter of minutes you’ll be sharing that streetscape with a very large, very loud, 18-wheeled industrial truck. Whether they are hauling grain or transporting steel coils –these lumbering hulks are definitely not making deliveries in the downtown core. Instead, the majority of these massive trucks are travelling from the industrial core – usually heading south on Wellington Street past the General Hospital and McMaster Children’s Health Centre – and cutting right through our city center along Cannon, then York, Queen, and King Streets to get to Highway 403. They follow a 403 – to Main Street – to Victoria Street route right back through the city core in order to return to the industrial area along Burlington Street. Can you think of another major Ontario urban center that allows large industrial trucks to rumble through the guts of its downtown right past city hall?
Hamilton’s Permissive Truck Route System
As the City of Hamilton and community stakeholders work to make our urban streets more viable for active transportation, the changes required to physically reformat these streetscapes are literally clashing with the industrial trucks that shortcut through downtown. In urban Hamilton, large industrial trucks are the elephant in the room and that elephant is literally blocking the way forward for efforts to make the city’s downtown streets truly safe and friendly for people of all ages and abilities who are walking, using mobility devices or cycling. Consider that, right now, westbound bike commuters relying on the Cannon Cycle Track routinely find themselves pedalling alongside industrial trucks with only knock-down bollards between them. Pedestrians crossing streets like Wellington and Cannon are frequently faced with turning trucks swooshing right behind them before they are even halfway across the intersection. These vehicles bring diesel emissions with them, contributing significantly to levels of particulate pollution and other air contaminants in areas where there are people out and about. They also inflict significant wear and tear on our urban streets – streets that weren’t designed to handle such heavy loads.
What is important to acknowledge, however, is that these trucks are not doing anything that is against the rules; Hamilton’s extensive and very permissive truck route system allows trucks of every shape and size to travel the routes they are currently using (see Figure 1). But the big question, in 2018, is why is this still the case? Why does our city continue to have such a permissive truck routing system and what can we do about it?
The community’s experience has been that most senior city officials really don’t want to talk about it. They get that uncomfortable, ‘deer caught in the headlights’ look when you raise concerns about industrial trucks in the core. It seems that these routes represent a historical bowing to ‘economic development’ and subsequently, any talk of route changes quickly becomes a political hot potato. Elected officials, when confronted, will raise the spectre of the old perimeter road – something easily dismissed by reminding them that the city’s own consultants confirmed that running a highway along our west harbourfront is completely unnecessary at this point. There is a good argument to be made that the solution is actually pretty simple; our truck route system needs to be revamped so that industrial trucks are required to use Burlington Street/ Nikola Tesla Boulevard to get from the industrial core to and from the QEW/403 and Red Hill Valley Parkway/ LINC. Isn’t that why we were told we needed Red Hill and the LINC? Of course, the trucking lobby is likely to push back, arguing these routes are longer and will cost them money. But, to flip this argument on its head, why are we willing to sacrifice urban quality of life for the economic gain of a few industries and/ or the suppliers they work with?
So, what can WE ALL do about this?
We are starting by getting ourselves informed – gathering information so that we can build a solid case for the need to prevent industrial trucks from cutting through the city core. Environment Hamilton, along with Cycle Hamilton, has been working with community volunteers to complete truck counts so we can establish a clearer sense of how many industrial trucks are cutting through the urban core. Our day-long truck count along Wellington Street conducted in September of this year provided us with some interesting insights. A large industrial truck lumbers along Wellington Street from the industrial core, on average, every 1.5 minutes. During a typical weekday, the truck traffic is pretty steady no matter what time of the day. The majority of these trucks – 77% of them – are turning and heading west along Cannon Street to exit the city, while the remaining 23% continue south towards the Clairmont Access. And more than one-third of these trucks are grain-haulers heading to and from the large waterfront grain handling facilities – like the new Parish & Heimbecker grain-handling/flour milling complex located at the foot of Wellington Street. Our sense is that the number of industrial trucks cutting through the core has been on the rise over the past several years and that increase is likely due to the growth of agri-industry facilities in Hamilton’s West Harbour area.
Our plan is to utilize our truck count data to provide informed input into the city’s Truck Route Review Study. Our understanding is that the Truck Route Review Study was supposed to have taken place several years ago. We continue to check in with city staff to find out when the study will be done. We were first told it would be 2017, then 2018, and now the latest update has the study being completed in 2019. We will continue to gather more data and we will be watching closely for information about the study, along with the growing group of people who, along with us, believe that a reconfiguring of these routes is long overdue.
This article was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of The Anvil.