Heavy trucks coming to Ottawa Street

Ottawa Street South, between King and Main boasts one and two story brick homes with front porches and tall mature trees. At Main, where Ottawa Street divides between North and South, Memorial Public School sits opposite Caro, a trendy and busy Italian eatery with big windows and a patio. Continue northbound and a traveller will pass the Hamilton Regional Indian Centre followed by the Putnam Family YWCA as it nears completion. The building will offer affordable housing to women. Across the street is the site of the very first Tim Hortons with museum displays, a bronze statue of Tim Horton out front, and no drive-thru.

Continue north and there are more homes and more retail businesses. At Cannon, opposite the historic Laidlaw United Church, Indwell has begun renovating the corner building into more affordable housing. North of Cannon is a mix of restaurants, specialty stores, antique and fabric dealers. Spend any time there and one will witness drivers parallel parking, pedestrians crossing the street and stopping mid-way to get their bearings, cyclists and delivery drivers evading one another, along with dogs on leashes, kids in arms and strollers, and large family groups shopping for weddings. Between the patios, bars and restaurants, Ottawa Street seems an unlikely candidate for a heavy truck route. Yet, that’s exactly what the city has planned.

Ride along a block of Ottawa St. N. to appreciate the mix into which city staff and consultants are adding heavy trucks in excess of 11,000 Kgs.

Michael Carruth opened a sandwich shop, Down The Street Food Co., on Ottawa St. N. during the pandemic. He also lives above a storefront. He has a unique perspective as a business owner and resident. He told me via Facebook Messenger that, “As a business owner, I’m not happy with heavy truck traffic during business hours as I feel it causes a safety issue, especially with the advent of on-street” patio’s.” He continued, “With regular traffic on Ottawa street already as busy as it is, and with food delivery drivers pulling u-turns constantly, plus the pedestrian traffic crossing the street … it does give way to some sort of accident. The trucks using Ottawa don’t always stay within the speed limit.”

His concerns are echoed by Janet Hoy who owns and operates City and The City Books along with her husband. They live between truck routes in Stinson. “As a small business owner with a store at Ottawa and Cannon, I have witnessed so many near accidents on this corner In the three years I have been on the street. In two separate incidents cars have rammed into the café and the church on the corner of Ottawa and Cannon,” she told me in an email. “I fear people will stop coming to this friendly and vibrant street and instead Ottawa Street will become yet another desolate speedway that people drive through on their way from the Costco to home.”

Their fears are not misplaced. The City of Hamilton is undergoing a review of the Truck Route Master Plan. According to a presentation earlier this summer, the City will stop regulating trucks between 4,500 and 11,000 Kgs because, they say, it’s easier to manage and enforce a regulation with a focus on “Heavy Trucks”. A heavy truck is defined as vehicles that weigh “11,000 kilograms gross weight or registered gross weight” or more. RGW (registered gross weight) is “the maximum weight at any time for the truck or truck/trailer combination,” as recorded on the vehicle’s registration.

To be clear, all trucks of all sizes are allowed on all Hamilton streets, unless specifically prohibited, for the purpose of local deliveries. The truck route pertains to through traffic. For local delivery, drivers are expected to take the most direct route. In the current case, Ottawa Street will be designated for heavy trucks that will cut-through on the way somewhere else.

Trucks on delivery must use the most direct route.

In developing the revised heavy truck routes, staff and consultants developed an evaluation criteria weighing public health, equity and safety against reliability and efficiently connected routes. Incredibly, somehow, the evaluation criteria scored Ottawa Street between King and Barton to carry the same trucks as Nikola Tesla Blvd and Eastport Dr. One wonders if the consultants and staff ever set foot on Ottawa Street.

Ottawa Street like industrial throughways according to the evaluation tool measuring public health, equity, and safety. Source: https://www.hamilton.ca/sites/default/files/media/browser/2021-06-17/trmp-review-pic2-panels.pdf
Ottawa St. N., above, will carry the same trucks as Nikola Tesla Blvd., on the right. Top image by Sean Hurley and right image via Google Maps.

To put it in perspective, a patron enjoying a beer on a patio could be crushed by a driver who may not even be aware of what happened. Before dismissing that thought, consider that in March this year, a Toronto woman commuting in her Mini Cooper was pushed a half kilometre along the Gardiner Expressway by an unaware dump truck driver.

At the time of writing, an 18-year-old Toronto cyclist is dead following a collision with a cement truck that was merged by road work into the bike lane in which he was travelling. The driver had to be flagged down as he had no idea of the collision.

In Hamilton, in 2017, a dump truck driver told The Spectator he didn’t believe he had hit a cyclist until he saw the bike stuck in his wheels.

In an August report, Lorraine Sommerfied, for Driver.ca, reported: “Halton Region Police last week fined an operator for overloading trucks. Not only does this destroy our roads, but it’s also dangerous to be near these things. All that extra weight (you know they don’t catch all of them) leads to premature wear and tear on braking systems and other truck components. That means we’re all driving alongside ticking timebombs.” She goes on to report that during a police enforcement in Halton, last October, that “Of 340 trucks inspected, 96 were taken out of service. Three drivers also failed sobriety tests.”

How would you feel about taking your strollers, and dogs, and selves on the same road as heavy trucks? It isn’t that commercial truck operators are less safe as a group, but heavy trucks and pedestrian oriented corridors really don’t mix. It’s not good for vulnerable road users and it’s not good for business. In fact, it’s nuts. In response to the woman pushed by the dump truck, Sgt. Murray Campbell of Toronto Police told CTV News, “Operators of large vehicles do not have the benefit of such lower/smaller vehicles, in their ability to see out of windows in all directions.”

Young families cross Ottawa St. N. with children.

As though in recognition of the awful reality, staff and consultants seem prepared to throw businesses and residents a bone by restricting heavy trucks on Ottawa Street (and other urban roadways) to between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., or when the modal mix is greatest. The purpose, they say, is to address the quality of life issues associated with truck noise.

“As a resident on Ottawa the overnight truck traffic doesn’t bother me,” Carruth replied to my question. “I don’t usually hear them and don’t even know how many are actually using the street at night. Any noise issue is because of the cars with modified exhaust, they are more disturbing at night than the trucks. I wish that was policed more actually.”

Hoy says the street is loud during the day when she is trying to do business. “I usually have to keep my door closed during the day due to the loudness of the trucks, motorcycles, and cars driving by. On more than one occasion, it had been impossible to speak with a customer without yelling due to the loudness of these vehicles. Having heavy trucks will exacerbate this issue.”

She agrees with Carruth that when it comes to quality of life and noise, trucks overnight are not the issue: “As someone who lives in between Main and King and Sherman and Gage, I am often kept up at night by cars drag racing. This usually happens a couple of times a week between 12 a.m. – 3 a.m. This has been going on for a couple of years and has increased during Covid. To my knowledge, the police have not done anything to stop this. Automated Speed Enforcement is definitely needed in this area.”

The police have made efforts to address loud vehicles, most recently with #ProjectTORQUE. However, police have fewer officers available at night when the enthusiasts come out. “The Hamilton Police Service has noted that enforcement between the hours of 7:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. will likely be very limited because of fewer staff and greater response activity during those hours,” city staff reported with regard to time-of-day restrictions, in 2010, when the truck route was last reviewed. Additionally, staff then reported that more than 80 percent of truck volume along York, Cannon, Main, King and Burlington occurred during daytime hours. That may explain why Carruth and Hoy are less disturbed by trucks at night than by loud tailpipes.

When I asked Tanya Day Ritchie who operates Hamilton’s only backpacker’s hostel, the The Pring House, located on Mary Street at Cannon, about time of day restrictions, she replied, “If the trucks can use that ring road overnight, why can’t they do it during the day too? And if they’re prepared to wait and just not run trucks overnight, then why have they always argued that cut-through traffic is because of time and efficiency constraints?” When pressed on whether a night time restriction on trucks would improve her quality of life, Day Ritchie replied, “I’m less concerned about sleep than I am about pollution, damage, fear, etc…,” she said, adding, “I would like to be able to have a conversation in my yard. That’s not too much to ask.”

The finalized proposal for revised official truck route network that includes heavy trucks cutting through on Ottawa Street goes to council in the fall. The opportunity to comment on the new plan is over. For anyone who wishes to object to sharing pints, shopping and managing kids and dogs alongside heavy trucks, contact your city councillor.

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