November was an exciting month for the usually cautious city council in Hamilton.
First, the city voted to freeze the urban boundary despite pressure from developers keen to build vast tracts of low-density suburban homes for automobile dependent commuters on agricultural land.
A little more than a week later, the city transportation planners were unceremoniously instructed by council to take a status quo truck route plan and return it to the drawing board. To save money, trucks were cutting through Code Red low-income areas and carting industrial supplies past local schools and hospitals to companies in the industrial port. City transportation planners were instructed to follow Vision Zero and complete and livable streets guidelines and explore alternative routes – in particular the city’s surrounding ring network of highways – to avoid residential neighbourhoods.
Ultimately, it was the mobilization of residents and environmental groups who were able to bring around even the most conservative of elected politicians to start taking notice of climate change, safe streets and food security.
Ottawa Street North happens to be one of the designated truck routes because of how it is classified by the city.
Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann has put forward a motion at city council to direct transportation planning staff at city hall to review Ottawa Street’s classification as a major arterial road between Barton and Lawrence.
She echoes local concerns that this historical designation no longer makes sense with the fewer numbers of trucks and workers going to and from the factories.
Nann’s motion reads as follows:
“That staff from Transportation Operations and Transportation Planning be directed to review the current safety concerns, use and functions of Ottawa Street in its entirety and report back with recommendations for reclassification away from major arterial road, enabling complete and better liveable streets design implementations to better achieve Vision Zero.”
Although the factory volumes are down, Ottawa Street between Barton and Main Street East continues to be used by fast moving and polluting oversized trucks and cars headed for connecting roads and destinations. Simultaneously, the retail strip has evolved into a vital East Hamilton hub and destination for unique retail shops, sidewalk patios, an elementary school a church, a funeral home and new apartments for women, seniors and Indigenous residents.
Councillor Nann worries about traffic safety under the current conditions on Ottawa Street, especially after two recent accidents, one involving a car smashing through the window of the Cannon coffee shop at Ottawa and Cannon and a second hitting and wrecking the front steps of the Laidlaw Memorial United Church.
“The city’s Vision Zero Action Plan aims to achieve a safe system approach to prevention of death and/or life-changing injuries with the expressed necessary hierarchy of needs that place child pedestrians at the centre,” Councillor Nann states in her motion.
The Ward 3 councillor is working closely with her colleague Sam Merulla, the councillor for the neighbouring Ward 4, in the reclassification of Ottawa Street which borders both wards. He has indicated that he will be seconding her motion to expedite the re-designation. (Councillor Merulla could not reached for comment).
Ottawa Street is top-of-mind for Councillor Nann.
“It is my hope to get the motion in this December cycle of meetings, pending confirmation of which committee has carriage of it. Worse case scenario, it goes to the January cycle.”
But that may not be possible, says Steve Molloy, manager of transportation planning in the planning and economic development department at city hall.
Passing a single motion to reclassify Ottawa Street is not sufficient to address the problem under the city’s planning and legislative process, he told The Point. On the other hand, city transportation planners will accommodate Councillor Nann’s request to review the functions of Ottawa Street.
Molloy explains that’s road reclassification always requires an amendment to the city official plan which involves a staff feedback and investigation plus public meetings before the matter can go for a formal council vote for approval.
He declined to indicate how long the process will take.
Ottawa Street is not the only road in Hamilton meriting reclassification.
“Hamilton like many other municipalities follow the Transportation Association of Canada’s criteria to establish a road classification system,” Molloy explains.
“Notwithstanding the motion, there is a work plan to revaluate all of the road classifications in the city as well as the right of way requirements to support that. We are hoping to initiate that in 2022. It will probably take a year or so to complete, hopefully less,” he continues.
Generally, road reclassification is approached from the perspective of both mathematics and common sense.
Separate segments of a single road are classified differently. Factors in the determination include travel times, speed limits, accommodation for pedestrians and cyclists, driveway accesses, the presence of a public transit route and right-of-ways.
Molloy concedes that road reclassification across Hamilton is long overdue. It should have begun in 2018 with the development of the city’s transportation master plan, which outlines Hamilton’s complete streets and Vision Zero policy.
Why the delay? He blames insufficient resources and staff but is firm that his colleagues in transportation planning are committed to getting the ball rolling.
Major arterials like Main and King typically carry 10,000 or more cars and trucks in a 24-hour period. In contrast, Ottawa Street North experiences roughly 5,000 or more in a day.
“Long story short Ottawa Street has probably changed significantly, especially in the last 10 to 15 years. And likely there will be a change,” says Molloy.
How does Councillor Nann’s motion fit with the parallel fall 2021 Ward 3 streets review which involves local residents providing feedback between October and December through the Engage Hamilton website?
The Complete Streets review is being conducted by the transportation operations and maintenance staff from a separate city department, Public Works. There is an interesting backstory to this.
Last February when this Ward 3 road study was slated to start, Councillor Nann anticipated that a review of all the streets, including Ottawa Street, was in the works.
On Aug. 30 Councillor Nann was in her words “frustrated” with the delay in getting the Ward 3 road review started. What also surprised her was how the transportations operations staff in Public Works had narrowed the scope of the review to residential and collector streets in her ward. None of the major arterials including Main, King, Barton and most significantly Ottawa Street North were included.
“I thought (the Ward 3 Complete Streets Review) was going to be the entire roadway, because to me it makes sense that you include that if your concern is making neighbourhood streets safer,” she says. “The connectivity between the major arterial and the neighbourhood streets…should be looked at.”
It seemed rather counter intuitive because Nann had earlier introduced a successful motion at city council to unleash area rating funds to pay for the ward 3 review. Wards 8 and 14 are undergoing similar complete street studies following passage of separate motions for expenditures at city council introduced by their respective councillors.
Councillor Nann maintains that the Ward 3 road review remains extremely relevant because it includes other roads in the same ward requiring residents’ input such as Wellington, Victoria, Wentworth, Sherman and Gage.
“The Ward 3 Complete Streets Review will proceed as is with a focus on neighbourhood and collector roads. Pausing it now would prevent addressing the many, many concerns residents have of their neighbourhood streets,” she says.
Despite these bumps along the way, she is optimistic that positive change will take place to enable Ottawa Street to meet its potential. “It will take time, good engagement and intentional processes to get us there together. “