Friday, January 23, 2015

Council Puts the ME in Mediocre

This post has been written and deleted a few times in the last week.  I was going to lament the lack of vision that City Council has for Hamilton, I was going to decry the lack of decorum among certain members of our Council in the face of withering criticism online and I was going to outline all of the reasons that I decided to move my family away from downtown Hamilton after being there for over 10 years.

If I did all of that this would be an incredibly long post and I am convinced I would just delete it again halfway through due to how much anger it evokes.

I will, however, start with something the City of Hamilton primarily got right.  The reason I start with it is that it coincides closely with my decision to move downtown originally.  It was the World Cycling Championships.  Never have I been prouder to be from Hamilton.  It was the first time I ever felt that people outside of this City got to see it for it was:  A gorgeous canopy of green at the head of Lake Ontario.  The live TV shots of the Queen Street Hill were stunning; the bikes flying down James Mountain Road were terrifying.

This was my City as I saw it and the rest of the World got to enjoy it along with me.  How incredibly exciting.  I lived on Bay Street South at the time and had to get a special parking pass that would allow us to park outside of the race zones.  I had to walk 3 blocks to get to the car over Thanksgiving weekend because if we parked in the zone we weren't allowed to leave.

Who cared?  I sure didn't.  The City had got it right and I was living in the middle of the most urban experience you could have.  I loved being downtown at that time.

Fast forward a few years and my wife and I decided to buy our first house.  We were priced out of Durand and Kirkendall but were able to find a lovely Worker's cottage in Strathcona that retained all the original workmanship with a few modifications to allow for plumbing and electricity.  When I stepped out on my porch and looked left I had a view of Dundurn Castle every day which you really can't beat.

I had bought into a walkable, easy to negotiate neighbourhood.  We were within walking distance to most of our needs and I eventually began working at Bay and King so I could be at work in 15 minutes if I walked briskly.  The neighbourhood could have been considered "up and coming" because we had a mix of low income families, newcomers and elder neighbours but when we took the kids to Victoria Park playground none of it mattered.  The kids played together and everyone enjoyed what the neighbourhood offered.

During our time on Dundurn I was able to participate in the Truck Off campaign and enjoyed the removal of Dundurn Street from the Master Truck Route.  The change in quality of life was immediate.  Our house used to rumble from the trucks going down the street.  I would not say it was quiet by any means but it was much more manageable.

Over time I became more attuned to what was happening at Council.  I was always disturbed to hear about efforts to keep things at the status quo.  I was excited to hear about plans to modernize the streets and convert them back to two-way.  The idea of livable, walkable streets was exactly what we were looking for.

I was excited for the bicycle lane to be implemented on Dundurn.  The sidewalks are so tiny that having that extra buffer between you and traffic was a godsend.  It also removed an unnecessary lane and slowed traffic down.  Everyone talked about how terrible it would be for traffic and there were serious concerns that it would not go through.  I honestly believe that without Brian McHattie's leadership on that file it would not have happened.

During all this good I was dismayed to watch the City go through the Pan-Am Stadium process.  It was easily one of the most infuriating things I have experienced as a spectator to Municipal politics and processes.  To this day I am baffled at how we allowed a sports team to dictate planning and policy when they would only be using the stadium for a maximum of 11 dates a year.

Remarkably as of the writing of this the stadium is now not anticipated to be complete until at least February 2015 when it was supposed to be done in June of 2014 and the professional soccer team that was supposed to be negotiated to play in Hamilton as part of the underhanded deal for the stadium site is nowhere to be seen.  No one on city Council is being held accountable for any of this and that is mind-blowing.

I watched from my office as the City allowed the Board of Education to walk away from the Downtown and sell land that was GIVEN to them by Hamilton.  How did this happen?!?!  It was supposed to be given to the Board for them to use in perpetuity for the Education Centre.  At the least it should have reverted back to the City when they deemed it no longer necessary.  Instead I watched that beautiful building be tore down.  The new Education Centre is in the middle of a neighbourhood off of local transit lines on the East Mountain.  How is this responsible leadership?

The straw that broke my back was when I contacted Brian McHattie's office to see about having the cross walk that was right in front of my house on Dundurn repainted as it had slowly eroded over the years.

Imagine my shock when I was told that the City was no longer replacing the painted lines for fear of litigation from people being hit by a car crossing the road.

Imagine the thought process that brings you to the conclusion that it is safer to not repaint those lines. I hope that the few people who actually read this find it impossible to come around to that rationale.

My love affair with living downtown underwent a death by a million paper cuts.  There were so many instances where City Council just didn't get it and my patience with the renaissance that I believed downtown was going to have had run out.  After long discussions with my Wife we decided it was time to move our family out of downtown Hamilton.  We listed our home and said goodbye.  Dundas was to become our new community.

During our time in Dundas I have continued to wave the flag for downtown.  I believe strongly that it needs to be healthy for the rest of this City to thrive.  To that end there are various things that need to be done to create that health.  I firmly believe that Rapid Transit in the form of LRT is an absolute necessity.

I take the bus daily and applauded the introduction of a Transit Only Lane (TOL) through the Core.  One of the real struggles that I had before that lane was that buses were rarely reliable.  I always had a real problem estimating when I needed to be at my stop because there was no consistent schedule.  The TOL brought schedule reliability to the 10,1, 5 and the 52 which was amazing.

This week in their infinite wisdom, despite overwhelming support by transit riders, facts, figures, support from the HSR Director, City Staff reports and the fact that we are going to need a transit only lane during the PAN-AM games Council killed the TOL.  If at any time I had waffled on my decision to move out of downtown this is the sort of decision that just verified that I did the right thing.

It really is heartbreaking to see Council so unmovable amidst so much proof against their opinion.  I cannot stress this enough, Chad Collins, Lloyd Ferguson, Tom Jackson, Scott Duvall, Terry Whitehead, Doug Conley, Arlene VanderBeek, Robert Pasuta and Judi Partridge voted to kill the lane based solely on their feelings about it.  Not due to the fact that it was ineffective or inefficient but because in the suburbs it took some of their constituents 5 extra minutes in the afternoon to drive home.  And I find it difficult to believe that they were inundated with calls about this since most of their constituents wouldn't be coming through downtown from the beginning of the TOL to Dundurn to get home.

I have a message for those Councillors.  Now that the HSR schedule reliability is set to be rubbish again, I and THOUSANDS of fellow bus riders face the possibility of getting home anywhere from 10 - 15 to maybe 30 or 45 minutes later than normal due to missing transfers and the like. Too bad for us transit users though eh?

The amount of disdain that those Councillors have is remarkable.  They are the reason that the City of Hamilton will take longer than it should to reach its potential, they are the reason that people are resigned to fact that this City may never get better and they are the reason that despite getting amazing press from the media such as The Star, The Globe and Mail and The National Post that internally we feel that aren't good enough to be a World Class City.  It's because we have Councillors who are so backwards as to be laughable.

I am so incredibly sick of it.

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