Our Neighbourhoods Have Become Sacrifice Zones
From the Nest, Issue 8
by Tanya Ritchie
I have to admit to not being very optimistic about the City of Hamilton’s upcoming revisions to its Truck Route master plan.
I live on Cannon Street East and have experienced the profound negative impacts of City Council’s decision to allow non-local deliveries from large industrial trucks to cut through my neighbourhood. I’ve been participating in the City’s meetings and consultations, and I don’t think they’re listening.
The City’s Truck Route Master Plan hasn’t been revised in a very long time. Hamiltonians are currently living with decisions made more than a decade ago. They were regressive back then, and they are inexcusable now.
I joined a group of other volunteers, collectively calling ourselves Truck Route Reboot, with the mission to document the number and type of these trucks and to engage with the ongoing review process. We cast a wide net, counting trucks on many busy roads, talking to residents.
Going into this project, well over a year ago, it seemed so obvious to me, and I was sure that my neighbours and I would see some big positive changes. If we presented clear data, how could the City fail to see our points?
Listening to feedback from Hamiltonians from across the city, it’s clear that no one likes trucks on their street.
Why not? Pollution, in all its shapes and forms. One very quantifiable form is carcinogenic air pollution. While many trucking companies argue that modern trucks use clean-idle technology – even if that were true of every truck on the road, which it demonstrably is not – not all pollution comes out of the exhaust pipe.
There is, of course, noise pollution. Seismic pollution, the feeling of a thousand earthquakes per day on some streets. Damage to roads and underground infrastructure. And a feeling, even if it is only subjective, of being unsafe when in proximity to these behemoths.
But trucks are necessary. How else do products get to the store? The first pushback I saw was from people who drive trucks, people who own trucks, and people who are enthusiastic about trucks and trucking. I understand how goods get to market! I really do. And I am not in any way trying to stop that from happening.
When I’ve gone out and volunteered to sit at an intersection and count trucks, I am not counting the trucks that are taking groceries to the supermarket. I am not counting the trucks taking ingredients to restaurants. I am not counting cement trucks going to a job site. I am not counting tow trucks or garbage trucks. I am not counting any other truck that has a clear business to be where it is, doing what it is doing, and going where it is going. I am counting the cut-through traffic. The massive vehicles that shake the earth with their passage, hauling industrial materials from the docklands to somewhere out of town.
Many Hamiltonians can cast their minds back to the drama surrounding the building of the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP). Without rehashing all the arguments for and against that highway project, I will instead focus on just one – the claim that it would resolve transportation issues, by lowering congestion on city streets as the truck traffic (and other non-local traffic) would use it to go around the city rather than through.
Regardless of our feelings towards the RHVP, it is built now and there is therefore a ring road around the city which allows huge, industrial trucks to move their goods to the 400-series highways without moving them through neighbourhoods.
Above is a pretty simple checklist of the indisputable facts –
- no one likes trucks on their street
- trucks on streets are harmful
- no one is objecting to necessary trucks, only cut-through traffic
- an existing route that does not involve trucks in neighbourhoods exists
So, why am I not optimistic? The problem seems to be that the City of Hamilton and the consultants they hire don’t think of our neighbourhoods as neighbourhoods.
There’s a weaselly phrase you might have heard in this process – “arterial roads”. An arterial road is one which once, maybe, might have been lucky enough to be a neighbourhood street but which has been widened so that it accommodates the wide turns necessary for huge vehicles, as well as copious car traffic. You are probably familiar with many of these arterial roads. You might even live on one.
I have lived on Cannon Street for almost 20 years now. When I, or any of my neighbours, or anyone who lives on any of the other arterial roads in this city, take our concerns to the City, the enormously compassionate response that we receive is generally something to the tune of “move somewhere else”. After all, we knew those roads were arterial before we moved there, surely the burden is on us?
Of course not. Because the argument to live somewhere else is disingenuous on its face.
These “arterial roads” were neighbourhoods before they were truck routes. They were lined with houses and shops and schools and parks, vibrant and welcoming. Then the City decided, decades ago, that these neighbourhoods were expendable and every City government, successively, has decided the same thing. We live in the sacrifice zone, to breathe toxic air, be shaken and deafened, to live in a dead zone but for an occasional squirrel or sparrow.
What the City’s consultants have proposed is unhelpful. Among many minor changes, they have proposed that most of the downtown truck routes will only be used during the daytime, from 7 am to 7 pm, without truck traffic overnight. Presumably they feel that trucks upsetting our sleep is the single problem, and they probably patted themselves on the back pretty hard for their great solution. When asked about the Truck Route Reboot truck counts at a public engagement session, the consultants all but said they did not believe us.
It can’t possibly be as bad as we say, right? Because if we’re telling the truth about the dangers and the injustice, then the City is callous and guilty of harm. It is so much easier for them to just say we’re exaggerating, or misinformed, or some other dismissive excuse, and go on sacrificing us for the commute times of suburban residents and the bottom line of trucking companies.
So, I’m sorry, my friends, they have ignored our arguments for more than half a century. I suspect they will go on ignoring us, until we remove them. Election day is Monday, October 24, 2022.
Tanya Ritchie was born in Melbourne, Australia but immigrated to Canada in 2001; she has lived in in downtown Hamilton since then with her family; she runs a small business and spends her spare time trying to make the world, and specifically Hamilton, more livable and just