Monday, March 29, 2010

Driving Home the Jobs

    The fire has been stoked, and I'm in a bit of a ranting mood. Enjoy my true 'diatribe'!

Early in March, I had the opportunity to attend the Hamilton Civic League's Speaker series as a guest panellist. The topic was transportation, or more correctly: mass transit. Other guest panellists at the table were representatives from cycling, transit, light-rail, and a professor in transportation logistics (who was there representing himself, not the organization he works with). The mandate of the Hamilton Civic League is laudable, and on the surface aims to provide civic engagement in the upcoming Municipal Election in October this year. The Q&A was well prepared and provided in advance, with strict timelines for all panellists to respond.

    As I was there as a representative of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce (in my role as Transportation Committee Chair), I tempered my responses to ensure I kept within either current policies or policies in the making. And, like most transportation-themed 'public' forums, the attendees are primarily residents who concerned on the environmental impact of the over-reliance of cars or residents who live primarily in the core. Sadly, individuals poorly represented at 'public' forums are those who actually create the economy that is Hamilton (aka – business/manufacturing senior executives). While there may be a couple of small business owners, it's unusual to see representation from medium-to-large sized companies. When Metrolinx was doing their 'dog & pony' show a couple of years back, you'd typically see less than 5% representation from the goods movement industry in attendance. As a result of this poor showing, policies and recommendations were introduced based solely on those who attended the 'open house'.

    In my previous blog I spoke of the important linkage between goods movement and jobs. This misalignment of 'public forums' tend to cloud the true intention of a well-executed transportation grid system. To illustrate the misinformation of goods movement: at one point during the Civic League meeting, the guest panellist representing the economic importance of LRT actually downgraded the recent announcement of Canada Bread's new factory location in the Glanbrook Business Park; noting that the jobs created were 'low paying' and minimalistic. He further commented that the introduction of LRT in the lower City would go a long way towards higher-paying jobs. I can only assume that his vision of LRT stations will be void of restaurants, theatres, and other retail-focused shops, as these locations generally pay minimum wage!

    Over the next couple of months, the City of Hamilton staff and Council will make certain decisions on the preferred Truck Route for Hamilton's road network. Once again, and due primarily to the lack of feedback from the industry which actually uses the roads, steps are being proposed to restrict truck movement on roads specifically designed for such use. (Perhaps because I look at things quite differently, I do have to wonder aloud as to why the Traffic Division of the City didn't wander across the hall to the Economic Development Department to engage the industry's most affected by road designation changes. I can't turn back the clocks, so no sense commiserating the issue.) Instead, it's time for a 'call to action' from those who rely on a properly designated Truck Route to 'belly up to the bar'. Any Council meeting open for public delegation is the perfect forum to state the concerns at hand. In the midst of our yearning for environmental choices coupled in the name of a more active lifestyle, we overlook the role that goods movement plays in our livelihood.

    Advocates of 'buy local' are correct in applying this methodology to locally produced goods; but, even those goods rely on a sound trucking corridor to get the goods from the location of origin to the location of destination…there are not that many cash registers in the cauliflower fields in the Flamborough region. I can only assume that true zealots of the 'buy local' practice won't be reading this…because any electronic device most certainly required the use of marine/air/rail/truck transport…a verboten practice for the true followers of 'buy local'. As with any 'new' practice in today's economy, we tend to swing too far away from the 'bad' way with intentions of finding the 'right' way, without considering the circumstances of our decisions in future years.

    Hamilton is a community diverse in nature and layout; we have a 'downtown' in 5 of the 6 former communities; we have unique suburban communities; and, 65% of our land mass is comprised of rural area. We need to exercise caution, but not get weighed under by the studies and reviews. Using the 'master plan' to guide our actions, we can continue to stay the course in providing a welcoming place for Hamiltonians to live, play …. And work.

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