Hamiltonians like their cars
Higher use than in similar cities
January 23, 2008
The Hamilton Spectator
(Jan 23, 2008)
When it comes to car travel, Hamilton's a medium city that acts like a car-happy small town.
A new Statistics Canada study looked at the prevalence of car travel in cities across Canada, for trips such as commuting and running errands.
The study, Dependence on Cars in Urban Neighbourhoods, revealed the percentage of adults who used a car for all of their trips on a survey day in 2005 varied widely by city.
In Toronto (66 per cent), Montreal (65 per cent) and Vancouver (69 per cent) rates were low. In medium-size census metropolitan areas, like Hamilton, it averaged 75 per cent. In smaller CMAs, the rate was 81 per cent.
But the Hamilton rate was 80 per cent -- well above big cities, above cities our size, and just shy of smaller burgs such as Sudbury, Kingston and Thunder Bay.
"We're not acting like a grown-up city," said sustainable transportation activist Randy Kay of Transportation for Liveable Communities.
We're not alone. "What's going on in Hamilton, the relationship between neighbourhood density and use of cars, is going on everywhere," study author Martin Turcotte said.
He said the rise of suburbs is one reason we see a contradiction: Canadians are increasingly living in cities, but they also drive more. The percentage of adults going everywhere by car rose from 68 per cent in 1992 to 74 per cent in 2005.
Of big cities, Calgary and Edmonton relied more on their cars, and Montreal, a city with denser neighbourhoods and a layout designed before the car arrived, drove least.
The big city-small town divide in car use, the study says, is due to factors such as big cities' having better transit, less parking and a higher density that makes walking or cycling attractive.
Conversely, people who lived far from a city centre, who tended to live in low-density single-family homes are more likely to make all trips by car.
Kay said it's "depressingly accurate" to depict Hamilton as a city of car drivers. The city's design focuses on moving cars efficiently, with little attention to pedestrians and cyclists, he said.
"In Hamilton we have to do politically scary things. You have to take things away from cars and give it to cyclists and pedestrians. You can't just have huge roadways funnelling cars around, like a hangover from the 1930s road-building craze."
Bill Jannsen, acting director of strategic services in the city's planning department, said Hamilton's size and the escarpment can make it hard to get around without a car.
Hamilton has large low-density suburban areas but "the whole planning philosophy is changing toward increasing density and more mixed use neighbourhoods," he said.