If there is one positive note to arise from the acrimonious debate over the Aberdeen Avenue traffic calming measure, it may be that it might lead to a city-wide traffic study. The issue arose when Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead had requested a “complete streets” study for his ward. The request came in the aftermath of the divisive debates over the Aberdeen traffic calming issue. In the case of Aberdeen Avenue, the technical study that led to the decision to remove traffic lanes on Aberdeen was funded from Ward One Councillor Maureen Wilson’s Area Rating discretionary fund, which is only available to the original Hamilton wards. Upper Stoney Creek Councillor Brad Clark made the point that the seven suburban wards do not have access to discretionary funding and as a result are disadvantaged when it comes to being able to pay for traffic studies for their wards.
Public Works Director Dann McKinnon said it would be “music to the ears” of the traffic department to be given the green light to do a comprehensive city-wide traffic study. He warned council that such a study would carry a “fairly hefty” price tag. His department will draft a proposal for council consideration.
The entire discussion came close to reopening what has been one of the most divisive issues facing Hamilton since amalgamation—area rating. At the time of amalgamation, as costs were being allocated between the Hamilton and suburban wards, the suburban wards were allowed to opt out of paying for certain services like transit where the availability of service was not equally distributed. After intense negotiation the original eight Hamilton wards ended up with a small tax decrease and the suburban wards were given a tax increase. All wards agreed that instead of a small tax decrease in the original Hamilton Wards, they would instead receive a discretionary fund of approximately $1 Million per ward per year to upgrade local infrastructure. Fast forward to today’s meeting with the surprise revelation by City Finance Chief Mike Zegarac that staff are looking at options that might make discretionary funding available to the suburban wards as well. Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla said he would support such a proposal, suggesting the area rating issue may be dying a natural death 20 years after it was introduced.