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Cutting car use

Apr 03, 2017

While councillors break HSR funding promises and put LRT on “life support”, at least one major Hamilton destination has shown that transit use can be greatly boosted with a little effort. Ten thousand people travel to the Fennell campus of Mohawk College on the central mountain and two-thirds get there in a more sustainable manner than is usual for Hamilton.

More than a quarter take the bus and another 15 percent come by bicycle or walking. Both participation rates are several times higher than city-wide stats that show only about seven percent of commuters use the HSR and even fewer walk or cycle.

At last week’s Bay Area Transportation Forum organized jointly by Hamilton and Burlington, Mohawk’s Sustainability Office manager Alan Griffiths described how the college has achieved a remarkable cut in car use. The transformation began in 2009, Griffiths explained, when Mohawk “had a parking crisis” with demand at an all-time high, some students utilizing nearby lawns, and college plans to increase enrolment by 40 percent.

With newly installed president Rob MacIssac fresh from leading the province’s Metrolinx transit agency, the college “decided to think differently”, says Griffith.

“When we have a parking crisis at most Ontario colleges we build more parking but we decided that our solution was things like cycling and transit,” he recounted. “The programs were specifically aimed at meeting the needs of our students, our staff and faculty that commute, but they were meant to stop us from building parking space.”

The campus is now served by four HSR lines and a new bus terminal opened a year ago. Alongside a universal student bus pass, the results have been “a 260 percent increase in transit ridership” in the last eight years. The college also actively explains GO Transit options from multiple locations for longer distance commuters and advises them of student discounts.

“So 67 percent of all trips made to our Fennell campus are by a sustainable mode and only 33 percent of people are coming by way of a single occupancy vehicle,” Griffiths told the Forum, “and I’m going to say that’s a pretty healthy modal split for a campus on the escarpment in Hamilton not connected to the downtown core and the major transit infrastructure.”

Mohawk also implemented a pedestrian first mobility strategy, extensive bike parking, two bike repair stations and a bike loan program. The campus car sharing program has 300 members and there are special parking deals to encourage and support car pooling.

Today nearly half of the trips to campus use ride-sharing. For those worried about needing a car unexpectedly, Mohawk has an emergency ride home program in conjunction with the city’s Smart Commute office. A five dollar an hour parking rate (maximum $17 a day) along with stepped-up enforcement makes alternative arrangements more attractive.

“Had we chosen to build parking back in 2009 it would have cost us $5 million to meet the growth of our campus,” Griffiths concluded. “In 2017 we have 40 percent more students coming to our Fennell campus and we have about 300 less parking spaces and a small surplus of parking.”

Across the city as a whole, HSR ridership has fallen in each of the last two years in the wake of steep fare increases. That decline was cited by councillors as a key reason for postponing promised tax dollars to the struggling system and backing away from the ten-year HSR growth strategy adopted unanimously in 2015.

Many councillors also say they are worried about whether sufficient ridership can be attracted to the light rail transit line that they have repeatedly endorsed over the past eight years. 

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