|First PMP in Hamilton drew a crowd (King W at MacNab)|
More than one motorist did a double take while driving downtown Hamilton during the lunch hour: where they expected the usual grey concrete and asphalt they were treated to some impromptu green space and a parking meter party.
The parking meter party was thrown together by local transportation activists, members of Transportation for Liveable Communities (a working group of the Ontario Public Interest Research Group at McMaster) who hope to make this a frequent event for lovers of clean air, and safe, quiet streets.
Parking meters provide cheap party rental space (50 cents an hour in downtown Hamilton) and are readily available on city streets all over North America. Unroll a bit of sod for texture and some green and crank up the boom box. Pull up a chair, play a game of chess, have a glass of lemonade. Enjoy the streets!
At about 11:00 am a few people started handing out flyers at King and James Streets; by noon, a full blown street party was underway.
As people unrolled fresh sod, others strung banners and colourful flags. Chairs and table were set up and the cassette dropped into the boom box. A quarter was placed into the parking meter, the dial turned and then, nothing could stop the celebration.
As the steady stream of mobile smog producing factories (AKA automobiles) rumbled past, about 40 citizens partied on the grass. People held signs that read "End the Automobile Age" and "Cars Kill Community."
Over the strains of music (the Clash "Car Jam;" Rancid "Avenues and Alleyways;" Patti Smith "Dancing Barefoot") members of TLC encouraged citizens to call their councillors, going so far as to provide a cell phone and a list of council phone numbers; some people invited their councillors to the party; a couple actually made it down to check out the action.
Artists used chalk to enhance the dull sidewalks with artful renderings of flowers, as others blew soap bubbles which gently floated out over the traffic.
A bike repair workshop materialized and lucky cyclists got free tune-ups from Mark and Chris of Spin Cycles.
Eric Ferguson brought down several orange bicycles (modelled on the white bikes of Amsterdam, the bikes are free for anyone to use, as long as they leave it for others when their trip is done) and bicycle couriers stopped by to have a glass of lemonade and chat.
People concentrated on two chess games that were sharing prime real estate while people danced beside them. Some people just laid down and stretched out, enjoying the only green space within sight.
Passer-by gave thumbs up, and some joined in the fun.
One elderly pedestrian promised to quit smoking if we could get rid of the cars downtown, a promise he repeated for the benefit of all through the bullhorn.
TLC demands include a push for long awaited bike lanes on downtown streets, support for municipal public transit and for Hamilton to take part in World Car Free Day by closing streets to cars on September 20.
The celebration was offset by the dark side of life in North American cities: car-nage.
Hamilton drivers have, through years of official encouragement and traffic design aimed at "efficiency", become a serious menace.
Cameras installed to catch red light runners in Hamilton reveal the depth of the problem: compared to Toronto where cameras captured an average of 53 motorists running red lights in May, Hamilton captured an average of 198 motorists for the month.
Recently in Hamilton, 36-year-old Tim Ekelman was killed as a speeding car (racing with another car) slammed into his bicycle from behind. As the Hamilton Spectator reported "A black baseball cap lay half a block away at the point of collision and a man's contorted body lay twisted and bleeding heavily at the intersection." The driver has been charged with criminal negligence causing death. Police are searching for the other car, which left the scene of the "accident".
The man's sister in law works as a parking-meter attendant and happened upon the parking meter party. She instantly understood TLC's message:
It is past time to curb the car.
Between 1990 and 1998 motor vehicle accidents killed 289 people in Hamilton Wentworth and injured 34,220 more. Worldwide cars kill 500,000 people, two thirds of whom are pedestrians, of which one third are children.
According to the Canadian Automobile Association, there are now more than 2.78 million vehicles on highways per day in the Hamilton and Toronto region.
One full transit bus could replace up to 40 single occupant vehicles, thereby saving 70,000 litres of fuel and avoiding nine tonnes of air pollutants a year!
The same day that climate change talks resumed in Bonn, TLC activists reminded people that motor vehicles are the leading cause of smog, and contribute 65% of all carbon monoxide emitted into the environment, a primary element contributing to global warming.
This shouldn't come as a surprise to Hamiltonians, who are experiencing the worst year ever for poisonous smog. Last summer's total of nine smog days were matched as early as June this year. This year also ushered in the earliest smog alert ever issued (April)
Activists vow to keep pressure on politicians at all levels to fund and implement transportation strategies that encourage non-fossil fuel alternatives and support integrated public transit systems.
Canada currently has no sustained federal support for transit and Ontario has made no commitment to transit investments. Ontario has, though, recently announced their intention to build a super "mid peninsula" highway, which will only exacerbate suburban sprawl, highway gridlock, smog and global warming.
A light rain which began just as our two hour limit ran out on the meter signalled the end of the party. As people rolled up the lush green sod to reveal the oil stained pavement beneath, the main question on people's minds was "when is the next parking meter party?"
The answer is: "Soon."