Too much of the debate over Hamilton's streets is driven by familiarity with the status quo, fear of change and a tendency to rationalize existing beliefs instead of reasoning from evidence.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 25, 2012
One of the more bizarre arguments against converting Hamilton's network of one-way streets to two-way is the claim that a two-way street network would somehow be less fault tolerant - that a disruption in traffic flow due, say, to a collision or lane closure would cause bigger problems on a two-way network than on a one-way network.
The reasoning seems to be that if, say, a one-way street with four lanes westbound is converted to two-way, that means there will only be two westbound lanes and any lane closure will lead to "gridlock".
There's a glaring problem with this reasoning: it completely neglects to take into account that in a two-way conversion of paired one-way streets, the parallel street will also be converted back to two way, providing an alternate route.
When a one-way network is converted to two-way, by definition the number of routes in a given direction doubles. That can only result in a more resilient network, since drivers have more ways of getting to a destination.
We don't even have to imagine how this might work. We only need to look at the recent closure of Cannon Street at James when a water main burst on September 13.
Water main break at James and Cannon
Cannon was closed completely for a while and then just one lane was open. Traffic moved slowly through the single lane, as it would if only a single lane was open on a two-way street.
However, it did not lead to "gridlock", even when the street was completely closed. Thanks to the 2010 conversion of York/Wilson Street to two-way, drivers on Cannon were able to go a block south, turn right onto Wilson and proceed west.
Westbound traffic on Wilson
Traffic flowed smoothly westbound on Wilson/York and provided the flexibility to allow cars to detour around the closure on Cannon.
Traffic flowed smoothly westbound on York
Had Wilson remained one-way, drivers would have had to continue south another couple of blocks to King Street before they could turn westbound.
In the past, I have criticized the two-way conversion of York for being Two-Way-In-Name-Only (TWINO), since three lanes remain dedicated to eastbound traffic and only one lane runs westbound, and it is illegal to turn westbound onto York from James Street in either direction.
However, even in its attenuated form, this two-way street was able to serve the function of allowing traffic to route around a blocked intersection.
By the way, here is a shot of Wilson looking westbound from Catharine on a normal midday:
Wilson Street looking westbound from Catharine
This is one of the streets that we are expected to believe will become "gridlocked" if we convert our network to two-way.
But lest you claim that I'm cherry-picking a minor street instead of a major arterial, here is a video of Main Street at Caroline, where a lane is closed to traffic next to the old Revenue Canada building. This video was shot around lunchtime on a recent weekday.
Too much of the debate over Hamilton's streets is driven by familiarity with the status quo, fear of change and a tendency to rationalize existing beliefs instead of reasoning from evidence. We need to do better.