Revitalization

Pedestrianize Gore Park: Mayor

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 01, 2007

Hamilton Mayor Fred Eisenberger just made a presentation to the Public Works Committee recommending that the city look at pedestrianizing Gore Park:

We need to create a truly unique environment that has a clear identity that citizens can understand and relate to. For downtown Hamilton, that identity historically has been Gore Park. The Gore was a popular social gathering place, a hub of retail and commerce. We need to re-establish the Gore as a hub once again. A place where all citizens will point with pride when they think of downtown.

I would like for us to consider the idea of pedestrianizing the Gore - closing it off to through traffic and creating a public plaza. [emphasis added]

Citing successes in other cities - Ottawa's Sparks Street, Regina's Scarth Street Mall, Montreal's Prince Arthur Street, and the city of Debrecen, Hungary - the Mayor argued that a similar initiative in Hamilton would attract new development and increase property values by creating a more lively, people place in the heart of the city.

Eisenberger noted further that the presence of Gore Park in our core gives Hamilton a unique opportunity to create a real civic plaza with an existing space, and that growing awareness of the need to reduce automobile dependence, the plan to move the Gore bus terminal to another location, and the planned rapid transit initiative all align toward reclaiming the core for people, not cars.

(He even noted that one rationale for building the Red Hill Expressway was to reduce traffic through the core.)

It's exciting to hear a Hamilton mayor expressing a hopeful vision for the downtown that is based in lessons from other cities, not outmoded planning dogma. However, to be realized, this plan will require acceptance from the Public Works department, which has traditionally placed ease of driving above other priorities.

It will also require buy-in from the Downtown BIA, which in the past has pinned too many of its hopes on making it easier to drive downtown.

Most hopeful is the fact that the Mayor seems to understand that transforming the downtown core will require transforming our understanding of what makes cities work:

Downtown renewal efforts have had a measure of success, but we require a rethinking of how we approach downtown - its strengths and potential, if we are to take renewal to the next level.

This initiative suggests that the mayor regards transformation as a real goal, not just empty rhetoric. We'll be sure to follow this story to see how it develops.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 15:35:57

It's about time. Recently, I sat on a patio at a coffee shop in Gore Park, sipping a cup of cappucino and eating some cake. It was an enjoyable experience, because it's a pretty park, the weather was nice, and my company was superb, although I can't say the same for the coffee or the cake.

The only downer was the traffic. The constant rush of traffic down King St, plus the roar of buses pulling through the park, was a real interruption. I could live with the traffic noise on King (I doubt the mayor was suggesting rerouting King, although I'd be all for that), but the buses and other traffic in the park have to go.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 16:17:09

finally we're starting to earn some dividends on electing a mayor who seems to get it. not a moment too soon either!!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2007 at 16:23:24

The Mayor pitched some possible ways of implementing the idea:

  • Closing off one side to traffic, or both.
  • Continuing to allow public transit and delivery vehicles to pass through.
  • Seasonal/Time of Day closures.

It's too bad he included the third choice, because it will allow people in Public Works who still don't get it to make like they're compromising without really effecting a transformation.

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By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 16:26:21

There is room for buses on the other side of the park. Currently there is that wrought iron fence between the park and 60km/h traffic. I propose taking down the fence, having the bus stop on that side of the park, and closing the left lane to traffic except buses. The former bus lane would become all pedestrian. That would functionalize both sides of the park - as it stands now, the side with the fence is rather unpleasant, and the park is completely cut from the other side of the street.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 16:48:38

is he talking about possibly closing traffic on BOTH sides of the park? If only king and Main were 2-way streets...it could be done easily. To me the south leg is a no-brainer (explaining why the downtown BIA doesn't approve:) the north side would be great to pull off, or leave for transit and delivery vehicles only. I recall the Saturday public market in Portland....closed streets to traffic EXCEPT the light rail trains that would slowly crawl through the mobs of people. Everyone just parted like the Red Sea and off went the train.

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 17:03:44

Sparks Street in Ottawa is not a success.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 17:23:11

thankfully Gore Park is nothing like Sparks Street. You're right...that street is so boring. Our Gore has a much more European piazza type feel to it....it already feels like a spot meant to be for people first.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 18:01:47

great news....he IS talking about both sides of Gore from James to Catharine. Buses would still be allowed, which is fabulous. I assume they would re-route buses off the south leg of Gore and put them all on the north side. This would speed up buses, create a great pedestrian environment and allow new businesses to open up there with patio/sidewalk space. Currently there is no street parking on King from John to James so businesses won't have to worry about losing car-driving customers. In fact, they would stand to gain customers via enhanced transit and a new destination downtown right out their storefront. Catharine would need to be made 2-way to allow people to jump up to Cannon or down to Hunter. Email your councillor.....let's not let another great idea die deep inside the bowels of city hall (the Eaton Centre now)

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By H Mag (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2007 at 18:20:48


I like the idea mentioned here or elsewhere about the possibility of all buses being on the other side of where the Gore Park fence is now. Take that down - make all buses dock there - put up a dividing bump for those waiting to get on and voila - you have some lovely public space all around it.

Highly brand the new area - "The Gore" and take out any reference to it being a park - which it really isn't - more of a strip. As Jason mentioned earlier it becomes a real Piazza....more of a rectagular shape than a square - but it will be a real beautiful place to spend an afternoon sipping a coffee. This should also make it easier to convert some of those upper stories into living spaces. As it stands right now - it isn't the best place to live with all that traffic and idling spewing right into your windows.

Now if we only change up some of that less than appealing "preaching" on Sundays....ahh Downtown Hamilton - it truly is a great place to gather! Let's give the rest of the city a reason to come down.

Pedestrianize King St. NOW!

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By West end Observer (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 00:27:48

I'll give Mayor Fred a few points for providing a fresh vision for the downtown in terms of bricks and mortar. But it's really just a continuation of patchwork construction upgrades which provide little benefit to the city's taxpayers. Forget sipping coffee and eating cake around Gore Park until an alternative is found for the drifters and losers who congregate in the area and really make the place unwelcoming. It'll never have the feeling of a European piazza until the city centre stops being ground zero for half-way and crack houses. Sure, close down traffic, but just expect the downtown to become bigger congregating grounds for undesirables.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 08:24:20

Wow, Observer, intolerant much?

"Drifters", "losers", "undesirables"? They're HUMAN BEINGS and maybe they wouldn't be in such bad shape if the rest of us remembered that.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 08:26:23

Observer, I think you are wrong about that. Give people a reason to go there and the "undesireables" will find that area less appealing because they won't have full run of the joint anymore. Get a couple cops on horses to hang out there and the seedy behaviour will be limited. As it is now, people can be cracky there all they want because anyone who can do anything about it (police) are whizzing by at 60km/h and don't notice any details.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 08:32:10

I think a good approach as far as traffic would be to make main street 2 way east of bay. This way, king street is freed up AND we don't lose that precious "easy access to the downtown" feature that everyone seems to love (i.e. you can get TO the downtown fast, but its harder to get out). That should make the people happy who keep insisting that "getting to downtown" is the main reason to keep the one ways. Bay is also a logical "Escape" for eastbound traffic. I'd change the right turn at queen to a dual lane'r, narrow the stretch from queen to bay (but keep it one way, 3 or 4 lanes) then have a dual left turn onto bay, leaving 1 or 2 lanes eastbound and 1 or 2 lanes westbound past bay.

this might also make the transition easier for later on when we need to put the LRT through there ;-)

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 08:41:20

yea, there's no homeless or undesirables hanging out in the piazza's over in Europe right??

Mayor Fred is bang on here, and bang on in wanting to do something quick, not wait 5 years for more studies. The downtown BIA will oppose of course, because they like having so many cheque cashing and convenience stores within a 3 block stretch.

The south leg is an absolute no-brainer, and the north leg would work fine from John to James. Transit will be quicker and pedestrians will have free run of the mill, not speeding cars passing by.

Remember, LESS than 1km from King Street is Barton, Cannon, Wilson, Hunter and Charlton.

Another online forum had someone mention that those other streets are too far out of the way to get to, yet folks on the Mountain had plenty of options when Limeridge closed. The Mountain is built on a 1-km grid pattern...all major streets are 1-km apart.
If folks didn't mind detouring 1-km out of their way up there, it should be no problem to detour 1/4 to 3/4 of a km in the lower city and have 5 major streets to choose from in that distance, not just 1.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 08:48:17

Today's Spec has an article about this:

http://thespec.com/News/Local/article/25...

Check out the last three paragraphs:


Eisenberger said he was inspired by the Hungarian city of Debrecen, population about 205,000, "whose downtown core was struggling with the same kinds of issues."

A pedestrian mall there, served by a light-rail line, "generated an enormous amount of investment, inspired a whole new view of what their downtown was.

"It brought a whole lot of people in."

Did he just say "light-rail line"? I think he did.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 08:58:18

Why can't we close of the area from Wellington to James to everything but bus traffic and make Main from Bay to Victoria 2 way? Wellington is already a multi lane street so it wouldn't need to be widened to accommodate traffic from King onto Main. Also, fix up Victoria down to Cannon so you don't leave an axle behind when getting to Cannon and promote those 2 routes as ways around the core. There are a lot of shops in the 2 lane section of downtown that would do great if this happened, not to mention it would improve the look of the place without having to make major infrastructure changes not to mention the fact that if Main is 2 way for that length, it would slow down traffic making the area more livable which would increase ped traffic which would attract business who want to put money into making nice looking shops/boutiques instead of blank grey wall faces.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 09:01:16

Heck if there was a nice looking core and an LRT system to service it I'd make the trip regularly from the Creek to check it out...might even decide to move back downtown...

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 09:03:17

Public Works will tell you that they won't convert Main to two-way because it carries 40,000 cars a day and WHERE WOULD THE POOR CARS GO?

This city won't really turn around until the Public Works and EcDev departments nake a gestalt shift in their conception of how cities work.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 09:13:08

Traffic patterns and habits won't change until the flow of traffic is restricted. If it's easy to cut through the downtown core, then people won't use the roads around the core. How can the EcDev dept not acknowledge the growth prospective if something like this were to happen??? Isn't that the equivalent of saying that black isn't black?

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 09:33:19

Great discussion. I hope some of this makes it's way onto the letters/OpEd pages of the Spec and into councilors inbox baskets... :)

It's great for the Mayor to be touting this but it remains to be seen how much public, council and city staff support he will get.

I have some sympathy for the homeless comments. There are indeed many 'less desirable' public spaces around the world which cater only to the folks who frequent the local area. Anyone been to the parks around Dundas and Sherbourne lately? This has nothing to do with having an attitude of understanding (or a lack of it) towards people who are struggling, it's about creating a vibrant atmosphere that is welcoming to everyone. We can be as politicaly correct as we want but sipping coffee across from the Right House and Money Mart is just not going to do it for many folks. I would never advocate for a New York type purging, but I do think there is a case for spreading some of these services around.

While we're on the subject of pedestrianization, there is an on-going discussion in The Star which RTH readers may find interesting (including a letter from me!):

Star Editorial: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/2... Walk21 Conference: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/2... Letters: http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/2...

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 10:04:32

Frank, you're absolutely right. David Cohen wrote a great piece on this last year:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/44...

"[Public Works] has not been heretofore known for its love of pedestrians. They have, rather, regarded them as nuisances that must be tolerated but not encouraged. Above all, they must not be allowed to significantly impede traffic flow.

"[...]

"[T]his will be a walkable city on Public Works' terms. [Mary Lou Tanner, the Manager of Strategic and Environmental Planning for Public Works] said current plans are for King Street to be converted to one-way, but not Main.

"Why? Ed Switenky, Acting Manager, Traffic Engineering and Operations, speaking on behalf of one of the reporting tables, offered a hint: Main is not a good candidate for conversion because of its heavy traffic load - 40,000 cars a day.

"Where will the cars go? Jane Jacobs, if she were still around, would say - don't worry, many will simply disappear. Their drivers will find other means of transportation."

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By hmag (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 10:56:09

First thing we must do is get The Spec to stop calling it a Pedestrian Mall!!!

That won't help this concept seem real to the many Hamiltonians who are scratching their heads this morning reading our daily rag.

When you say Pedestrian Mall it really does sound horrible....

Call it The Gore - a hub and meeting place in the downtown core. DO NOT CALL IT A PEDESTRIAN MALL. You know the Spec wants to see this proposal die on the vine.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 11:05:37

light rail, PLUS a pedestrian zone...now we're talking. Do the south leg immediately and then get to work on LRT and the north leg. This would be amazing for Hamilton....it's up to citizens to contact council and the mayor...if we let the Spec speak for us we'll end up bulldozing much of downtown in order to widen the roads. They are about 60 years behind the reality of today's Hamilton resident. Don't sit back and assume that other are sending emails of support and writing letters to the editor. Everyone needs to.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 11:45:34

This is brilliant. Hamilton has a better chance at doing successfully what all cities want but will not commit to - bring back a real downtown.

But it needs a critical mass to jump start it, and this is just the thing. Incremental measures will just be mowed down by traffic and declared failures.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 13:13:24

Right on. We all need to show our support. I have already written to Mayor Fred as well as Wards 1, 2 and 3 councillors. See my letter here: http://hammerboard.ca/viewtopic.php?p=31...

Please do the same! I am writing to the Spec next :-)

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By martinus g (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2007 at 15:03:29

Let's encourage city hall to run with this:

www.petitiononline.com/gorepark/petition

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By Tim Jacobs (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 17:46:52

While I support the new downtown Hamilton piazza, I also urge caution in its design and implementation. Not all pedestrian malls are a success.

Calgary's Stephen Avenue mall--closed to vehicular traffic--languished for years with spotty commerce. It seems that this was so because people could not park on that street. However, in the last five years or so, it has seen a solid resurgence. One wonders if this is simply because of that city's--and Province's--overflowing coffers; all zones eventually fill in during prosperous times.

Regardless, it's important to realize that pedestrian zones only really work because of vehicular traffic surrounding them. Pedestrian zones have to be situated in high density zones and people who drive from outer neighbourhoods have to be able to access them with their cars.

Anyway, just a little more info. I do hope that this plan is implemented and that the city allows local architects to bid on the plan. Reading about Mayor Fred's articulation of an LRT to accompany the pedestrian zone has all but quelled my fears, too.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2007 at 20:19:48

Tim, you make a very important point. For a transformation to be successful, it needs to incorporate a few simultaneous changes that transform the dynamics downtown and reinforce each other: pedestrianize the South leg of King at the Gore, build light rail rapid transit, switch the east-west routes to two-way, rewriting the downtown zoning to leverage transit-oriented-development, and so on.

Doing any one of these in isolation will produce only mediocre results.

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By Vetern (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2007 at 05:05:09

Whatever is done to beautify and socialize Gore Park, the War Memorial and its immediate parameters should be respected and maintained.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 03, 2007 at 11:46:37

Veteran, if Gore Park is revitalized (which it will most definately be if this goes through) you can bet that more people will know the memorial exists. Right now, people zip by at 60 km/h and never really appreciate what's in the Gore area. There are already several coffee houses on the South side so an immediate change to that side would be relatively simple. The downtown area is marvelous. I've driven through there recently and noticed many changes since I worked down there. Many new businesses and much better looking cleaner buildings. Already steps in the right direction. Let's work on a good LRT system. Expedite a good transit line and those who hate driving downtown already (i.e. those like me) will come visit again to stroll around and check out the shops.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted October 03, 2007 at 11:54:58

I just mentioned the proposed changes to one of my coworkers who lives downtown and buses from there to the Creek for work every day. She loved the idea of changing the Gore into a more ped friendly environment as well as the LRT system. Very exciting. Make sure you tell people! Nothing like word of mouth to pressure our councilors into doing something for a change.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 04, 2007 at 20:34:45

you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone who lives downtown that doesn't love this idea. for too long this city has allowed the downtown to languish because joe-blow on the south mountain doesn't think anything should be changed, even though he never comes downtown. the folks who are in the area 7 days a week (like me) know how wonderful downtown already is, and yet how much amazing potential there is. that's one of the biggest problems with the downtown BIA. Their director lives in Caledonia. nothing against the folks in Calendonia, but it's a tiny town. Hamilton is a huge city compared to them. How our most important BIA could even dream of having a small-town leader is beyond me (it's also why they contantly oppose smart ideas like this...a pedestrian zone in Caledonia would never work. Parking lots do).

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