Stuck in the '90s

By Jason Leach
Published February 25, 2008

While checking letters to the editor online at the Hamilton Spectator the past week, I've been reminded of why I cancelled my subscription.

Since Terry Cooke wrote his piece about two-way streets, the Spec has published one letter after another from people who don't like the idea.

What's the big deal?, you may ask. They have a right to their opinion, don't they?

Sure, but why do I care about someone's viewpoint about downtown who has self-admittedly been there only "once in the past ten years"?

Why should our daily newspaper even give a forum to someone who has no clue about the realities of downtown Hamilton?

Terry Cooke talked about the backlash and reaction to bike lanes on Main Street back in the 1990s. It looks like the Spec is determined to keep our fine city back in the early '90s by allowing people who never go downtown to tell us what is wrong with it and what it needs.

Maybe the Spec should ask the new café, shop and gallery owners on James North what they think. After all, they've all located there since the street was converted to two-way.

Maybe they should interview people who actually live downtown, every day of the year, and find out what they think of their newfound ability to walk, cycle or sit on a patio on streets that used to be nothing more than noisy highways.

I wouldn't dream of writing a letter to the editor stating my opinion about Guelph, for example. I've never been there.

If I was dumb enough to send in such a letter, I would hope that the editors running a major daily newspaper there would chuckle and toss it in the garbage.

Not in Hamilton.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By TOMKINITE (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 13:43:14

Hamilton fails at educating it's public.

The reasonings are logical and a correct step for Downtown, but not everyone is a Civic Engineering graduate.

Hamilton is a corporation and it's product is the City. It's important that Hamilton go beyond it's council meetings and Cable 14 telecasts and get the community aware.

Obviously we don't want people flying through Downtown, but no one has taken the REAL effort to logically explain the benefits of 2-way streets.

Most logical-minded individuals will get it if they have it explained to them. Right now these changes are being brushed off as "ignorant change" instead of progressive thinking.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 15:00:45

I've been thinking about the whole two way thing a lot recently because I've had to drive downtown a lot recently. I worked downtown a few years ago and I liked the one way streets because they got me to work quickly. Driving up and down James Street a couple of times this weekend I was actually glad to be able to drive slow and have time to look around. If I wasn't doing renovations and not able to stop, I would've stopped in at a couple of places ot check them out. Instead I made a list of places I want to check out with my friends. Then...I drove down Main Street on my way home. What a difference. It reminded me of those dead corridors in TO that I had to march down while in the Teen Tour Band. Hardly any ped traffic - just cars on their way somewhere other than downtown. As a civil engineering technologist, I understand the need for proper traffic flow and levels of service at intersections but at some point there's got to be a change. Of course, LOS and traffic flow will be disrupted at first, that's a given but, it'll adapt. I believe that changing downtown's streets to two way will generate new economic opportunities and if people will just take an opportunity to drive downtown, get out of their cars and spend an afternoon walking into shops, I think that you'd find a lot of people with less stress than they have now. While we're at it, can we fix the misaligned stripes between King and Main? I almost got hit twice by ppl not paying attention. Let's do it...and let's do it right!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2008 at 15:46:08

TOMKINITE wrote: "Most logical-minded individuals will get it if they have it explained to them."

To be honest, my experience with trying to discuss two-way conversion suggests otherwise. Here are some articles and blog entries RTH has published concerning two way conversion:

No Two Ways About It (Nov. 10, 2005)

Designing Livable Cities: An Interview with Donald Schmitt (Nov. 28, 2005)

Make Hamilton's Streets Two-Way Today (Nov. 7, 2006)

Convert Main and King to Two-Way (Nov. 23, 2006)

Trying to Kick the Car Habit (Nov. 23, 2006)

Two-Way Streets Part of a Conceptual Shift (Nov. 24, 2006)

Look at the comments on these pieces - again and again, people simply reject outright the idea that making the streets two-way could produce positive effects on street life.

In this city, opposition to anything that might slow traffic, no matter the benefits, is runs deeply and dogmatically. Opponents maintain that converting streets to two-way will be a disaster, no matter how abundant the evidence to the contrary.

By the way: in the Hamilton Spectator's defence, in late 2005 they published an op-ed I wrote that was a version of "No Two Ways About It", linked above.

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By TOMKINITE (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 16:48:18

Ryan Wrote: "To be honest, my experience with trying to discuss two-way conversion suggests otherwise."

People who do not understand the benefits after being shown logical proof--not opinion--will naturally thread themselves out of the City and more progressively thinking individuals will replace them through the laws of natural order.

On the other hand, there are those who read RTH articles and essays and get a little tickled about the idea. They just need to see it in action, or imagine it (in my case).

It would be great to show Hamilton in this way to those who are not completely convinced.

It would be nice if a video could be rendered using the current Downtown architecture as a backdrop, showing maybe LRT slowing down, picking up some passengers and then traveling off. Behind the tram would be cobblestone roads with people walking everywhere; people playing in Gore park. In the distance you would see patios full of people and an energy that Hamilton so desperately requires.

I wonder how many people would change their perspective if they could see it in action. They might even become proud of the idea.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 16:55:15

I sent this letter to the Spec.

Naturally, as it does not promote putting automobiles over people, it didn't get published...

In the Feb 22: rebuttal to Terry Cooke's Feb 16 column, Patrick Keller makes a very clear argument for the conversion of downtown streets to two-way, despite his personal opposition to the idea.

"Since the conversion of one-way streets to two ways on John and James a couple of years ago, I avoid the downtown area completely when not driving to work, and I don't think I'm alone in this."

That's exactly the point. The downtown area's function is not to support the needs of those who are "just passing through" on their way to somewhere else. It is meant to support those who live, work and do business in the centre of the city. Fewer cars and more efficient transit options downtown makes the area more livable, and attracts more development and greater variety of businesses, which attracts more people, spending more money.

By choosing a different route and avoiding driving through the downtown area, Patrick and those like him are contributing to a cleaner, safer and more vibrant downtown. One only need look at the activity that's started to develop on James North to see the benefits this has to businesses and to people in the lower city. On the other hand, Main St. is a ghost town fronted by 5 lanes of traffic.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 17:11:42

tomkinite...I love the idea of video presentations with our own streets as a the LRT working 2-ways on Main, new tree canopy, new storefront shops, patios and a general feeling of vibrancy and vitality....most Hamiltonians probably think it can never happen. Because the average person isn't an engineer it can be tough to imagine how Main St could look....a well-done video presentation would be fabulous.

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By statius (registered) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 18:58:11

It's certainly worth giving a voice to the outsider; they often provide the most perspicacious view of any situation. That being said, the Spec's decision to give voice to a guy who's been in the downtown once in the last ten years does seem a bit ridiculous, I have to admit.

The fact that the Spec printed only negative responses likely indicates that the reaction to Cooke's piece was in fact overwhelmingly non-supportive. This would not surprise me in the least. I do quite firmly believe that Hamiltonians en masse are quite staunchly opposed to a reversion to two-way streets. While it is almost assuredly the more enlightened decision, I don't think it would be a very popular one (at least initially).

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By HAMRetrofit (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 22:41:23

People in Hamilton really need take a trip to Detroit for a crash lesson on the implications of prioritizing traffic flow over everything else.

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By HAMRetrofit (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 22:43:18

Perhaps city counsel should organize a bus tour to teach the little speeders a good lesson.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 26, 2008 at 07:46:42

they can take a road trip to Detroit to see a lot more than bad transportation planning....

If they want to see the effects of prioritizing traffic flow everything else they should all take a road trip to Main Street, Downtown Hamilton Ontario.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2008 at 14:13:40

I like the idea of a Gore Park video presentation. RTH toyed with the idea, a while back, of doing a, 'Can You Imagine...?' series with photo mock ups of how the downtown could look. Video would be even better. Perhaps some RTH readers have the technology...?

As for Arienc's letter - spot on: Downtown is a neighbourhood first and foremost. What would happen if you put a freeway through YOUR neighbourhood? What would happen if you took it away? Neighbourhoods florish when people are invited and encouraged to hit the streets and mingle. When neighbourhoods are split in two, (or three or four), by highways and poor planning, they become empty shells. Furthermore, as a retail and tourist district, downtown is a destination not a thoroughfare. If you want to go around then go around. Hamilton should follow the lead of Leeds and Nottingham and towns all over Europe and pedestrianize the core (it'll never appen :) )

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By TOMKINITE (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2008 at 14:47:02

I have a few friends in the business of rendering. 3D (Lightwave, Maya, etc) and Adobe After Effects would mostly be the prime applications. They could be too busy, that is the only caveat.

I like the "What would happen if?" scenario. I think it would be neat to show them the current Downtown. Maybe have a "speed reader" to record the speeds of traffic. Show footage of Downtown and the traffic while on-screen the speeds that people are going while they rip through the core are displayed.

Then sink into a more pedestrian-friendly City scene. Show that the speeds are lower but the streets aren't empty. Something along those lines.

I think it's important to highlight the concerns of those who oppose the idea. The reasoning behind this is that you want to educate to the audience that the idea isn't on bias and ignorance, but from carefully skilled and planned strategies. For example, while showing the footage of people speeding down King. St. you could also display on screen the various pros and cons to the one-way traffic scenario. Why it works, why it doesn't.

When showing the 2-way pedestrian friendly streets, you could also display the pros and cons to that strategy as well.

The audience will on their own grasp the variation and with understanding grasp that it is more important to have an active community over a 80km/h speedway.

There is much planning to do if this strategy was executed, although I feel it's work would prove sincerity and weight in the facts.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted February 26, 2008 at 15:07:32

Great idea! The vast majority of people are visual learners and aside from what the media feeds them they wouldn't be able to imagine something unless it was presented to them in a format like others have mentioned. (Thanks tv for ruining imaginations!!!)

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By enough (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2008 at 06:00:47

That's right Jason, god forbid the Spec print an opinion different than your own. Cooke's column must have slipped by those evil editors who are conspiring to kill the downtown. Now they are trying to make up for it by running negatives letters. Oh wait, there's a couple letters in today's paper that support going to two-way streets...
Maybe instead of blaming the Spec you could accept there is divided opinion on this issue. I'm just happy it's finally being debated by the public, it's about time.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted February 28, 2008 at 11:57:46

Enough said "god forbid the Spec print an opinion different than your own"...

I don't think you understand the problem, enough. The Spec doesn't show a balance in posting letters or opinions on it's pages. It has always leaned towards printing articles and opinions that reflect a lack of inspiration for the growth in downtown...usually ideas entrenched in ages of backwards thinking. I also believe that the divided opinion you say there is is much less in favour of keeping the roads as one way streets. I've yet to talk to a person who lives downtown and is directly affected by the monster highways we've made who enjoys them.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2008 at 12:42:27

That, of course, is Jason's larger point: that decisions affecting Hamilton's downtown continue to be made by people who don't live there and never go there.

The local daily newspaper running a string of downtown-hating letters is in some ways a sad corollary to a City Council composed disproportionately of suburban and exurban representatives.

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By urbanboy (registered) | Posted February 28, 2008 at 15:59:28

If you ask most business/educated people living and/or working in the lower city, they don't read the Spectator. Instead, they read the Globe, Star, type old ladies living on the mountain read the Spec and that is why there are such silly, ignorant letters to the solved. :o

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By arienc (registered) | Posted February 28, 2008 at 21:28:19

hey...spoke too letter actually made it into the Spec today, along with another supporter of two-way streets downtown.

While the Spectator has traditionally been on the side of those who benefit from the status quo and spend a good chunk of their budget on advertising, but I do sense occasionally some good insight finding its way onto their pages, both from the community and some writers. Let the debate continue.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 02:57:46

"...but I do sense occasionally some good insight finding its way onto their pages, both from the community and some writers." which is then immediately undercut by a finger-wagging editorial. And I just renewed my subscription, fool that I am. Well I am an old lady, even if I live in the lower city, so I guess I'm in their demo.

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By MikeM (anonymous) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 14:33:50


I was heartened to see someone else wrote into the Spec. If only someone here would run for Mayor...

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By Concerned Observer (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2008 at 18:08:06

Having travelled to a few places, a great City has in my estimation never been associated with great and fast moving traffic through the urban core.

I can't see why the City does not just make the change.

The only reason, is that a portion of the electorate and some politicians can't make the mental swith to do so, because of some ill-conceived plan to keep the streets one-way.

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