King Street East is just another example of the way our city's traffic engineering department is killing neighbourhoods across the city.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published May 08, 2011
King Street East heading into downtown Hamilton is not a pleasant stretch of street.
Abandoned storefront follows abandoned storefront. Boarded up and broken windows. Graffiti. Litter. Many of the businesses that are open look like they won't be for much longer.
Storefronts like this are not an unusual sight on King East.
As far as car traffic is concerned, it's one of the busiest streets in the city and one of the most important, linking the east side of the city and Stoney Creek with the downtown. But the misery is obvious. Drivers dash through. Pedestrians look uniformly miserable.
What's going on here? Why isn't this part of the street doing as well as King Street farther east (past Gage Park), or Main Street farther east (also beyond Gage Park), or King Street farther west (in the downtown)?
Certainly, those sections are not without their problems, but they don't have the look of urban decay that characterizes King between Sherman Avenue and Wellington Street.
So let's take a closer look, starting with the Main & King intersection by Gage Park.
Intersection of Main & King. Photo credit Google.
East of this intersection, both Main and King are two-way streets. Cars traveling west-bound on the two-way portions of King and Main are funnelled onto King, which becomes one-way here.
If we start at the King & Main intersection and head east on King Street, towards Stoney Creek, it becomes more of a residential street for a time, passing through pleasant tree-lined neighbourhoods.
If we headed east on Main Street instead, we see that it retains its commercial character. It links up with Ottawa Street, which is experiencing a renaissance in the same vein as James North.
Now lets start at the King & Main intersection again, but let's travel west on King Street instead, towards downtown.
King becomes four lanes of one-way traffic right after this intersection. Properties adjacent to the street are a mix of commercial (auto dealerships, fast food restaurants, a travel agency, etc.) and residential (a mix of low-rise apartment buildings and single- and multi-unit houses).
Cars enjoy unimpeded flow, pedestrians don't enjoy anything at all.
Things aren't great, but they aren't too bad, either, but when we reach Gage, things start to decline.
The area past Gage features a mix of low-wage businesses, parking lots, and low-rise brownstones interspersed with sections that appear slightly better off (like the Scott Park area, for example). There aren't many pedestrians and there's an absence of businesses with a lively street presence (restaurants, cafes, etc.) that you'd normally expect in a mixed commercial-residential neighbourhood.
Then we reach Sherman Avenue and things take a real nosedive. It's obvious that this part of the city is really not doing well. I used to live just past Sherman, at the corner of King and Proctor Blvd, and this part of King - though fun to live on for a young twenty-something - requires a high tolerance for incidents that require police involvement.
Closed-down, boarded up businesses are frequent. Seedy, windowless bars dot the strip. Sex trade workers ply their trade in the late and oddly enough, early hours (I'm told due to shift workers coming off the night shift). The sidewalks are bare and featureless and there's an almost total absence of trees along the street.
So much for multicultural friendship.
As the eastern gateway to downtown, it's hard to do much worse.
This is odd, because there are nice neighbourhoods immediately adjacent to the street. The afore-mentioned Proctor Boulevard is one of the nicest small boulevards in the lower city. You only have to travel a few metres off King in either direction to find yourself on pleasant, tree-lined streets with well-maintained homes.
Just meters off King, it's a different world. The first photo is Proctor Blvd; the second is Emerald Street.
There are also pockets along this stretch that are better maintained and that host businesses of a higher calibre than the payday loan outfits, fast food joints and car washes that are otherwise the main players. It's hard not to get the impression, though, that the momentum of the street is not in their direction.
It's hard not to get the impression, in fact, that King Street has been forgotten.
Newman's Menswear: keeping it classy on King since 1927. We need more businesses like this.
It doesn't have to be this way. King is not Barton Street, which runs through neighbourhoods that bore the brunt of the collapse of Hamilton's manufacturing economy.
The real problem with King is King itself. The decay of King is not because the neighbourhoods around King are decaying. I think it's the other way around: what's happening on King is because it's really unpleasant to do anything besides drive down it, and this is hurting all of the neighbourhoods around it.
It's no coincidence that the two-way part of King east of Gage Park is doing fine, and that the traffic-calmed, narrower one-way part west of Wellington is doing well too. These parts of King are far more amenable to pedestrians, cyclists, and the sort of ordinary folks who don't enjoy being run over. Decent businesses pop up and are sustained.
King is just another example of the way our city's traffic engineering department is killing neighbourhoods across the city, costing us hundreds of millions of dollars in lost property values, millions in property taxes, and untold misery as quality businesses and their customers move elsewhere, taking their jobs and their property standards with them.
At what point are we going to decide that enough is enough already and it's time to take back our streets from the traffic engineering department's grotesque belief that streets exist solely to service cars?
They by en sell your stuff.
It is blindingly obvious that our one-way downtown freeways are wrecking neighbourhoods and literally killing people, but the pace of change is excruciatingly slow. When change does occur, it frequently takes the form of bizarrely complex designs like the two-way York conversion, where it is virtually impossible to actually get onto the west-bound lane because you can't turn onto it from James in either direction.
It would be funny if the human cost were not so terrible. We need to start making bold changes in this city, and I think we need to start with our streets. They're broken and they need fixing, so let's fix them already, starting with sensible two-way conversions.
Streets like King East have suffered through neglect and decay long enough.
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