Special Report: Walkable Streets

Searching for Answers to Hamilton's Love of One-Way Streets

Despite the success of the James/John two-way test case, why were we more progressive a decade ago than today?

By Keanin Loomis
Published May 16, 2012

Main Street: five-lane expressway through the core (RTH file photo)
Main Street: five-lane expressway through the core (RTH file photo)

When I find myself growing frustrated at the slow pace of change in this city (I'm admittedly restless), I start to think about the people who have been banging their heads against the wall well before I got here.

I calm down when I'm assured that the rate of progress has actually picked up in the last few years ("You should have seen this city 10 years ago!," I am constantly told), but I've come to admire the endurance, determination and hopeless optimism it takes to invest in this city.

Adrian Duyzer's account of the On the Cusp event last week at HWDSB (R.I.P.), however, reminded me that not too long ago, the City of Hamilton embarked upon a progressive initiative that today can only be considered an unmitigated success: the conversions of James and John from one-way to two-way streets.

The quote Adrian attributed to Terry Cooke piqued me the most:

In 2000/2001 we did an incremental pilot project of converting John and James to two-ways. It's been totally successful. Why we haven't seen our way through to getting rid of the five-lane expressways in our city defies comprehension.

And now I find my blood pressure rising again.

One of the most distinguishing features of this town is its one-way streets. Out-of-towners always comment on it - and usually with a sneer, because, as we all know, the thoroughfares do not present Hamilton at its best.

It's immediately obvious to any visitor that a long time ago, our civic leaders sacrificed quality of place to accommodate the automobile and facilitate its quick passage from one end of the city to the other.

The fact that our streets are still one-way shows that we cling to out-of-date ideologies. It shows, quite frankly, that we don't have the highest regard for our city.

There is certainly no sense in blaming our leaders of past eras - there was a contagion running through every municipal government in North America. Our parents' and grandparents' generations made a lot of bad decisions as they tinkered with society-building in the post-War era. Architecture from that era is ugly. Suburbs and highways killed cities and neighborhoods. Hell, rivers spontaneously combusted!

But I am interested in how, in the subsequent decades, Hamilton's city leaders came to experiment in reestablishing two-way traffic on James and John. Not being a Hamiltonian at that time, I don't have any knowledge of the genesis of the initiative and how it got approved and implemented.

What fault-lines in the community were revealed? I'm sure there must have been some controversy surrounding it and a lot of prognostications of how the sky would fall if we were to actually embrace change, but presumably a group of decision-makers actually provided some vision to change the status quo and then some leadership to make it happen.

It seems so out-of-character in comparison to today.

In the last few years I've come to call Hamilton home, I can't recall having heard one peep from City Hall about two-way traffic on Main, King and Cannon - despite the success of James Street.

Have any studies been undertaken pertaining to converting Main-King-Cannon back to two-way? Many people obviously supported the James-John conversion: where did they go and why did the experiment not go further?

If Terry Cooke is struggling for the answers to those questions, I presume that no one has actually been forced to defend the status quo.

Some context on this issue would help me going forward, as I try to make sense of why certain thoroughfares continue to blight our city without any discussion of whether we should at least talk about making those streets work better for the neighborhoods they bisect.

Editor's note: This article is meant to spur a discussion, not only in the comments but also in published responses. We encourage Hamiltonians to submit well-written, thoughtful and evidence-based essays that move the discussion forward. Please send submissions to editor@raisethehammer.org.

Keanin is the President and CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce.


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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 07:04:19

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Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2012-05-16 07:04:27

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 08:27:47 in reply to Comment 76936

  1. They work for a freeway. Downtown streets are supposed to be full of life, commerce, people and vibrancy.

  2. And don't forget every single expert who has come to town in the past 25 years. Either someone is feeding them all the identical kool-aid before they arrive, or their expert opinion just might have a point...more-so than incoherent letters to the editor page in the Spec.

  3. Our ring freeway system is convenient and efficient. From Locke and King I arrive at the QEW in 10 minutes via Burlington St. I arrive at Greenhill and RHVP in 15. That's literally the opposite end of town. Find me another city our size where one can travel to the opposite end of town in 10-15 minutes, with barely a stoplight (just a few on Burlington St). Even all the one-way streets can't compete with the efficiency and convenience of our freeways. If they did, I'd use them when heading to the QEW or Greenhill Ave.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-05-16 08:28:15

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 11:25:48 in reply to Comment 76946

>> Downtown streets are supposed to be full of life, commerce, people and vibrancy.

And without cash in the pocket of residents, how can it be so? Since 1980, federal corporate tax rates have fallen from 38% to 15%, while welfare now barely covers rent.

From 1970-80, the top tax rates in Ontario averaged over 60%, while worker productivity averaged 1.85%/year. In the past decade, productivity has averaged only 0.8%.

In the past decade, Canadian corporations have added half a trillion to their balance sheets, while household debt has risen from 60%/GDP to 93%. In the eighties, household debt averaged about 45%.

Any area where people line up at food banks, regardless of the street configuration, is not going to have a vigorous commercial sector.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 09:48:37 in reply to Comment 76946

jason wrote: "Even all the one-way streets can't compete with the efficiency and convenience of our freeways."

Yes, that's been my experience too. Living near King and Nash, it take approximately 30 minutes to get to and from downtown Dundas, which is a semi regular trip for me. Then one day I googled the trip to show fastest route as opposed to shortest, and lo and behold, the RHVP/LINC route was faster by 10 minutes, taking only a total of 20.

I've also found that regular route for downtown or waterfront is RHVP to Burlington St., and again, much faster than using King and Main.

There simply is no overriding reason, in 2012, for King and Main to be the freeways they have been, especially with the advent of the LINC/RHVP and the burgeoning real time traffic/GPS technology that is upon us.

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By Keanin Loomis (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 07:19:18 in reply to Comment 76936

1) How and for whom? Does it offset the ways in which one-way streets don't work (you can't say it works for everyone)?

2) I certainly hope so.

3) I assume this is your first argument for your first point. Is that all there is?

I don't think that's going to be enough to defend the status quo.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2012 at 08:13:12 in reply to Comment 76937

We moved to this city 12 years ago,and have been reading about Hamilton being "on the cusp" for that long.

When we re-located, the deleterious effects of one-way traffic on King and Main were immediately apparent. As people who live in the lower city and who need to navigate around here by car (not just to Stoney Creek and back), the one way streets are a constant source of frustration- people drive them like freeways to get from one end of the city to the other, without a concern for those of us who need to change lanes to turn on to a side street for some reason- if we can't get over safely, we miss our turn and end up having to double back a greater distance then we would have to if the traffic was two-way. How, exactly,is this efficient?

How much longer are we going to let King St. East limp along without fixing traffic flow to encourage people to actually stop their cars and shop or eat? 12 more years?

Our oldest two have gone back to Toronto, third one seriously considering following suit-- some days, I can't say I blame them.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 17:53:32 in reply to Comment 76944

"We moved to this city 12 years ago,and have been reading about Hamilton being "on the cusp" for that long."

At least.


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By Ergot (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 17:44:58 in reply to Comment 76944

"How much longer are we going to let King St. East limp along without fixing traffic flow to encourage people to actually stop their cars and shop or eat? 12 more years?"

For some reason I remember hearing that the next two-way test phase roll-out is on for 2021, so that'd already be close. And then if we're talking about a large-scale undertaking like that I imagine the City would come out with a rationale about wanting to implement it alongside LRT.

So yeah, 12 years sounds like it's a good guess.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 07:45:54 in reply to Comment 76937

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 09:02:53 in reply to Comment 76939

Reading your comments Im assuming that you only drive thru downtown .. Maybe we should go for a bilk ride and walk next weekend. It might be an eye opening experience.

Driving is not the only form of transport.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 26, 2012 at 16:49:25 in reply to Comment 76954

You'd be wrong. I live downtown. I bike, I walk, I drive. I expect to be able to do all 3 where I live, which I can.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 23:09:24 in reply to Comment 76954

I just wanted you to know i bought a tandem. if necessary i'll ride up the mountain and pick you up. let met me know me when .............

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 26, 2012 at 16:49:55 in reply to Comment 77036

Any time. Just let me know where to meet, but I'd rather not be on a tandem bike with a total stranger.

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By true but.. (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 09:10:31 in reply to Comment 76954

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By George (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 10:11:17 in reply to Comment 76956

I don't think that priority will change by offering other options.

In fact, as Ken Greenberg noted, it is those that drive the most that should be advocating policies that get those people that want alternatives out of their cars.

It'll make driving much easier, as has been the experience elsewhere.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 09:40:57 in reply to Comment 76956

I don't think you have to worry about that in Hamilton. We still don't have any bike lanes that actually connect to each other, and many sidewalks where 2 people can barely walk side by side next to 5 wide lanes of traffic. Some of us just want more balance. Others don't.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 09:00:44 in reply to Comment 76939

DowntowninHamilton wrote: "It works for me. It facilitates me getting from point A to point B, regardless of where it is. The timed 1-ways allow me to do that; untimed 2-ways won't (and don't). It works for the service vehicles trying to get from point A to point B. It works for those who need to get from one side of the city to the other. Not every single trip is about going out for a scenic drive and stopping at all the quaint shops and going for a stroll downtown."

I used to think the exact same way. But personal experience has changed my mind. We, and service vehicles, will still get form point A to point B. Sure it'll take a little longer, but isn't it worth it if it'll help make the space in between points A and B more livable and vital? I'll take "corridors and nodes" over "freeways" anyday. The evidence is out there in many, many places.

Sure, you may not think two way conversion will do such things, but what substantial reason is there to NOT do it? It'll tack on a few minutes to get to point B? That's it?

Let's give it a shot, and if getting to point B a few minutes later is so deleterious to our society and city, then we can convert back. Do you honestly think that'll be the result?

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 08:09:04 in reply to Comment 76939

DowntownHamilton, I happen to like the way you express the way you see things. I don't agree with much of what you say...but I do respect the comfort by which you express it. However...

-Your first two comments sum up the arrogance of drivers. (And I don't say this without acknowledging that when I get behind the wheel of a car, my mindset changes to take on much of this arrogance. Meaning I'm very aware of the seductive powers of automobiles...and what they bring out in the human condition.) This makes me sad, especially when I cite my Most Hated Stretch of One-way Street in Hamilon:

-Main Street West from Dundurn to Bay. Absolutely disgusting. And the laugher is, they call it an 'Esplanade'. It typifies just how horrible one-ways can be within the perspective of 'liveability'. (As a disclaimer, I do not believe that one-ways are inherently evil. They work within the correct circumstances. In NYC, for example, if we're looking at the urban extreme.)

-As I've said elsewhere, I have to shake my head at those who have no understanding of why these one-way streets were instituted, and why 'Because that's the way they are!' isn't a satisfactory reason for keeping them that way.

I believe that something like the issue of reversing one-ways will only be properly and sincerely addressed when there is sufficient impetus to do so. Meaning the cause has to find traction well beyond RTH, The Hamiltonian and facebook group conversations. As with ward boundary reform, this is actually a great area for community activism to gain skills as we approach the '2 Years Out' point for the 2014 election.

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By Hysteresis (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 17:27:02 in reply to Comment 76943

I agree that it's time to move on the two-conversion of the seven lunk-headed kilometers of Main, if only so that the heart of Hamilton can attain parity with the two-way stretches from Paradise to Wilson and Ottawa to Winona.

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By johnfdavidson20 (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 07:54:47

One way streets do have merit in a modern world. I had heard from several sources that the main push for two way streets was from merchants who wanted people to slow down and look at their stores (a first step to impulse buying). I actually do like driving north on James St which wasn't possible when I first moved to this area.

Tied into the one way street was synchronized traffic lights which minimized stop and go driving. Stop and go driving is harder on the car, harder on the atmosphere and I would add harder on the nerves (meaning more conducive to road rage.

All that versus a closer community feeling, out of towners not getting lost navigating to their destination (one example being Main and King St numbers not aligning very well). I am not sure of the safety differences as I can see how each system has its own unique contribution to accidents.

In the future perhaps we will be using mass transport more and there will be a reduction in percentage of people driving and you will primarily be interested in getting to where you want quicker and at less expense. The car is a dangerous and expensive toy.

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By George (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 08:41:28

I think what needs to be repeated a little more often is the notion that calmer, slower traffic encourages people to live in such neighbourhoods.

Who wants to live where you have freeways cutting through the heart of the neighbourhood?

If we want people to live downtown, then downtown has to be livable. It's really that simple isn't it?

While two way conversion isn't the solution, or a "panacea", it is definitely one significant factor that helps.

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By and yet (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 09:12:42 in reply to Comment 76950

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 09:31:47

What about this? This is only an idea, but why don't we stop talking about converting Main and King and Cannon, and focus on the conversion of some smaller, less-used streets first. Like you, Keanin, I am a newcomer to town, so I don't know the story of how James and John were converted, but presumably at least part of it was because they are not the primary arterial roads, and so opposition was not as fierce.

I don't know why the James and John outcomes are not enough for a lot of people to accept that 2-way conversion is probably the way to go, but I expect it is because they never used John and James to get around, and do use Main and King (possibly the same reason proponents of conversion focus on Main and King- visibility). Using examples from my neighbourhood, I think quality of life and community would be greatly improved if streets like Herkimer and Charlton or Hunter and Bold (which mostly only have retail where they cross arterials, but are too fast for the charming residential neighbourhoods they cut through). These should be low-hanging fruit in terms of convincing council and others to give it a try. I really do think that, if we want Main converted, we stop talking about Main for a while. Instead, we should lobby to have small streets converted and, if the experience of those people inhabiting and using those neighbourhoods is positive, they will in turn support the conversion of more-heavily-trafficked streets like Queen and Bay, and so on.

This is only an idea, but I think that those of us paying attention view John and James as an unmitigated success (I agree with this), and are now gung-ho to take on the really big fish. The rest of the city doesn't feel this way (maybe doesn't even really know or remember that James was converted to two-way traffic), and needs more evidence before making big changes. We should determine what the next steps are, and take those, instead of just being frustrated with not being able to take the final step.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 10:18:48

As far as Cooke's observation goes, I have always assumed that there was a break in the clouds because amalgamation disrupted the established order and admitted some oxygen into the stuffy backrooms of City Hall.

I gather that momentum might have stalled for two reasons.

One, by 2001 it had become accepted that downtown was for all intents and purposes a lost cause, which might have muted enthusiasm for ambitions and rallying public investments beyond a certain level (see the Spec's "Lament for a Downtown" series).

Two, as a woebegotten post-industrial city, Hamilton is perpetually cash-strapped and must dribble out its infrastructure spending as a result (captured in Cooke's unintentional but exquisitely poignant civic miniature, "incremental pilot").

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By DrAwesomesauce (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 10:25:59

Walking along James North you can see the effect that two-way conversion has had: slow, safe traffic; increased visibility for shops etc.

As you approach Cannon, it's equally apparent the effect that one-way traffic has: four lanes of fast-moving traffic; trucks blasting along; suffering businesses etc.

The pleasant feeling you previously enjoyed is quickly replaced by anxiety and fear as you pray one of those vehicles doesn't careen off the road.

Get out of your cars and start looking at the world from a different perspective.

Comment edited by DrAwesomesauce on 2012-05-16 10:29:02

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 26, 2012 at 16:53:13 in reply to Comment 76974

And exactly NONE of that has translated beyond James North. So where's the reason to keep going? Because 1 strip of what, 10-12 blocks is basking in the glory of 2-ways? Get real.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted May 22, 2012 at 02:46:06 in reply to Comment 76974

I ride a bicycle across the city on a regular basis, sometimes with a trailer attached that almost demands a full lane. The effects of one way vs. two way streets are intimate to me by now. The cracks in the pavement from heavier traffic and the likelihood of driver aggression and near misses are examples. I will go somewhat out of my way to avoid streets like cannon and the one way portion of Wilson that remains.

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By George (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 11:01:13


"Two years ago, city crews went to St. Paul Street — the one-way spine of downtown St. Catharines, Ont. — took down the “no entry” signs, painted new lines and opened up the street to two-way traffic. According to planners, it would slow cars down, make the downtown more pedestrian friendly and spur retail development.

People, especially businesspeople, didn’t like it. And then they did.

Lured by the new two-way, the Wine Council of Ontario included St. Paul Street in its redrafted Ontario Wine Route. Crews are currently at work on a new St. Paul Street performing arts centre. Slower-moving drivers have reported discovering stores and restaurants they never noticed before.

“It was somewhat controversial at first, but I would say now that, without exaggeration, people are 90% in favour,” said Brian McMullan, the city’s ebullient young mayor.

“A prominent local businessman came up to me the other day and said, ‘I didn’t support it from the start, but this is the best thing you’ve ever done.’ ”


"St. Catharines was only following the example of hundreds of cities in the United States and Canada that have been shutting down their one-way streets since the 1990s. In Ottawa last week, planners announced they are considering the two-way conversion of several streets in the shadow of Parliament Hill. Two-way roads would help to “‘normalize’ the streets, by slowing traffic,..."


"The recently elected mayor of Lexington, Kentucky, took office on a promise to stop the “jammering and jabbering” and scrub the downtown clean of one-way streets. In 2009, Perth, Australia, drafted a bold plan to systematically eliminate almost all one-way streets in the regional capital of 1.5 million people. Only a handful of “narrow local streets” would escape the city-wide wave of conversions, according to Perth’s official website."


"“The one-way is designed to maximize efficiency for the car; that’s its purpose,” said Larry Frank, the UBC-based J. Armand Bombardier Chair in Sustainable Urban Transportation Systems....

The effects on urban cores were immediate. In small towns, the conversion of Main Street to one-way was usually the first harbinger of urban blight. A much-quoted statistic holds that 40% of the businesses on Cincinnati’s Vine Street closed after it became a one-way...

Since they encourage higher speeds, one-ways have consistently been found to be hot spots for pedestrian fatalities. In a 2000 paper examining pedestrian safety on one-ways, researchers analyzed traffic statistics in Hamilton from 1978 to 1994 and concluded that a child was 2.5 times more likely to be hit by a car on a one-way street."


"Forfar, Scotland, was once the site of a major castle where Scottish clans plotted their resistance against the Roman Invasion, but now it is a quiet market town about 90 minutes north of Edinburgh. Castle Street, the narrow road bisecting the town, had been two-way since it was little more than a dirt track through the lowlands. Last summer, city council voted to transform the retail street into a one-way thoroughfare. “The traffic is faster, there’s no doubt about that,” said Alastair Cameron, the leader of a community movement against the one-way conversion. The road is riskier for pedestrians, sales have plummeted "

Comment edited by George on 2012-05-16 11:12:58

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By djfern (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 11:01:57

Hi, I live on a side street by King and Sherman. Just moved here in February. ALthough I use King and Main streets constantly to get through town in my car, I'd be more than happy to see both of them turn into two ways. It would make King and Main streets actually viable for business. It might make it even remotely walkable. Heck, you could even cross them without risking your life. As is, one can barely safely get into the left or right most lanes to make a turn without risking a rear-end accident.

Burlingotn ave, being located through an industrial zone, makes sense to keep it as a semi-freeway.

Main and King are major downtown streets that should be commercial hubs with lots of local businesses and walkable streets. As is they are high speed freeways with a decimated local business culture (at least in my part of town).

I personally think slowing down those two streets, making them two ways, putting in more lights and cross walks in addition to starting some new Business Improvements Areas - especially for the eastern parts of those streets - will go a huge distance towards making them work for residents and commuters alike.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 11:19:56

"I think people started to realize that the city was more important than the road that runs through it."

Milwaukee Mayor Norquist, 2006.


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By djfern (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 11:22:04

Hey, so how about we take this from conversation into a campaign? I'd happily stick a sign on my lawn for this, and talk to my neighbours about it.

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By George (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 12:59:10 in reply to Comment 76983

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By RB (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 16:10:55 in reply to Comment 76990

Nice! I'll make it huge, chop it into like 6-10 pieces, and paste together that way. Thanks George...

These posters should be up in every shop window along Main, King, Cannon, etc...

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By djfern (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 13:22:09 in reply to Comment 76990

Cool, is it available in a printable size?


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By RB (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 12:15:57 in reply to Comment 76983

Hmmm.... that's actually not a bad idea. I'd be into that as well...

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 12:03:31

I would be pleased to put such a sign in my front window, or try to collect signatures on a petition. How would someone go about getting Main Street two-way conversion as a referendum question in a couple of years? The fluoride people have done it in a few municipalities, so it's not as though it can't be done.

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By brundlefly (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2012 at 12:55:46

Since moving here in November of 2009, I would estimate I've seen about 25 or more accidents on either King or Main. I have seen bikes cut off and rammed into curbs. I've seen pedestrians diving to escape collisions in intersections where they had the right of way, but some driver was poorly gaming the light changes.

I've seen a kid hit by a car travelling over 60kph.

Getting across town in 5-10 minutes isn't a right you get when you drive on our streets. It was a privilege bestowed upon factory workers many decades ago, getting them to and from work efficiently... it's time has long since past, and throw in an extra 200,000 cars now on our roads, it's abused and absurd.

The local drivers I hear sound like sputtering spoiled kids talking about one-ways as their right. "I would move out of downtown if they changed this." Well sorry, but don't let the door hit your ass on the way out. We, the city need this.

Burlington Street is less than 10 blocks away, and sure it needs a facelift ( ahem paging city hall ) but there isn't a faster way to get in or out or around the city.

I also don't see any kids riding their tricycles into the traffic down there.

The state of business on Main and King is absolutely shameful, and all at the expense of people needing to go from Big Box store East to Big Box store West. Enough.

Businesses in this town are already at a huge disadvantage to the umpteen Mega Malls that only cater to cars that already litter our suburban outskirts.

We simply can't wait on this one.

Comment edited by brundlefly on 2012-05-16 12:57:24

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 21:35:14 in reply to Comment 76989

For three years, up until about two years ago, I ran my practice out of a building downtown on Main Street. I saw several car-pedestrian accidents in that time (and every time, I sent another letter to City Hall, prophesying that it would happen again). That is in a one-block stretch out of kilometers of that single roadway.

We couldn't wait ten years ago; we certainly shouldn't wait now.

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 14:01:18

According to he U.S. Department of Transportation, swapping out one kilometre of one way for two way can be had for as little as $12,400 — about the cost of a bus shelter.

Would be good to know what a one kilometre conversion will cost Hamilton taxpayers.

If it's the same cost, why not go ahead and give it a shot.

Not sure we should pin all our hopes for economic development & job creation on converting to two-way streets downtown. Is it the key driver or is it cheap rents, tax incentives, responsible landlords and less bureaucratic red tape?

Two-way streets haven't exactly done wonders for Ottawa Street. And one-way streets haven't exactly hurt NYC.

Having lived in Hamilton for 17 years, I've found that if there's somewhere worth going to, it has never mattered whether I got there by a one-way or two-way streets.

To borrow a line from "For every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong." Don't think street conversions is wrong -- just not sure it's the cure-all or catalyst for the core.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2012 at 19:39:21 in reply to Comment 76993

"wo-way streets haven't exactly done wonders for Ottawa Street."

Beg to differ-- Ottawa street is usually hopping, whenever we walk down.

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 20:55:41 in reply to Comment 77024


My bad. Meant Barton Street, even though it's home to Starpoloski's -- my favourite Hamilton deli.

Ottawa and Locke Streets are doing just fine.

Wondering if changing the timing on traffic lights along Main would help.

Right now, it's possible to get nothing but green lights on Main from James to Ottawa Streets. Suspect that contributes to the freeway feel and drivers gunning to make the next light before it turns.

I think an LRT line down Main and/or King will be the real catalyst for urban renewal -- both retail and residential. Folks will set up shop along the route.


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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 15:22:42 in reply to Comment 76993

Is it the key driver? No, but it's a significant one.

Take a look at the shops on the North side of Main at Locke. I count at least four failed restaurants at this location in the last ten years. But just up the road on Locke St you'll find some of the most successful retail in the lower city. The difference is that Main St is a pedestrian moat, so nobody crosses.

The conversion won't fix all of Hamilton's problems, but it will make the city better and that should be good enough to start!

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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 14:54:20

You asked " Have any studies been undertaken pertaining to converting Main-King-Cannon back to two-way? Many people obviously supported the James-John conversion: where did they go and why did the experiment not go further?"

I had great hopes that the LRT plan would involve a 2 way conversion of Main. Apparantly this was considered, but rejected because "There is still a need for some traffic to move easterly across the City, and Main Street fulfills this role." If you want to find out where the political fault lines run, talk to Jill Stephen about how that decision was made. http://raisethehammer.org/article/1245/c...

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By brendansimons (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 15:12:01

I think a certain part of the resistance to change can be chalked up to the self-selecting nature of city designs. When Main, King, Cannon etc were switched from 2 way to 1 way, I'm sure there were howls of protest. Afterwards, those who suffered from the conversion (including much of the downtown retail) moved away, and those who loved being able to drive through quickly moved in. As a result, the political base has shifted. Most Hamiltonians now can't even conceive of our city without the Main St freeway.

The good news is that this feedback can work in our favour. Once you rehabilitate a part of the city to be more livable, more people choose to live in it!

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By George (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 15:22:28 in reply to Comment 76998

"Most Hamiltonians now can't even conceive of our city without the Main St freeway."

Funny thing is, west of Paradise and east of the Delta, Main Street is two way and it works just fine.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 16, 2012 at 16:22:43 in reply to Comment 76999

To be fair, Westdale's Main Street is almost as much of a freeway as downtown Main Street. Multi-stage crosswalks make it a similar moat, and it's an assload of lanes. Heck, half the time you can't even turn left onto it.

Just because it's two-way doesn't really make it much friendlier.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 21:38:38 in reply to Comment 77006

It is somewhat better, but it's still horribly unfriendly. I would love for more to be done to make it pedestrian-friendly; I walk across that almost every day and soon my children will need to walk across it each day, much to my chagrin.

I just don't know how much we can do, sadly, because it's the single roadway through the area, the only way to Dundas and Ancaster from West Hamilton.

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By George (registered) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 16:45:14 in reply to Comment 77006

Sure, but the point is you don't NEED one ways.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2012 at 16:08:30 in reply to Comment 77011

I'm sure if the traffic engineers would happily convert Main, King, and Cannon to two-way if they had enough room to make it seven live lanes of traffic with multi-stage crossings like they have in Westdale.

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By Tony (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 16:28:00

Hamilton Magazine's Weekly Poll is about the conversion of Main Street back to two-way. 75% of respondents are in favour of a two way Main Street!
Vote here: www.hamiltonmagazine.com

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By Spumoni (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 18:11:36


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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted May 16, 2012 at 21:50:28

If Hamilton can convert one km of 1-way street for 2-way for around $12,000, then it's a low cost investment worth making.

So now the question is how to make it happen? How to mobilize a broad base of support beyond the downtown core and win the votes of councilors?

Disparaging folks who drive, casting this as a core vs. suburban issue and taking shots at big box stores and malls won't win any friends beyond the converted. Many of the comments here won't move folks who are uncommitted / undecided.

Messaging on the need and benefits of two-way streets has been all over the map. Is converting to 2-way about walkability? Is it about creating jobs and building prosperity?

Needs a very solid business case specific to downtown Hamilton. Know that for every success story, critics and cynics can point to communities and neighbourhoods where two-way streets have done nothing to spur development (Barton Street may well be exhibit A).

And the voices of support for 2-way streets need to come from beyond the usual suspects and the left side of the political spectrum. Which business and civic leaders should step up and lead the charge?

Would also be helpful if a clear and compelling vision for downtown Hamilton can be articulated.

Ottawa Street is recognized as a home decor destination. Locke Street seems to be all about food. These parts of Hamilton are clearly defined.

How do 2-way streets fit into the long-term vision for what the core should be. And what else beyond 2-way streets is needed.

Converting to 2-way seems like a quick and easy fix -- a low-cost, low-risk investment. But it needs to be part of a bigger gameplan. And the economic benefits -- more jobs, more tax revenues -- need to be as heavily emphasized as walkability and reduced dependence on automobiles.

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2012 at 11:12:37

Thank you Jay! to make this thing real, we do really need a bigger gameplan!

"So now the question is how to make it happen? How to mobilize a broad base of support beyond the downtown core and win the votes of councilors?" ~ Jay Robb

One approach that I suggested earlier was to focus the conversations on 'economic sustainability'. It is well worth worth a try. The outcomes could be surprising.

On costs, things do tend to get more complicated as details are factored into concepts:

Estimated Cost -- $12,400 to $124,000 per kilometer ($20,000 to $200,000 per mile), depending on length of treatment and whether the conversion requires modification to signals. If crossovers are needed at the end points of the one-way streets, they may cost millions of dollars.

  • See some interesting case studies here:

"Case studies that illustrate various treatments and/or programs as implemented in a state or municipality. Examples are included from 20 states and the countries of Canada and Switzerland."

"Each case study includes a description of the problem that was addressed, relevant background information, a description of the implemented solution, and any quantitative results from evaluation studies or qualitative assessments."

Main Street Redesign - Grand Junction, Colorado, is one particular case study with solutions, worth exploring: "On Main Street, the traditional commercial and social center of the community, 17 businesses had closed their doors and Main Street was declining. At night Main Street became a racetrack, where teenagers would drag race their cars down the wide and straight roadway. During the day the roar of traffic on Main Street endangered pedestrians trying to cross four lanes of traffic and parked cars." ~and then~ "Vehicles now tend to travel at or near the 32 km/h speed limit on Main Street....and once virtually empty, Main Street now averages 1,750 pedestrians per day."

On the flip side --- what if we were to look at our roads and streets as an User Interface issue - rather than a battle ground for political/ideological wits?

"Professor SeungJun Kim from Carnegie Mellon’s Human Computer Interaction Institute is playing with new ideas to improve the driving performance ... how do we design effective tools to not only get from point A to point B, but to get them there more safely?"

With this approach, we may end opening ourselves to collaborative innovations in city planning - while having some serious fun creating entirely new solutions to problems we may never have anticipated by otherwise narrow-casting issues.

Mahesh P. Butani

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2012 at 11:37:19 in reply to Comment 77075

Here is a great example of a collaborative approach to solving Urban problems. Something we need to adopt in Hamilton:

New Global Foundation for Improving Urban Life

New Cities Foundation:

Through its Task Forces and the New Cities Summit, the Foundation leverages its members’ expertise, relationships and solutions in the service of a more socially, economically and environmentally sustainable urban future.

The New Cities Foundation is a non-profit Swiss institution dedicated to improving the quality of life and work in the 21st-century global city, with a particular focus on new cities in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa. NCF sees cities as humanity’s most important source of innovation, creativity and wealth-creation. We believe that achieving the vision of building more sustainable and dynamic urban communities can only be done through innovative partnership. NCF serves a unique role in developing new models of collaboration between the public, private and academic sectors.

The Foundation is financed by its members and overseen by a Board of Trustees.

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-05-17 11:42:32

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By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2012 at 12:26:44

On untangling the muddle of Walkabilty, Talkabilty, Shoveabilty and two-way human realtionships which give birth to two-way streets:

Every once in a while you stumble upon a real gem, which makes you step back and say... Yes!

Here is once such Yes! moment I experienced today. I hope there are others here who share my joy of this simple discovery:

"The environment attractive to the mobile creative class is actually attractive to everybody. If a city caters to it’s own poorer classes in a way that encourages them to start their own businesses, it will almost certainly create a favourable environment for the creative class. For the most part creative class people can take care of themselves – being well educated, driven, and mobile. It is the people who lack these advantages that cities must strive to help."

"Conventional economic wisdom cites such factors as infrastructure, education, crime rates, labour mobility and lack of corruption being determinants of economic success. By these criteria, all medium sized Canadian cities would score very high, in fact much higher than large cities. Yet, these cities are not growing…"

Have you ever wonder why the poor and marginalized never speak of Walkabilty? guess, for them it is a fact of life that they are struggling hard to distance from. They do try to seek two-way streets all the time, but of an entirely different kind.

It would be interesting to start a tour for the poor on King Street. Get them onto mini-buses and drive them to Locke Street for a day out. Once there, guide them into the fine art of 'walkabilty'.

The looks alone on the faces on both sides of the spectrum could teach us an entirely new approach to urban design in our times.

Is walkabilty a class issue which is being candy wrapped as an urban redevelopment tool? I think the looks on the faces of people on the emerging patios of Locke would point us to the answer.

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-05-17 12:27:48

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By Bazinga (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 13:58:31


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