Special Report: Walkable Streets

Changing Our Perspective on One-Way Streets

The livability of our downtown streets can no longer be guided by those who see them only as a means to get through as quickly as possible.

By Aaron Newman
Published May 17, 2012

I believe the one-way system was a product of its time, and although there are many reasons for Hamilton's downtown economic woes, one-way streets are a contributing factor.

My Grandfather started Newman's Menswear in 1927 as a neighbourhood store, in what was then known as the Strand block. Two-way streets with streetcars ruled the day. It was a flourishing area, complete with two banks, two pharmacies, a movie theatre, restaurant, two car dealerships and a bowling alley.

The conversion happened in 1956, and it is fair to say that the effect at the time was minimal. Change didn't happen overnight! It's here that you have to look at the whole objective of one-way streets and the reasons for their implementation.

They were instituted for ease and quickness of travel. The car was seen as a tool of quick and easy transfer from either side of this city, and for all intents and purposes it worked. Here is the cause-and-effect aspect. Their objective worked: you speed through, you don't slow down, stay and enjoy!

As the decade moved into the 1960s and the 1970s, the city's emphasis on heavy and light industry started to change, as with any north American industrial cities. Couple that with the general demographic shift to the suburbs, Hamilton started to drastically change.

I believe that the one-way system was just another piece of that complex shift in our downtown. It made it easy to live outside the city and get in and out much faster and easier. One-way streets in our city helped hollow out the core, and still do to this day.

Firsthand Experience

As a retailer in the extended core who happens to sit on this one-way highway, I believe that I have great firsthand experience with the effects of one-way streets.

At first glance, one would think that the traffic volume passing my door on this highway and the exposure that that affords would be great, and I might agree! But the oft-mentioned truth is that the true traffic is 50 percent less than first assumed. It's only one way! I'm only receiving cars and people going westbound, what about those people going east?

This point brings me to another forgotten truth about one-way streets. You only see our great city from one angle, one perspective. Think of how much we miss or don't see at all - my store included!

Drive down any of the recently converted streets, especially in the new direction, and you will see what I mean. It's fantastic! Your mind and your eyes have never seen the cityscape like this.

Multiply that by everybody in and around Hamilton, not to mention those coming into Hamilton for the first time, and suddenly your image and thoughts about our city change, and in a positive way.

Not Business Friendly

One-way streets are not "area building" friendly and not business friendly. How can a system whose main and sole reason is speed through downtown, "get passed downtown as quickly as possible" be good for the core and subsequent businesses - let alone create and foster new development?

Our system does everything in its power to move you outside and around the core, not slow you down and enjoy, or make it easy for people to get to you.

Try telling someone to find our store from the west end. It's a complex set of directions, wastes both time and gas, creates more travel and really thwarts our accessibility to customers. For a retailer, making it hard for a customer is never a good thing!

With all this recent talk about creating and fostering more walkable and more liveable cities, one-way streets really fly in the face of this. How can you expect a young family, or anybody to invest both in living and working on a four-lane highway?

Take Cannon Street. How can you expect that street to prosper when it's so separated from livability?

Car friendly? I actually think that two-way streets are more car friendly. They create the ease of use we so sorely lack in this town. For the sake of maybe a few extra minutes - and I think maybe two to three minutes is what we're talking about - it's not a big deal!

Perfect example: when King Street has a lane closure, traffic rarely slows down that much. I contend that we could lose at the very least one of those lanes, convert back to two-way and have full-day metered dedicated parking and this would never cause the mess we always hear about.

A Chance for Regrowth

For those business owners in the extended core who, for whatever reason, may be uneasy about two-way conversion, I say this: slowing traffic down, getting both directions seeing you, having a cityscape emerge, having a more liveable cityscape, will induce at the very least more of a chance for regrowth.

Two-way streets will help create a place where businesses and families will want to invest and live downtown. It will make it easier for people to find you, get to you, see you.

They will make your area a place of much greater desire, a place that will make them slow down and enjoy. Your business will eventually reap that reward. More investment, more people staying and living around your business.

Not so with the status quo. We've seen this movie, and its plot is all too familiar.

It's time for those of use who live and work in the core to take back the parameters which govern our livability. This downtown can no longer be guided by those who live outside the core and see it only as a means to get through as quickly as possible.

That, in a nutshell, is what we've created: a place to get through as quickly as possible. That's the legacy of one-way streets and they have worked well to achieve it.

Editor's note: This essay is part of a series on the future role and design of our downtown streets. We encourage Hamiltonians to submit well-written, thoughtful and evidence-based essays that move the discussion forward. Please send submissions to editor@raisethehammer.org.

Aaron Newman is the proprietor of Newman's Menswear on King Street East, a family business that has been in operation since 1927.


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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 07:07:44

Aaron, thanks so much for this. Especially for the historical context, something that's often lost in the shuffle in just about any discussion about anything. And your retailer's perspective is invaluable. Well done.

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By Marta (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 07:44:46

Great article! As a non-resident of Hamilton, I do find all the one way streets very confusing and discouraging when in fact I'm looking for a specific destination downtown.

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By H+H (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2012 at 07:54:02

Aaron - Thanks. Best piece yet on two-way conversion. I mean it. Your perspective, insights, and common sense combine to articulate a powerful and compelling message. For me, this will become the foundation for the push to make change happen now, not in 15 years. Councillors, pay attention. This is not going to go away.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 09:03:55 in reply to Comment 77043

'Councillors, pay attention.' ... he's in ward 3 don't hold your breath Graham...

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 08:28:27 in reply to Comment 77043

I echo Graham's sentiment 100%. Well done Aaron, and thanks for adding your voice to the discussion. We need as many voices as possible.

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By JM (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 08:29:43


Great article - and its great to hear it from the perspective of a business owner (a successful one might i add). I need to get myself into that store of yours by the way... just hope i don't blink while i'm driving, i might miss it!

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By rednic (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 09:08:27

Aaron, thanks for this ... next time i have a need to look proper i'll be shopping at your store. I'm wondering if you happen to have pictures of your block before these changes took place. It sounds like it was a thriving neighborhood.

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By SH (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 09:13:46

I agree with everything you're saying, but how can we take this further and make it happen. The councillors need to know the facts that you just wrote about in this piece.

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By JM (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 12:38:30 in reply to Comment 77056

the councillors already have the facts... they've been presented to them many many times. the problem is they don't see it as a priority

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 13:11:02 in reply to Comment 77083

"the councillors already have the facts... they've been presented to them many many times. the problem is they don't see it as a priority"

Right. And without any influence on their trajectory, isn't it safe to say they'll continue this behaviour?

Especially given the fact that it's good-money-bet that all incumbents will be returned to office next election, no matter how badly they don't see certain things as priorities?

Especially when there's nothing in place for constituents to base performance on? Not even amongst the more informed and energized of residents?

I don't believe this 'intractability' is the result of the wrong people being chosen (over and over and over again). I believe it's the result of them not being given clear enough direction often enough, that there's no consistently expressed 'voice of the people'.

So we have a situation where people aren't used to providing input (guidance, demands, whatever), and councillors aren't used to responding to any . (Head over to The Hamiltonian and witness how many on Council have not responded to their 'Perspectives Virtual Panel' on Hamilton being 'the best place to raise a child'. (Here's a spoiler: 3/16.)

And no, comments here and elsewhere aren't enough. I'm talking about a much louder voice.

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By George (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 09:14:48

A little OT, but when visiting Newmans', it would be worth your while to have a meal at Giuseppe's across the street.


These guys moved from Mississauga a year or two ago, and chose that location in Hamilton. Food is great, as is the service.

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By jason (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 09:51:10 in reply to Comment 77057

I've flown by and seen that place a few times...wondered if it was any good. So much potential in that area...once the freeway is gone.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 09:18:27

Great article, Aaron. Your store is a much-needed bright spot on a stretch of street that has far too few. I wrote about the problems along King Street East in King Street East: Hamilton's Shabby, Neglected Gateway To Downtown and your shop really stood out as an exception to the general rule of derelict and abandoned storefronts.

It's a disgrace what has happened to what should be one of Hamilton's best streets. King Street East is a clear example of how one-way streets have worked to destroy our economic and social fabric.

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By Paul V (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 09:42:09

Aaron, thanks for sharing your unique perspective, as a business owner along King E and a flower among the weeds. I think we need a grassroots campaign in Hamilton - call it 'Convert Hamilton's One-Way Streets' and get it in peoples faces, like the print and videos done to try and save the Board of Education building. Some bold and LARGE graphic design along King E that drivers can read going 60 kph.

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By adrian (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 21:22:14 in reply to Comment 77059

Have no fear, work is well under way!

We would definitely appreciate more suggestions for catchy slogans. "Convert Hamilton's One-Way Streets", while direct, is not particularly memorable. I really mean no offense by that and I am honestly encouraging more ideas - please let them fly!

I came up with a couple ("Two-Ways, Not Highways" and "Two-Ways: Better For People, Better For Business") but I am just as unhappy with those. Graham Crawford's "Heading in the Right Directions" is a bit more memorable, but needs to be a bit more obviously about the one-way/two-way issue.

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By One Way Wrong Way (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2012 at 20:33:17 in reply to Comment 77101

I'd suggest "Going One Way Is the Wrong Way" with a website listed for folks to find out why, or "Ever Wondered What the Other Side of the Building Looks Like? Think of What You're Missing Going One Way.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 23:15:55 in reply to Comment 77101

One-way is a way to keep pedestrians away... no two ways about it.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2012-05-17 23:23:19

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 09:50:12

Paul V wrote," we need a grassroots campaign in Hamilton...and get it in peoples faces, like the print and videos done to try and save the Board of Education building. Some bold and LARGE graphic design along King E that drivers can read going 60 kph."


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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted May 17, 2012 at 10:07:59

Bravo, Aaron. Well said.

I started shopping at Bill Newman's when I got out of school in the early 90s and have been an on-and-off customer ever since.

Much of the reason I'm "off" more than "on" is because Newman's is hard to get to from the West end, just as Aaron says. I never remember which street to turn down off Main West and sometimes end up looping the block - it's a pain. And that's in my truck. On my bike, that sort of nonsense feels at least twice as off putting.

It's astonishing, but getting to an established shop with a corner location on the city's main commercial street is an effort. Not a huge effort, but just enough that I don't go most of the times I think about it. And if I just happen to be passing Newman's when I'm heading East? Well, I've usually whizzed past before I can think about stopping.

I have to know where I'm going and why before I'll shop on either King or Main near downtown - I don't just drop in my favourite shops on those streets (Newman's, Tundra Leather, Denninger's) for no good reason the way I do on James St. North or Locke. Or Westdale. Or Dundas.

This needs to be reprinted for a wider audience - the Spec, cbc.ca/hamilton, Urbanicity (if that has an audience yet, that is).

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-05-17 11:35:00

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By DBC (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 10:32:17

From the Spec August 8, 2008:

"Councillor Terry Whitehead, who opposed the next stage of two-way conversions, said: "For the constituents I represent, two-way streets are a complete waste of money."

So there you have it. This is what all those who support conversion are up against. Good old fashioned ward heeling politics. The conversion of Wilson Street in Ancaster to one-way would have sure solved the traffic flow problems for a lot of people in Ancaster but, as it should have been, was a non-starter.

Why do those who live in Wards 1 - 3 have to live under a completely different set of rules than everyone else. What is good for one ward is good for the entire city.

One way streets on their face aren't always a bad thing. Sometimes, in the right circumstace, they make perfect sense. But a 5 lane one-way urban freeway with narrow sidewalks only benefits those who are looking to drive right through downtown; no one else.

C'mon, the QEW with it's new HOV lanes isn't 5 lanes wide. Anyone who opposes one-way conversion is only doing so for their own selfish reasons. They would never accept one-way streets where they live. One should expect congestion and delays when moving through the core of a top 10 Canadian urban metropolis. That is what is NORMAL.

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 13:05:23

Very nice Aaron,

I live in word 3 and i totaly arre on everrything you said .. it whould be nice if you can send this to city hall .

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted May 17, 2012 at 16:13:13 in reply to Comment 77085

I agree it was an awesome commentary Aaron. I forwarded it to every councillor with the hope that they'll read it and consider acting on it.

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By Parallax (anonymous) | Posted May 18, 2012 at 06:20:09

I was looking at a 2008 report on operational improvements to James and John (PW08141, if you're curious) and it contains a map of proposed two-way conversions under 2001's Downtown Transportation Master Plan. King is earmarked; Main and Cannon are not.

The conversion of James and John North, the first of the downtown two-way conversions, was completed in October 2002. The southern conversions of those streets was completed in November 2005.

The report notes: "Under the requirements for an Environmental Assessment, projects not completed within a five-year time frame must be revisited." I imagine that this is part of the reason why the conversion of York/Wilson was delayed.

While we're talking delays, since this is a perennial itch of critics, PW08141 notes: "The magnitude of the extra delay in rush hour for the major directions is in the range of one minute and twenty seconds to three minutes and fifty seconds. On a percentage basis, the additional delay is an increase from 32% to 90%. These delays are longer thab predicted by the original DMTP report, for which there may be two reasons. First, there was an expectation that the slower speed and added congestion of the two-way conversion would cause a diversion of traffic away from the downtown streets, but the data above (sic) shows that diversion has not occurred. Second, while the consultant used a sophisticated, micro-level model, it is still not possible to capture all of the effects, such as illegal parking, or vehicle breakdowns, which cause congestion. When a street system such as James/John is operating close to, or over, its maximum ability to carry traffic, it becomes very sensitive to minor effects such as this. It can be seen that the'new' directions of travel created (northbound James, southbound John) are typically between 30 seconds and one minute slower to travel than the parallel streetwith the original movement in the same direction."

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted May 18, 2012 at 11:16:46 in reply to Comment 77105

Three minutes and 50 seconds? For this we are killing our core?

Percentage-based increase figures mean little when the original delay is near zero. A million percent of zero is still zero....

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By Parallax (anonymous) | Posted May 21, 2012 at 11:12:33 in reply to Comment 77112

The 3:50 is the maximum north-south delay, and it's measured post-conversion, so I wouldn't really apply it to potential delays on other routes of any direction (all streets are unique and the system's dynamic should also be taken into account). Even so, it's a bit tweaked. I'd have to guess that the cumulative delay on a street the length of Main or King might seem larger still but then again it might not. In any case, it's amazing that people get so worked up over delays. (Even pointing to a Solomon-era study got me down-voted.)

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By Core-B (registered) | Posted May 18, 2012 at 08:38:07 in reply to Comment 77105

Thankqs H+H and I agree whole heartedly.

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