Special Report: Walkable Streets

Comparing Traffic Volumes on One-Way and Two-Way Streets

What happens to the traffic volume argument against two-way conversion when our city's two-way streets actually carry more cars than the one-ways?

By Jason Leach
Published September 19, 2012

In the recent one-way/two-way debate in Hamilton one of the most common refrains from conversion opponents is the mass congestion that will be caused by converting some of our main streets back to two-way traffic.

In a recent chat with a Mountain councillor I was told that this individual can't support changing the road network if it means drivers sitting in their cars for an hour when they come downtown.

This same councillor did, however, agree that we need the complete streets/ traffic calming approach to the one-way freeways downtown. He just wasn't convinced that two-way conversion would work.

I can't imagine a scenario in which the 10 minute trip downtown from virtually anywhere on the Mountain would become an hour. Regardless, some residents outside of Hamilton's urban core believe this is a real concern.

I decided to look up the city's traffic count numbers and see which streets would be easy to convert and which ones could perhaps lead to heavy gridlock.

The City of Hamilton website has a fairly comprehensive table of traffic volume counts per street section [PDF] from 1999, the most recent year for which data are currently available for free. (Note: the city has newer data, but charges money for access on a section-by-section basis.)

Here are some selected streets and their total traffic volumes.

Traffic Volumes at Selected Streets, 1999
Street Type Total
* James North was converted from one-way to two-way in 2002 and James South was converted in 2005.
Aberdeen west of Dundurn 2 lanes each way 26,000
Wellington south of Main 5 lanes southbound 22,000
Barton west of Wentworth 1 lane each way 13,000
Queen south of Charlton 3 lanes southbound 13,000
Bay b/w Main and King 3 lanes northbound 15,700
Longwood south of Main 2 lanes each way 23,000
Kenilworth Access 2 lanes each way 35,000
Cannon at James 4 lanes westbound 18,000
Upper James south of Mohawk 2 lanes each way 36,000
Cannon east of Sherman 2 lanes each way 16,000
Cannon west of Sherman 4 lanes westbound 11,000
Catharine south of Wilson 3 lanes southbound 3,800
Centennial south of South Service 2 lanes each way 40,000
Concession west of Upper Wentworth 1 lane each way 17,000
Hunter west of John 2 lanes westbound 11,000
Garth south of Fennell 2 lanes each way 26,000
Victoria north of Wilson 5 lanes northbound 15,500
James South of Herkimer 4 lanes one-way southbound* 30,000
Mohawk west of Upper Sherman 2 lanes each way 37,000
King west of Wentworth 4 lanes westbound 27,000
King west of Mount Albion 2 lanes each way 31,000
Main west of Cootes 2 lanes each way 35,000
Main east of Dalewood 5 lanes two-way 52,000
Main west of Dundurn 5 lanes eastbound 41,000
Main east of Bay 5 lanes eastbound 31,000
Main east of Sherman 4 lanes eastbound 27,000
Main east of Cope 2 lanes each way 32,000
Golf Links at Stonechurch 2 lanes each way 33,000
Wilson east of Wentworth 4 lanes eastbound 11,000

Just a few highlights I'd like to point out:

I realize there will always be those who oppose the creation of complete, safe streets in the urban core of Hamilton, but I hope that level-headed politicians will see some hard data like this and help ease concerns of mass hysteria.

As it turns out, most of the suburban/Mountain constituents are driving on much busier streets than those in the lower city, and all of theirs are two-way.

Finally, I would love to see newer traffic volume data to compare what has changed since 1999.

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 Conrad66 (registered) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 09:37:38

For pete sakes is that councilar affraid to have more cars going up his ward ... the mountain traffic is not as bad as main street from ward 1 to ward 4 so lets make it livable and never mind the mountain councilers

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 09:59:12

Excellent research, Jason. This debate should have been based on actually looking at the data, right from the beginning.

I'm surprised that staff didn't actually put together a report like this to allay the fears of councillors outside wards 1-3 that two-way reversion would lead to "gridlock".

It's now very clear that most of the downtown one-way streets are way under capacity, and this was confirmed by measurement done for the 2002 Durand Traffic Study.

The fact that most two-way streets carry more traffic overall, and more traffic per lane, than our downtown one-way streets should put to rest the fears of traffic chaos.

It is legitimate to be concerned about gridlock, but it is now obvious that this is an unjustified fear for almost all the ward 1-3 downtown streets. I just hope that someone can communicate this data and its implications to our councillors!

The justification for two-way reversion is not to cause traffic jams, but the reduce the speeding and driver inattention that drastically under capacity multi-lane one-way streets encourage. It is completely obvious that Cannon at James, at 18000 for 4 lanes, has way too much capacity for the traffic volume and the speeding this encourages is obvious to anyone who's tried to walk or cycle on that street.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-09-19 10:03:44

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By JasonAAllen (registered) - website | Posted September 19, 2012 at 11:15:54

Jason - you know I'm a big supporter of yours, and those figures are fascinating - but figures and facts don't convince. Anyone. Ever. Certainly not those who are dug into a position based on a steady stream of F.U.D.

I like to think of this as "The Al Gore Fallacy"

My question is, how would you craft that into a narrative that outlines a demonstrable benefit for people living on the Mountain? (He said beating his favorite drum again and again). Story beats stats every time.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 11:41:02 in reply to Comment 81023

There's more than one way to skin a cat. Entrenched members of the public may never be swayed by facts, but you need facts to make the case to staff and council. Solid evidence makes it alot more difficult for resistant council members to defend their positions without sounding ridiculous.

Besides, folks who are never swayed by facts are always demanding them rhetorically anyway, and when they do, it's nice to be able to say "well as a matter of fact..." You might not change their mind, but you might slow the spread of misinformation.

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By kettal (registered) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 20:49:39 in reply to Comment 81028

Lies spread much more readily than do facts. It's quite amazing, really.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 11:26:40 in reply to Comment 81023

the narrative would centre around the quality of life, economy, image and health of our urban core which benefits Mountain folks by:

  • downtown growing it's tax base and contributing to the city's coffers
  • more jobs
  • Hamilton's image changing so they can be proud of where they live, not embarrassed
  • easier retention of next generation talent that we previously lost to TO, Montreal etc....
  • more entertainment, dining, cultural offerings for folks from the entire city to enjoy
  • more development leading to new districts constructed at the West Harbour, Gore etc... which again benefit the entire city
  • easier movement around the city now that we have stats proving gridlock won't ensue...west Mtn folks for example can come down Garth to Queen and head straight to Main, King or the waterfront without having to zig-zag through Kirkendall, Durand etc.....
  • creating more transportation options for those who either don't want, or can't afford a car. Many in code red fall into the latter.
  • more dollars being spent in Hamilton, boosting tourism, attracting new hotels, new conventions etc.... instead of Hamiltonians having to travel to other cities for a good time.

The list is endless isn't it?? But I believe there is tremendous value in the stats because it can immediately ease fears of mass hysteria. When we see that Cannon St has 4 lanes, but really only carries the traffic of 2, we can easily envision a complete street that everyone can enjoy:


Comment edited by jason on 2012-09-19 11:29:19

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 12:04:04 in reply to Comment 81026

Yes, those things will benefit the entire city, but the problem is, the people who are invested in one-ways will never believe that reversions will help bring these things about.

You can hear the rebuttals now:

  • reversions will cost millions and do nothing for the tax base. We spend all our money on the downtown and it keeps getting worse.

  • Barton St.

  • They should just bulldoze the entire lower city and start all over again

  • people have always driven cars and always will drive cars

  • Barton St.

  • Barton St.

  • I don't care what your stats say, I know for a fact that the conversions of James and John have turned downtown into a post-apocalyptic dystopia, and I am forced to drive to Kitchener to get my passport renewed.

  • Why should my hard-earned tax dollars support people who are too lazy to afford a car, and elitist hipsters who want to ban all cars and ride around on their fixies?

  • Barton St.

The trick isn't convincing them that the results will benefit them, it's convincing them that reversions will achieve those results.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-09-19 12:53:32

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By The X Guy (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 11:56:24

Let me first start off by saying that as a relatively new Central Mountain resident, I do support most of the items in complete streets concept for not only downtown, but the entire city. But I do fear that if the actual conversion is successful, it may still not produce one of the most important desired results – Safe and Calm Streets

I just want to share my experiences, perhaps they may be relevant to this discussion.

I grew up in the East End, right on Nash Rd – A two way, 4 lane street. The road use is mixed but the majority is residential. This street (especially prior to the opening of the RHVP) was used by many as an "urban expressway" (IMO) as well. Those coming off the QEW at Woodward, would then turn on Barton, then Nash – or, exiting onto Hwy 20 from the QEW, and bypass the crowded Centennial Parkway (again Barton, then Nash) before reaching their destination somewhere in the southern east end (I would assume). Vice versa for people traveling north.

In the section between Barton and Queenston, along the east side (about 1.5 km, I think) , there is a cemetery, and a large park. There is only 1 stop light between. The West side is all residential. Drivers, when venturing down this part of the road, would get a sense of Free Space, and either purposely or inadvertently drive at speeds well over the limit. Any type of vehicle would speed - personal vehicles, motorcycles, 18 wheelers, even buses!

Living on this street wasn’t fun either, just like living on/near Cannon st. I did not feel safe on this street. As a young child, playing in the front yard was not an option. Crossing the road, even at a stoplight (Kentley Rd) would be dangerous as drivers constantly ran red lights since its easier to blow through the light rather than trying to stop going 65 km/h. After becoming a driver myself in my teens, pulling into and out of the driveway was always interesting – there would be several times in a month where I was getting honked at by an impatient driver behind me as I slowed down approaching my driveway, trying to pull in.

I would have liked to see one more stop light. More Speed limit signs, more enforcement. A radar sign (similar to the one on Cootes near McMaster)….Or other deterrents – a way to make a driver feel that they must slow down to the limit and respect those living along the street.

If the downtown two way conversion is successful, I hope that the issue of the "urban expressway" that is experienced along those streets are resolved, because if a driver needs to get from Point A to Point B, and you are in the middle with no obstructions or deterrents (like myself on Nash Rd), there may be nothing stopping a driver from reaching their destination as quick as they deem possible.

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By kettal (registered) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 20:48:14

" This same councillor did, however, agree that we need the complete streets/ traffic calming approach to the one-way freeways downtown. "

I hope you got this in writing. A great piece, Jason.

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted September 19, 2012 at 23:22:21

I'm not disagreeing with this article at all, and appreciate this kind of deeper analysis. But I do want to point out that one argument against would be about "rush hour" and an inability to get to/from work or school as efficiently if the one-ways were eliminated. So, what if you looked at the AM and PM peak hours as well?

Road capacity is not an issue for most streets, one-way or two-way, most of the day (and for many highways, for that matter). But perceptions will be based on peak period driving in many cases.

Comment edited by ScreamingViking on 2012-09-19 23:24:02

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By JenniferBarrett (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2012 at 16:08:52

Thank you for putting this together. The information in this (and McGreal's) article is so important and timely. There is such a large camp that feels that the liberties of the driver are greater than those with two feet on the ground or on bike pedals. That the almighty commute time and pleasantness of commute experience is greater than healthy, safe neighbourhoods. That people can drive like morons through the downtown streets, because, as a Spec letter-writer pointed out today, "the streetscapes exist for the citizens". In cars.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2012 at 20:01:26

A related tidbit courtesy the MTO's GTA West Corridor Planning & Environmental Assessment Study: Draft Overview of Forecasting Travel Demand Analysis (July 2009)...


"A summary of the typical daily highway and freeway capacities assumed in the congestion analysis process are presented in Table 3-3."

Table 3-3: Typical Highway and Freeway Daily Vehicle Capacities

Facility Type / Freeway Capacity / Highway Capacity

2-lane: 33,000 / 27,000
4-lane: 80,000 / 55,000
4-lane + 1 HOV: 110,000


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