Special Report: Walkable Streets

Hamilton's Excessive Overbuilt Roadways

Every square foot of unnecessary lane capacity costs us a huge amount to install, maintain, plough, and replace. We simply can't afford to waste money on unnecessary infrastructure.

By Sean Burak
Published March 28, 2013

RTH recently published a couple of blog posts about lower city Hamilton's overbuilt street system: King Street at Hess and Main Street at Bay, where lane closures have not created anything like gridlock.

But examples of the proof of Hamilton's overbuilt lanes abound across the lower city. Here are some that come to mind, and I hope you will post more examples in the comments.

King Street East over Kenilworth

It has been down to one lane in each direction for at least seven months now, with no detrimental effect. Meanwhile, they are working on rebuilding that overpass.

Here's an idea - downgrade it and get rid of that unnecessary infrastructure cost. We need to minimize the number of bridges to maintain.

While we're at it, King Street East could be one lane in each direction with a centre turning lane and bike lanes - or at least wide enough lanes to accommodate bikes. This would make it more pleasant for residents and make it easier to turn in and out of driveways.

King Street East Near Sherman

This was down to two lanes for months, and sometimes down to one lane - with minimal effect on traffic. Why did we pay to repave the full width and assume the ongoing costs of mainenance for lanes we don't need?

When we talk about two-way conversions or bike lanes on King, we are told that we can't do anything until LRT moves forward - but somehow it's ok to spend hundreds of thousands on repaving of the very same stretch?

Claremont Access

This is perhaps the most overbuilt road in the city. Go down to Stinson and Victoria, look up and get a load of that infrastructure. It is an enormous overpass - something that puts LA's car culture to shame. It's seven lanes at its widest point, compared to Highway 403's four lanes.

We've been down a lane due to a failing escarpment retaining wall for over a year, and we could stand to lose three or four more with no impact to traffic.

Victoria Avenue North

Construction by Hamilton General Hospital had Victoria Avenue North down to two lanes from its usual four (all one-way, of course), and the backup was rarely more than one or two light cycles.

King Street West at Hess

King Street just west of Hess Street has been down a lane for years now, and commuting life goes on with one light cycle delay at the worst of times.

King Street West at Ray

King Street West at Ray Street was down by one lane for the duration of the construction of the Good Shepherd Centre with zero traffic impact. Even when the Hess and Ray closures were happening at the same time, the delay was minimal.

Main Street West at Caroline

Main West West between Caroline and Bay has been reduced by one lane for over a year during the renovation of the old Revenue Canada building and the construction of the new Vranich tower at Bay and George - with no impact on traffic.

Arbitrary Lane Widening

Then we have the Hamilton-specific concept of "magically appearing traffic", where streets widen at random locations where there is no source of additional traffic to justify the widening.

York Boulevard Eastbound at Dundurn

York Blvd goes from one lane at the Royal Botanical Gardens, to two lanes at Highway 403, to three lanes at Dundurn. Are we to assume that people turn right from Dundurn onto York at such volumes that they need a dedicated lane?

Main Street Eastbound at McMaster

Main Street goes from two lanes west of McMaster to three lanes at Mac, to four lanes at Paradise, and to five lanes at Highway 403.

King Street Leaving Downtown

King Street heading westbound goes from two lanes at John, three lanes at James, to four lanes at Bay, to five lanes at Locke.

I can only assume the widening at Bay is to accommodate staff leaving City Hall so they can get the hell out of the city and back to their houses in Brantford as fast as is humanly possible.

But what about the bulge at Locke Street? Is the post-coffee-and-antique rush so heavy that a new lane needs to appear for those turning left onto King?

Unnecessary Costs

Every square foot of unnecessary lane capacity costs us a huge amount to install, maintain, plough, and replace. Our roads budget is out of control and a large chunk of it is being spent on unnecessary infrastructure. We can't afford this anymore.

I am sure you can all think of other examples. Please post them in the comments!

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.


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By Go Go (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 17:15:56

WENTWORTH ST N.-- two way from Barton to Burlington----one way express south of Barton past Cathy Wever Elementary and then two way again slightly South of Main.

SANFORD AVE N. -- large one way past elementary school AGAIN to Barton with two left turn lanes.

Absolutely no need at all. Both sandwich Cathy Wever Elementary.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted March 29, 2013 at 00:52:10 in reply to Comment 87540

Sanford and I believe Wentworth are on the conversion list.

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By JM (registered) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 17:55:00 in reply to Comment 87540

i think these may actually be in the process of a possible two way conversion..... but don't quote me on that!

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By Go Go (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 18:12:31 in reply to Comment 87542

I heard the rumours as well... but I think it was limited to south of Cannon or Wilson not sure... I don't know how that makes any sense. Just convert the whole damn street, not bits and pieces. sheesh.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 17:53:55

I'm sure the City will choose the most cost-effective solution, then implement it poorly.

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 18:57:31

Centennial Parkway still reduced to one lane northbound at the train bridge near the new Walmart and QEW access. beenb like that for many months now.

I drive there all the time, never any traffic problems.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 19:37:44

Hunter in front of Central school: a freeway style 3-lane one-way street with the south lane almost always empty, at least during the morning rush hour. The road is in fact empty for most of the day outside of rush hours, and even then is very lightly used, leading to waves of high speed traffic.



You can see how wide the lanes are in the second picture: plenty of room for a wider sidewalk and a buffer strip!

Note that Hunter is the shortest route between Central School and the YWCA daycare which takes care of many JK and K children at Central. There is no sidewalk on the south side between Park and James and the city has removed the crosswalks at Park and the McNab underpass which makes crossing dangerous and eliminates the benefit of the underpass for pedestrians.

In addition, there are no school zones marked on any of the roads adjacent to Central, although there is a completely ignored 40km/h sign just west of the YWCA.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-03-28 20:12:01

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 02, 2013 at 15:35:02 in reply to Comment 87546

City seems to like keeping things 1-way in places where there's a lot of pick-up/drop-offs - schools and the Hunter Street GO terminal included. Not justifying it, but explaining the rationale. Iirc, Hunter Street was up for 2-way conversion except for this factor.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 02, 2013 at 17:39:17 in reply to Comment 87608

I can see them proposing to convert Cline Ave. N. to one-way to accommodate the increase in pick-up/drop-offs when PP is amalgamated with GRA. It's a defacto one-way as it is with the restriction of turns off King W.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 20:13:59

If we do two-way conversion on Main and King, I can’t help but feel we will get 5 lanes with a centre turning lane, otherwise known as a non-solution. If we want to lose lanes we may need to concede on two-way conversion. A lane reduction from 5 to 3 but keeping the one ways is probably the quickest way for this city to achieve the needed infrastructure reduction Sean accurately calls for in this piece while also providing livable streets. Taking the two outside lanes of both Main and King and making tree lined streets, with wider sidewalks and bike lanes sure sounds like an improvement to me, regardless of what way traffic is going. It would also demonstrate the ability to compromise for progress which this city has lacked.

I would also be a little cautious about Claremont, agreed 7 lanes is crazy, but we may see BRT before LRT going north to south in this city (not necessarily a bad thing) and some additional lanes besides those required for car traffic will be required.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 29, 2013 at 03:14:00 in reply to Comment 87548

Totally agree on Main and King. Trees, wide sidewalks and curb parking.

The Claremont lane that is currently blocked already has the most expensive piece of infrastructure in place for separated bike-lanes. Let's just paint a 2-way bike lane and leave the barricades.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 02, 2013 at 14:47:00 in reply to Comment 87560

Let's just paint a 2-way bike lane and leave the barricades.

Not a bad idea.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted March 29, 2013 at 00:56:59 in reply to Comment 87548

The Claremont is built. There is no cost effective way to "unbuild it". Remember how it came to be. It was conceived and built during a time when there were very large amounts of industrial truck traffic moving up and down Highway 6 to and from Nanticoke to both the steel and Hydro generating station.
You can propose lane reductions sure. But we are stuck with that infrastructure.
Personally I don't mind the fact that we have the option of multiple access routes up and down the escarpment.

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By Gimics38 (registered) | Posted March 29, 2013 at 18:45:19 in reply to Comment 87554

I agree with everything in the article except touching mountain accesses.

I live near Scenic and Mohawk. A few summers ago, the Sherman and or Kenilworth accesses were closed for the summer. The west bound Linc and down bound 403 were a mess.

Whenever there is a closure of a mountain access, the remaining become clogged very quickly.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2013 at 19:33:04 in reply to Comment 87574

Let me clarify a few things - I'm not calling for closure of any mountain accesses. I'm also not talking about un-building claremont. What I am talking about is the maintenance costs of traffic lanes. On claremont for instance, we could have a dedicated LRT lane (instead of that bizarre "tunnel up the mountain" idea they were throwing around), PLUS a two way fully separated bike lane, and traffic would not be impacted at all, maintenance costs would be lower, and more citizens would be better served by the infrastructure we have.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 02, 2013 at 14:56:58 in reply to Comment 87589

An LRT up the mountain is likely not the most cost effective plan. Infrastructure costs and the increased maintenance costs of operating rail vehicles on that type of grade will likely make BRT the most cost effective plan for the B-line. Cycling lanes and BRT conversions for Clarmeont would make more sense to me.

Good article and good messaging Sean, first debunking the congestion myth and then pointing out the cost and waste of these overbuilt road systems is an argument that can lure a broader demographic to the "complete street" cause.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 12:51:26 in reply to Comment 87607

Thanks - I have always argued that the biggest detriment of our current system is financial cost. Not only the cost of actual maintenance and construction, but also the cost of lost development opportunity.

As for the mountain, my dream is to see an aerial tram link st joe's with the old mountainview hotel site, to connect lower hamilton LRT with upper hamilton transit - cars would run every 2-3 minutes, and travel would be free for citizens (you'd get a card in the mail perhaps) and a small fee for tourists. A modern take on the incline railways we lost.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 20:46:34

Hamilton: We're On A Roll


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By Nathan Hughson (anonymous) | Posted March 28, 2013 at 20:58:22 in reply to Comment 87549

This is crazy. Do we even know what $18 million is anymore? How much is this per household? I don't know why every property tax paying citizen in the city isn't up in arms over these crazy capital expenditures and future liabilities. Our council and staff spend money like it's water.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 29, 2013 at 16:41:28 in reply to Comment 87550

At least they are responsible when it comes to small amounts like the $125,000 for super crawl and that grant for $650,000 to support a downtown grocery store. They say you can't be trusted with the bug decisions if you can't be trusted with the small decisions.

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By Nate (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2013 at 02:45:46

Main St. at Dundurn is blocked in the right lane daily.

By people waiting for the drive-thru coffee. They back up ten cars deep with three or four cars waiting on the road. It is a hazard.
The traffic has space to pass by so this my not be so relevant.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted March 30, 2013 at 00:44:21

I completely disagree with that bridge over Kenilworth. I've nearly been sideswiped several times on that bridge, they can't open that up quick enough.

I will agree with York Blvd though...although how on earth you could correct that stretch with the existing green median, plus how Canon feeds into the street is not an easy task.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted March 30, 2013 at 02:13:55 in reply to Comment 87581

Rather I should say, leading up to that bridge.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 30, 2013 at 01:15:07 in reply to Comment 87581

Cannon carries 18,000 cars per day at James. That means it needs 2 lanes, not 5 at Hess. Shrink it to 2-lanes which will feed perfectly into York. Add 1 left turn lane at Queen, add parking, a 2-way bike lane all the way to it's eastern terminus and plant tons of trees along the sidewalks.

York is 2-lanes from the 403 to Dundurn and 2 lanes eastbound past Hess. It doesn't need 3 in the middle. It should have 24-7 curb parking, bike lanes then 2 lanes of traffic. And again, street trees all the way down the street next to the curb parking due to the wide sidewalks.

Suddenly, without really affecting traffic flow, we've created complete, green, safe, business-friendly streets out of 2 of our most horrendous, dangerous streets.

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By Duke of Earl (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2013 at 12:21:44

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 13:29:58 in reply to Comment 87585

the older prosperous residents are...

A significant part of the problem.

Comment edited by Kiely on 2013-04-03 13:30:45

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By dreadlock? (anonymous) | Posted March 30, 2013 at 19:39:58 in reply to Comment 87585

Another gridlock chicken little.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 30, 2013 at 13:48:42 in reply to Comment 87585

Interesting how most of your family is now living and prospering in a nearby city BEFORE we've built any complete streets, safe transportation options and improved urban/inner city neighbourhoods. You're comment is hilarious - warning us that if the city catches up with the rest of the world and implements complete streets, folks like you will be outta here....yet, you're already outta here.

Thank you for making our point - people with income and options don't choose to live near Cannon, Main, Victoria etc.. very often. They DO however choose to live near the safe, vibrant complete streets of Bloor, Queen, College etc...in Toronto.

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted March 31, 2013 at 01:32:38

Victoria Ave North is definitely a candidate for calming. At times the speeds right past J.C. Beemer park where kids increasingly cross as the park is expanded just plain frightening. Momentum from the Clairmont Access happening is constant!

Comment edited by PearlStreet on 2013-03-31 01:34:21

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 02, 2013 at 15:36:39 in reply to Comment 87592

They've done a nice job calming Victoria Ave traffic through the hospital - traffic bump-outs and wide bike lanes make it pleasant. But just through the hospital. Also, they re-did Wellington the year before and changed nothing there, which is perverse since they're coupled roads.

But yeah, waiting for the rest of Victoria to see the same loving.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2013 at 02:41:24

"This is perhaps the most overbuilt road in the city. Go down to Stinson and Victoria, look up and get a load of that infrastructure. It is an enormous overpass - something that puts LA's car culture to shame."


There's no adornment, no attempt at the smallest amount of creativity, just a giant ugly slab. The effect on the surrounding area is toxic. Compare that stretch to spots even a few blocks in any direction - just like LA or any other American city that embraced inner-city highway architecture.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 03:32:39

Have no fear. Hamilton is planning to spend a ton of money widening streets all over the city....even ones like Dundurn, Wellington etc.....


Lord knows we need more lanes. 60km/hr is so 1980

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 04, 2013 at 23:26:13

This won't surprise anyone in the city where it's always 1970, but no mention of bike lanes, curb trees or bus lanes in any of these projects:


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