Area Rating: A Satire

In which Jeremy reflects on the wonders of inner city living, one-way streets, timed lights, transit, and the imagination of Brad Clark.

By Jeremy Wilkins
Published October 20, 2014

Warning: Deep Sarcasm Ahead. If you are allergic to sarcasm, you should probably stop reading.

We're lucky in inner city Hamilton. We get perks that people in the other parts of the city don't have. Whether we want them or not.

We have one-way streets. They do not have one-way streets on the Mountain, or in Ancaster, or in Flamboro, or in Stoney Creek, or in Glanbrook. But we do! Traffic goes faster on one-way streets. That's why highways are separated into two, one-way streets. It is neat to have faster traffic in your neighbourhood.

One time a friend who was visiting said King Street East was "a little 'Nascar'." He'd never tried to get into his car in Nascar traffic before. It was very exciting, but it was only a Sunday afternoon. He should have seen Main East during rush hour.

People around here don't always appreciate our one-way streets. Perhaps they are churlish. The local shopkeepers don't like them. They keep asking the City to change them. They've been asking for fifty years, and they are still asking.

Sometimes the City agrees to change a block or two. Like, when a big business asks for it. Not for a little business, though. Or even a whole association of little businesses.

People who live in my neighbourhood don't like the one-way streets, either. They are not nice to walk on. They are not safe for our kids. They are not safe for bicycles. They are a pain for local users. You have to drive in circles.

On our little neighbourhood street - a two-way street surrounded by one-way streets! - a lot of people park facing the wrong way. We got a ticket for that once. We still do it. It's just a lot easier than doing a three point turn. Or going around the block. Actually, going around three blocks. You can't just go around the block, because Wentworth goes the wrong way.

Our little street doesn't go anywhere. It is three blocks long. On one end is the escarpment. On the other end is King Street. It is a narrow street. No one has a driveway. Everyone parks on the street. We love it. Drivers like it, too. It's a good way to get where they're going. They can't use Wentworth. It goes the wrong way. So they come down our street.

Speaking of Wentworth, my son Thomas just turned twelve. Before he was even born, City Council resolved to make Wentworth a two-way street. I told him this on his birthday. I didn't want him to get too big for his britches. I said, "Twelve years is nothing. Wentworth has been approved for two-way conversion for your entire life!"

He said, "Seriously?"

I said, "Yes! Hamilton is The Ambitious City." He had never heard Ambition used that way. Now he knows. Hamilton may not be The Best Place to Raise a Child, but it is a good place to teach the meaning of Ambition.

We used to live on the Mountain. On the Mountain, only neighbourhood users used neighbourhood streets. Through traffic used the through streets-in both directions! Kids played ball hockey in the neighbourhood streets.

It's not like that down here. Here, the through streets only go one direction. The neighbourhood streets go the other direction. There are trucks and cabs and commuters cruising by. It is way too busy for ball hockey, even on a street that doesn't go anywhere, like ours. Luckily the children can hide between the parked cars and be safe.

It is Sunday morning and traffic is motoring past my front window. Five cars in the last minute. No, six. Okay, seven. A truck just trundled by. The traffic is almost always headed North. They could use Wentworth to go South. They can't use it to go North, because it needs three lanes to go South. Why? Tradition! I like traditions when they have reasons attached.

The cars on our street don't usually get up to full speed, though. I am told full speed is 50 km/h. I learned this from a driver. I thought he was speeding on my street. He turned the corner and accelerated hard.

I flagged him down. I was angry. I said, "You're going way too fast for this little street."

He was angry, too. "Nonsense! The speed limit is fifty!"

"Oh," I said. "I didn't know that. Seems kinda fast for this little street lined with parked cars and little children, don'tcha think?" He didn't think so. He zipped down to King Street. I think he likes the one-ways.

With one-way streets you can have timed lights. You don't get that on Upper James, and it is busier than Main East and King Everywhere. I bet they wish they could have timed lights on the Mountain.

Timed lights are cool. Cars race by in great, speeding clumps. Just like Nascar. On Main East, there are five lanes! Three would do it. There are two bonus lanes. When the slowpokes are clogging up the middle lanes at 50 km/h, the people who know how to drive can use the outside lanes to get around them.

It's a blast for pedestrians. Literally a blast. You can really feel the air rushing by when buses and trucks and cars pass a foot from your shoulder. Those sidewalks are for single file anyway, so you don't get interrupted.

There used to be trees lining Main Street. I saw it on a postcard. It was lovely. But you can't stop progress. They cut them down to have five lanes. Much faster to get home to the tree-lined streets in the suburbs.

The other day I was driving in Stoney Creek. The streets are two-way. The lights are not timed. You have to stop at a lot more red lights. Stop and go. It really slows things down, in Stoney Creek.

What are they doing? I thought Brad Clark was their Councillor. Clark is a big fan of the one-way streets going through my neighbourhood. I'm surprised he hasn't been able to get them in his.

Clark knows The Change We Need. It is not LRT. That was a Change We Needed in May, when the goal was Efficiency. Now, it is October and the goal is Divide and Conquer. The Change We Need in October is to beef up BRT. We don't have BRT, but Clark wants to beef it up anyway.

He also wants more frequent bus service in suburban and rural parts of Hamilton. That would be good. If the Province built LRT in Hamilton, we could afford that. We would have a lot of available drivers. We would have a lot of available buses. We would have lower operating costs. We would have higher tax revenues. We would almost certainly have higher ridership.

But Clark says we don't want LRT. We have one-way streets. Well, not in Stoney Creek. But we have them in my neighbourhood.

Brad Clark used to work for Mike Harris. Harris made the Cities pay for the Province's responsibilities. Then he sold Highway 407 for 99 years. Now Clark wants to make the Province pay for Hamilton's parkways. The Province says he can keep dreaming. Maybe we should just sell them to the people who run the 407. Then we could dream about beefing up the BRT, which we don't have.

Lloyd Ferguson says people in Ancaster are asking him why they should pay for bike lanes on Cannon Street. They don't plan on using them. I guess he didn't tell them we pay higher taxes down here.

We have a higher Area Rating. Lucky us! We get extra treats, like one-way streets and timed lights and trucks trundling through our side streets. Now we have a bike lane, too. We paid for it ourselves.

But it got me wondering. I hear Wilson Street in Ancaster is a Complete Street, with trees and everything. It even has a stone gateway. I wouldn't know, I don't go up there very often. No offence to Ancaster; it's just an awfully big city. I'll never use that stone gateway they have on Wilson Street in Ancaster. I bet it's nice, though.

Speaking of things I would probably never use, Mississauga is asking for LRT. They want the Province to pay for it. The Province says it just might. Let them. We don't want that filthy lucre spent on transit in Hamilton. Brad Clark will tell the Province where they can stick it. Somewhere else, that's where. I don't know where the Province gets its money, but they can keep it!

Jeremy Wilkins lives with his family in Hamilton's Landsdown neighbourhood, Ward 3. Before Hamilton he lived in eleven other cities, including Hong Kong, Tokyo, St Louis, Toronto, Boston, and Houston. He is here now and loves it. He plans to stick around.


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By hipocrisy (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 11:12:40

Fabulous, spot on! I never can get used to the fact that selfish people who would NEVER tolerate this crap where they live are quick to scream bloody murder when folks who live on our one way race tracks ask for them to be made less horrible.

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By YoBro! (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 13:14:16


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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 16:10:50

I live downtownish and I love one way streets. Just saying . . .

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By Me too (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 17:28:27 in reply to Comment 105457

Me too. I've since moved out of the core, but that was one of the selling points on me living downtown.

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 19:41:59

Thanks for your remarks, which I appreciate. One-ways have their merits. They are not, by themselves, the problem. The problem arises from a constellation of factors, taken together. Let me give two examples.

There is a reasonable argument for one way streets when there is a very heavy traffic volume. Industry standard for urban thoroughfares is 8000 vehicles per lane, per day.

What is the argument for Wentworth being one way? Each day, it carries a paltry 1800 vehicles per lane, or 5400 vehicles for the entire three lane street. Who wants to stand up and say it is good use of our resources--of our space, of our money, of our snow clearing equipment, etc.--to maintain three lanes for less than one lane worth of traffic? That is silly. It is a waste of money. It is a waste of space.

But it is also a waste in other ways, because it has bad side effects. If Wentworth (and Victoria, and Wellington, etc.) was a two-way street, you would have much better communication between King and Main. Traffic could move back and forth, without cutting through neighborhoods. It is not only silly but positively stupid, dangerous, and destructive for the city to have traffic incentives for cutting through neighborhoods.

Speaking of dangerous, the speed limit of 50 km/h is way too high for neighborhood side streets. But I digress.

What about Main? Right now, East of downtown, it is carrying just over 4000 vehicles per lane, per day. On five lanes. That is a total waste of money. We are maintaining lanes we do not need for the volume of traffic we have. We are paving them. We are clearing them of snow. It is like building a five car garage for two cars and a motorcycle. And then discovering that you don't have any space left for a patio and can't buy a grill because you spent all your money on the garage and you can't afford to put a new roof on it. Who would do that? It's ridiculous.

For all those lanes, all that money, all that maintenance, all that snow clearance, we are getting nothing, zero, nada. Because the street would function just fine with three lanes. Keeping five lanes is just more money "wasted downtown."

In fact, we are getting less than zero. We are getting negative. We are destroying value. We could have wider sidewalks that people might like to walk on. I bet the shopkeepers on Main would dig that. We could have trees lining the street. Hey, it adds value in Ancaster. Maybe it would add value downtown, too! We could have a place to ride a bicycle. Right now there is nowhere for that. A lot of people ride on the sidewalk, but the sidewalk is single file already. It is easy to complain about people riding on the sidewalk. It would be much better to give them a little space. There is plenty of space. But right now, we are wasting it. In fact, we are destroying it.

The point is not one-ways. The point is the mix.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 20, 2014 at 20:15:30 in reply to Comment 105466

It is the mix.

What is the traffic volume west of downtown? My guess is that is is well over 8,000 per effective lane per day. There are only 4 lanes running on Main West except during rush hour.

(BTW why does traffic always have to fully plug up a roadway before it is being used "efficiently?" And who says 8000 is the magic number? But I digress.)

There are 5 effective lanes running on Main East but only at rush hour. During the day and at night there are really only three (Buses use the inside curb and parking on the North.) East of the Delta there only two each way. No Parking on Main East of the Delta. Yet there is Parking along both King and Main on the western arteries - all the way along.

Plus we have to worry about the access into the City.

If you make Main and King two way, and you add the LRT into King, cutting off the 403, what do you imagine the traffic volumes will be?

There will be no parking. There will only be two lanes on Main Running each way carrying all of the volume of King and main. It will be double the 8,000 per lane and there will be no parking.

I agree, it seems to be about the mix.

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 21:04:22 in reply to Comment 105468

Wait, I'm confused.

I said, "Why should Wentworth be one-way?" And you said, "Well, Main West and King West are both lined with parking!"

And I said, "Why should Main East be five lanes, when it doesn't have that much traffic?" And you said, "Well, Main West has a lot of traffic! It's very busy on Main West."

I see.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 20, 2014 at 21:31:42 in reply to Comment 105472

No. I said Main East is effectively 3 lanes and it can't be considered without taking the issue of Main West, King, the 403 and the LRT into the mix. You can't just parcel up portions without looking at the whole which is what I thought you were talking about.

I said that because those issues are linked issues and traffic flows through both and that leads to the issue of the LRT and the 403 and on and on - because it is all about the mix.

I didn't say anything about Wentworth because I don't see Wentworth as terribly relevant to the over all traffic issues in Hamilton; Main East I do. Wentworth could be two way I guess. I haven't thought that much bout it. I only commented on the portions of what you said that I thought required responding to because you said there are times when one way street are useful and I think Main and King are examples of that.

I hope that helps with any confusion. I should have used more words.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2014-10-20 21:39:35

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 23:07:27 in reply to Comment 105473

Thanks very much for the clarification. It is helpful.

So, I agree that there has to be a consideration of the overall traffic flow and a lot of other interconnected variables, and it can't be piecemeal. But part of not being piecemeal means we cannot focus only on traffic flows as if there were no other values at stake. It turns out that when we make decisions based only on one value--How do we maximize traffic throughput?--we sacrifice a lot of other things. And those other things include neighborhood vitality, businesses, safety, quality of living, beauty, and health. It would be really worthwhile to bring some of those into focus, which is what I aimed to do in my satire.

I brought up a lot of interconnected issues in my post, not just one-way streets, although I did point out that one-way streets have a lot of downsides. Basically, they are good for one thing: traffic throughput. And they are bad for most of the other things, at least the way they are currently arranged in Hamilton. And if you ask, Who benefits most from fast traffic throughput?, the answer is, People who have a long way to go. And if you ask, Who suffers most from dangerous, fast, unpleasant, ugly roadways? The answer is, The people who live near them.

Wentworth, as a single street, is not terribly relevant to the overall traffic issues in Hamilton. But Wentworth, as a symptom of what we are doing wrong, is very relevant. And, of course, Wentworth is quite relevant to the people who live nearby and are affected by its ridiculousness.

Wentworth is one of many quite absurd North-South one-ways in the inner city. It would be absurd to pave three lanes but only allow one to be used. It is absurd to pave three lanes for one lane's worth of traffic. It is most absurd to deliberately eliminate traffic by making the road one-way. That is like designating your lawnmower "Front Yard Only." "Hey Dad, can I use that to mow the back?" "Oh, no. That's the Front Yard Mower." "Okay, but it's just sitting there." "I know. The front is already mowed." "Great. Then I can use it in back?" "Ah, no. It's for the front." "But it's just for an hour. You can still use it in front." "Yeah... No."

You're not for waste. I'm not for waste. Why do we have a road, with three lanes, which we can only use in one direction? It's not because there are too many cars going the other direction. There aren't. There are hardly any.

So let's use streets like Wentworth for both directions. We already decided to do it. 13 years ago.

But it's not just silly. It's also harmful. Because Wentworth is one-way, a lot of traffic comes down my little street. That's not good for the street. Is it really the city's goal, to encourage through-traffic to run down a little neighborhood side street? Why? What city has that as a goal? "Hey, here's an idea. Instead of using this big wide arterial road, let's send the traffic down this side street." "Wait. There are two extra lanes over here. We've already got them built. No one is using them." "I know, I know. But if the traffic goes down this side street, it will be more dangerous for kids! Don't you want to make this the Best Place to Raise a Child?"

My point is that the "overall traffic issues in Hamilton," as you put it, are not just about throughput. There are a lot of other factors. And just to focus on throughput--even if it's throughput across the whole downtown, west, east, north, south--is not to come to grips with "the overall traffic issues in Hamilton."

There are a lot of things the city could do to improve the traffic flows down here, besides reconfiguring Main and King. We probably wouldn't agree on Main and King, but I bet we could agree on a lot of those other things. Like Wentworth. Victoria. Wellington. They are worse than a waste. They are destroyers of value.

Comment edited by j.servus on 2014-10-20 23:08:32

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 20:43:16 in reply to Comment 105468

Yeah, we get it, you care more about your fast commute than thousands of people living on safe, healthy streets. Stop gussying up your selfishness with concern trolling. Just be honest: you don't care about other people, just you own convenience.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 20, 2014 at 21:37:45 in reply to Comment 105470

Classic. Post a comment you don't like and troll troll. I see no fake concern in my post. (For the record, as I have posted before, I live downtown and do not commute in - but I do not see how that is relevant. An idea should stand on its merit. Quit being insulting and attack the idea. Ad hominem attacks are stupid and I will not respond further to you unless you post something worthwhile.)

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted October 20, 2014 at 20:43:36

You are talking as if the only alternatives are Nascar on the one side and traffic jams on the other. There is actually a middle way that could be good for everyone. Nascar is good only for the drivers. It is bad for the neighbors. It is bad for the kids. It is bad for the shopkeepers. It is bad for the local people walking. It is bad for the people trying to ride their bikes because they only have a kilometer or two to go. It is bad for the property values. It is bad for the city budget. It is ugly. How many things does it have to be bad for, before we are ready to talk about the middle way that could be good for everyone?

On King Street, half the users are on the bus. The other half are in cars. Here's an idea. What if we had something cleaner, faster, quieter, more efficient, more reliable, more comfortable, and with greater capacity than the bus? Do you think we could get a few more of those cars off the road?

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By h1 (anonymous) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 12:22:00 in reply to Comment 105471

the Buses on the road are not just the B-Line. the LRT will not go to any other route so you will then have the cars buses and LRT.

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted October 21, 2014 at 21:12:34 in reply to Comment 105490

The specific issue was raised regarding traffic on King/Main, the B-line.

But what is likely to happen, when LRT comes to the B-line, is that it will become possible to improve bus service on the other routes. And that will take traffic off the road on those routes, too.

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