Convert Main and King to Two-Way

A reader throws his support behind converting Main and King to two-way traffic.

By Letter to the Editor
Published November 23, 2006

Dear Councillors Brian McHattie (ward 1), Bob Bratina (ward 2), Bernie Morelli (ward 3), and Sam Merulla (ward 4),

I would like to add my voice to the growing number of people who want Main and King converted into two-way streets.

This is the right thing to do, and the right time to do it. I've just moved to Hamilton and I have fresh eyes. The first time I took a walk around my new neighborhood (right off Queen, on Jackson st.) I was stricken dumb at the sight of these two huge five-lane gashes - Main St. and King St. - cutting across the downtown core. No wonder nobody walks around and shops, and no wonder the downtown core is dead.

I'm not telling you that this is a silver-bullet solution that will transform Hamilton's downtown into 1920s Montmartre or whatever. But taming these two monster roads is an essential step towards healing the downtown, and making it safer and more inviting for people like me: university students, bicyclists, shoppers, families, and so on.

You might be telling yourself: it's not worth it. It'll slow everything down, make things less efficient, etc. etc. But let me tell you this: the moment you make the downtown more pleasant (especially in the key area near Locke street, which in my mind could, if given enough attention, become like Ottawa's Elgin street) you won't have so much trouble attracting different types of industries with different types of folks working for them.

White collar workers need white-collar amenities. They need their downtown cafés, window-shopping, and all that. But one thing at a time. Two-laning those beastly, noisy roads is the first, essential step towards a lasting downtown renewal for Hamilton.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Georges Buscemi
MA student, McMaster University

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By martin z (registered) - website | Posted November 23, 2006 at 09:55:12

I have to say that, while I understand why the various other streets have been made two-way, I'm worried about how it's been done. I mean, it's hardly two way if there's the "good-way" and the "cramped-one-lane-can't-turn-left-way". None of the convenience of two-way traffic, and none of the efficiency of one-way traffic. I'm concerned this worst-of-both-worlds approach is being considered as the way to go. The stop lights leading up to the mountain accesses have become disastrous at rush hour.

Yes, I realize that it's important for business, but you have to consider both sides here - in order to shop downtown, people have to be able to get downtown. Plus, the city needs access to the mountain accesses, since the 403 mountain access is already horribly overcrowded.

I think refining the current approach would be ideal - the north-south and peripheral roads as bicycle-friendly, business-friendly two-way traffic, and the King/Main corridor for getting into and out of downtown.

Consider how dense traffic downtown is. Then try driving in downtown Toronto, the land of no left turns. We don't have a Gardiner to get traffic through the core, so we have to make do with the roads we have, and that's the King/Main corridor.

Fix up the rest of the two way traffic, but keep King/Main one way, or else downtown will become a quagmire for traffic.

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By Carstar (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 10:11:04

I agree. Keep it simple. Two-way as everyone understands it, is the best way. James and John is kind of a disaster with the ridiculous turning lanes, 3 one way, 1 the other.

The best way is the simplest way. I don't understand why our Traffic Dept. made it so confusing?

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By Dundas1 (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 11:42:58

Martin Z, I appreciate your concern about efficiency when Main and King are converted to 2 way, if done improperly. There are stretches of King that I don't think are going to be easy to convert. However, York and Wilson are currently one ways and they can be used as our throughways. The primary concern is not to attract suburbanites to the downtown but to make downtown livable/enjoyable for the downtown residents. When downtown becomes attractive to its residents, it will also attract suburbanites looking for somewhere fun to go. I think this is the way of things in most cities.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 11:43:26

they made it so confusing because they were trying to give us a two-way street without actually changing the one-way pattern. 2 lanes each way, street parking on curbs during off-peak times would have made perfect sense, especially since 80% of traffic heading south on James turns left to go up the Jolley Cut - which can easily be accessed straight up John. As for downtown businesses and shoppers, consider that over 70% of all vehicles in downtown Hamilton are not beginning or ending their trip in the downtown core. In other words, they aren't shopping. They aren't ever getting out. They are cutting through. Instead of taking the 403 to the Linc, they cut through downtown to go up the Mountain. Highways were built to accommodate cut-through traffic. Downtown streeets should be for those who live, dine and shop on them. Not for 3 minute short-cuts.

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By (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 19:43:51

One look at the disaster that is James Street South will tell you why this is not a simple thing. Those eight or ten blocks are a significant bottleneck, with idling cars, buses, and the ever present Canada Post trucks slowing all traffic to a crawl.

You have large vehicles blocking the curb, and eight out of ten buses changing three lanes to turn left, all of which makes this a street that really isn't safe for bicycles. The St Joe's corner at the parking garage isn't even close to safe for pedestrians.

As much as I love public transit - GOOD public transit - bikes, and even walking, the reality is that Hamilton, and especially downtown is far from being a place that is easily liveable without cars.

The lack of basic services like a decent grocery store, a hardware store, and other things means that people sooner or later need to drive. For many things, especially for families, the HSR just doesn't work. Have you ever shopped for family of four? You don't haul that much stuff on the bus!

Despite the somewhat romantic notions about recreating a downtown form days gone by, the practical reality is that King and Main are valuable arteries for the thousands of people and businesses that need to travel across the city.

Moving those people through at a steady 50 kmh reduces idling and emissions. Those are good things.

Rather than spending more money on ill conceived transitions to two way traffic, I'd prefer to have the money spent on expanding and improving HSR service so that people will move away from cars by choice rather than because there is no option.

Like the buses to and from the Mountain that bring people into and out of downtown. Twenty minutes between buses on the 35 route is NOT an incentive to use transit.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 23, 2006 at 23:13:47

I always get a kick out of car drivers who suddenly care about the environment when a suggestion is made to slow them down (i'm not saying that about you directly...your comment about pollution just jogged my memory). 3 SUV's in the driveway. Driving to corner stores, McDonalds drive-thrus, drive-thru banks. Running down the odd pedestrian or cyclist.

Then the idea comes to slightly slow down traffic for a plethora of good reasons and these same people suddenly become environmentalists.

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By Dundas1 (anonymous) | Posted November 25, 2006 at 00:54:30

My question is why isn't anyone taking John St up to the Jolley cut? It seems everyone still wants to take James, turn left on at St Joe's and then get up the mountain. Adapt.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 25, 2006 at 12:42:46

I've wondered the same thing...my folks live on the Mountain and when I go visit, I take York to John and pretty much have the street to myself right up the Jolley Cut. If people choose to sit on James, one block over and take longer to get home that's their problem.

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By Martin Z (registered) - website | Posted November 27, 2006 at 11:50:44

I suppose my problem is just as an engineer, the idea of saying "these roads are too efficient - traffic is fast and uninterrupted - obviously, we must fix this problem" sounds insane.

I mean, complaining that it's confusing, or unsafe, I can understand... but the chief complaint I'm seeing about the one-way-roads is that they're too effective as roads (making them "highways" instead of "streets").

I guess I'm just being selfish. Every weekend my wife and I drive from Westdale to the old City Centre parking tower to shop downtown, and every day my wife drives down to Queen street to take the mountain access up to work at Westmount S.S. It's a fast, easy ride. I'd miss it.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 27, 2006 at 15:11:40

If downtown streets were safer and slower and friendlier (I'm talking to YOU, one way street supporters!) more people would want to live there so they wouldn't have to figure out how to get in from outside. Stores and jobs would follow the people downtown - also the kind of jobs that pay well and attract graduates who want nightlife and culture - and suddenly there'd be all kinds of people living, working and shopping downtown. Some people would even move in from the suburbs once downtown is seen as being safer and busier. Right now, most people don't go downtown today - who'd want to, with cars roaring by and closed storefronts everywhere? - they're just passing through. I'm downtown and I'm tired of my city getting sold down the river so you can zip through my neighborhood 1.3 minutes faster. Make the streets two way, add light rail --streetcars or electric buses-- and out goes your argument that busses would have to sit in traffic. Look at the bloggy on the hipness battle --that's what we need to do in Hamilton. Bring the people back downtown permanently and they won't have to worry about how to get here. All that traffic simply disappears, just like Jane Jacobs proved it will.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 27, 2006 at 17:24:07

Great post nobrainer. The other great benefit of more downtown residents is that the voice for proper development (which you've just wonderfully articulated) will grow stronger and louder. I never understood much of this stuff until moving downtown. You are also a downtown resident and understand the situation perfectly by the sounds of it. As more and more people move downtown, more and more people will join us in getting city hall to treat us as a proper neighbourhood and not everyone else's shortcut. It's easy for all these (non-downtown resident) one-way supporters to wax eloquently about the one-way system. Perhaps we need to get city hall to change King St in downtown Dundas to 4-lanes one-way and have city council put an end to the practice of installing stop signs and stop lights on suburban side streets that become known as 'shortcuts' around traffic bottlenecks. Right now all folks in these outer neighbourhoods need to do is get a few dozen signatures on a petition and they receive stop signs/lights to calm their local traffic. And I have no problem with that - even when I travel in the burbs. It's high time city council actually follow through with all their talk about urban revitalization instead of worrying about their 2 minute extra trip to work. Make coffee at home and skip the 15-car lineup at Tim's and they'll more than save the time lost by making MY NEIGHBOURHOOD streets safer and more livable.

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By Barry (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 10:38:56

After three attempts I can't seem to register, so to heck with it.

What I never understand is the belief in some quarters that slowing auto traffic to a crawl will succeed in improving transit, encouraging liveable downtowns, or reduce the number cars on the road.

There are carrots, and there are sticks, and in this case the stick doesn't work.

Anyone who has sat through rush hour traffic in Toronto already knows that slowing cars to a crawl, increasing gas and parking prices, and generally making it painful to drive does not do anything to reduce automobile use.

What does work is building safe and comprehensive bike lanes - as in Ottawa - and building fast, frequent, and cheap transit.

If you make it easy to use alternate forms of transport people will do so. If you try to punish them for driving nothing will change except that drivers will get a little more angry.

The reasons why people don't use transit are pretty basic - it's not cheap, it's inconvenient in most cases, and a bus doesn't always accommodate real world needs.

Really this argument always seems to take on a moralistic tone, almost holier than thou, while ignoring the practical realities. That does nothing to advance the positive solutions.

If downtown Hamilton is being revitalized it's because property prices are very low, and people are moving in to take advantage of that dynamic.

No-one is buying gallery and storefront space because of one or two way streets.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 11:31:09

great points by all. If I may add - when Pane Del Sole Bakery decided to move from their location at Cannon and John to their new location at Cannon and John (I'm not kidding. it's around the corner) they cited 2 reasons: 1. A larger premise where they could expand 2. The slower, more enjoyable street presence on 2-way John than on Cannon. The manager actually said those words - '2 way' - when interviewed.

James and John North don't suffer from gridlock now that they are 2-way....but the street (James, being commercial) is booming back to life. Even James and John South now are seeing a resurgence. I had my doubts about John South, but now with a new sushi bar, Incognito Restaraunt and Wine Bar and some new architect/professional offices opening the street is actually starting to show signs of life.

You're right - we need better cycling, transit and pedestrian environments in Hamilton. We don't need traffic gridlock, but we certainly don't need 5-lane highways either.

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By Mixed Media (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 13:19:28

I can tell you for a fact - we did open our storefront gallery shop on James North because they converted it to two ways...

If I hear one more Chamber-type touting the turnaround of James St. to the conversion from one-way to two - I will go insane. It is because many of us put our money and hardwork into action.

Don't get me wrong - The street is much better being two way - but I think the resurgence on this street would have taken place regardless. Artists are flocking here because of the cheap rent, real-estate prices are fairly low and we are a five minute walk to downtown and only 15 minutes to get to the waterfront...

Back to work...

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 13:33:06

Hey Mixed Media, thanks for chiming in. But ... which one is it? You start by saying you moved to James North because it went two-way, and then said James North is resurging because people like you invested there, not because it went two-way. Can't both be true? James North is resurging because people like you invested there, and people like you invested there because of cheap rent, good location, and pedestrian friendly two-way streets. The debate puffs away...

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By Mixed Media (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 18:18:38

Sorry - I meant to say we didn't open our shop here because they all of sudden made the streets two way. My bad...

Two way traffic is good - but it isn't the deciding factor if a business opens on said street. You need an infrastructure to make a neighbourhood work and James North had many things that were already working. Two way helped the flow of traffic and keeps things balanced in terms of moving people both ways instead of straight through and never to be seen again. I can tell you if they decide to convert King St. into two way - it may take longer for something like what is happening on James North to take root. Have you seen the south side of King St. W. between Bay and Hess - wasteland...

So - what i'm trying to say - is these kinds of things don't happen overnight.

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By Georges (anonymous) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 19:44:06

In response to Mixed Media:

I think we're stuck in a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument. Like I wrote in my letter, 2-waying Main and King is not asilver-bullet solution. But 2-waying is quite conducive to business and pedestrian traffic. Of all the places I've lived (Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver, and... North Bay, and now Hamilton), I can't think of a single, good hang-out street with cafés, clothes stores, art galleries, magazine stores, etc. etc. that was one way. It's an empirical fact. Now this might all be coincidence... But pair this mighty big coincidence with how you feel, as a pedestrian, when you walk along a one way street as compared to how you feel when you walk down a two way street.
In short, I would say that the psychological impact of slowed traffic partly accounts for the greater success of businesses on two-way streets as compared with one way. And this causal relation grows stronger the more dependent a business is on walk-in and casual customers.
Just ask yourself this: would businesses on Locke street, for example, profit or not if that street were converted from two way to one way? I'd wager business would go down 20-30%.

To Martin Z:
The streets are to a city as the lungs are to a body. The body definitely needs the lungs--I totally agree. The problem is, in Hamilton the lungs are so powerful and capacious that they're crushing the other organs and killing the body...

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 20:20:46

and let's keep in mind, as bad as one-way streets are on their own, we've compounded the problem by making them 4 and 5 lane highways. King William is a fabulous one-way street (for a few blocks anyways). I suspect that if you took the James North streetwall and 'infrastructure' as Mixed Media put it, and plopped it down on Main Street's 5-lane, timed expressway you wouldn't see it coming back to life as James North currently is. Even in Toronto, the deadest streets are the one-ways: Wellington, Adelaide etc.... compare them to their neighbours around the corner on King or Queen. Night and day.

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By appalbarry (registered) - website | Posted November 29, 2006 at 22:50:30

I did finally get registered.

I guess that my main point is that incentives, positive enhancements, are good. Punitive measures are bad.

Instead of focusing on how we can enhance cycling, enhance transit, enhance many other things, too many people start from the point of punishing motorists.

Nine times out of ten that just results in slowing traffic, creating bottlenecks - which are not good for cyclists or pedestrians either - and increasing the amount of noxious pollution coming from each vehicle.

I will still cite James South as a disaster. There may or may not be some new businesses in that neighbourhood, but overall it is not friendly to cars, people, or bikes.

The friendlier feel of James North is because there is relatively little traffic, not because of one or two way streets.

What I would love to see on Main or King is to yank one whole lane out of the four or five and split it off as a cross town bike path. That would be relatively cheap, wouldn't impede traffic, and might actually be popular.


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By jason (registered) | Posted November 29, 2006 at 23:15:28

hey Barry

I agree with you totally about coming at this from a positive perspective. I for one don't see how anything can be gained by simply ticking off motorists. They are the majority and weild the power in our society. The way to go is by offering incredible transit (light rail, BRT etc...) great cycling opportunities on every major street....nice sidewalks and reasonable calm traffic. We would be crazy to cut half the lanes out of Main st and then expect 20% of drivers to hop on the 1-King bus....it's a sardine can as it is. Your approach is excellent.

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By Georges (anonymous) | Posted November 30, 2006 at 00:39:38

These 2-waying measures aren't intentionally punitive. 2-waying might discourage some people from using their cars but that's not the intention. If people want to drive, more power to them. 2-waying (and narrowing streets for that matter) is about slowing the rate of traffic down. I don't care if the volume is the same, so long as the rate goes down. With a slower rate of traffic (i.e. less cars zipping by per-minute), people will be more apt to walk around and run errands and ride their bikes, etc. So I wouldn't be proposing this as a disincentive to driving, though it very well may be. I'd be proposing this as an incentive for the people who live here, and those who drive here, to stop and explore the downtown core. I understand that creating this incentive for pedestrians inevitably creates a disincentive for drivers. But given the importance and the benefits that derive from having a viable downtown core, I'm just asking drivers to take one for the team...I'm not asking them to stop driving if they don't want to.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 30, 2006 at 11:02:59

good analogy.

futhermore, what RTH is proposing is exactly what the city's own planning department has proposed. Read GRIDS, Vision 2020 and their Triple Bottom Line planning documents on www.hamilton.ca

Even the folks at city hall know what works and what doesn't. The problem is, until now they haven't cared enough about the downtown and city as a whole to do what they know works.

All we're asking is that they follow their own planning guidelines and follow their own rules. Nothing more.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted November 30, 2006 at 14:57:05

This stuff really is a no-brainer! We know what we need to do, and the only reason we're not doing is that we get this non-stop defensive pushback from people who are so used to driving everywhere that they're afraid of something better.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted November 30, 2006 at 15:20:58

Another reason it ain't happening is that Hamiltonians are not making enough noise about it. I suggest if anyone reading about the two-way issue feels strongly about it they should contact their councilor and make their voice heard.

Nothing will change unless people make some noise and start the dialogue with the people that matter.

There will always be voices of dissent - whatever course of action is planned - we just need to fight for this and ensure it happens (along with improvements in transit which, as has been discussed on this blog, go hand in hand with traffic calming measures)

Write now!

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By appalbarry (registered) - website | Posted December 06, 2006 at 11:56:58

"Using data from the Spec's traffic report on Monday, Mitchell demonstrates that vehicle use is growing much faster than population. That's because our street system provides huge incentives to motorists at the expense of neighbourhoods and of other transportation modes. "

I'll disagree, and turn that on its head.

The reason that many people drive is because the transit system by and large is horrid, and because the city is unfriendly to cyclists.

Double the frequency of buses and more people will use them. Half the price and even more.

Build bike lanes and more people will cycle (on the roads, not the sidewalk).

As less people drive there will be a sensible argument for narrowing streets, reducing parking areas, and slowing traffic in general.

I do not believe that slowing traffic to a crawl does anything to reduce auto usage, it just increases idling and pollution. If there isn't a more convenient way to travel - especially in winter - people will drive no matter the speed or the cost.

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