Why Two-Way Streets Work

By Sean Burak
Published July 15, 2008

Two-way street conversion is not the only factor in urban revitalization - as far as I can see, no one is claiming that. However, it is a contributing factor, and it is a solution that is relatively inexpensive and easy to implement.

As many people downtown have pointed out, look at any thriving business district in Hamilton (it will likely be on a two-way street) and then look 50 metres down the corner of an intersecting one-way street - it will be barren.

Please allow me to try to explain how two-way strets convince people to spend their money downtown and businesses to locate downtown.

  1. Cars do not shop but pedestrians do. By definition, a shopper is a pedestrian even if only for the distance form the parking spot to the store.

  2. Our one-way system caters to moving cars, which do not shop.

  3. Our one-way system creates stress for drivers who try to stop to look for parking, making it difficult for them to become shopping pedestrians.

  4. Our one-way system makes the pedestrian experience very uncomfortable. People do not like to walk an arm's length from tonnes of steel moving 50 to 80 km/hr. So once out of their cars, the pedestrian shoppers are punished by the design of the street.

If we created a road system that made it easier to find a place to park (meaning the road moves at a slower speed and pulling over in traffic doesn't mean fighting a large burly crowd of cars), more people would consider doing so.

If we created a road system that made walking a comfortable experience, more people would do so. And if we have to sacrifice a bit of throughput to make it a reality, I think that most business owners would be willing to do so.

Put yourself in the shoes of the owner of an imaginary hardware store on Main Street. Would you prefer having traffic moving at 40 km/h in both directions in front of your store, making it difficult for them to travel the 20 blocks in either direction to the nearest Lowe's?

Or would you rather have traffic in only one direction travelling at 60 km/h, gaze fixed on the next light, timing the greens, and only being five minutes away from that same Lowe's due to the "efficiency" of the street?

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 jason (registered) | Posted July 15, 2008 at 12:02:55

it almost seems anti-climatic to be posting stuff like this. Everyone knows it now. John Dolbec has changed his mind after seeing the evidence with his own eyes. Terry Cooke has changed his mind after seeing evidence with his own eyes. City staff have changed their minds and recommended more conversions after seeing the evidence with their own eyes. Downtown residents and business owners who were skeptical have changed their minds after seeing evidence with their own eys (and cash registers).

Sadly, the very group of people that we PAY to further development, investment and business in our city is the only group choosing to ignore the evidence and keep their heads buried in the 1950's sand they enjoy so much. Hamiltonians from all corners of the city concerned with our image, economy, business climate, future employment opportunities and state of the downtown need to hold these people accountable at the next election. A decade ago the Spec ran a feature piece asking the question "Is James North dead?" As in permanently dead. Today, James North is featured in national and local media from coast to coast for it's revival. The fact that we have councillors who would prefer the dead version of that wonderful street should be enough to boil the blood of any Hamilton resident, urban or suburban. When those in charge become the city's biggest obstacle, the next election can't come soon enough.

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By ventrems (registered) | Posted July 15, 2008 at 17:10:49

if we accept that the current status quo has to be changed, the argument supporting two-way conversions instead of calmed one-ways is simple:

to calm the one-ways, lane reductions to three or less would likely be required. also, other measures such as speed bumps & widened sidewalks have been proposed. this would markedly reduce traffic flow.

however, contrary to what some believe a two-way solution is actually better for traffic flow overall, while still calming individual streets. consider main & king streets. if we convert both to two-way streets with two lanes of traffic in each direction, we'll provide a total of four lanes east and four lanes west.

if we frame the argument in this way, both drivers and pedestrians can support it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 15, 2008 at 18:17:56

you're right ventrems. I recall sitting on Main St recently due to an accident. It took me like 10 minutes to cross the Bay St intersection. I had a perfet view of the almost empty King, York and Cannon up Bay St. While hundreds of cars sat for over 30 minutes on Main, 9 lanes of westbound-only traffic roared past with HUGE gaps in between the small groups of cars.
I thought to myself - one way is bad no matter how you slice it. Instead of people being able to detour around an accident or choose to go either west or east on Main, King, York and Cannon to their destination, we're forced to sit here and try to guess which street to turn north on before doubling back to our destination. Idiocy.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2008 at 13:16:54

Barton street between James and Gage is two way, and that stretch of road is a dump, so let's not say that two way streets work.

The real answer is this: Too many one way streets concentrated in a depressed area of the city are a detriment to revitalization.

The downtown needs more one-ways streets, but as things stand there are currently too many of them.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2008 at 13:19:04

Let me correct the above.

The downtown needs more two way streets. As things stand, there are too many one way streets downtown.


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By Campbell (anonymous) | Posted July 16, 2008 at 19:04:20

I hope they convert it to two way. But if I may play devil's advocate, a certain one-way setup would be okay.

Picture this for both King and Main: two one-way lanes, a streetcar track, a bike lane, widened sidewalks and, most importantly, lights timed for 40km/h. I think it would make sense, considering the "long" shape of the lower city really does make east-west flow for all modes a priority. In the meantime, ALL other streets downtown can be converted to two-way, especially stupid bits like the portion of Locke St. between King and Main.

The problems with this: what happens when a bicyclist wants to turn left (or right, depending on where the bike lane is.) Also, if we go this route when (and if) the streetcars are planned, we're pretty much stuck with it for a while anyway.

Still, it might be a good talking point.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 16, 2008 at 21:58:16

let's not get carried away trying to blame two-way or one-way for the state of Barton St. It was built as a thriving street on the backs and wallets of tens of thousands of industrial workers and residents in the area everyday. Barton will come back someday, and already being two-way will help it along. Hopefully we'll put a streetcar or LRT line down the street as well.

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By homie (anonymous) | Posted July 18, 2008 at 11:35:05

Jason's comment is to the point. One way expressways are for people who want to travel through an area. Two way streets serve people who live in an area. If revival of the downtown is dependent upon getting people who travel through the area to change their patterns and stop, the project is doomed. If downtown revival depends upon providing products and services to people who want to live in the area, two way streets become the way to go.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted July 18, 2008 at 12:53:16

"If downtown revival depends upon providing products and services to people who want to live in the area, two way streets become the way to go."

This is so glaringly obvious that I'm beginning to think that our one-way politicians are not only not interested on downtown revival, but are actively working against it, whether it's just to spite Mayor Fred and his downtown supporters, I don't know. I know, I know, Hanlon's razor and all that, but honestly, what could they be thinking?

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By Councillor Terry Whitehead (anonymous) | Posted July 30, 2008 at 12:12:00

Editor's Note: this comment has been posted as a blog entry (with Councillor Whitehead's permission):

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