Brant Street in Burlington a Model for Walkable Streets

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 01, 2012

Take a look at Brant Street in Burlington. It's a major north-south corridor that connects the Waterfront to the QEW and it's an astounding seven lanes wide just south of the highway.

And yet as you head south into the urban part of the street, it narrows to just one lane in each direction with street trees, bumpouts and curbside parking.

I've dinged Brant Street for its passive-aggressive crosswalks, but there's no denying the city got a lot of things right.

How is it that Burlington is doing a better job of creating walkable urban streets than Hamilton, its neighbouring city of over half a million residents with a 150-year-old downtown?

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Nathan (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 12:55:57

Higher disposable income, a population inclined to value aesthetic experience, a core tightly linked with high-end residential, adjacent to a key tourist destination (Spencer Smith Park/waterfront) and a comparatively compact downtown (at most, four by six blocks). Oh, and they made activating the area a priority in the 90s, when it was in a bit of a slump. Burlington has one downtown. Thanks to amalgamation, Hamilton has around four. I'm sure that Hamilton has 24 walkable blocks but they're sprinkled all over the place.

BTW, nice to see some love for Brant after the walkability fail post a few months back.

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By Nathan (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 13:55:52

I would be interested to see the socioeconomic comparison of both citeis' downtowns. I'm not disputing that Hamilton has these things to some extent, but I would say that they're qualitatively and quantitatively different. Downtown Burlington starts at Lakeshore, which is a pleasing attribute. Downtown Hamilton is bordered variously by Barton, Wellington, Qeen and Hunter... Not quite as readily marketable. I appreciate where you're going with this, and I agree that Hamilton has been moving in slo-mo, but Burlington is a fairly orange apple, I'm sure you'll admit.

Another key difference may be the perception of shared stakes in a single downtown. Burlington is far more status-aware than Hamilton, which is pretty okay with letting it all hang out. Burlington is also mathematically handicapped toward decision: There are seven votes on council as opposed to Hamilton's 16. And of course we're always there across the harbour as a cautionary example of what can happen if you take your eye off the ball. Look at the way the cities' respective councils engaged the Tiger-Cats, for example.) Burlington is run like a business. Hamilton, not so much.

But Burlington is not perfect, just as Hamilton is not a total chowderhead. Burlington botched the Brant Street Pier (a project dating back to the administration that tackled downtown rejuvenation), so maybe we've got a gimme in the wings.

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By RB (registered) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 14:55:43 in reply to Comment 77794

"...Burlington is run like a business. Hamilton, not so much."

Very true. And that, over the years, has had a HUGE impact on us.

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By Squab Kebab (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 14:19:44

We can totally do it. It's just a leadership deficit. Burlington is just as car-inclined as Hamilton, and even less transit-inclined to boot (GO Trains excepted). I believe they've just scaled back transit under the current budget.

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By Could Be (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 14:36:07

Maybe it's because Burlington has both up to date Official ( and Strategic ( plans that they try to stick to. Hamilton has lots of "visiony" documents but seems to stumble from crisis to crisis when they're ignored.
(BTW over 4,000 residents participated in putting Burlington's current four year strategic plan together. Have 15 to 20 thousand Hamiltonians engaged in a single municipal exercise here lately?)

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By CaptainKirk (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 18:25:34

I think Brant is more akin to our James, rather than our King and Main.

Brant doesn't take you from one end of Burlington to the other.

And Burlington has The QEW to get from end to the other, right in the middle of their city

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By q (anonymous) | Posted May 28, 2016 at 15:42:28 in reply to Comment 77834

Brant does take you from one end to the other. North to south. Milton border to lakeshore. It becomes Cedar Springs after Hwy 5 but same road. Otherwise, Hwy 5 to Lakeshore.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 02, 2012 at 11:06:35 in reply to Comment 77834

Exactly! I was going to say something similar Captain Kirk.

To add to your point(s)...

Not only is there the QEW to get from the East and West, but there is Maple, right next to Brant for North-South travel.

All of that, and Ryan admits that Brant is 7 lanes wide at one point. It is wide where it needs to be wide and handle a lot of traffic. It only narrows where there doesn't need to be many lanes.

The top and bottom of Brant are essentially two different streets with the same name.

This article is yet another example of cherry picking examples in an attempt to twist "facts" into supporting a belief.

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By stopitman (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2012 at 19:12:06 in reply to Comment 77870

It's 7 lanes (3 each way through traffic) at the QEW/403 for a couple of reasons:

1) Lots of interchange traffic for a short period of time at the highway, &
2) It's a regional road at that point, not a city road.

2 is the most important because traffic "engineers" for the region (and every region) are massive morons who think they're the present day Robert Moses. Unfortunately, regional roads always operate as highways, and considering the joke that is Halton Public Works, I seriously doubt you won't see much change. North of the QEW, as in most suburban places, Hamilton included, the arterials don't have much of anything fronting on the roads.

All this being said - Burlington is starting its new Official Plan very soon and it'll be the first post-growout OP it's ever done. I'd suggest anyone interested in urbanism and denser, mixed used communities show up for the meetings as they discuss ways to build upwards instead of outwards. Hopefully they don't decide to keep the suburban form with mid/highrises, but take a more urban form in their zoning and bylaws.

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By doubles doubles (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2012 at 19:27:24

One more reason to stroll Brant with a smile on your face? Ya Man has just set up a base camp near Brant + Maria.

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By more like Locke (anonymous) | Posted June 02, 2012 at 17:22:01

Brant St is a street that does not really go anywhere. Not a lot of traffic south of Fairview. Compare that to Brant N of the 403. Until it is past the shopping areas it is not anything like a street you, me or anyone else wants to live on.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 03, 2012 at 22:20:33

Was on King St in Kitchener today for the first time in years...last time there it was bland and our King St. Today.....

It's great to visit local cities that believe in themselves, and their urban cores. You either want your downtown back to life, or you don't. Period. Dithering and ignoring every expert who comes through town is only holding Hamilton back as other cities pass us by. King St in Kitchener used to be a, ours is clearly the joke in comparison:

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By Intersection (anonymous) | Posted June 07, 2012 at 08:02:08

Ryan Gosling, meh. Eva Mendes? Yowza.

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