Yet Another Observer Tells Hamilton to Convert its Streets to Two-Way

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 30, 2012

An August 27 column by Bruce Stewart published in Troy Media takes a hopeful look at Hamilton, the often-overlooked and much-maligned city on the bay.

Sketching a century of the city's history in a few brush strokes, Stewart manages to pinpoint some of our biggest urban blunders:

Hamilton's city fathers ... fell into a common trap in the 1960s and 1970s: redevelopment of the downtown core with megablock structures. Jackson Square, for instance: a shopping mall, office towers and lots of parking underground, the type of structure that kills the streets outside (and indeed the historic centre of Hamilton, King St. and James St.) by its foreboding, inward-facing structure.

Oriented toward cars and driving in and out, there was little reason to drive to downtown Hamilton. Malls in upper Hamilton would do just fine. The stores, after all, were all chains, and therefore one outlet was as good as another.

But the city's future looks brighter, and Stewart points out some of the indicators: a renaissance of artists, an influx of Toronto expats, and a steady, block-by-block revitalization of urban hot spots like James Street North.

However, there are still obstacles to further revitalization that need to be overcome:

Hamilton depends - as do many mid-sized communities - on a one-way street grid to keep traffic flowing. As Vancouver learned with its Yaletown neighbourhood, where one-way streets were converted back to two-way, you don't pick up a lot of traffic issues with the conversion, and the neighbourhood becomes far more liveable.

Two-way streets make it easier to run a better transit network, make for safer sidewalks, increase the opportunities to discover new things by increasing the number of routes. The slight slowdown in traffic pace actually increases business.

Given that Hamilton is now served by expressways, and the province no longer considers Highway 8 through downtown Hamilton a provincial route, it's time for Hamilton to consider changing its one-way streets too.

Isn't it remarkable that visitor after visitor tells us the same things about what we're doing wrong, yet our civic leaders stubbornly refuse to listen.

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 ThisIsOurHamilton (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 08:39:11

Isn't it remarkable that visitor after visitor tells us the same things about what we're doing wrong, yet our civic leaders stubbornly refuse to listen.

Actually, no. It's not 'remarkable'.

As I said elsewhere, 'Sometimes it's not enough to be right.' Witness the efforts to get fluoride out of our system, for one example. Or the need for ward boundary review. Or a better approach to garbage pickup.

In the I've also noted elsewhere...what 'visitors' or 'experts' or even a Prime Deity have to say about a situation in Hamilton doesn't matter anywhere near as much to civic leaders as the perceived negative consequences of moving ahead with what is, in many cases (no, I didn't jump on the bandwagon and say 'in all cases') is a wise move.

Let me ask you this, seeing as you seem to partial to see things through a 'squeaky wheel gets the grease' lens: How would you respond if a referendum was done on this issue and the overwhelming majority (and I'm going to go one step further and say a referendum that was staggeringly participated in) showed that Hamiltonians are not in fact in favour of reversion to two-way? Would you consider that result to be 'remarkable'? And if that did happen, what would your next course of action be?

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 08:59:53 in reply to Comment 80172

Good question - the problem is a city wide referendum would place too high a value on the opinions of those who don't live in the neighbourhoods that the one way streets rip through. It would be interesting to see the results though!

On the other hand it would be logistically impossible (and equally absurd) to let every neighbourhood do its own transportation planning. Where would we stop - by block? or by individual property frontage?

We need leaders who can grasp the large picture and there needs to be a way to disconnect the reward for "not shaking the boat"

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By Plebe (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 08:50:06

"Hamilton, the often-overlooked and much-maligned city on the bay."

This might have been true a decade ago, but for the last five years it would be a stretch to say that. On balance, the word-of-mouth has been overwhelmingly upbeat.* I daresay any media sample (and the boosterism has gone nation-wide) would prove as much... we're on to a fresh stereotype now.

*The one recent black mark would the Pan Am Stadium debacle. We kind of pied/peed ourselves on that file.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 08:54:39

I's like to see city hall make an ACTUAL ARGUMENT with REAL REASONS in support of one way streets. Everywhere we look, there are arguments against huge one-ways in downtown cores.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:08:52 in reply to Comment 80175

Because the work well at doing what streets are supposed to do. Move traffic quickly and safely. Why else do we have streets.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 15:16:52 in reply to Comment 80212

By traffic you mean cars? Streets are older than cars so that is not why we have streets. They were built to move people and horses. Now we have cars, pedestrians, cyclists and transit. Of all those, one way streets only move vehicles well.

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By Slacker (anonymous) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 09:08:04 in reply to Comment 80175

Except Creative Class titan Austin, TX, which might be the exception that proves the rule.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:07:23

So someone else agrees with you. Thousands of citizens do not. Hamilton is revitalizing now today not only on the two way street conversions you keep harping about but on the one way streets too. The one way conversions are not all sunshine and roses, John North has seen no improvement at all nor has John South. James has always been a more commercial district than the other streets no wonder that the trend continues. Nothing to do with 2 way conversion.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 15:19:09 in reply to Comment 80210

Really? I don't remember there being a bike shop on John North 10 years ago, or the restoration of Treble Hall being underway either. I think those are actually recent developments. Funny how little you notice things downtown when all you do is drive through it, if you go there at all.

And if you learn your Hamilton history you will find out that John Street, being the first entrance to downtown Hamilton from the mountain, was actually the first commercial street here before Hamilton was even a city. I suppose that's not quite relevant to the discussion but it's pretty hard to ignore factual errors when the guy stating them is also being an ass.

Comment edited by Jonathan Dalton on 2012-08-31 15:22:10

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 30, 2012 at 10:18:40 in reply to Comment 80210

Nobody is saying that two way streets are the only answer and the only solution to the issues facing downtown. But they are PART of it.

One way streets are very good at moving people through an area quickly - and that's all they are good at. And no, that is not the only thing that streets are supposed to do.

Do you live on a one way street? Do you live near one of our downtown one-ways? Just curious about the perspective you're approaching this from.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 05, 2012 at 06:28:41 in reply to Comment 80214

Hey guy, I live off one of your fantastic 2-way conversions on James South and also right near the Charlton 2-way. Neither's done anything for revitalization, safety or convenience.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 01, 2012 at 17:28:21 in reply to Comment 80214

I do not live downtown any more but I used to live on Canon Street. So I can honestly say been there done that.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 30, 2012 at 12:15:44

...visitor after visitor tells us the same things about what we're doing wrong, yet our civic leaders stubbornly refuse to listen.

Our civic leaders listen to their constituents, not visitors.

If they fear for their job things will change, if not… "meh" seems to be the mindset and political posturing the game. Our councilors routinely get reelected for doing next to nothing out side of the status quo. Until that changes expect the same-old same-old.

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By DowntownDowner (anonymous) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 08:39:42

John street hasn't seen improvement? Just a bike shop, have a dozen restaurants and Treble Hall Reno. Not to mention all of the potential of the Connaught and the central blocks.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 09:14:39

Is it a matter of selective memory? There have been many 'real reasons' and 'actual arguments' given in favour of one way streets given here at RTH in the past.

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 17:12:52

Having just moved to Hamilton, it was quickly obvious to us that the seeming love affair with one-way streets is an obstacle to calmed vehicle traffic, more downtown commerce, and a more liveable city. Hamilton is a great city, and we will see a revitalized downtown core in part when the car is no longer king.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted August 31, 2012 at 19:01:20 in reply to Comment 80303

Sigh. That was obvious to us when we moved here 12 years ago.

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted August 31, 2012 at 19:33:38 in reply to Comment 80309

So not much progress in 12 years? What's the biggest bottleneck? Intransigent city governance? Apathy? Powerful lobbyists?

I should get more involved.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2012 at 14:27:43

As much as I am for two-way over one-way, I'm hesitatnt to overstate the equivilency of correlation and causation.

As has been said elsewhere, just as street directionals alone did not hollow out the core, addressing street directionals alone will not rescue it.

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