Last week, the Hamilton Spectator commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Hamilton's one-way street switchover with an article that sprinkled the case for switching back to two-way without committing to its own obvious conclusions.
Tantalizingly, the article led with a number of fifty-year-old quotes from locals who warned about what would happen: "King and Main streets had become 'speedways'"; "Pedestrians were on the run"; cars "don't have time to even see the stores, let alone shop here".
The reader waits for the author to draw the obvious point that all these fears were borne out: Main and King became expressways, pedestrians no longer feel safe, and business downtown has declined despite demolishing whole blocks to create suburban-style indoor malls.I've been arguing for a long time that Main-King is a de facto expressway; it was nice to see historical confirmation of this purpose.
[Wilbur Smith] was the traffic consultant called up from New Haven, Conn., to solve Hamilton's congestion.
Traffic flow would have been even worse if there had been more signals, he said. "The heavy volume of traffic having neither origin or destination in downtown Hamilton which uses Main Street cannot be easily displaced from this important artery," he wrote in his report.
A crosstown expressway would be expensive. A solution to the traffic problem was one-way streets.
Other cities whose downtowns have suffered a high volume of through-traffic are responding in a variety of ways by discouraging cars from simply passing through the city. In Hamilton, the right to drive anywhere quickly and conveniently is sacrosanct, and bother the bystanders.
The article does end with historian Bill Manson making a case for reverting back to two-way, but not until the author sets the psychological scene, so to speak, by presenting Manson's observations in a wistful, nostalgic frame. Assuming readers make it this far, the framing unfairly weakens Manson's argument.
The case for two way streets is so strong that it should be a no-brainer. Even John Dolbec, the CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, recently admitted - also in the Spec, also in an article that did not examine the implications - that making James North two-way dramatically improved the street, drawing new investment, attracting more people, and revitalizing the sidewalk.
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