Comment 77128

By Mahesh_P_Butani (registered) - website | Posted May 19, 2012 at 20:50:43

Appropriate solutions in urban design have a chance to surface only when ideologies are not present while framing issues.

"Changing Our Perspective on One-Way Streets". - City Streets Deserve a Chance to Succeed" - "Searching for Answers to Hamilton's Love of One-Way Streets" - "More Predictions of Doom for James, John South Conversions"

Populist ideologically driven slogans continue to rule the day in Hamilton, whether it is about urban development, economic development, traffic planning or poverty.

The one-way/two-way streets debate is great as it does seem to generate passionate conversations on either side of the issue across our otherwise disengaged communities.

But is this conversation growing into a 'solution seeking' discourse? or has it already been reduced, (much like most local discussions), into a 'solution prescribing' monologue - which predictably result in an Us vs Them stalemate?

If such discussions are to drive -real change- on the street, then we have to recognize the importance of framing such conversations in non-polarizing terms, and sincerly keep an open mind to solutions being sought by a diversity of voices.

"One-way streets" and "two-way streets" are not polar opposites. A city's vibrancy is contingent on an astute use of both these planning tools contextually.

There are numerous instances of highly successful one-way streets across the world. As there are numerous instances of glaring failures of two-way streets.

Framing the issue globally around two-way streets as being superior than one-way streets does immense disservice to evidence-based thinking, and precludes innovations in street planning from occuring.

By insisting on such global prescriptions, we end up getting locked into predictable 'old solutions' and the result is often a homogenization of street design and urban experience. For a city to be truly vibrant, it needs a multitude of experiences to be occuring concurrently.

Hamiltion downtown's economic problem is primarily triggered from higher than normal automobile speed on certain selective segments of major arteries. The core issue here is that of 'speed' and less that of 'direction'.

The blind side that Hamilton's two-way street proponents have is that if their wish for urban density comes to fruition, then the two-way streets as they are being proposed will very quickly choke up the city's potential into an urban nightmare. The proposed Go terminal on James North will soon be living proof of the futility of practicing urban design in the default ideological mode.

Hamilton's downtown's road design problems orginate from the random and poor breaking of the organic flow of its Grid. The core especially suffers from this, resulting in the perception that one-way streets are the problem. Couple this with the perception of uncontrolled speeds in certain segments, and such perception quickly turns into reality. And you throw planning ideology into the mix here, and we have our perenial Us vs Them mentality driving all our public conversations in urban design.

While phased two-way conversions have being implemented on certain roads in the lower city, the complexity of such partially complete implementation lends an aura of chaos, thus providing more fodder to the ideologically driven proponents of two-way street.

Most direction conversions are not as simple as painting an yellow line in the middle. If it were all city's across the world would have had them painted by now. The reality of costs (which are minimized by ideologues) is the driving force for the time-lapse nature of such change.

Rather than being frustrated by the slow-motion nature of changes, one could actually help the momentum by seeking innovative and cost effective ways to achieving the cherished goal of slower traffic in the core.

One such approach was adopted by the City of Hendersonville, NC back in 1963 - by creating a simple serpentine park-lined promenade skirted by quaint shops, galleries, and restaurants in downtown Grand Junction." If the one-way proponets are hard to convert to two-way thinking, then instead of fighting them - maybe suggesting a serpentine park-like one way promenade, may be an approach to get them to see the benefits of slowing the traffic while maintaining their one-way preferences. - Debbie Kovalik discusses Grand Junction, Colorado's Main Street

The end result would be the same - the downtown would get the boost it has needed for decades in the shortest possible time without much anguish.

Another innovative way to galvanize the imagination for such an approach would be to rally the citizens of Hamilton to convert the name of the street under consideration. Say Main Street to "Hamilton Boulevard". Imagine directions to locations in downtown sounding like: "Take the 403 East exist and drive down Hamilton Blvd. to..."

Just a name change would trigger the necessary memory jog that our councillors need to get aboard the revitalization train.

If we are conviced that such an exercise is indeed probable, then our minds become open to accepting such simple, cost-effective solutions - (see pdf's: 1, 2 ), that are based on non-ideological approches to solving urban problems.

In our rush to turn around the downtown core, we have lost the fun and discovery part of the process. Change has always been about fun and exicitement. Unfortunately, we have allowed our ideologies to turn us into the very image of those we have been pleading to, for

Let us try and reclaim the innocence we lost on the way. What good would all this serve if one day we did manage to get the downtown chugging along, but found ourselves fragmented into small, little beady-eyed people seperated by our isolated make-believe world of ideologies, bound only by our smartphones, twittering away our prejudices.

Mahesh P. Butani

Comment edited by Mahesh_P_Butani on 2012-05-19 21:12:22

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