Comment 87284

By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2013 at 14:28:59

Hamilton’s streets should be for people — in cars, on bikes and on foot
Hamilton Spectator / Ryan McGreal / Mon Mar 18 2013 09:09:00

I’m prepared to accept the claim, made by Ron Johnson in this space last Wednesday, that “streets are for traffic” — with one important caveat: “Traffic” means people, not just people in cars.

A city whose streets are designed for people in cars, but not all the other ways people use to get around — like walking, cycling and public transit — is dysfunctional by design.

A good city street connects people to destinations, and to each other, in safe and productive ways. It achieves a balance in which people on foot, on bicycles and in cars can coexist peacefully.

Cities with more walkable streets have higher real estate values and stronger economies. They foster more innovation, create more jobs and generate more wealth. More walkable cities enjoy a “walkability dividend” in which money saved on cars fuels the local economy instead.

This is increasingly true as our culture shifts away from the car-dominated postwar era. Across North America, people are moving from suburbs and exurbs back into cities.

Among young adults, the rate of driving and even driver’s licences has been falling steadily since the 1990s, and surveys of young people increasingly find they would rather live in the city than pay for a car. (General Motors actually hired an MTV executive to try to woo young customers.)

Part of it is structural: one-way radio broadcast networks support driving, but two-way social networks interfere with it. Many youths would rather spend their discretionary money on a high-end smartphone than a car.

More generally, urban economists are converging on the conclusion that cities are most successful when they focus on cultivating high-quality neighbourhoods to attract people, instead of trying to lure people with jobs.

Healthy urban environments bring people into contact and create the conditions under which new ideas and new businesses emerge. Young, high-growth companies are net job creators while large, mature companies are busy shedding jobs.

Cities that are better at attracting people are also better at creating jobs for them — and cities with more walkable neighbourhoods do a better job of attracting people.

But balanced streets are also safer for all users, including drivers. For example, adding bike lanes to a city street reduces the number and severity of collisions while increasing the number of cyclists.

More walkable neighbourhoods also reduce obesity, diabetes and heart disease by getting more people walking and cycling. Even switching from car to transit drops five pounds on average.

Cities that make it easier to walk, cycle or take transit also have lower overall air pollution. More than half of Hamilton’s nitrogen oxide and volatile organic compound emissions come from tailpipes rather than smokestacks, so getting more people to choose active transportation means fewer hospital visits and fewer premature deaths.

One-way streets may be compatible with street life in midtown Manhattan, where most people don’t drive, sidewalks are very wide and automobile traffic moves slowly. But that’s not how Hamilton’s one-ways operate.

It’s not even how streets operate elsewhere in New York. A 2007 plan to convert several Brooklyn streets to one-way met strong community opposition, and other Brooklyn streets have been converted to two-way in the past few years.

In downtown Hamilton, our multi-lane thoroughfares are antithetical to walkability, which is why every urban planning expert who comes to Hamilton exhorts us to tame them.

In any case, the idea that two-way streets can’t support the city’s automobile traffic is just wrong. The city’s daily traffic-volume measurements from 2009-10 may surprise opponents of two-way conversion, as some of the highest traffic volumes are on two-way streets.

Concession near Upper Gage is one lane each way with curbside parking, but carries 9,400 cars per day. That’s slightly more than Cannon west of Sherman — a four-lane, one-way arterial.

Upper James at Mohawk carries a whopping 32,800 cars a day on two lanes each way. Compare King at Bay, which carries 24,900 cars on four one-way lanes.

Golf Links at Stonechurch carries 26,600 cars on two lanes each way, while Main at Bay carries 28,400 cars on five one-way lanes.

Garth at Fennell carries 19,700 cars on two lanes each way, while Main at Wellington carries 21,100 cars on five one-way lanes.

Not only can we convert our streets to two-way, but we can widen sidewalks and add dedicated bike lanes without even denting their current traffic load.

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