Special Report: Light Rail

Rapid Transit Office Explains One-Way Vehicle Traffic in LRT Plan

Jillian Stephen, director of the City's Rapid Transit office, explains why the two-way conversion of King Street and Main Street through the downtown core were dropped from the City's LRT plans.

By RTH Staff
Published December 03, 2010

Editor's Note: Jillian Stephen, director of the City's Rapid Transit office, sent this letter to Raise the Hammer in response to our December 2, 2010 article City Abandons Two-Way Conversion in LRT Plan.

Staff investigation of LRT on the B-Line corridor began in 2007, following the MoveOntario 2020 announcement. As the studies and design work has progressed from the feasibility stage to the preliminary design stage, the plans have become more detailed and some proposals that had been put forward in earlier stages have needed to be changed.

At all times, the LRT investigations have been driven by the Vision Statement (developed Corporately by the Corporate Working Team, endorsed by the Public, and approved by Council) and the Benefit:Cost Ratio.

That is, staff have worked to ensure that the B-Line meets the goals of stimulating the economy, improving quality of life, revitalization, providing environmental benefits and connecting key destination points in a way that ensures that the benefits received are greater than the costs incurred.

The Downtown Transportation Master Plan (updated in 2008) was endorsed by Council in August 2008. A basic premise of this Plan was that Main Street and Cannon Street would be paired as the primary corridors for through traffic, and that York/Wilson and King Street would be paired as routes for traffic destined to stay in the Downtown.

The original Downtown Transportation Master Plan (2001) included recommendations for 2-way conversions of York/Wilson and King; however, given the ongoing studies regarding rapid transit, only the two-way conversion of York/Wilson was moved forward to implementation stage (now nearing completion) in 2008. A decision on the conversion of King Street was deferred until the completion of rapid transit design work.

In 2009, the proposal to convert King Street to 2-way traffic was brought forward as part of the ongoing rapid transit studies. At this stage, our work was still very high-level; more detailed than feasibility work, but not detailed enough to be called preliminary design. The proposal for LRT was for centre-run, two-way LRT, with one traffic lane in each direction in the majority of the corridor.

At the eastern and western ends, there would be two lanes of general purpose traffic in each direction, as well as 2-way LRT down the centre of the road. This premise was included in the Metrolinx Benefits Case Analysis work.

In community consultation in 2009, we heard from many businesses and residents that they did not support the removal of their ability to turn left mid-block. Centre-run LRT would require left turns only be allowed at signalized intersections. The downtown-area businesses were also concerned about way-finding and the loss of on-street parking and loading that would result from two-way conversion of King Street.

Furthermore, residents and businesses were concerned about the removal of rubber-tired traffic from King Street in International Village and the provision of access to buildings in that area with underground parking.

We had cross-sections of the corridor drawn up based on optimal (greenfield) lane and sidewalk configurations and based on existing right-of-way widths, in both cases with two-way traffic. We found that, because the right-of-way is so narrow in some places (as narrow as 15m), we could not fit everything in without significant property acquisition and demolition. This would have significant costs on many levels: socially, environmentally and economically.

Furthermore, we recognized that there are some everyday operations that are critical to the success and livability of our City. These include emergency response, waste collection, local bus service, deliveries, sewer and watermain maintenance and utility works to name just a few. A two-way traffic, two-way LRT cross-section in the narrower sections could only allow these day-to-day activities to occur if:

None of the above options meets the intent of an efficient, reliable, comfortable alternative to private automobile use.

The B-Line corridor ranges from about 15m wide on King Street East to over 40m wide at in front of McMaster University. The characteristics of the corridor, including land use, also vary along the corridor. There are sections with residential and businesses right to the front property line, and other sections where buildings are set a fair distance back.

There are schools and institutions, parks and open spaces, homes, places of worship and businesses. There are areas where there is two-way traffic today, and areas where it is one-way traffic. Some spots rely on on-street parking and loading because there are no other alternatives, while other businesses have dedicated lots or rear accesses.

There is no "one-size-fits-all" cross-section that can be applied all along the corridor, nor would we want to do this. A key component of the B-Line work is building on strengths that are already there. We are also aiming to make improvements where we can.

The B-Line is currently in the planning, design and engineering stage. This stage will bring us to a point where we know what the corridor will look like, how wide the lanes and sidewalks can be, where the stops are, how the LRT and traffic will move, where parking and loading can still occur on the road, what the land use will be, where we make changes, and where we leave things as they are.

A misconception that is evident from the emails I have received in the last two days is that people believe the move from two-way traffic on King Street is based on maintaining it as a free-flowing street for cars and trucks. This is not the case. In many places between Dundurn and Parkdale, we will be reducing the number of lanes from 4 to 2. One lane will move traffic and one will be for loading, parking and local bus service.

The use of bump-outs in some areas will slow traffic, as will volume, and lane configurations. Drivers will be able to get to Downtown, but King Street will not be their preferred route for driving from end-to-end across the City. In some cases, we will reduce the number of through lanes to one, a wider lane that includes space for vehicles to pull over or park or to pass stopped buses or garbage trucks.

This approach to LRT and roadway design achieves many of the objectives of two-way traffic advocates, without eliminating loading space for businesses, without eliminating local bus service, without removing all traffic from International Village, without running LRT in mixed traffic for long stretches (it is proposed to be in mixed traffic in International Village), without forcing maintenance activities to take place at night, and without costly (socially and economically) land acquisition.

In a greenfield situation, we would want provide 3.5m wide traffic lanes and LRT lanes, plus wide sidewalks and platform areas. However, we are working within an existing corridor and are not proposing to widen the right-of-way to provide for LRT. Typical rights-of-way are 20m wide. If we were to provide an eastbound traffic lane, an eastbound LRT lane, a westbound LRT lane, a westbound traffic lane, a single parking/loading lane, sidewalks wide enough for urban Braille and a centre LRT platform, we would need almost 26m.

Reducing the lane widths to 3m each takes us to 24m. Eliminating parking/loading takes us to 21m. Narrower sidewalks are then required to get to 20m wide. This is not a desirable cross-section.

At the Sherman stop, we have less than 20m, and will be working within the right-of-way to fit the necessary elements in. This means some compromises. We are proposing a 2.5m walk, 3.7m lane, 3m platform, 6m LRT (2 lanes) corridor, and 4m combined platform/walk. Not ideal, but it works. Cars will not go speeding along King Street, but they can get through. Wider sidewalks would be great, but we are providing enough space for walking and wheelchairs. LRT will operate in dedicated lanes.

We are not currently proposing to convert Main Street to two-way traffic. There is still a need for some traffic to move easterly across the City, and Main Street fulfills this role.

This does not preclude future discussions about conversion, however. It also does not preclude future discussion about lane reductions to provide wider sidewalks. Either could be reviewed again in the future.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 03, 2010 at 19:17:55

Residents: "Main Street carries lots of fast-moving cars that scare away pedestrians and businesses!"

City: "We can't change Main Street to two-way because it carries lots of fast-moving cars."

Yeah, thanks for that.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 03, 2010 at 19:38:03

I can buy her logic for King Street and as we all know, many cities have one-way streets that are very pedestrian-friendly and with street parking, trees etc.... Montreal comes to mind right away.
The thing that I am completely against is retaining these freeways on Main and Cannon. If King is going to have 1 lane for vehicles with a maximum of 2 in some stretches, why not have Main 2 lanes each way and Cannon two lanes each way as well?? Local bus service such as the 1-King, could be changed to the 1-Main and run both ways on Main. The 3-Cannon route could actually run both ways on Cannon. Perhaps the westbound curb lane of Wilson could be turned into a contra-flow bike lane to link up with the bike lanes on York now. King would be a slow, local street dedicated to LRT, people, patios, trees and street parking with these other streets being easier for vehicle travel in both ways.

Nobody can argue that my above plan is a 'war on cars' or somehow eliminates cars from the equation. It's merely taking the same number of lanes on Main, Cannon and Wilson but giving two-way option on all 3 streets instead of forcing people to drive one-way. I am only proposing to reduce Wilson by 1 lane in order to accommodate a two-way bike lane. York in front of the market is now 1 lane west bound, so I don't see the problem in having 1-lane westbound all the way from Sherman.

Councillors need to get with staff and demand that these 5-lane freeways be done away with during this process.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 03, 2010 at 20:44:48

So we're getting to keep street-side parking on King. Also, with 2 driving lanes that means they can have a left-turn lane. This is probably best for the businesses on King, as it will behave for them like a normal street instead of a weird 1-way no-left-turn, no stopping alleyway sandwiched between the LRT and the sidewalk.

I get the impression from the city that the ship has sailed for main and cannon.... hopefully they'll re-examine that viewpoint after LRT is implemented. Once there is a better, greener way to get across town, maybe they'll be more open to the idea that we don't need urban highways.

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By onhighwayto... (anonymous) | Posted December 03, 2010 at 20:45:01

< We are not currently proposing to convert Main Street to two-way traffic.

And then "Ta Da", that proposal will also disappear. Master magicians I tell you.

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By misterque (registered) - website | Posted December 04, 2010 at 17:42:10

What an awesome letter. A total RTH coup.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted December 05, 2010 at 21:01:36

I intend to write my city Councilor on this issue. Both Main and Cannon are one way through my ward and near to where I live. Cannon St west bound is essentially an expressway. It is not conducive to residential, or commercial development or in my opinion safe for pedestrian use. Traffic flow is far too fast, volume too high and there is no incentive for anyone to want to live or develop a business in the area. Evidence of this is plentiful in the number of boarded up and run down homes and former commercial buildings. Some of the homes on Cannon between John and Ferguson are absolutely beautiful architecturally but they look like shyte right now because they have been allowed to fall into disrepair, likely by absentee landlords who could care less.

A conversion to two way from Sherman to James could be a catalyst for a revival of sorts for this area.

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By Mahonebone (anonymous) | Posted December 06, 2010 at 10:27:43

There is a tug-of-war in my mind for how to go about this whole LRT thing. For one, I sympathize with the concerns about King Street. They seem reasonable enough in the context of laying down LRT rails. For the conversion of Main Street and Cannon, I think we need to take some political gamesmanship into account.

I've heard some suggestions of keeping Main and Cannon two-way, so long as traffic could be slowed. Though I am pro-two-way conversion, it is a political hot potato to do a wholesale changeover. A strategy is needed whereby Main and Cannon traffic could be slowed while remaining palatable (which sadly means catering to a lot of people not in the downtown). If this could get off the ground, it could precipitate the baby steps of revitalization. From my vantage point, if we can get more people living downtown, then the influence of urban concerns over city planning can only increase.

Why not try to make some quick wins such as traffic slowing on Main Street and Cannon, so that downtown can gain some residents back? More people living downtown probably are in favour of two-way streets (this is just a guess). Let's try to ramp up that number until we reach a tipping point where political will is in their favour. This would be a long-term project, but more plausible in my mind given the current political climate in the city.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted December 06, 2010 at 10:33:16

I understand your thinking Mahonebone, but what I'm afraid will happen is that we'll build LRT (if we actually build it) but leave Main and Cannon the way they are, and LRT will underperform because we didn't do it properly and the haters will come out and say "see, we told you LRT won't work in Hamilton!" If we don't do it right, it will set us back a generation at least.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 06, 2010 at 13:50:49

that's exactly what will happen nobrainer.

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By LRT (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2010 at 13:03:25

too bad the city half-assed it, as per usual, and didn't bother to study Main Street as the main lrt corridor.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2010 at 20:21:35

Does anybody else find it strange that a group of people with no experience in urban or transit planning know better than the experts without so much as a study or research?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 07, 2010 at 20:38:37

Does anybody else find it strange that all the experts are telling us to build LRT and convert our streets to two-way, but our city staff know better even though they only heard of LRT a couple of years ago?

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By torta (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2010 at 19:40:04

isn't it strange that lrt sucks ass and yet everyonewants to sacrifice downtown businesses and accessibility to get it just to say we have lrt. no one uses it and you cant drive downtown anymore but darn it we got trains!!!

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2010 at 09:54:32

Does anybody else find it strange that the only "downtown business" that the spec could find who thought the LRT would "sacrifice his business" was a car wash owner in stoney creek?

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