Special Report: Walkable Streets

Disconnects Between Two-Way Conversion Plan and Implementation

Citizens, staff and councillors have dedicated countless hours of discussion and debate developing the Downtown Transportation Master Plan, but there is a terrible gap between what the plans call for and what has actually occurred.

By Kelly Foyle and Simon Kiss
Published June 12, 2012

We've recently seen a flurry of articles on the benefits of converting the one-way thoroughfares in the core into two-way or 'complete' streets.

We thought it might be worthwhile to provide a recent history of where the city stands on one-way street conversions and how plans for conversions actually get implemented. Hopefully, this will make clear what is currently approved to be converted and provide a framework for those of us working to see these actions implemented.

Most of the information presented below has been gleaned from the city website in a variety of locations and key references are listed at the end. As we'll make painfully clear, the city has a lot of impressive plans, but we will show below how seldom these plans actually get implemented.

Putting People First

In the 1990s, a series of community actions and workshops culminated in the city beginning an initiative called "Putting People First: Downtown Land Use and Transportation".

The goal of "Putting People First" was to improve the economy in the downtown core, improve the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure and create an "attractive" environment. A vision based on these goals was summarized as follows:

The Downtown Hamilton of the future will be a vibrant focus of attraction where all our diverse people can live, work and play. The future Downtown must be built on a human scale, with streetscapes offering comfort, access and safety for pedestrians. The future Downtown will combine the best of our heritage with new commercial and domestic architecture and use. The future Downtown will redirect our gaze from the urban core to the surrounding neighbourhoods, the waterfront, and the escarpment, seamlessly linking commerce, housing and recreation. (p. 4)

In 2001, the City of Hamilton approved "Putting People First", which meant it was part of the city's Official Plan and thus it dictates what the city's priorities should be for publicly funded initiatives in the downtown.

A cornerstone of "Putting People First" was the Downtown Transportation Master Plan (hereafter DTMP). It encompassed an area from Queen Street to Wellington St and from Barton Street to Hunter Street and thus was focused solely on the core. It provided a series of recommendations for pedestrian facilities, cycling networks, transit, parking and road infrastructure.

Two-Way Conversions

A key component of the DTMP was the recommendation for both primary and secondary roads to be converted from one-way to two-way. The primary roads included: King, James, John and York/Wilson. The full list with target dates for conversion as of 2001 is shown below:

Two-Way Conversion Schedule
Street Name Target Date for Implementation in 2001 New Target Date after 5-yr Review Date Completed
James 2006 - 2005
John 2006 - 2005
York/Wilson beyond 2006 2009 2010
King beyond 2006 2010 (pending LRT) X
Bay beyond 2006 (optional) optional X
Hunter 2006 removed from list X
MacNab 2003 2008 outstanding
Park 2003 2008 outstanding
Hughson 2004 2009 outstanding
Hess 2004 2009 2004 (South section instigated by DNA, north extension outstanding)
Caroline 2002 2009 2012 (only from Main to King - York Street extension outstanding)
King William 2006 2010 outstanding
Rebecca 2006 2010 outstanding

In 2005, James Street South and John Street South were successfully converted on schedule according to the DTMP, costing $1.5 million. By and large these conversions were well-received, particularly in the north end. There were a number issues in the south end, which, after proper signage, seem to have been improved.

It should be noted that the year before, in 2004, the Durand Neighbourhood Association conducted a traffic study which led to the conversion of the south section of Hess street (note: the north section was also recommended to be converted as part of the DTMP, but has yet to be completed) and also confirmed the conversion of Caroline.

Thus, while the DTMP has provided the main list of conversions in Hamilton, it is clear from this that neighborhood associations can also play a pivotal role in converting streets.

Five-Year Review

In 2008, a five-year review of the DTMP was conducted and published. While James Street and John Street had been converted on time, the city had yet to even begin efforts to convert the remaining streets, putting the plan far behind schedule. Valiantly, the authors of the 2008 review suggested a new timeline.

As part of the five-year review, a number of the originally forecasted conversions were scrapped.

Hunter street was removed from the list of streets to be converted after results from a traffic study by the Corktown Neighbourhood Association. Bay Street was also removed with a recommendation for "further study". Finally, King Street was also set aside in anticipation of a possible LRT line.

This left the York/Wilson conversion the only primary street left on the list. This conversion took place in 2010, on time according to the five-year review.

In 2012, Caroline Street was partially converted between Main and King. This project was part the DNA traffic study, but the extension to York Street, which still remains incomplete, was part of the 2001 DTMP.

Fate of 2008 Plan

Although the DTMP is a fairly limited vision for two-way street conversion, in that many important streets are not addressed including Wellington, Queen, Main and Cannon, it does represent some evidence of progress toward the city's own vision set out in "Putting People First." But the fate of the 2008 plan is intriguing, to say the least.

Looking at it in detail can shed some light on policy development and politics at City Hall, especially regarding one-way streets.

The five-year review of the DTMP was to be approved by council in the summer of 2008. When it first came up for approval, some councillors (Chad Collins) balked at the idea of converting two-way streets in principle and some used it as an opportunity to extract some concessions to improve mountain access to the downtown on John and James Streets (Duvall and Whitehead).

In the final motion that was approved, Public Works was authorized and directed to "program and include the recommended projects, in the five year review of the Downtown Transportation Master Plan in the capital budget for future years." (Those projects included the two-way conversions we noted above).

Accordingly, in the 2009 capital budget, there was one line-item, marking $200,000 for the Downtown Transportation Master Plan Renewal and Implementation, but after that, the initiative completely disappears from the capital budget.

Feel-Good Plans vs. Capital Budgets

The only reference to two-way conversion in later capital budgets is a reference for the conversion to Hunter Street, but that plan appears to be off, anyway, in favour of bike routes.

This suggests that there is a gaping disconnect between the numerous feel-good plans that are adopted by the city after untold hours of effort and participation by citizens, councillors and city staff and cold-hard cash, divvied up by council every year in the capital budget.

Citizens and community groups interested in actually translating a plan into reality are best advised to pay close attention to the city's budgeting process, putting as much pressure as possible on their local councillors at key moments.

Although the city likes to talk a good game of long-term planning by laying out ten-year capital plans, these are, again, just plans, and subject to the annual whims of council's budgeting.

A staff person in the city's budget department confirmed in a question about the budget process that ten-year plans are subject to changing priorities, funding constraints and new subsidies from higher levels of government.

Budget Process

So what does this annual budget-making process look like? First, we're only really interested in the capital budget, so we can leave the operating budget aside.

Fortunately, the recent flurry of articles and debate about two-way streets comes at a timely point in the annual budget process. Last year, the process started in July with the circulation of a memo outlining options for the budget process.

The 2012 budget started with general discussion of priorities and guidelines in September and then staff and councillors held workshops specifically dedicated to the capital or the operating budgets in the same month.

It's perhaps important to note: in 2012, city staff held one-on-one meetings with ward councillors in preparation for the capital budget, meaning that there is discussion about very local priorities that can feed into the budget.

Given that the two-way street conversions in the DTMP are entirely in Ward 2, this represents a real potential for communicating to Councillor Farr just how important people view the conversions and, ultimately, for holding him to account for his ability to get those projects in the capital budget.

Next Steps

After these discussions, there were two GIC meetings in December dedicated strictly to the capital budget. While discussions carried on about the operating budget from January to April, the key time frame for citizen pressure regarding the capital budget was August and September and for monitoring the process through to December.

Lastly, while it is true that Hamilton, like most Canadian municipalities, suffers from crumbling infrastructure without the financial resources to pay for them, there are also important choices that are made every year in the capital budget.

The 2012 capital budget included $44 million for the renovations to Ivor Wynne stadium and $10 million for McMaster University's downtown health campus. By contrast, the conversion of John and James Streets cost $1.5 million and the conversion of Caroline Street between Main and King cost $200,000.

Citizens, staff and councillors have dedicated countless hours of discussion and debate developing "Putting People First" and the Downtown Transportation Master Plan, but there is a terrible gap between what the plans call for and what has actually occurred.

It's clear the city needs to implement its own plans and citizens have to put pressure on council to do that. Going forward, citizens also need to be a little bit wary about any future plans that city council solicits.

The fate of the two-way street conversions shows that there is one process for soliciting citizen opinions, and another process entirely for getting things done.

References

Kelly Foyle and Simon Kiss have recently moved to downtown Hamilton. Kelly is an astrophysicist at McMaster and Simon is a political scientist at Wilfrid Laurier. They've enjoyed watching Hamilton grow even in the short time they've been here.

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By CouldaWouldaShoulda (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 06:54:20

"Thus, while the DTMP has provided the main list of conversions in Hamilton, it is clear from this that neighborhood associations can also play a pivotal role in converting streets."

"Citizens and community groups interested in actually translating a plan into reality are best advised to pay close attention to the city's budgeting process, putting as much pressure as possible on their local councillors at key moments."

"Given that the two-way street conversions in the DTMP are entirely in Ward 2, this represents a real potential for communicating to Councillor Farr just how important people view the conversions and, ultimately, for holding him to account for his ability to get those projects in the capital budget."

"It's clear the city needs to implement its own plans and citizens have to put pressure on council to do that. Going forward, citizens also need to be a little bit wary about any future plans that city council solicits."


Thank you.

"The fate of the two-way street conversions shows that there is one process for soliciting citizen opinions, and another process entirely for getting things done."

And both processes need to be overhauled, and this will only happen when there's sufficient 'push' coming from the stakeholders, with this pressure displayed and executed in such ways as to render ignoring them impossible. (Or at the very least, ill-advised.)

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By Monterrey (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 07:38:59

"The fate of the two-way street conversions shows that there is one process for soliciting citizen opinions, and another process entirely for getting things done."

Not just street conversions. It's any city business that solicits public consultation, and it has been that way for most of the city's recorded history.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 09:30:25

The disconnect is the vision citizens have for Hamilton vs. the vision (or lack thereof) city hall has.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2012 at 09:43:38

I would be so much more interested in their excuses for this pathetic process if the reverse conversion hadn't been done city-wide overnight back in the '50s.

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By Disconnected Vision (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 09:49:35

The real disconnect is the disconnect between citizens in Hamilton. This group is not able to understand that their vision is not the vision of all of Hamilton's citizens and that brow beating those who don't share their vision only serves to harden the position of those who might be persuaded to rethink that position. Further this group by only looking at one side of any issue is passing up on opportunities to achieve their goals in a more timely manner by rejecting any alternate to their final goal as an intermediate step or a final outcome that achieves their goals

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By DBC (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 19:38:13 in reply to Comment 78366

Hey, Disconnected Vision. Please post your address so that we can begin sharing the wealth and have your neighbourhood converted over to one - way streets.

You’ll either love the change or maybe, more likely, begin to share our vision.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:01:38 in reply to Comment 78366

Look at the list of outstanding streets:

MacNab
Park
Hughson Hess
Caroline
King William

We're not talking about King and Main and Cannon and Victoria and Wellington and Queen. We're not talking about the big nasty highways through the city. We're talking about side-streets.

What debate even remains to be had? Is there anybody standing up and saying that King William is somehow better for being one-way? Seriously?

This stuff should've been fixed decades ago.

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By Bollard (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 13:42:09 in reply to Comment 78387

Waitadogdurnminnit...

After the Lister Block moment King William conversion is still outstanding?

Time to fence off the four blocks from James to Mary for months on end and decisively invigorate the local businesses!

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 13:05:34 in reply to Comment 78387

Side streets ..don`t forget Sanford, Sherman Ohh thats in ward 3 .. why only for ward 2 ?

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted June 13, 2012 at 21:18:23 in reply to Comment 78398

Good point. Although some one-way streets in less affluent parts of Ward 2 (e.g. Catharine, Mary, Forest) also get left off.

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By Disconnected Vision (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:06:29 in reply to Comment 78387

I agree entirely. Staying focused on what CAN be done is productive use of resources. Wish we had more of it

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:02:58 in reply to Comment 78366

The City undertook a broad-based visioning exercise in the 1990s called Vision 2020. It involved thousands of citizens that agreed on a broad vision of city values and was adopted by Council. Vision 2020 provided a framework for the broad public consultation that led to Putting People First, the Downtown Master Plan, which was also adopted by Council. Putting People First was the basis for the Downtown Transportation Master Plan, which was also informed by broad public consultation and adopted by Council.

The issue here is absolutely not that the vision doesn't reflect the public will. The issue is that when it comes time to operationalize the vision and carry out the Council-mandated plan, the plan is gutted by stalls, delays, funding gaps and reversals on narrow, arbitrary and often fear-based grounds.

I'm having a hard time avoiding the conclusion that you simply aren't interested in a good-faith discussion about these issues, since you routinely put up strawmen to knock down and invent false equivalence between a broad, evidence-based attempt to balance our transportation network and a narrow, fear-based attempt to prevent any change to the status quo.

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By sig (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 11:39:23 in reply to Comment 78368

Hey Ryan check your sig file. You're debating a troll.

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By Disconnected Vision (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:41:52 in reply to Comment 78368

Beyond that, what was the participation rate? Do you think 30% voter turnout and less than 10% participation rates on all consultation processes constitutes broad based support. You obviously have a far different definition of what broad based means than I do. The kinds of tactics we've seen on the stadium debate, the LRT debate and the 2 way debate don't encourage participation but rather discourage it with the majority of citizens. This and the idea that we really don't know what the majority thinks seems to be lost on those claiming broad support of anything. Look at Adrian's pet peeve. NA's typically have less than 5% active participation. Special city sponcered efforts like the stadium precinct meetings draw 100 or so in a ward with many times more than that. Why would you claim definable wide support when the reality is that there is no such thing on any issue

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 14:56:27 in reply to Comment 78374

Alright, I'll bite, how do you suggest we get true city-wide participation? Referendum maybe?

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By Disconnected Vision (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:20:49 in reply to Comment 78368

Show me where there was any suggestion that I support the status quo in that post. Show me where I am making that suggestion based on fear. Truthfully the strawman comment you came up with applied to you this time

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 09:57:47 in reply to Comment 78366

To be the best place to raise a child, to foster innovation, to be a successful, vibrant city; to be a safe city for all ages, to be a world leader in sustainability, health and education.....

Every Hamiltonian does share the same vision espoused here on RTH. If they don't, they should do everyone a favour and go find another city to hold back.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:06:39 in reply to Comment 78367

To be the best place to raise a child, to foster innovation, to be a successful, vibrant city; to be a safe city for all ages, to be a world leader in sustainability, health and education.....

Have you talked to people and listened to their opinions on health, education, sustainability? And you believe there is overwhelming consensus on these issues do you?

And what is the "best place to raise a child" is that Hamilton? Really? Even with all the bike lanes and two-way streets in the world I would still doubt that.

And "vibrant city?" That is just meaningless marketing rhetoric.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:04:35 in reply to Comment 78367

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-06-14 06:55:15

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By Disconnected Vision (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 12:10:08 in reply to Comment 78389

Now this is a troll.

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By Disconnected Vision (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 10:08:59 in reply to Comment 78367

Yes Jason everyone shares that vision. Thats not what I was talking about at all. Its a vision of what a city core should be. Its a vision of what a complete transportation system should be. Its a vision of urban vs suburban. Its a vision of care for our needy. There are so many disconnects among society and everyone seems to think that only they have the answers. Honest debate and compromise are to be vilified rather than applauded. We can do better but it starts with listening twice as much as talking by all concerned. It starts with simple respect for other's opinions even when you think they are wrong. The disconnect is not with city hall and its citizens, its the disconnect between the citizens themselves. The result of that disconnect is the kind of government we get, not the other way around

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 12, 2012 at 20:02:57 in reply to Comment 78369

my point is simple: if everyone shares the same vision outlined above, it will guide our decision making...sure there may be the odd differences as to how we get there, but for the most part we'd all be on the same page if that truly was our guiding vision. Once we make decisions based on pre-set criteria, the guy who only cares about saving 70 seconds on his trip regardless of the impact on the vision either must change his stance, or be ignored. Building a city solely around the fastest possible speeds for cars does not line up with child safety, senior care, complete transportation etc.... and it can take place in both urban and suburban settings, so that point is moot. Do we really want Hamilton to function as I briefly expressed in my above vision statement, or don't we?

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted June 14, 2012 at 10:11:54 in reply to Comment 78416

my point is simple: if everyone shares the same vision outlined above, it will guide our decision making...sure there may be the odd differences as to how we get there, but for the most part we'd all be on the same page if that truly was our guiding vision.

So your point is, if everyone just agreed with you everything would be fine?

My god man, I don't even know what to say to that??? I almost want to just pinch your cheeks and say "Ah, isn't that sweet" then give your hair a little tussle.

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By Waitwhat (anonymous) | Posted June 27, 2012 at 00:08:24

Bay Street South needs to be converted to two-way. So many people live in the apartments, condos and houses on or close to Bay, and they only have Caroline or James Street to access them (and James Street is too busy for people to use, plus it involves overshooting the neighbourhood and coming back and few do that). Once the new condos at Park and Robinson are complete, Caroline will get even worse. Why does it have to handle so much of the traffic of the neighbourhood?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 27, 2012 at 12:48:03 in reply to Comment 78949

Bay Street is the most obvious absurdity in town. Its only evident function is to hook City Hall to York Boulevard so that city staff can get back to their homes in Burlington as quickly as possible.

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