Special Report: Walkable Streets

Greetings From London

A recent visitor to Hamilton loved our hospitality and friendliness, but was seriously off-put by our intimidating and confusing one-way streets.

By Jenn Nelson
Published September 26, 2012

Hi Hamilton! I recently visited your city for the first time and was asked to write about my experience. I would like to commend you as well as make some suggestions.

Firstly, you're amazing people! Right from the moment I mentioned on twitter that I was coming to visit the city for the first time, several people responded with suggestions on what to do and where to eat! So, thank you! Your hospitality and friendliness was much appreciated! I didn't feel like such a stranger!

Secondly, my awesome lunch experience at Chuck's Burgers on Locke Street was just fab! The staff were extremely welcoming and so friendly to a first time visitor! I'd definitely recommend it! I really enjoyed wandering around the stores on Locke Street and it's so great to see so many independent stores in one area!

Now, to the other stuff...

As a Londoner, I'll have to say that I'm not used to so many one-way streets. I found them to be very stressful as they were the first thing I faced when I came off the highway. Trying to navigate directions as well as trying to not drive the wrong way up the one-way streets is not a pleasant experience.

The one-way signage is very poor and I didn't see a welcome sign as I entered the city. I apologize if there was one, but I was so concerned with trying not to hit anyone that I didn't see it. I did at one point see a sign indicating that a street was a one-way but it actually wasn't.

One-Way Streets intimidating for tourists? (RTH file photo)
One-Way Streets intimidating for tourists? (RTH file photo)

I'm not sure why it's necessary to have so many one-way streets. I guess there was a reason at some point (and I'm sure it's logical to many Hamiltonians) but as a first time visitor, I'd have to say it was something that turned me off.

I'm sure that if I frequented the city often enough, I'd get used to it; but with regards to tourists and visitors, I think it should be a concern.

Something else that I also noticed was that there were no signs suggesting areas where people could park. I then discovered that you could park on the street but was so concerned that I was driving up the wrong way that it took me forever to find a parking spot. More signage would definitely be a huge help!

This post is very short (as my trip was very short in itself), but I hope I've made some constructive suggestions. Your city is great, and always has so many things going on! I wish I had been able to make it to Supercrawl as I heard it was a huge success! Hopefully I will be able to make it next year.

Cheers for giving me this opportunity to share my experience!

Jenn Nelson is an experienced public historian and museum professional. She is the owner of The Social Studio and can be found at jennnelson.com.

36 Comments

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By Sobchak (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 08:16:03

The #HamOnt tweeps are invaluable for weekend visitors since our tourism office isn't open on weekends except during the summer.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 08:16:55

Are you from London, Ontario or London, England?

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By George (registered) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 08:24:31 in reply to Comment 81255

Her website, which is linked at the bottom of the article, says,

Based in the Southwestern Ontario Region

Comment edited by George on 2012-09-26 08:25:33

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By kettal (registered) | Posted September 28, 2012 at 00:29:49 in reply to Comment 81256

I was confused, too. The use of British slang in the writing didn't help.

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By Londoner (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2012 at 11:01:55 in reply to Comment 81294

I am from the UK too, born and raised, but not from London, England. Get cultured! :)

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 09:01:50

I got blasted by an out-of-towner on King St a couple years ago. Literally just drove right into the side of my car. When we got out she was so frazzled and apologetic. Said she had been circling King/Main 6 times trying to find the Crowne Plaza hotel. Finally thought she saw the right street and turned right into me. She asked why the streets were like this. To which I said, 'I have no clue, but don't feel bad, even locals get confused and frazzled by them. The only people who like them are people who never come downtown'.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-09-26 09:02:16

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 27, 2012 at 07:20:30 in reply to Comment 81258

The only people who like them are people who never come downtown'.

Wrong, once again. I live downtown and like our one-ways.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2012 at 07:33:53 in reply to Comment 81283

How dare you express such sacrilege? You must be aware that one way streets are pure evil, the bane of modern civilization not to mention all the regulars of this site.

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 09:19:59 in reply to Comment 81258

Hi hear you Jason ... im from Laval and i moed here in 94 ... i was confused then and stil amm .. most citys in Canada are 2 ways ... if some one wayers whould move to other citys in Canada and vistite once aa while they whould see a big difference of how well the nayborhoods are

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2012 at 07:35:27 in reply to Comment 81260

just by reading your post I understand why you were confused and I doubt it had anything to do with one way streets

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By kettal (registered) | Posted September 28, 2012 at 00:31:21 in reply to Comment 81260

Did you visit Montreal often when you lived in Laval?

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By Londoner (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 11:00:38

Thanks for reading everyone!

I'm from London, ON :)

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 27, 2012 at 07:21:58 in reply to Comment 81262

I used to live in London while going to Western. I lived in the northwest end of the city. I took several urban geography courses there which discussed London's almost-ring-road system (it's just missing one side - the east-west one on the North I believe). Has that come to fruition yet?

What about the side streets that are one-way there? Any thoughts on those?

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By Londoner (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2012 at 23:53:20 in reply to Comment 81284

The only East-West road that I can think of on the North end would be Fanshawe Park Road or Oxford Street. Both are great roads and are never too busy.

The only one way street I've used in London has been King Street (downtown) has never been an issue it's surrounded by 2-ways :)

Thanks for reading!!

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted September 27, 2012 at 09:40:37 in reply to Comment 81284

I grew up in London and it does not have an "almost-ring-road". The 401 to the south of the city could form one quarter of a ring road. The 402 wanders vaguely north from the 401 to the west of the city, but is too far from the city to really constitute part of a ring road. Veterans Memorial Parkway (formerly Airport Road) on the east side of London is a divided street with uncontrolled access. Think Cootes Drive. It's not really a ring road, and it doesn't run all the way to the north end of the city.

To summarize, London has more like a quarter of a ring road.

And it has two one-way streets that I can think of, King and Queen. They run east-west on either end of the downtown. But the lights aren't synchronized for fast traffic, they're well-streetscaped, and they don't run one-way across the entire city. They are in no way comparable to Main or Cannon.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 28, 2012 at 08:23:42 in reply to Comment 81288

I'd have to disagree with you there.

The ring road was summarized as follows:

  • South end of the city, running east-west, is serviced by the 401/402, or using city streets, depending on the prof/expert/textbook, it was serviced by Exeter, Southdale and/or Commissioners.

  • East end of the city, running north-south, was what's now known as the veterans memorial parkway.

  • West end of the city, running north-south, was Wonderland.

  • North end of the city, running east-west, was not there.

The debate that went on (and still goes on) in London was about building the North end of the city's road, then using that to enhance the existing streets to build a true ring road. The framework is there but required a lot of cash and public opinion to fully implement.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted September 28, 2012 at 13:19:32 in reply to Comment 81302

You can disagree with me, but your facts are wrong.

Wonderland Road is in no way a ring road. It's nowhere near the western edge of the city, and it's an undivided street with traffic lights. Calling Wonderland a ring road is like calling Mohawk a ring road.

And as I explained above, Veterans Memorial Parkway has a similar design to Cootes Drive. It's not a controlled access highway.

London is actually a great contrast to Hamilton. Despite not having invested hundreds of millions of dollars in municipal highways, and despite not having destroyed inner-city neighbourhoods by creating a grid of high-speed one-way streets, life goes on.

[edit: corrected "eastern" to "western"]

Comment edited by John Neary on 2012-09-28 14:27:44

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted September 29, 2012 at 09:55:12 in reply to Comment 81312

You can disagree with me, but your facts are wrong.

No. We'll have' to agree to disagree on that one, since it's clear your experience and mine are totally different (perhaps due to different times in the city, where you lived and what you studied, etc).

Wonderland Road is in no way a ring road. It's nowhere near the western edge of the city, and it's an undivided street with traffic lights. Calling Wonderland a ring road is like calling Mohawk a ring road.

Wonderland forms a _part_ of a ring road. The western N-S piece. It's near the old edge of the city, which is when the ring road was first put forth. It's a great candidate for getting a median and increased speeds as it moves N-S, with a bit of an incline, and runs across the entire city. Comparing Mohawk and Wonderland is apples and oranges I'm afraid.

And as I explained above, Veterans Memorial Parkway has a similar design to Cootes Drive. It's not a controlled access highway.

Which is why it forms a part of the ring.

London is actually a great contrast to Hamilton. Despite not having invested hundreds of millions of dollars in municipal highways, and despite not having destroyed inner-city neighbourhoods by creating a grid of high-speed one-way streets, life goes on.

What inner city is there in London? I spent a lot of time downtown and it was a mix of low-income tenement style buildings, failed and failing retail, and empty lots. A lot like Hamilton. I haven't been back in a couple of years but the only changes seem to be the names on the buildings.

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By Londoner (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2012 at 23:55:41 in reply to Comment 81288

Definitely agree with you here too!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 26, 2012 at 11:07:07

I honestly can't understand what possessed the people who designed the King/Main offramps at the 403 overpass. It's like you're trying to make it hard for people who're new to the city.

Not to mention the plethora of smaller north/south one-way streets that have zero justification for their current one-way state. They don't really help with traffic, and they just make it even harder to get where you're going.

It's absurd. Even if you like the king/main one-ways, you have to admit they're highways. And yet the city refuses to treat them like highways - they still have local-street-style signage (reading 3-inch letters at 60kph is absurd), they still have local-street-style sidewalks (how many highways have you seen that have a sidewalk right next to live traffic?) and they still have local-street-style crossings (in a local street it's safe to jaywalk so it's reasonable to have crosswalks hundreds of meters apart).

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-09-26 11:07:28

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 11:43:07

This study suggests there may be a link between walkable neighbourhoods and diabetes risk due to increased exercise from walking. Interesting.

http://www.montrealgazette.com/health/Walkable+neighbourhoods+tied+lower+diabetes+risk/7297688/story.html

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 26, 2012 at 12:57:32 in reply to Comment 81267

RTH report here. The study followed everyone in Toronto between age 30 and 65 and tracked the incidence of new cases of diabetes (not the prevalence of existing cases) over the study period.

What they found was that the risk of getting diabetes is independently correlated with neighbourhood walkability, even after controlling for income and ethnicity (both of which also correlate with diabetes). That is, regardless of a person's ethnicity or income, a person in a less walkable neighbourhood is at higher risk of getting diabetes than a person in a more walkable neighbourhood.

This shouldn't be surprising to anyone. More people will walk in an environment that is more conducive to walking, and walking is an effective way of reducing the risk of diabetes.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-09-26 12:58:48

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 21:08:39 in reply to Comment 81271

I think another aspect is that people who live the commuter lifestyle are also more likely to eat convenience foods (i.e. fast food) more often.

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 13:38:37 in reply to Comment 81271

Oops, my bad Ryan, I should have noticed this first.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 26, 2012 at 14:02:36 in reply to Comment 81272

Hey, no worries! I'm glad to see other newsmedia covering this report as well.

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By ViennaCafe (registered) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 22:07:29

If you really want to appreciate how difficult Hamilton's road system is, use Google Maps. How to get a little more than a block from Home Grown to the Scotia Bank at King and James by car:

38 King William St Hamilton, ON L8R 2K3

  1. Head southeast on King William St toward Hughson St N
    140 m

  2. Turn right at the 2nd cross street onto John St N
    350 m

  3. Turn right onto Jackson St E 110 m

  4. Take the 1st right onto Hughson St S 210 m

  5. Turn left at the 2nd cross street onto King St E Destination will be on the left 84 m

12 King St E Hamilton, ON L8N 3Z1

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2012 at 07:47:41 in reply to Comment 81281

It amounts to an extra 300 meters which at a speed of 40 kph extends your trip by about 30 seconds. I bet you saved more than that getting to 38 King William streets in the first place.

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By Hammertoe (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2012 at 16:12:34 in reply to Comment 81281

An interesting thought experiment, though driving a block to and fro is a suburban tic... not something downtown people (even those who only work downtown) generally do. Even if they had a car, they would park in the lot opposite HH and walk across Gore Park.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 27, 2012 at 20:29:37 in reply to Comment 81289

People on bikes downtown go through this kind of roundabout crap all the time though. And many who get sick of it take the sidewalk instead - which is dangerous and illegal.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted September 27, 2012 at 07:29:34

Thanks Jenn for your piece. London is a great city and Hamilton can learn lots from your fine city. Indeed the one-way streets are a problem but it is front and centre right now and I'm hopeful that we can eliminate most of the easy fixes in the next few years.

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By Londoner (anonymous) | Posted September 27, 2012 at 23:58:49 in reply to Comment 81286

You're welcome, Trey. I hope it was helpful. I have to say that I was very discouraged by the one-way streets as a visitor, and probably will choose another mode of transportation the next time I visit. Hopefully we can all learn from each other and make our cities better places! Thanks so much for reading :)

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 12:19:35

While we're - almost - on the subject of London England, I lived there for a couple of years and can't recall a single one-way street. I'm sure they have them but they're not prevelant. In fact in all the UK cities I've lived in and visited (quite a few) I can't recall any one way streets...

I know the feeling of arriving somewhere new. It's very hard to read the signs and watch the road and find your bearings. Add to that the challenge of navigating one-way streets and it makes it very difficult to drive safely and find your way around. I too had the same unimpressed first impression when I first ventured into Hamilton.

I remember a friend of mine telling me he'd come to Copps for a concert and would 'never come back' after getting frazzled by the one-ways. It seems it's not just the locals that don't like them!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2012 at 13:00:06 in reply to Comment 81344

I remember a friend of mine telling me he'd come to Copps for a concert and would 'never come back' after getting frazzled by the one-ways.

First time I ever drove to Hamilton it was to see Rush play at Copps when I was 16 or 17. Needless to say, I got hopelessly lost and we missed part of the opening act.

When I moved to Hamilton just shy of 19, I got lost again the first two times I drove here. Our one-way streets are absolutely not visitor-friendly.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-10-01 13:01:32

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2012 at 14:19:23 in reply to Comment 81345

Now that Wilson and James are 2-way, we've actually got some improvement surrounding Copps.

Why the heck isn't Bay 2-way yet? What does 1-way Bay accomplish but frustrating out-of-towners trying to get to Copps? Of course, all the "No Left Turns" would still be a problem.

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By ddaearegydd (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 19:40:46

I thought we were supposed to be making the downtown more pedestrian-friendly? This street debate has drifted so far from that, and now just revolves around cars.

Besides, why has no one considered roundabouts? Regardless of whether or not the traffic is one-way or two-way, they will calm traffic and improve flow at the same time - while making crossing much easier for pedestrians. Plus the roundabouts themselves are perfect locations for small monuments, artworks, greenery etc.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 20:44:46 in reply to Comment 81352

while making crossing much easier for pedestrians

I don't know what roundabouts you've been on but the ones I've been on (in Europe) sucked for pedestrians. They were all about maintaining traffic flow not walkability, it doubled the number of crossings I had to make and drivers never actually got a red light so it was a game of dodgems.

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