Special Report: Walkable Streets

Turning Cannon into a Complete Street

Now is the time to bring balance and complete streets to our major one-way corridors through our urban neighbourhoods and through the heart of our downtown commercial district.

By Jason Leach
Published October 18, 2012

I recently returned from a week in Portland, Oregon. Despite all the press that city receives for its major planning initiatives and LRT projects (and it deserves every ounce of press), I was really struck by the little things it does right.

While there, I realized that we can turn our own Cannon Street (and Main St too) from an ugly, barren urban expressway into a complete, liveable street quite easily.

Portland is loaded with one-way streets. I would venture to guess it has many more than Hamilton. Yet I didn't see any that were barren, urban expressways. They were all complete streets allowing for easy traffic flow along with easy cycling activity, street parking and safe pedestrian design.

Cannon Street has space for its sidewalks to go from this:

To this:

12th Avenue, Portland (Image credit: Flickr)
12th Avenue, Portland (Image credit: Flickr)

The space is there. We simply need to make green infrastructure a priority. And we can sell this easily in Hamilton. Here's how.

Bioswales

Look at the above picture and notice the cuts in the garden curbs. You can't see from this angle, but in the middle of each planter box there is a grate like this:

12th Avenue storm-water runoff box (Image credit: Flickr)
12th Avenue storm-water runoff box (Image credit: Flickr)

These are storm-water runoff boxes, or bioswales. They use them all through Portland where there has been flooding issues in recent years as the city has grown and overtaxed its water system. Sound familiar, Hamilton?

These sidewalk planters are everywhere now. What an amazingly cheap way to deal with storm water runoff and add needed greenery to hard urban streets.

Imagine how much rainwater we could divert if we built these all through lower Hamilton: killing two birds with one stone, and saving capacity in our sewer system for years to come.

I've done the measurements and Cannon Street in its current form with its current sidewalks and road width can be transformed to add bioswale planting areas along with a road design like this:

Separated bike lanes in Portland (Image credit: Flickr)
Separated bike lanes in Portland (Image credit: Flickr)

My personal suggestions: Move the protected bike lane to the south curb of Cannon, then have two live traffic lanes, then curb parking on the north lane. This protects pedestrians on both sidewalks from live traffic and it prevents any conflicts between parking cars, stopping buses and bikes.

Protected Bike Lanes

A left side protected bike lane would look like this:

No major reconstruction is needed. No expropriation. The only real 'construction' work would involve the planting boxes on the sidewalks, which would do wonders for the streetscape, property values. pedestrian safety and rainwater retention.

Cannon Street can become one of Hamilton's safest, greenest, accessible streets and would surely see a surge in cycling activity and new streetfront business due to its location as a straight line connection through the heart of downtown Hamilton and the new James Street arts district from Strathcona/York Boulevard in the west to the new Pan Am Stadium and Ottawa Street neighbourhood in the east.

Even as a one-way street, the cycle lanes can be two-way and cyclists are instructed to obey the already existing crosswalk signals that eastbound pedestrians would use.

Two-way cycle lanes (Image credit: Brooklyn Paper)
Two-way cycle lanes (Image credit: Brooklyn Paper)

Alternatively, we can leave the bike lane as a one-way lane and give Wilson Street from James to Sherman the same treatment in order to create the return bike lane headed east. Sherman has ample road space between King and Cannon to connect these three streets with safe bike lanes.

East of Sherman

East of Sherman Avenue, Cannon can be redesigned to continue the bike path by simply moving the parking lane from the north curb to the south curb:

Two-way cycletracks street section (Image credit: Streetsblog)
Two-way cycletracks street section (Image credit: Streetsblog)

Measurements will be different in Hamilton, but you get the idea: bike path, westbound lane, eastbound lane, curb parking.

I'd love to see Cannon become a new example of what can be done with one-way streets in lower Hamilton. And now is the time. I'm in the midst of comparing 1999 traffic volumes with new numbers from 2009 and as one example, Upper James near Limeridge carries 43,000 cars per day on its four lanes.

Cannon Street at James carries less than 19,000 on its four lanes. The traffic volume on Cannon is the same as it was a decade earlier. Upper James and other suburban, two-way streets have seen an increase.

Balance and Complete Streets

The industrial heyday is behind us. Now is the time to bring balance and complete streets to our major one-way corridors through our urban neighbourhoods and through the heart of our downtown commercial district.

Adding greenery and safe travel options will be a huge boost to city attempts to create mixed-income neighbourhoods throughout the lower city. It can be done without a huge reconstruction cost too. It simply needs to be seen as a priority.

Please contact your councillor and respectfully add your name to the growing list of individuals, neighbourhood associations and transportation advocates desiring to see positive change come to Cannon Street.

Complete street in New York City (Image credit: Flickr)
Complete street in New York City (Image credit: Flickr)

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

24 Comments

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By Simon (registered) - website | Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:48:33

Any sort of plantings are met with resistance from City staff because they don't want the responsibility of maintaining them. They would much rather just pave everything with asphalt and be done with it.

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By kettal (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 16:31:29 in reply to Comment 81909

Many people enjoy gardening. A volunteer gardening force would be great, and the only obstacle is the municipal bureaucracy.

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By jonathan (registered) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:57:10 in reply to Comment 81909

They City of Hamilton has its own greenhouse - one of the few cities to have one. To say they don't want to maintain plantings just isn't true.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 11:53:56 in reply to Comment 81911

The patch of astroturf in the median on Upper James at the Linc would beg to differ.

The "trees" planted along the on-ramps to the Linc would also probaly have a few things to say about that.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 18, 2012 at 11:00:54 in reply to Comment 81911

Look at all the median plantings in the city and it's hard to say that the city doesn't want to maintain plantings... more to the point, the city actually seems to go way higher maintenance with median plantings, since they seem to prefer going for elaborate annual flowers instead of the tall grass of the Portland bioswales.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 18, 2012 at 10:59:27

I've always though this myself. If the city can't give up the urban highways, we should at least remember that highways usually don't run live traffic right next to pedestrians and can start rehabilitating them to treat pedestrians and cyclists with respect.

The problem with plans like that that I notice when driving up Cannon is the sheer number of driveways. Seriously, next time you're travelling along Cannon (and not driving, watch the road people) keep an eye on how much of the curb is sloped into the road. Many businesses practically have their entire frontage as driveway (next consider pushing a stroller or wheelchair or other human-powered-vehicle-that-is-vulnerable-to-gravity along that terrain, but I digress). Any nice streetscaping will be completely cut to bits without reconsidering all these driveways, and there you'll start getting friction with local businesses.

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By Today (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 12:08:28

I've also been fairly impressed with the plantings in the city in medians and such I will say. And yes Pxtl, sidewalks that slope like that are horrible and very dangerous espcially in the winter. Why they build sidewalks like that is totally beyond me.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 18, 2012 at 12:33:44 in reply to Comment 81932

It's a side effect of them being way too narrow.

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By Portlandia (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 13:26:54

put a bird on it!

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 16:22:30

This is an excellent post! Jason - is there any way you can arrange to present this to council? Perhaps get an urban planner or one of the city road engineers on board? We need to get this on their agenda

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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 16:33:02

Great ideas Jason.

Given the often strongly divergent perspectives in Hamilton regarding key issues (one-way streets being a major one), compromises are a good way of starting a conversation about resolving an issue, or at least improving things in a way that shrinks the problem. You've presented some nice ones here.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 18, 2012 at 17:29:04 in reply to Comment 81947

The problem is I've talked to fans of the one-way streets and even this kind of comrpomise is completely unpalateable to them.

To the hardcore fans of Hamilton's high-speed traffic, losing any lanes of traffic off of king, main, and cannon is unacceptable. Look at all the die-hards that still grouse about the traffic on John and James st post-conversion.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 17:48:23

here's some info for those who think we need multi lane freeways down here.

James, south of Herkimer carried 33,000 cars per day in 1999. By 2010 it was down to 19,000.

Golflinks at Stonechurch carries 26,500 per day. King St carries 16,000 at Wentworth. Main St at Cope carries just under 20,000 per day. In 1999 it was 32,000 Upper James, as I mention in the article, carries 33,000 Cannon at James is 16,500 down from 18,000 in 1999.

I will be presenting this info in more detail soon. And will, of course, be presenting all of this info to council and staff. Looking at the traffic data, and capacities, what we already knew is confirmed - our lower city freeways are way overbuilt.

I mean Wellington St carries less than 18,000 per day at Main St and it is 5-lanes. It's ridiculous when compared to Golf Links carrying 26,000 at 4-lanes.

As our industrial jobs have left, so has the lower city traffic. This is why one can walk along Main or King at 5pm and encounter several minutes at a time with zero cars. The rest of the day it's a freeway.

Cannon can EASILY be two full lanes, and the curb parking space can be used for turning lanes at intersections that warrant one.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 19:45:03

Cannon was previously earmarked for streetscaping work, if memory serves (2002? 2006?), so maybe some matching infrastructure funds are similarly stashed away. No reason why it couldn't get the ol' York Blvd prettification treatment. Would be most impactful along its eastern span (east of Wellington), where the residential density is highest.

http://www.raisethehammer.org/comment/80466

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted October 18, 2012 at 21:31:50

I like our one-way streets but can totally live with losing 1 lane to this kind of greenery.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2012 at 08:29:49 in reply to Comment 81962

But keep it in context. If memory serves, you like the one ways because they help you get in and out of the city to Mississauga daily for work.

Many of don't need nor want the fast in and out access you desire.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted October 22, 2012 at 20:47:41 in reply to Comment 82006

You're right. I do enjoy the ease of getting from my home downtown onto the 403. But I would be OK with adding the extra time for something that beautifies while doing extra work (rainwater diversion).

I'd agree with your statement at the end if it said this:

Many of [us on RTH] don't need nor want the fast in and out access you desire. I'd disagree, many people need fast access in and out, and aren't interested in shopping or eating out or browsing the storefronts daily.

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By me, me and me! (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 05:47:37

This is a great alternative to changing our one way streets to two way. I truly hope this alternative at least gets some notice from our City Council...Great job Jason!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 19, 2012 at 07:30:02

Of course, since this plan leaves two automobile lanes in place, there's room for one lane in each direction.

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By kettal (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 16:38:17

On-street parking is important here. That can make so many of the driveways and front-yard parking spots redundant.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted October 19, 2012 at 21:00:44

It looks so simple, like most great ideas. Why are we unable to mobilize people like we did for opposing The Spadina expressway?

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 20, 2012 at 09:34:34 in reply to Comment 82001

personally, I think it's because many in Toronto valued that urban neighbourhood. Most Hamiltonians don't value any neighbourhood adjacent to Cannon. This is why it's important to sell them on the business potential, flooding alleviation, transportation safety, traffic counts that show volumes on Cannon over the last decade nowhere near needing 3 or 4 lanes etc....

simply selling urban revitalization or a healthy inner city is of no interest to many people and councillors.

Comment edited by jason on 2012-10-20 09:35:02

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By resident (anonymous) | Posted October 22, 2012 at 20:22:48

As a one way advocate I love the ideas presented here. Its a complete solution that hurts nobody to help somebody else rather than the usual biased incomplete suggestions that hurt one party to aid the other

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By CMBearAbstractArt (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2012 at 07:57:32

I agree with jason. Hamiltonian's (or others) don't value the Cannon St. area because it is an eye-soar and access is poor (and thus business and housing values suffer.) A facelift to the area would to wonders for city pride and moral. I am thankful for the changes already made in areas like Locke St. and the downtown...and I love the Greenhouses at Gage Park. As a consumer who frequents Hamilton at least 4x/week.....I directly go to the areas that have "had work done" because I know my experience will be better.

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