Special Report: Creative City

Longwood Recommended Alternative Undermines Innovation Park

By sacrificing an optimal pedestrian environment in favour of maintaining five lanes of automobile traffic, the Recommended Alternative will undermine the success of the Innovation Park economic growth district.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 05, 2013

In mid-May, the City of Hamilton submitted an information report to the Public Works Committee on the status of the Longwood Road Transportation Review, which will affect Longwood from Main Street to Aberdeen Avenue through the McMaster Innovation Growth District and along Aberdeen to Studholme Road.

After a planning and environmental assessment process ostensibly dedicated to the goal of "ensur[ing] that streets are more pedestrian friendly", we end up with a recommended alternative [PDF] continues to put the primacy of fast, high-volume automobile through traffic ahead of the goal of a safe, accommodating and walkable centre.

There is some good news in the preferred alternative, including a dedicated pedestrian/cycling bridge over Hwy 403, a separated bike track on Longwood and wider sidewalks. However, the street itself will be five wide driving lanes, anchored on the south by a roundabout at Aberdeen.

This emphatically does not meet the objective of transforming Longwood into a complete, pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly street. The recommended alternative seeks to find a balance between this objective and the familiar objective of moving high volumes of automobile traffic, but the plan emphasizes the latter at the expense of real livability.


More generally, the bias in favour of automobile traffic is evident in the language used to describe the street design, which draws a distinction between "general purpose lanes" (i.e. road space dedicated to people in automobiles) with "pedestrian and bicycle access" (i.e. road space dedicated to people not in automobiles).

The most important goal of this redevelopment is to support the flourishing of McMaster Innovation Park as a centre for business creation and job growth through a compatible street design that supports walking, cycling, and in particular the casual public interactions that are proven to foster innovation.

McMaster Innovation Park conceptual drawing
McMaster Innovation Park conceptual drawing

This is really important to understand: over the past few decades, research into urban economics has demonstrated clearly that dense, urban, walkable environments actually encourage more innovation and more economic growth. A built environment that reduces the density of pedestrians also reduces the frequency of the kinds of chance encounters that make collaboration and cross-fertilizing possible.

By sacrificing an optimal pedestrian environment in favour of maintaining five lanes of automobile traffic, the Recommended Alternative will undermine the success of the Innovation Park economic growth district.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.


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By textbook (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 12:30:59

I personally think the plan is great, and a major improvement over what is there now! While the 5-lane section isn't great, the reality is that a lot of people will access the Innovation Park via cars and this is necessary. Not to mention that a HUGE number of vehicles use Longwood as access from the mountain to westdale/dundas/Mac. Unless the MTO builds (i.e. with City funding) a new connection from Highway 403 EB to Main West, that volume is never going to go down.
I actually have the opposite opinion about the roundabout...much safer for all road users, including pedestrians. With the roundabout, everyone will have to slow down to get through it, as opposed to drivers "gunning it" to get through the green phase of the signal. Also, with respect to "the large numbers of students coming to Westdale High School from the Aberdeen area, the roundabout will be a significant deterrent to walking"...I completely disagreee. The pedestrian/multi-use path eliminates that concern. To my knowledge, no one lives in the SE quadrant of the intersection so there's no need to actually go through the roundabout...just around it...on the provided path.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 14:51:42 in reply to Comment 89956

I don't imagine you've walked across a roundabout? It's horrible. Especially one like this connecting a 400-series highway to another one of Hamilton's inner city highways.
Local residents should fight this plan tooth and nail until the city backs down.

Hey Hamilton, the 1950's called. They're laughing at us for still using their planning logic, proven all over the world to be a failure.

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By TB (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2013 at 08:01:35 in reply to Comment 89971


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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 18:31:37 in reply to Comment 89971

Where on earth are you walking to/from to cross that roundabout? Hitch hiking on the 403? A leisurely stroll through the train yard? At least the roundabout slows traffic down heading on to Aberdeen. The food truck guys are kinda screwed though.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 22:37:32 in reply to Comment 89979

Westdale and back, Innovation Park to Food Truck Alley, Westdale to Chedoke Golf Course. Or perhaps just out for an evening stroll in the neighbourhood, which should be a safe right for anyone. Roundabouts don't belong downtown on main roads. A full stop light is necessary there to prevent Aberdeen from being a freeway extension like Main, King, York etc.....

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted July 09, 2013 at 09:03:25 in reply to Comment 90047

You don't need to cross that roundabout to walk to any of those places. Stoplights only slow traffic when they're red, and there's already a problem with cars speeding onto Aberdeen. Wasn't there a pedestrian fatality on that stretch last year? Instead of fighting about the roundabout, how about we fight for making that stretch of Aberdeen better for pedestrians. It's pretty terrible walking under that bridge now.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2013 at 13:24:09 in reply to Comment 89956

There are lots of things the City could do to make the street design more pedestrian-friendly:

  • Reduce lane widths to 3.25 m or even 3 m. That in itself will slow down traffic.

  • Eliminate the centre turn lane. With two lanes in each direction, a car turning left is not going to block traffic.

  • Alternately, keep the centre turning lane and reduce the four lanes to two. If the Beckett Drive closure has taught us anything, it's that motorists adapt to changes in the street network.

  • The reduced lanes could even be repurposed as curbside parking. With smart pricing, That would provide convenient short-term access for people driving while at the same time providing a physical barrier to protect pedestrians and make the sidewalk feel safer.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-07-05 13:26:23

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By JM (registered) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 12:38:51 in reply to Comment 89956

this issue with pedestrians is that traffic doesn't stop - creating limited opportunities to cross the street safely, which by the way has to be done in stages since the roundabout provides multiple crossing points as opposed to a single crosswalk in a traditional intersection....

pursuant to my comment below, the additional dedicated right turn lane adds an additional crossing for the pedestrian!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2013 at 14:02:34 in reply to Comment 89958

That and Hamilton has a culture of Yield signs that really mean "yield to cars alone". We've seen how miserable it is to cross a slip road protected with a yield sign - the lousy ones at Paradise and Main, at Main and the 403, etc. Drivers don't stop for pedestrians on them, and the traffic never stops. Look at the recent pedestrian accident at Main and Frid.

A roundabout is functionally an intersection constructed entirely out of those little yield slip road crossing things.

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By JM (registered) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 12:36:25

i still don't understand the purpose of the additional dedicated right turn lanes!

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 12:50:44

Where's the Chamber on this?

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 13:05:33

No surprises at all. City Hall has been consistent for decades that high speed traffic trumps everything - including economic growth or success. This design is horrible on so many levels. I'm glad you've pointed out all of the fine details. Longwood is already a freeway without the extra lane. And we should be trying to stop vehicles at ALL highway exit ramps, not encouraging them to fly into Kirkendall dangerously.

The day of mass retirements at city hall can't come soon enough. Hopefully they don't completely destroy the city in the meantime.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-07-05 13:06:10

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 13:10:56

Brooklyn is looking to move forward with an Innovation district:


It's a city of millions with legendary traffic of course in the NYC area. Here is their proposed street design: http://www.crainsnewyork.com/apps/pbcsi....

Narrow lanes, protected bike lanes and 1 LESS lane than we are proposing for our park of 4-storey buildings. They have mega towers coming to theirs. Let's at least do the green boulevard down the middle instead of a stupid turning lane.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 05, 2013 at 13:33:08

Holy crap, they're really doing it that way. They're sistering the bridge... when I suggested that in a previous thread, I was joking. They're really adding a second bridge next to the existing Longwood bridge for pedestrians and cyclists. On the one hand, I'm happy to see that cycle track and wide sidewalk, but on the other hand OMGWTFBBQ... this is an enormous construction project just to keep Longwood humming along at highway speeds.

So Longwood is a highway. I'm pretty sure this isn't what MIP had in mind. I'm sure Hamilton Police Services will be happy to be keeping their highway-with-city-speed limits speed trap.

I notice there's a small gap between the sidewalk and the roadway... not wide enough for a grassy boulevard, probably just the usual two-foot strip of bare asphalt separating the Longwood highway from pedestrians. Lovely. If they're going to make this, then they should accept it for what it is - a highway. Put up those eyesore Jersey barriers like they have over on the 403/King Street bridge and let the speed limit hit 70kph. Stop pretending it's anything but a highway. I wonder how McMaster would like that?

This looks less and less like an "innovation park" then it looks like those little one-story office-parks along North Service Road.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2013-07-05 13:35:22

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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 15:26:00

^I agree that this road is a highway on ramp. Whether it is the high speed traffic or the stupid intersection at Main and Longwood that forbids ped crossing. If you want to cross longwood from the car dealership to the radio station, you have to physically stop the right turning traffic by stepping in front of moving cars. Having a walk signal and the car having a red light doesn't seem to matter when speed is prioritized. This road is a cruel joke.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 15:28:07

On the bright side, there are plenty to choose from.


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By ScreamingViking (registered) | Posted July 05, 2013 at 16:58:41

I've seen the word "campus" associated with the Innovation Park. It's even on their website. To me, that connotes a cluster of buildings in a quieter pedestrian setting - exactly what McMaster University is, and what I hoped the IP would emulate.

Should a 5-lane arterial roadway bi-sect a campus environment?

Why not at least have parking on both sides, to facilitate the kind of business interactions that will happen, particularly once the "campus" is built out as shown in the conceptual drawing above?

This is crazy.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted July 07, 2013 at 12:24:16

A suburban office park next to a highway deserves a solution that respects the environmental context. Mac is developing a row of buildings which look pretty, but don't address the street, are pretty to drive by, and don't bring any sense of activity besides people walking by. Longwood is a suburban office park and really this solution goes above and beyond addressing the majority of needs of the area.

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By Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 08:54:28

I walk to my job, which is on the MIP campus, from Kirkendall, across Aberdeen and then up Longwood. There are a handful, but a relatively small number of other MIP employees who walk a similar route, either every day or from time to time, for their commute. Most of the folks walking on Longwood on a regular basis are Westdale students, and some Columbia students and a handful of employees of businesses near Main and Longwood. This is my experience based on walking it every day and seeing some of the same faces every day.

It is hard to imagine this part of my commute getting any worse. The sidewalks are narrow and uneven and pool with water after a rain or snow. They are usually uncleared in the winter time. The traffic moves far too fast right, and drivers who turn on to Frid usually do not yield to people on foot. Many of the cyclists, because of the fast traffic, choose to use the sidewalks, and do not alert people on foot verbally or with a bell, so I routinely experience or witness near-misses between people on bike and people on foot. Because the cyclists who take this route are accustomed to using the sidewalks, they often do so on Aberdeen as well, even on the stretch with a bike lane- they often lose a few meters of bike lane anyway when motorists turning right from Aberdeen to Longwood encorach on it, since there is no actual divider.

To be short, any changes would be welcome to me and would have a positive impact on my commute. I'm not so concerned with the roundabout, especially as I rarely see people on foot crossing Aberdeen at Longwood in almost any direction. There is no need for a centre turning lane since there are two lanes in both directions- the way I see it, the fact that there will be one will only mean that motorists will need never prepare themselves to slow down, since no other car will possibly be slowing in front of them to make a turn.

It would be nice to have any kind of a boulevard- psychologically, the worst part of the experience really is the fact that cars are less than a meter from you, usually still in highway mode. A wide boulevard would help, but even better- since there are four lanes now and possibly five in the future- would be on-street parking. Perhaps there could be time restrictions for it if it was really felt that a loss of a lane would impede rush hour traffic so much (it wouldn't), but some kind of on-street parking at least at times of the day would do a lot to make the walk on this stretch seem safer.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 09:04:54 in reply to Comment 90005

any changes would be welcome to me and would have a positive impact on my commute

Even when those changes involve making the traffic move even faster than it is today??

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By Rational Optimist (anonymous) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 11:12:19 in reply to Comment 90006

You probably missed the parts of my post where I clarified the least-desireable elements of my commute, and explained what of this proposal bothers me, and might in my opinion might be improved.

To answer your question: yes, practically any change would be an improvement for me. Traffic on this particular stretch of Longwood already generally far exceeds the speed limit, the sidewalks are in places impassable after rains or snowfalls, and the sidewalk is immediately adjacent to the roadway.

Short of a change that would actually eliminate the sidewalk such as it is, any change would be positive. I would prefer certain changes over others, of course. You can read the sentence of mine that I quoted to mean "I am highly displeased with the situation as it is now, and see few ways in which it could be worse."

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By Gimics38 (registered) | Posted July 08, 2013 at 16:45:09

If it ever comes, the LRT should run through Innovation Park. Coming from the east, it should run south on Dundurn St, west onto Aberdeen Ave and then north onto Longwood Rd. At that point it can rejoin Main St W.

Maybe CP will sell the marshalling yard to the city so it can be used as the LRT storage and maintenance facility.

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By How About... (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2013 at 09:19:58

How about a "philosophers walk" incorporated into the MIP planing so we could avoid the streets altogether?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 09, 2013 at 09:24:54 in reply to Comment 90063

Hamilton has a history of trying to keep pedestrians away from car-centric streets. See, for example, the rooftop plazas and elevated walkways of the Jackson Square conglomeration. The right approach is to calm, tame and humanize the streets so that pedestrians no longer have to avoid them.

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By How About.. (anonymous) | Posted July 09, 2013 at 16:32:07 in reply to Comment 90065

How about both we try for both options? I still take Philosophers Walk instead of Avenue Road / Queen's Park when I'm in the UofT area and choose the utility corridor greenways in Burlington over the streets regardless of how wide or shaded the nearby sidewalks are.

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