Special Report: Walkable Streets

A Pedestrian's View of King Street in the International Village

Thanks to the effect of 'platooning', people have very different experiences on our lower city one-way arterials depending on whether they are inside or outside a car.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 16, 2015

With the advent of the transit-only lane on King Street, there are certainly some automobile traffic slowdowns during rush hour. However, for much of the rest of the day, King Street remains ghostly in its emptiness.

For people who only ever drive on King Street during rush hour, it may be understandable that they feel frustrated by the traffic. But for people living and working on King Street all day, their experience of the street is much different.

I just received an email from Bob Berberick, an engaged citizen and occasional RTH contributor, who was on King Street in the International Village corridor yesterday. He wrote:

While walking International Village yesterday at 1:25 pm, it struck me how little traffic there was. I snapped these photos at the same time taking in both directions.

Here are the two photos he took, shared here with permission:

Looking up and down King Street in the International Village (Image Credit: Bob Berberick)
Looking up and down King Street in the International Village (Image Credit: Bob Berberick)

The photos were taken at right around the midpoint between Wellington Street and Ferguson Avenue.

This is a phenomenon that people who only experience the street from behind windshields are not likely to experience: thanks to timed traffic signals, cars are all bunched together into "platoons" that roar down the street in a pack, with stretches of desolation between them.

Last week, I wrote about the same experience on Main Street West.

Main Street West: the calm before the storm (RTH file photo)
Main Street West: the calm before the storm (RTH file photo)

Thanks to this effect, people have very different experiences on our lower city one-way arterials depending on whether they are inside or outside a car.

This may help to explain some of the antagonism between people who live and work on these streets, and people who use the streets as commuting routes to somewhere else.

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 Core-B (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 10:37:38

For the record, someone will no doubt speculate that there was a traffic issue at Wellington. There was not. Shortly after taking these photos, a wave of cars passed by.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 11:05:40

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By woosh (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 11:19:06 in reply to Comment 107902

You know what takes the google street view pictures, right? It's a car. Driving. In traffic.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 21:57:12 in reply to Comment 107905

I guess using a driver's perspective on a major thoroughfare isn't a reasonable request.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2015 at 11:44:14 in reply to Comment 107905

Offtopic, but have you seen the Google street-view pedestrian stuff in McMaster? It's really cool - must've used one of those street-view back-packs to take them.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2015 at 11:52:01 in reply to Comment 107906

Offtopic, but have you seen the Google street-view pedestrian stuff in McMaster? It's really cool - must've used one of those street-view back-packs to take them.

It was a Street View trike ...

http://googleblog.blogspot.ca/2009/10/st...

I saw a fellow tooling around campus on one a couple of years ago.

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By Seriously (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 11:18:51 in reply to Comment 107902

You could take snapshots throughout the day and majority of time streets will be empty. This is the downtown! There should rarely be moments where the streets are that empty. Any major street in Toronto is bustling with pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and yes, motorists.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 11:45:56

This anecdote carries little weight because I drive only occasionally, but I did drive down King this month on a Friday at 9:30AM, in order to bring a cat to the vet.

When the light turned green at King and James, literally, I and most of that platoon got on the 403 without stopping again, hitting the gas only slightly to get through the flashing hand at Dundurn. The flow of cars reached the ramp doing a comfortable 65kph, as two people stood waiting to cross. On this particular run, the 403 on ramp effectively began at King and James (acknowledging that it's after the IV bottleneck).

It was a delightful drive. A yellow brick road straight out of town. I don't recall being able to cruise like that through anywhere else. Other than the rush hour flash flood once or twice a day - exactly when you want an HOV solution because it's gonna be busy anyway - there seemed to be a lot of room on that road.

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 15:33:25 in reply to Comment 107907

I keep saying that it's not congestion people are experiencing, but the mere act of waiting at a red light occasionally, which they simply aren't used to thanks to the green wave.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 17:19:21 in reply to Comment 107928

People think the green wave is normal, even though its very abnormal.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 12:44:01

And I walk out of the Standard Life Centre every evening around 5.

I would hardly describe King St. as gridlocked. More like rush hour traffic in a "normal" city where hitting red lights isn't considered an anomaly.

During morning rush and the rest of the entire day..........no problem at all.

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 19:20:20

I live in the bubble between King and Main between Sanford and Sherman. My kind wife drives me to the Go station at around 6:20am and picks me up on average around 6:30pm in the evening. It's a five minute drive each way. Not the height of rush hour, but not exactly an off time either. This is ludicrously fast in my opinion. While I appreciate the speed at the beginning and end of a long day, I would gladly double it if it meant I could have two walkable streets without the seedy establishments and boarded up windows that there are currently.

Where I live Main is 5 lanes wide and King is 4. People often describe the thoroughfares, mostly tongue in cheek, as comparable to a 400 series highway. The sad reality is that with exception to small sections of the 401 through Toronto, no 400 series highway has that kind of capacity in one direction.

Comment edited by Dylan on 2015-01-16 19:21:09

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 02:59:38 in reply to Comment 107948

no 400 series highway has that kind of capacity in one direction.

...or that low a max speed.

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2015-01-17 03:00:39

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 19:51:23 in reply to Comment 107948

sad, but true. And the councillors who fight like heck to maintain these horrible streets wouldn't DARE allow them to exist in their neighbourhoods.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 03:01:46 in reply to Comment 107949

Come drive on Mohawk, Upper James, Garth, Upper Wentworth. People travel at the same speeds they travel on King and Main. It must be tiring spewing the same nonsense multiple times in the same post.

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 11:16:32 in reply to Comment 107960

To be fair though, in a lot of cases you have medians between the sidewalk and traffic on the mouniain and lanes tend to be wider. The lanes on Main and King seem to be of a minimum width which means if someone is in the far right or left lanes they're pushed closer to the sidewalk.

You're right though, the Mountain is by no means more walkable, but in my opinion they should not be held to the same standard. While The Mountain was generally designed with cars in mind the downtown is where we have our traditional commercial corridors; corridors with small businesses that thrive on walkability. However, unfortunately, these corridors have been converted to thoroughfares to accommodate vehicle traffic to a greater degree than their original intent.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 21:57:51

These articles are so ridiculous, light timing means that there will be bouts of time where there is minimal traffic, especially outside of rush hour.

Does this also mean if I take a picture of the Canon St bike lanes being vacant (as they often are) does that mean there's too much cycling infrastructure? I'll wage most here (myself included) would disagree.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 12:42:02 in reply to Comment 107954

A major cause of the underuse of the Cannon Street bike lanes is allowing cut through car driving traffic downtown. Here is a video that shows what happens when cut through downtown traffic is by walking, cycling and public transit only:

http://www.streetfilms.org/groningen-the...

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 02:34:10 in reply to Comment 107954

Great point. But that would go against what most of this site is about. Destroy the timed lights, the one ways, but keep the bike lanes, the pedestrian paths, etc.

We could probably do the same for our city's green spaces. Massive amounts of time they're empty, but for specific times of day and of the year, they are busy. Should we get rid of those too?

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By the difference (anonymous) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 10:49:36 in reply to Comment 107958

The difference is, the timed one way platoon traffic patterns are a part of the reason that the minuscule bits of human-scale infrastructure are underused. Our sidewalks, parks and bike lanes could be well used day in day out if the core was livable. And this means the vehicle lanes that split the core up need to be set up in a way that humans are comfortable existing in their proximity.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 11:54:31 in reply to Comment 107966

That analogy doesn't hold water. So the reason parks sit empty for most of the day is because there are timed lights? How does that play a role on a park on the mountain, in Dundas, in Waterdown, or in the north end? No. The reason they are empty most of the day is that the people who use them are at work or at school. Same with bike lanes. Bikes are still used primarily as a form of recreation, rather than primary mode of transit. Drivability has nothing to do with underused resources.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 13:39:46 in reply to Comment 107968

Here is a video of parks and plazas packed with people.

http://www.streetfilms.org/copenhagens-c...

"... since the early 1960s, 18 parking lots in the downtown area have been converted into public spaces for playing, meeting, and generally just doing things that human beings enjoy doing."

Too bad Hamilton is still living in the 1960's.

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 12:15:47 in reply to Comment 107968

"Bikes are still used primarily as a form of recreation, rather than primary mode of transit."

Agreed, and we should do everything we can to change that.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 13:25:11 in reply to Comment 107969

Fortunately, this is easy to change. Simply make walking, cycling and public transit the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of travelling from A to B.

This video shows one of the key methods of doing this in the segment from 2:10 to 4:00. Yes, that's 110 seconds of a real-life example of how to transform Hamilton.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 13:21:46 in reply to Comment 107969

There is a bike lane on the street my apartment building is on. Why, every time a bike goes past, it is a commuter, not specifically recreational. I see the people bundled up, with knapsacks on, seemingly headed to school or work. And there's the dude with the cargo e-bike. The bikes locked up with mine at a plaza aren't there for recreation, those people are shopping. I see a lot of people jogging but no recreational cyclists specifically, certainly not many this time of year. I count the kids that are obviously heading to school as commuters, because even though it's recreational for them as well, it is utilitarian.

Might as well throw in that, the other morning after a fresh snowfall, headed to the office at 7AM, there were already a bunch of bike tracks cut into the snow on the lakeshore trail, and by that afternoon it had been plowed and sanded but not salted, it was awesome to see, and a nice stress free commute on one of those "hundreds of collisions" mornings for the GTA.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2015-01-17 13:32:35

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By williamMehlenbacher (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 12:20:29

Where are the people? no cars is one thing, but no people either. How do we get more people on the Streets downtown? not just King St., but James North etc. etc. The answer to me is more people living downtown, but that is still years away, how do these store owners stay open ? must be a rough go for most.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 13:07:49 in reply to Comment 107970

Driving down King and Main is delightful. Cycling is ok when necessary and you own a lane but potentially scary when the waves go past. Walking, however, is to be minimized because the car exhaust makes me puke.

That's just how I feel, but maybe it's one pixel in the picture of why no people are on the streets either.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 17, 2015 at 13:52:05 in reply to Comment 107972

Plenty of people on the streets in this video:

https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2014/...

And this video:

http://www.streetfilms.org/copenhagens-c...

And in this video of children being picked up in Japan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Iaz_T89w...

Hamilton can be like all these cities. They did it. We can too.

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