Special Report: Walkable Streets

No Wonder the Main West Esplanade BIA Has Gone Dormant

The actual reason behind the challenges facing this BIA just might have to do with the fact that the businesses in question find themselves facing what has been rightfully called a multi-lane highway.

By Azher Siddiqui
Published January 12, 2016

At tomorrow's General Issues Committee Meeting, Hamilton City Councillors will review and discuss the Proposed Budget and Schedule of Payment for 2016 for a number of Hamilton's Business Improvement Areas (BIA). [It is not possible to link directly to the report, since the City's meeting website is an unusable quagmire, but the BIA budget reports can be found under section 8, items 8.3 through 8.9, in the above link.] Notably, the Main West Esplanade BIA has no budget for 2016.

Main Street West (RTH file photo)
Main Street West (RTH file photo)

In fact, this BIA's status is "dormant" or "inactive" because of an apparent lack of participation or interest in the work of this BIA from the businesses owners on that stretch of Main Street, which spans from Dundurn Street to Hess Street. According to item 8.9 on the meeting agenda:

[A]s a result of the inactivity of the Main West Esplanade Business Improvement Area (BIA) ... which had not submitted a budget for Council's approval in two years, City Staff would schedule a meeting of the BIA's members as per the City of Hamilton's Dormant Business Improvement Area Status Procedure (Dormancy Procedure).

According to the Dormancy Procedure:

All functions of the BIA cease to exist. The material assets would be held in storage as determined by the City. The funds in the BIAs bank account would be transferred to the City and held in an account. Financial incentives available to active BIAs would not be available to non-active BIAs.

How surprising. How unfortunate. I would hazard a guess that the actual reason behind the challenges facing this BIA just might have to do with the fact that the businesses in question find themselves facing what has been rightfully called a multi-lane highway.

Main West Esplanade BIA map
Main West Esplanade BIA map

Urban retail businesses naturally can't operate on a highway. Certainly, most of the other BIAs - who do have a budget for this year - operate on two-way or at least more complete streets in their districts.

Conveniently, there is no mention in the rationale/analysis section of the report to council that the one-way highway design could be potentially be a problem for business improvement.

All Hamiltonians have a stake in the success of BIAs. Not only do our taxpayer dollars go toward supporting the various BIA projects and undertakings, but so long as the city lacks a good commercial tax base, residents will continue to be the "go to" source for tax revenue.

Not to mention the continued missed opportunity for a better quality of life (job opportunities, decrease crime rates, less air pollution, etc.) that thriving businesses can help achieve in the neighbourhoods in which they exist.

Although long overdue, perhaps now is finally the time, in light of planing for light rail transit (LRT), to make Main Street whole and wholesome again.

To that end, I encourage you to please take the opportunity to email your councillor, especially if you live in Ward 1 or 2, to express your disappointment at what is effectively the failure of the Main West Esplanade BIA to meet its mandate, and to state that Main needs to be made into a complete street in order to have any chance of remedying the problem.

Although the implementation of LRT may require this to happen in the end anyway, it cannot hurt do to our part to keep the pressure on.

Azher lives in Hamilton's east end with his wife and four small children.

38 Comments

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By Stephen Barath (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2016 at 14:24:56

It's an offence to call Main West an "Esplanade." Someone should tell the municipal government that words have meanings that need to be respected, and just because they call something by a word doesn't make it so.

Here's the definition of "esplanade" I just found: "1.a long, open, level area, typically beside the sea, along which people may walk for pleasure." Except for the "open, level area" part, Main West fulfills none of that.

I like visiting some of the businesses along here (Shehnai, Alirang, a couple of others), but although they're easy walking distance from my home, I don't go as often as I'd like. I'd be embarrassed to take a visitor from out of town for a stroll on Main Street to go to dinner.

Well-put article; thanks.

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By Susie (registered) | Posted January 12, 2016 at 15:53:40 in reply to Comment 116002

I remember when I first moved to Hamilton and lived near Dundurn. I thought the "esplanade" title on the street banners were long forgotten from a different time.

There are some great little businesses along Main street, but as you said, Main Street itself deters me from visiting. It's unfortunately that a yawning 5-lane chasm with no trees is the first things many people see when they enter Hamilton.

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By sense (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2016 at 15:40:24

So, the businesses along this stretch are clearly going out of business are already closed. Is that what I am to understand?

I think that many of the stores along there are legacy places, meaning they've been there for 3+ years.

There's not much room to expand. What can you do to make it better?

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By MattM (registered) | Posted January 12, 2016 at 17:15:53

The part of Main Street in the file photo reminds me of Lundy's Lane in Niagara Falls, except that its a more hostile, one-way version of it. And Lundy's Lane turns into a much more complete street as it gets nearer to downtown and the tourist district, while Main Street just continues to slice it's way right through downtown Hamilton...

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 12, 2016 at 17:17:41

I've lived near this stretch for 12 years. Have walked along it exactly zero times.

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By grow a pair (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2016 at 18:58:47 in reply to Comment 116009

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 06:43:36 in reply to Comment 116010

I am in a similar situation to JasonL, though my span of time has been shorter (4 years). The point being that Jason's statement is a very common one, and not one that is good for safety, health or business. So other than being a total jerk, what is your point?

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By grow a pair (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 16:28:37 in reply to Comment 116015

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 22:43:35 in reply to Comment 116029

I am going to go with more than a handful considering the total lack of pedestrians on that street. Your disregard for your own personal safety and standard-issue Hamilton low standards being the exception.

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By grow a pair (anonymous) | Posted January 15, 2016 at 17:47:52 in reply to Comment 116039

Well, go and find them then. I see people walking along there all the time. Your self-loathing seems to know no bounds.

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By Stunned (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2016 at 12:54:47 in reply to Comment 116087

Yeah. It's a real hub of commerce! Jam packed with pedestrians enjoying the shops and sidewalk cafes.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 16, 2016 at 16:19:49 in reply to Comment 116091

I went to Main St today and snapped some pics. Definitely more pedestrian traffic than I expected https://japantrip09.files.wordpress.com/...

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 09:37:17 in reply to Comment 116015

To give another example of why Main St is so bad for urban businesses that rely on pedestrians (as most urban business districts do), imagine this scenario.

A parent living in the area decides to go for a walk on a beautiful summer's afternoon with their two young children (say aged 4 and 6). Maybe do a bit of window shopping, or stop in and have a coffee.

They could walk along Locke Street, which has fairly wide sidewalks and slower two-way traffic (one lane in each direction) buffered from the sidewalks by parking. There are also a fair number of pedestrian crossings.

Or, they could decide to stroll along Main Street from Locke to Hess. Except that the Main Street option is essentially impossible for a responsible parent.

The traffic is roaring at high speed from behind in platoons at each light cycle and there is no buffer protecting pedestrians from the traffic. That means the parent needs to carefully hold each child's hand so they don't accidentally step off the sidewalk or run across an intersection. But that is impossible because the sidewalk is only barely wide enough for two people to walk abreast (1.5m to 1.8m)!

So, even if it would be a pleasant experience to stroll along Main St for a few blocks (which it is not) it is not actually possible for this parent, and so they'll take their afternoon stroll on Locke Street or James North or Ottawa Street or maybe in Jackson Square. And they'll spend their money there and not on Main St.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-01-13 09:39:12

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2016 at 19:13:42 in reply to Comment 116018

Many, many scenarios beyond parents walking with kids:

  • Wheelchair users dreading having to pass pedestrians, when their wheelchair alone barely fits around signpoles, telephone poles or parking meters.
  • Old ladies dreading falling, with car traffic within "accidental-fall-shot" of their walking path.
  • Parents telling their kids not to walk that route;
  • long crosswalk distances to cross the streets, poorly marked (non-zebra) crosswalks that fronts of cars often overlap into. Not to mention the wide spacing between safe pedestrian crossings.

etc, etc, etc, etc.

In StraightTalk(tm), plainly:

  • Main St. is a wonderful route for cars, if that's what you want.
  • Main St. is a terrible place for a BIA, if that's what you want.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-01-16 19:20:38

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By Moroney (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2016 at 23:51:40 in reply to Comment 116010

Apparently the point is you must have great big balls, much bigger than your brain, izeholeh.

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By PaulF (registered) | Posted January 12, 2016 at 22:52:00

I also avoid walking on Main Street. I don't appreciate vehicles coming at me at 70 km.

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By AK (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 10:31:43

The indignity of this street. Not only is the sidewalk barely large enough to walk two abreast, the utility poles are planted smack dab in the middle of the sidewalk.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 10:51:58

One of the problems with Main Street is that we have funneled all the traffic into one corridor. In some ways we have to. We have a long narrow lower City. But people on Aberdeen/Bay/Queen would never agree to moving traffic over there and with good reason.

Burying the traffic and creating an esplanade above would work but that would cost an awful lot of doe. And no-one really knows what the effect of eliminating traffic on King is going to do. When the street becomes two way, the traffic will be stop and go most of the daytime.

As for now I am not sure if there is any great value in trying to create a pedestrian friendly BLVD there. When we restricted the traffic on King between Wellington and James we saw no significant increase in business development. And cars have to get into the center of the city somehow.

If you want to start a store, don't buy a property on Main. If you want to own a billboard - great place. Maybe it should be a corridor of hospitals like Avenue Road. Frankly, I don't worry about that stretch of real estate much.

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 16, 2016 at 19:35:02 in reply to Comment 116020

I am observing a phenomenon every morning when I'm choosing to drive the car to Aldershot GO (...given the still-limited Hamilton GO train departures centrally...)

When I look on the opposite side of the 403, I see a backup of cars on 403 trying to get onto Main St to head into downtown. That's a long lineup of cars, with the offramp (Southwards 403 onto Main) being almost like a parking lot.

We need to re-engineer that somehow. Main St. has a lot of empty space between huge platoons of cars, so in theory certain re-engineering scenarios might simultaneously slow down cars, narrow Main to 4 lanes, AND increase capacity. But there would need to be more visible/safer merge from 403 onto Main, as that 403-offramp merge before Main-Dundurn is a bottleneck, with many cars cutting diagonally across Main to try to turn right onto Dundurn.

It's a really tough traffic engineering problem that works against making the BIA alive, and impacts safety of 403 given stalled cars on the offramp back up all the way into the slow lane of the 403, with cars speeding (in fast lane) past literally stopped cars (in slow lane). Doesn't look particularly safe. Now, anecdotally, Main isn't that busy so there appears to be a bottleneck (e.g. Dundurn-Main)

But patterns show room for optimization.

I see plenty of room in the far lanes (e.g. leftmost lane and rightmost lane) with most traffic fighting for one of the central lanes. But there's empty capacity here and there, and there's tons of empty space between the synchronized-traffilight-surges of car platoons, which can be used as a capacity-speed tradeoff (in order to empty the 403 offramp faster as well)

One theoretical scenario is a solution comes up to get the cars quickly off 403, but slow them down on Main by filling the empty gaps between platoons (caused by traffic light synchronization). And eliminating a traffic lane by adding bumpouts or other buffer zone away from the telephone poles/etc. You'd still get the usual 3 dense traffic lanes, but prevent scattered cars racing on the far lanes (which is dangerous anyway, and should only be parking/turning lanes). Cars merging back into the central lanes from the far lanes (Because they got blocked by a turning cars) consequently slow down cars behind them.

There are traffic engineering tweaks that could execute a compromise of executing a slight offramp capacity increase in exchange for slowing the cars "consistently" elsewhere (tradeoff of emptying the onramp faster but slowing cars down through Main) while improving conditions that could later bring back a BIA. It will still be very arterial 1-way street, but more consistent flowing with less empty space between platoons, and crossings can be highly zebra-marked crosswalks covering only three or four lanes (the lanes that are actually in dense in practice) instead five lanes, at curb bumpouts on the far side of intersection, keeping parts of the curbside lanes on near side of intersection free for turning lanes). You'd have buffer space for pedestrians and possibly wider sidewalks as parking lanes would need less space, etc.

Maybe not that exact scenario, but it looks like it could be optimized, while improving total car-holding capacity (albiet while reducing car-speed) -- basically consistent flow of slower cars (higher density) rather than platoon-empty-surgey of speeding cars (lower density) as a capacity compromise in achieving the narrowing of Main (3-lane 1-way + 2 parking lanes + bumpouts + widersidewalks + shorter crosswalk distances) and/or making 2-way feasible, etc.

Computer-based traffic simulation of various scenarios will be needed to see what fixes can be done here.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2016-01-16 19:43:41

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 17, 2016 at 23:21:45 in reply to Comment 116097

The answer to this is a regular old light where the ramp intersects Main Street so that the cars coming off the 403 have a dedicated cycle during which they can go wherever they please. (Two way Main on the bridge would be beneficial too)

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By Stephen Barath (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 11:51:44 in reply to Comment 116020

What's the actual traffic volume on Main Street West? I cross it on foot most days, drive on it from time to time, and it's rarely what I would call truly busy (for a street near a downtown of a mid-sized city). Traffic flows at speeds exceeding the speed limit most of the day from what I can see. Why do you really think it can't lose some of its capacity?

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 12:16:32 in reply to Comment 116021

I was thinking the same thing. That street has so much breadth now that traffic flows in these short, thick swaths with everyone vying to get to the front of the line (5 lanes to choose from). The only change if say two lanes were removed would be that the traffic pattern would be narrower. Still more than enough room IMO.

Comment edited by ergopepsi on 2016-01-13 12:17:10

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By Busted BIA (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 21:27:32

Did anyone actually email council on the issue of this failed BIA???

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