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.


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2016 at 14:08:42

I'll just point out here that the International Village BIA formally supports walkable, two-way streets:

We, the board of management of International Village BIA, feel that the existing system of one-way streets is detrimental to the success of our BIA and of Hamilton as a whole.

In spite of tremendous success stories in areas that have returned to two-way traffic, there is still some reluctance to address the next logical step: the conversion of Main and King Streets to two-way traffic. We feel this is an idea whose time has come; to allow the city's core to break free of this failed experiment of a bygone era.

The perpetuation of one-way streets has bred a culture in this city where the needs of the car outweigh those of the pedestrian, the cyclist and the community. Where businesses are allowed, even encouraged to fail in favour of high-speed traffic and timed lights. Where the safety of our citizens and our children are of lesser import than the perceived right of motorists to maintain highway speeds at all times.

We have allowed the economic and cultural destiny of the city's core to be subverted to serve the interests of those who want nothing from our downtown but to pass through it, and it is time for this to end.

The notion that turning every major artery on our roadways into a de facto highway would provide a fast-track to prosperity must have once been an appealing piece of "common sense". Viewed objectively after decades of application, however, the idea can only be considered to have failed utterly, here and elsewhere.

In the process of chasing that fantasy, we have moved away from the walkable city of neighborhoods that makes for a vital, prosperous urban core.

There is no greater obstacle to the success of businesses within our core, and no single issue that could be fixed more easily. We are thrilled to see this issue being discussed with renewed vigor and passion and are filled with hope that this discussion may help to foster a transformation in our community of which we may all be justly proud.

Main Street is not a "competitive advantage". It's a cruel, self-inflicted wound that cuts right through the heart of the city.

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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 Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2016 at 14:59:10 in reply to Comment 116022

Main Street West carries around 40,000 cars a day through the "Esplanade". As you note, they come clumped in platoons with ghastly silences between them. Here's a photo I took a year ago in late afternoon on a weekday:

Main Street West

Also, given what we understand about induced demand (and its inverse), if you reduce lane capacity on Main Street, some of that traffic volume will simply disappear. Some people will time-shift their trips outside rush hour, some people choose take alternate routes, some people will choose alternate transportation modes, some people will choose alternate destinations, and some people will combine trips to reduce overall driving. Over the longer term, the change in street design will begin to reshape more concrete decisions about where to invest, where to develop, where to live, where to locate businesses, and so on.

And we also have to remember that induced demand is a universal principle: if you make it easier to walk, ride a bike and take transit, more people will walk, ride bikes and take transit.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2016 at 17:20:06 in reply to Comment 116024

The use of the term the “law of induced demand” on this site has always bugged me. There is no law of induced demand.

Latent demand is a phenomena of observation that fits with the theory of supply and demand.

There is a significant difference between an observation - a phenomena, a theory and a law. A law generalizes a body of observations. At the time it is made, no exceptions have been found to a law. Scientific laws explain things, but they do not describe them. One way to tell a law and a theory apart is to ask if the description gives you a means to explain 'why'. The word "law" is used less and less in science, as many laws are only true under limited circumstances.

In Economics, latent demand was used to describe the phenomena that after the supply of a certain good increases, in certain circumstances the demand increases. It describes a shift of the curve as opposed to moving along the curve. The word latent was chosen because latency infers that the demand for the good always exists whether it is available or not. It is latent – like lying under the surface.

Salesman grasped on to that term and in some quarters, but not in classical economic theory, the word “induced” evolved because in sales you can tell people to tap into the demand and thereby “induce people” to do something. There is a significant difference between the words induce and latent. Latent just says the demand exists but is below the surface. Induce implies that you are “creating” or forcing the demand.

Because supply and demand is not simple, that there are baskets of factors that affect the supply and demand of any product or groups of products, likewise the issue of latency is complex.

The term induced demand has been co-opted in the realm of transportation economics and has been politicized. Some call it a law, which infers it some great importance, and induced has a much stronger connotation than latency just like victimhood has a different connotation than simply having something happen to you.

There is no “law” of induced demand. That is not to say that latent demand does not exist. Nor does it mean that crafty people cannot take advantage of latent demand by make available the underlying conditions to tap into the demand.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 18:09:38 in reply to Comment 116030

I think the idea here is that adding more road space does induce or 'create' demand. To simplify, if the road space doesn't exist there is no-one sitting their living room wishing it was there. They are content to take the bus or walk or whatever. It's a non-issue to the person. So, in general terms no latent demand.

However, if the road is widened that person would decide that they could now drive to their destination or they would allow themselves to be less efficient in their driving habits. So, the person is encouraged to drive by that extra road space. Wouldn't that be induced demand?

There are articles all over the web about this. Without splitting hairs about the word 'law' I think there is something to this idea. One good article is here: http://www.wired.com/2014/06/wuwt-traffi...

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By Notlloyd1 (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 20:09:08 in reply to Comment 116032

The demand that is latent is for movement from one point to another. That is combined with the need for good, cheap, reliable, and as private as possible (etc.) transportation. In economics, you need to look at all the factors as they weigh against each other and combine them in an algorithm. I don't care so much about the "law" point. I care more about the latent v. induced point. You are not inducing the desire for people to move quickly and cheaply and cleanly etc. They have some demand to do that already. What you do by making car transportation easier than say teleporting is facilitating the fulfillment of the demand by making one way of fulfilling it cheaper than another.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 20:52:57 in reply to Comment 116035

Well, according to most references induced demand and latent demand are synonyms:


Latent Demand (Induced Demand) occurs when the want or desire is of which a customer/consumer is unable to satisfy.


Induced demand, or latent demand, is the phenomenon that after supply increases, more of a good is consumed.

It is just the observation that when supply is increased more of a good is consumed. I suppose you could draw a distinction with the case of a brand new good (e.g. smart phones) that induces demand for itself. But even there you could claim that there was a latent demand for being able to carry around a mobile communications device in one's pocket that was just satisfied by the new invention (you could say this of any new invention). So latent demand and induced demand are really the same thing.

Jevon's paradox is a similar phenomenon that was first observed during the industrial revolution:


"when technological progress increases the efficiency with which a resource is used (reducing the amount necessary for any one use), but the rate of consumption of that resource rises because of increasing demand."

i.e. overall demand rises even though the efficiency of consumption is improved (e.g. increasing energy efficiency of machines causes an overall increase in energy consumption).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-01-13 20:56:21

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 21:57:19 in reply to Comment 116036

Ok, well that clears the induced/latent thing up!

Same thing happened with paper at the start of the digital age. It was expected that we would be using little to no paper in our everyday lives but we now use 50% more per person.

There seems to something magical about the traffic example because if you take away lanes (to a point) there is no noticeable difference in traffic. Traffic volume rises and falls in lockstep with the increase or decrease in the size of the roadway. So, it would seem that the road is in control, not the consumer. Strange...

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By Facts (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 15:09:29 in reply to Comment 116024

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 15:31:04 in reply to Comment 116026

This is a well-established fact of traffic engineering! Why should it be so disturbing (or surprising) that some fraction of trips on a given street will "disappear" if travel on the street is slower or less convenient?

Here in Hamilton some residents claim they "won't drive downtown any more" if streets are converted to two-way ... that is an example of behaviour changes that would lead to traffic disappearing.

To take just one example, consider the review paper "Disappearing traffic? The story so far" in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers.


"This paper reports on two phases of research, resulting in the examination of over 70 case studies of roadspace reallocation from eleven countries, and the collation of opinions from over 200 transport professionals worldwide. The findings suggest that predictions of traffic problems are often unnecessarily alarmist, and that, given appropriate local circumstances, significant reductions in overall traffic levels can occur, with people making a far wider range of behavioural responses than has traditionally been assumed. "

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-01-13 15:53:33

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By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2016 at 23:26:47 in reply to Comment 116028

And others of us would definitely take up slack, by walking/riding/transit. Modal shifts often happen when corridors gets re-engineered in other cities.

Study other cities that get similar dramatic changes (e.g. highway converted into a tame retail corridor, etc)

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By Facts (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 17:33:20 in reply to Comment 116028

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 18:22:26 in reply to Comment 116031

Some traffic shifts to other streets, some to other times, some away from cars and to other modes (transit, carpool, cycling, walking).

And some people don't take the trip or combine with other trips. People have a lot more flexibility in how and when they travel than you think they do!

This has been observed over and over as in the review I cited.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-01-13 18:23:58

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted January 14, 2016 at 13:54:53 in reply to Comment 116033

I cut through downtown every morning to get to the 403 from the east mountain. When I started my job a year ago, I would use the Linc to the 403, but there's a back up of traffic most mornings, plus it's actually a further distance to drive. So cutting through the downtown is great, but I do want the downtown to thrive so I would be willing to take a different route. Further, I hope they widen the downbound lanes of the 403, making the merger lane from the Linc a permanent lane all the way down.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 20:08:09 in reply to Comment 116033

you're actually providing facts, without the screen-name.

Here's more http://www.seattlemet.com/articles/2010/...

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By old data (anonymous) | Posted January 13, 2016 at 23:43:45 in reply to Comment 116034

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted January 14, 2016 at 06:46:16 in reply to Comment 116041

Yeah, 2010 is basically the middle ages.

Now go get a life and stop wasting everyone's time.

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By guess you missed the point (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2016 at 16:42:51 in reply to Comment 116042

The point is, it's 6 years old now (or almost 6...) and what is traffic like now in that area? We could probably dig up some archival stuff at the library about how there is an increase in vehicles and more roads are needed, too.

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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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