Downtown Bureau

Pedestrianize Gore Park

The Gore deserves to become a southern Ontario attraction, not a strip mall parking lot.

By Jason Leach
Published September 20, 2006

Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado: What are those people doing on the street?
Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado: What are those people doing on the street?

Trevor argued in last week's Hammerblog that the Downtown BIA's plan to install angled parking along the south leg of the Gore is asinine, to put it mildly. Try to imagine a Downtown BIA that recognized the value of pedestrian life:

When automobiles are removed from a street, an incredible amount of space is opened up. In Boulder, Colorado, the Pearl Street Mall is a pedestrian-only thoroughfare traversing downtown and the University of Colorado campus area which is about a half-mile in length.

The street is not very wide at all by auto standards, perhaps 50 feet in width, yet it supports an incredible array of activities. There are street performers and buskers with large crowds gathered around them, vendors and kiosks, benches, outdoor cafes, there are trees and landscaping, and all the while there is more than plenty of space left over for people to walk, window shop, stop and socialize, or what have you.

This is such a rare treat in North America that this street is actually a tourist attraction and hordes of people from Denver flock to this street on the weekends. Likewise, people have been flocking to Venice from all over the world for decades to experience the pleasures that a car-free city produces. [line breaks added]

Substitute Toronto, Oakville, Cambridge, Brantford, Hamilton Mountain, Niagara and Western NY state in place of “hordes of people from Denver” or “people flocking to Venice”. That could be our Gore.

Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado
Pearl Street Mall, Boulder, Colorado

Today, southern Ontario is completely dominated by cars. Hamilton's downtown has the lowest parking rates of any major city in Canada and we have an enormous plethora of lots and street parking throughout the core.

We do not need another parking lot.

People would come from all over southern Ontario if we developed a beautiful city centre reminiscent of Europe, with shops, cafes, arts, music, festivals and fun. Montreal has several pedestrian-only areas that are booming. Toronto has none that I'm aware of other than the Distillery District (not really a street though).

Hamilton would suddenly go from drab and uninteresting in the minds of Golden Horseshoe residents to a destination similar to the photos you'll see from Boulder, Colorado.

Will we choose once again to suburbanize the core or will we finally give our downtown a chance to show off and become a tourist draw?

Believe me, folks who live on Hamilton Mountain and suburban areas like Caledonia spend big money traveling to "real" cities like Boston and over in Europe to experience the excitement of a bustling city. We have a beautifully-designed Gore Park as a natural piazza or town centre right in the middle of Hamilton.

I urge the politicians and business association leaders downtown to show leadership and make the wise decision regarding Gore Park. Hamilton has suffered too long from a lack of political will and leadership. It's easy to give into the car dependrnt mindset of our society.

I'm not suggesting removing cars or shutting off downtown to vehicles. We're talking about two blocks of our most beautiful buildings, greenery and history. The Gore deserves to become a southern Ontario attraction, not a strip mall parking lot.

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

22 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted September 20, 2006 at 11:27:33

Toronto has the Distillery and also the Toronto Island which are (predominantly) closed to cars. Kensington Market streets are also closed off on Sundays. These are all very popular destinations (conicidence...?).
Toronto is slow on the uptake with it's approach to pedestrianization. Europe has always embraced it and, after a few decades flirting with horrendous downtown freeways in some parts, they are reverting that way again (Norwich and Nottingham downtowns, Leeds' Briggate...).
Toronto plans to close one lane of Queens Quay next year, and open it up to bikes and pedestrians. Another thing TO does is close streets regularly for festivals. If Hamilton could start doing this at least, people would see the impact and maybe start to like it.

Ben

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Frank (registered) | Posted September 20, 2006 at 12:11:59

I'd love to see this happen provided the route around the downtown core and back onto King Street/York Street is developed. In order to feasibly lower the amount of cars passing through the downtown core, it would be necessary to not only remove lanes from downtown but facilitate traffic movement around it via Victoria/Cannon/York route which by the way is in awful condition.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted September 20, 2006 at 12:22:43

good observations. Although, Frank - you might be confusing the south leg of King (where all the busses currently park) with the main part of King. This idea we're talking about is simply to remove the busses AND cars from that southern portion of the Gore - near Infusions, Mahal, South Side etc.... King St would still remain as it is for now, until it goes two-way. Perhaps at that point, we may need to look at diverting traffic via Cannon, York and Hunter (all 3 which should be made 2-way to give people optimum choices which would certainly ease traffic concerns).

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By adrian (registered) | Posted September 21, 2006 at 16:16:40

Cannon and York are both highway sized already, each of them supporting four or more lanes of traffic already. I've had it with making traffic the primary concern in the downtown. If things get congested during rush hour, so be it.

Every truly vibrant, successful city I've been to sucks for driving. The best thing that can be said about our downtown streets right now is that they get you out of downtown really quickly. What kind of logic is that?

As well as becoming more pedestrianized (is that even a word?) there are two more things I'd like to see happen downtown. First, clean up the sidewalks. There is WAY too much chewing gum stuck to our concrete and way too much litter on the ground. Littering is against the law but when was the last time someone got a ticket for throwing their crap on the ground?

Second, put some more police downtown. I don't think our downtown is the den of criminal activity that some make it out to be, but there's no doubt that some people feel uncomfortable downtown. A few more officers downtown would alleviate that a little bit.

And there is one final thing I'd like to see happen in this city: more and better social services. Some of Hamilton's least fortunate - some of whom appear to be suffering from mental illnesses - appear to be left on the streets to fend for themselves. I'd like to see a coordinated strategy among Hamilton's social services, and a renewed sense of urgency on city council, to address the issues of homelessness, mental illness and drug addiction in this city.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By sean (registered) | Posted September 21, 2006 at 19:03:22

I have always wondered what the point was of vehicular access on the South side of Gore Park when there is already a "highway" 50 feet North of it.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted September 21, 2006 at 20:53:56

originally it was there because King was 2-way....eastbound south of the park, westbound north of the park. The little 'dead end' in front of the Connaught wasn't there....the eastbound traffic flowed freely right down King East from James . Let me correct that - the horses and buggies flowed freely down King East. Now with the east end of the Gore closed off in front of the Connaught we don't need any traffic there. You'd be amazed at how often I tell a friend to meet at Infusions and they act shocked at seeing cars on that stretch when they arrive. Everyone assumes it's only for people and busses....get rid of the busses and it will be only for people.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Fashion (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2006 at 15:39:54

It would be nice if "What Not to Wear" came to Hamilton and did a make over on 80% of the downtown population.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted September 25, 2006 at 16:21:10

why? so we could all start dressing like people in Toronto trying to act like something they aren't?? no thanks...I love the realness and unpretentiousness in the Hammer. Even if it means looking at the odd oversized beer belly in a tank...lol.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted September 25, 2006 at 21:11:46

Actually that would be cool. I could use some new threads. As for the street... umm yeah, more walking!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted September 25, 2006 at 22:36:37

good point...free threads would be sweet.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted September 28, 2006 at 16:38:17

Gore is one area out of many downtown that should be car-free or car-lite : i.e. controlled car access, slow, quiet, safe traffic movement. No striaght piped motorbikes built only for making noise ala Hess, no huge diesel spewing delivery trucks, no through traffic at all, just limited access for people who want to be there.

The pedestrian-first philosophy would turn key areas into economic wonders overnight, there is such pent up demand for human scale living.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2006 at 17:14:01

The coolest place ever is Hess during any of the music festivals they hold in the middle of the street.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By R. Fuller (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2006 at 19:36:57

Given Hamilton's history of poor and corrupt planning, I guess it doesn't surprise to see yet another idea it's got being questioned. I agree that certain areas would do well to be pedestrian-only, but that's not the end of it. I commute from out-of-town and it's a royal pain to first get into the city, then to park. Perhaps in addition to the downtown idea, more express ways (ie no stop-lights, no pedestrians) could be built on the crappier parts of the Hammer - there are plenty, trust me. That way, cars out & people in. I'm all for downtown revitalization (should I even put the 're' there... it's been a while I guess) but it can't be ignored that cars are vital for people like me - maybe if there were less escarpment and more un-crappy bus service they wouldn't be, but they are. So again, cars out of downtown, and make them go faster, further out. Some good planning I'm sure could do it... but then again, it _is_ Hamilton..

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted September 29, 2006 at 15:10:14

the crappier parts of the Hammer - like Hwy 20 perhaps? Oh, sorry, we saved that little gem to sacrifice greenspace.

Scientists and engineers define "efficiency" as what you get out divided by what you put in.

For cars, if the writer above commutes like over 80% of people, it is done alone. i.e. one seat occupied divided by five seats available = 20% occupancy efficiency. Same abysmal 20% goes for parking requirements. Same for air pollution. Same for fuel consumption. Same for pedestrian safety. Same for downtown livability, noise, etc.

So while I accept that "cars are vital for people like me", I think everyone can do better than 20%, that is shamefully wasteful and selfish. There are probably lots of commuters like you who could share at least one of those four empty, wasted seats in a 200hp, 3500lb vehicle built for 5.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Thinker1 (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2006 at 16:24:56

I agree that having a car-free zone downtown did wonders from many cities but what might have worked in Boulder, CO does not necessairly mean it would work for Hamilton. You really have to be careful when copying ideas from other cities. Take a look at Buffalo - they have their entire main street turned into a pedestrian mall, complete with a free LRT system running through it. Did it turn downtown Buffalo into a tourist attraction? Nope. Preventing car-traffic into the area further contributed to the demise of downtown. Stores fled the area because their customers couldn't get there. The city is actually now planning to reintroduce cars back onto the pedestrian mall by reducing the width of the sidewalks and providing traffic and parking lanes for vehicles.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By jason (registered) | Posted October 04, 2006 at 17:36:42

very valid points, although if anyone were to spend a day in downtown Buffalo then spend a day in downtown Hamilton they'd experience the remarkable difference between these cities. Buffalo's downtown has been hollowed out and there isn't really any stable residential neighbourhoods surrounding it...Hamilton has over 30,000 people within a 10 minute walk of Gore Park. The pedestrian traffic is much higher in Hamilton than in Buffalo. Finally, we're talking about 2 blocks south of the Gore, not King Street from Queen to Wellington (that would be a more appropriate comparison of what they did in Buffalo). Hamilton, for all it's troubles over the years, never became as dead, as car dependent and as sprawled as Buffalo. Weighing all these factors leads me to believe that we really owe it to ourselves to turn the south leg of the Gore into a fabulous people place. I think the results will be great.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Cinnamint (registered) | Posted October 11, 2007 at 20:57:43

European cities have sucessful pedestrian malls because they already have the density to support them and while I support the vision of a pedestrian friendly downtown where such malls are common, a pedestrian mall will not bring that density. This is the same type of logic that led to the development of things like Jackson Square. Build it and they will come. Well yes, if the demand is there that works, but it has to be there first to build on.

Currently it seems to me that a large portion of the pedestrian traffic around Gore Park is a direct result of the transit centre there. Part of the plan as I understand it is to move this to another location. This will erode the demand which I am not convinced is high enough to begin with. A second thing to keep in mind is how much more intergrated the neighbourhoods of these European Cities. There is not alot of housing stock in the immediate vicinity. There is some, but nothing like a core neighbourhood in Europe. Buffalo is a good example to take heed of and closer to home Ottawa's sparks street mall. The pedestrian only sunday's work in Kensington Market because of the immediate density of housing stock and the markets large base of established customers. This is simply not the situation in Gore Park.

A weekend closure throughout the summer would be much more effective I feel than a permanent closure at bringing people to the downtown and revitalizing the businesess along those three blocks.

Cities in North America where pedestrian malls have worked such as Madison Wisconsin have tend to have large pedestrian anchors such as Universities (in the case of Madison) which attract people there already. In other words, the mall serves the pedestrian presence, it does not create it. This is a critical difference.

Using one of the lanes to increase sidewalk space and adding more crosswalks along King and Main would be far more effective ways of making the downtown more pedestrian friendly.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By rusty (registered) - website | Posted October 12, 2007 at 12:12:18

Hi Cinnamint,

While I agree with your comments (in fact nobody at RTH has ever advocated for any city building initiative to be undertaken in isolation - if only things were that simple :) ) I disagree with your assertion that the pedestrianization of Gore Park should be scaled back - the suggestion that downtown Hamilton is not quite ready.

You are right to suggest that density, 'reasons to go there' and effective transit are key success factors for pedestrianization. We have advocated for these components repeatedly on the pages of RTH and directly to our city councilors.

However, I would caution - don't get too hung up on density. Even places like downtown Toronto are less dense than many European downtowns. And if you think of downtown Toronto a few years back, before all the condos sprung up, there really weren't that many folks living in the central core. And yet it has always thrived. That's because Toronto has always had a. an abundance of reasons to go there and b. an easy way to get there (good transit).

Density IS key though. A German friend of mine recently complained that Toronto's downtown was 'not dense at all' and that he had to get the subway to meet them for a drink. He was used to walking or biking to their houses. North American cities are not as dense as their successful European counterparts and yet many of their downtowns 'thrive' (by North American standards at least, you should see some of the European thoroughfares on an 'ordinary' day...) all the same.

It's complicated. You are right to suggest that several cogs need to move at the same time for re-vitalization to work. But I don't think the pedestrianization of downtown Hamilton is fraught with the same risks as some of the other cities mentioned in this discussion, and it will not - certainly if we at RTH can help it - be completed without the necessary push to create more downtown housing, more downtown destinations and better transit.

Cheers

Ben

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Cinnamint (registered) | Posted November 29, 2007 at 13:14:28

I am certainly in favour of the pedestrianization of downtown, and would love to see such a project succeed; I am just not convinced it will perform the miracles that some people feel it that it will.

What I would really like to see is more self-actuated crosswalks in this city, especially along the expressways otherwise known as Main and King Streets.

To use another example, consider the pedestrian underpass at MacNab St. S. To Access either side of the street, you must first dodge the often high-speed traffic on Hunter. I think that is but one place that would be a start (I have many other suggestions).

Comments anyone?

Jeremy

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By lala (anonymous) | Posted November 27, 2009 at 12:09:18

That would be awesome!

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Ezaki Glico (anonymous) | Posted February 11, 2011 at 17:53:32

Just noticed the latest addition to Gore Park – two automated parking ticket machines. Maybe this is how the city plans to bankroll the piazza concept?

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By majd chana (anonymous) | Posted August 08, 2013 at 11:38:40

I’m still learning from you, but I’m trying to achieve my goals. I certainly love reading everything that is posted on your websiteand it helped me as well.keep it up.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds