By Terry Whitehead
Published July 30, 2008
After reading recent postings concerning two-way street conversion downtown, I was compelled to write a response to clarify my view.
First and foremost, I am a strong supporter of revitalizing Downtown. I realize that the only way to improve Hamilton economically, socially and culturally is to create a downtown core that encourages business, tourism and the Arts.
I chair the Hamilton Association of Business Improvement Areas (HABIA) and have been a strong advocate for their initiatives.
I am a great supporter of the many City Programs that help support our Downtown businesses, such as the ERASE program and the different loan programs. I strongly advocated for the Lister Block provided the developer guaranteed further development and improvement to the Core.
I also suggested to my fellow Councillors (without much support) that we look at staying at our current location in the former Eaton's Centre (which, coincidently is the site of the original City Hall) as the 1000+ City Staff must be helping the local stores and restaurants.
Finally, I initiated and championed the current wireless pilot program that is encompassing the whole downtown area. I want to see the downtown core thrive.
There have been several different points made by individuals throughout this debate. One argument is that two-way streets are safer than one-way, for both vehicles and pedestrians.
One blog comment stated "two weeks ago someone else was killed on the one way urban expressways that are killing downtown."
Recently, a woman was severely injured at the corner of Mohawk and Upper James and is in critical condition â€“ it is not sure yet if she will survive. A few weeks ago there was an accident at Mohawk and West 5th that led to a fatality.
These are two-way streets, but they are not any safer than the "one-way urban expressways." In fact, some might argue that they are less safe. It is more difficult and dangerous to make a left hand turn and there is the added risk of head-on collisions.
Many city studies were conducted from the 1930's to the 1960s of "before and after" conditions on streets converted from two-way to one-way streets. Almost universally these studies found that one-way streets had 10-40 percent lower accident rates than when previously two-way.
Most significantly, pedestrian accidents declined far more, by 30-60%. Please go to www.terrywhitehead.ca and click on the link "Are Two-Way Streets Safer?"
Next is the argument that two-way streets revitalized James and John Streets. However, there is no empirical data which shows this.
When I asked staff if there was a direct financial benefit linked to the conversion (whether it be increased taxes, increased jobs, or increased property value), the answer was "No."
The current activity on James and John was already underway before the conversion took place. As another author wrote, it is investors that encourage this.
If you asked the investors for the reason they chose James and John Streets, the answer isn't "Because they are now two-way." The answer is complicated, but included the fact that many young people were moving into the area, galleries were opening up and it became obvious that this would become a new cultural centre.
These investment decisions were underway before the conversion to two-way took place. To suggest that two-way streets were the catalyst to this new investment is simplistic and narrow-minded.
For the future prosperity and vibrancy of the downtown, we need to make sure that we do not alienate any citizens within our City. The experience of individuals who shop and work downtown must be pleasant.
With the conversion of James Street South costing $1.2 million, and the access to the downtown from the West and Central Mountain becoming much more difficult.
They feel visiting the downtown has become a bad experience due to heavy traffic leading to challenges for access. I know that both I and the Ward 7 Councillor have heard a large number of complaints from our constituents.
I can truly say that this conversion has left a sour taste in the mouths of many residents on the Mountain. It has cost a lot of money, with no clear financial return and the severe traffic is not encouraging Mountain residents to shop downtown.
I would like to close by saying that I am not against converting streets from one-way to two-way if the neighbourhood supports it. I am also not opposed to having one-way streets on the Mountain; I think that it could work well, at least for the main arteries.
However, I will not advocate for spending tax dollars on converting streets (whether it be one-way to two-way or vice versa) when our infrastructure is in such disrepair.
I have regular waterline breaks in my Ward that cost $10-20,000 per repair. The East end is facing severe flooding issues because our sewers are not designed to hold the volume of water that is pouring into them.
If the City was flush with money, I would definitely support the Durand Neighbourhood, or any other neighbourhood, with projects such as this.
But without a clear financial benefit, I cannot support spending the limited resources we have when so many other major issues, in my opinion, take precedence.