Transportation

Hamilton Road Network Way Overbuilt

By Jason Leach
Published April 14, 2009

The city has published more evidence indicating that our downtown road network is way overbuilt [PDF link] and has ample capacity to spare as we look to add LRT lanes, bike lanes, wider sidewalks, street parking and trees.

The bottom two graphs show the level of traffic volume during both the morning and evening rush hour. For those of you who don't live in this area, you can imagine what the other 21 hours a day are like.

A green circle means the overall intersection operations are unconstrained. Yellow means the overall intersection operations are constrained. Red means the overall intersection operations are congested (there are no red intersections on either map). Grey refers to an unsignalized intersection.

Existing Weekday AM Level of Service
Existing Weekday AM Level of Service

Existing Weekday PM Level of Service
Existing Weekday PM Level of Service

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

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By gullchasedship (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2009 at 15:54:58

That's one way of interpreting the data. Unfortunately, another way to interpret this report is to conclude that everything is going great now, so why bother setting up an LRT line?

It would almost be easier to sell if we had a problem with congestion.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2009 at 16:17:27

Gullchasedship, your post assumes that congestion is a problem to be solved.

Take a look along the B-Line route. Note the unused storefronts, empty lots, and under-used lots (surface parking downtown!?). Note the extreme ease of driving across the city (before Christmas, I drove from Westdale to Ottawa Street and Barton in less than 15 minutes).

The lack of congestion, like dangerously low blood pressure in a human body, is a symptom of the real problem - a lack of density and vitality - rather than a benefit to be preserved.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 14, 2009 at 16:48:16

my post with this data wasn't meant to discuss the merits of getting an LRT system. Non-stop empty storefronts, low pedestrian volumes, businesses closing early as trucks zoom by them etc.... all of the EcDev opportunities are why we need an LRT system. My point was simply to state that we have ample room to place such a system and to make some changes to an unforgiving street like York such as adding parking, trees, bike lanes etc.... without causing any congestion problems.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2009 at 19:01:20

Jason, while I agree with your conclusion I do have to somewhat agree with Gullchasedship. There will be people out there who interpret the data to say "LRT is unnecessary." Note that he didn't say that's his view, he just noted it's another interpretation. Opponents to Rapid Transit will almost certainly take that view.

I would like to point out that this map is only of the Strathcona neighbourhood. It would be interesting to see one of the downtown core, particularly James and John.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2009 at 20:07:36

Robert D wrote:

There will be people out there who interpret the data to say "LRT is unnecessary."

LRT is not exclusively or even mostly about moving people across the city per se. It's primarily an engine of economic development and a shaper of land use, and only secondarily a means of transportation.

If the case for LRT was based on building higher order public transit, Council would never endorse it in a million years - they'd opt for the cheaper (to build, at least) BRT alternative.

It is precisely the transformative aspect of LRT that makes it worth seriously considering.

What the city's traffic data demonstrate, as Jason points out, is that there is no reasonable case to be made that LRT may not fit into the existing road network - that replacing a lane of traffic would lead to intolerable increases in congestion.

That doesn't even take into account the fact that a lane of LRT actually has a higher capacity to move people than a lane of vehicular traffic, so building LRT would enable a gross reduction in traffic congestion.

N.B. I write "gross" because at the same time that LRT takes cars off the road, it also draws billions of dollars in new private investment, which will significantly increase the number of people living, working and recreating in the transit corridor (400-800 metres to either side of the line, depending on how you calculate it).

As a result of all that new activity, overall net traffic will probably increase. However, that traffic is best understood as an indicator of successful urban revitalization, not a problem to be solved by rationalizing traffic flows.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 14, 2009 at 21:03:30

I agree that some people might interpret this to mean 'we don't need LRT' but if I could chat with any of them, I'd go for a long walk along King East, Barton East, Kenilworth, Parkdale, Main East etc.... to show that we in fact desperately need LRT.

My point in showing these traffic volumes is for those who say 'Hamilton is congested and can't afford to lose a lane on Main St' etc.... I recall Councillor Ferguson saying this last year.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2009 at 21:16:54

Ryan >> LRT is not exclusively or even mostly about moving people across the city per se. It's primarily an engine of economic development

For those who love to cite Portland as a reason for embracing LRT, perhaps Hamilton should also follow their lead on property taxes.

"Welcome to the wacky world of Oregon's tax system.

Voter-approved property tax limitations in 1996 and 1997 set a 3 percent cap on annual increases in assessed property value, which are used to determine a homeowner's property tax bill. But real market values have risen much faster since then."

Here is the full article... tinyurl.com/d9rjls

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2009 at 23:10:21

A Smith, interesting find about Portland property rates. Unfortunately that was a state wide thing, and I believe tax assessments are provincial here also, are they not? So it's not something Hamilton could implement alone. It is something they could begin lobbying for...

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2009 at 00:21:09

Robert D >> it's not something Hamilton could implement alone

You're right. However, the city can control how much money they spend. If they set a limit of 3% per year (average), the same as Portland, think about how much more money would flow into local businesses and people's homes. Of course, that would shift the spending power from government to the private sector, but that hasn't seemed to hurt Portland.

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By realitycheck (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2009 at 02:15:51

The posting is obviously slanted to suit the aims of the writer. Does an unconstricted intersection mean an underutillized road, or a road where traffic is regulated in an efficient manner?

There is an awkward attempt to connect the lack of congestion illustrated in this study to the number of empty storefronts along the B-Line route, implying some sort of cause-effect relationship. However, the very same stretch of King Street illustrated in this study also happens to be one of the most successful commercial stretches along King Street. King Street between Bay and Dundurn has one of the lowest storefront vacancy rates in the city. Compare this to Barton Street, which has some of the most constricted intersections as well as one of the highest level of vacant storefronts in the city.

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By Melville (anonymous) | Posted April 15, 2009 at 02:32:48

LOL. When we have problems, it's bad. When we don't have problems, it's bad! Can this city win at anything?

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 15, 2009 at 07:23:47

reality check, you're absolutely right about this 'awkward attempt to connect the lack of congestion to the amount of empty storefronts on the B-Line route'.

That has been attempted by a few posters, and was never my point in posting these traffic volumes. My point was stated quite clearly - the road network is overbuilt.

That leads to speeding 24-7, unsafe streets for cyclists 24-7, horrible pedestrian environment similar to walking along the QEW and it also shows that it is possible to lose lanes in order to bring some semblance of balance to the transportation network on these 3 main streets. LRT lanes on Main and King and bike lanes, street parking and street trees on York.
That was my point.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 15, 2009 at 08:18:30

I think the letters in the circles are more telling. A LOS C intersection has a wait time of between 20 and 35 seconds which is actually not bad at all. What's more telling are the actual numbers in the traffic data. Take Dundurn for example: At Main, there's more northbound traffic than southbound traffic, and there's a HUGE number of eastbound vehicles.

What LRT would do is bring those number down. Like Ryan and Jason are trying to point out, the reason for LRT over BRT or nothing is not to ease congestion as much as it is to increase the economic potential and livability of the neighbourhoods around it.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2009 at 13:54:31

Jason, can you please let your readers know just what sort of education or training that you have in land use planning, engineering, or transportation management that would allow you to come to the conclusion that "Hamilton's road network way overbuilt" after just casually observing two maps representing a segment of the downtown?

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 16, 2009 at 14:06:41

ahh, yes. the old 'education' argument.

After all, who can argue with the brilliance being produced by education institutions in our modern crop of city planners. Who would want Paris when you can have Mississauga??

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2009 at 14:34:40

Jason, are you able to answer my question or not? What education or training in the field of urban land use planning, engineering etc. do you have to make your above conclusions??

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By Crapitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2009 at 14:41:50

There goes Capitalist, appealing to authority. Big surprise there.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 29, 2009 at 12:27:28

Hey Capitalist...I'm trained in it... Perhaps you'd like to argue with me since I support Jason's arguments?

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By Frank (registered) | Posted April 29, 2009 at 12:30:49

Aside from one thing...Jason, if you visit the planning dept. you'll find that the officials responsible for the plans we get now are "old school" still. Which is why I support a ground up sweep of people. We need fresh ideas and the city needs to quit hiring in house all the time.

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By Crapitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2009 at 13:25:31

Sorry Frank, Capitalist doesn't 'do' argument. He just swoops in like a seagull and leaves his predictable splats over the site before swooping away again to feed on more curbside litter.

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