Light Rail

LRT on Main Street Makes More Sense

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 09, 2009

As I head over to the city's rapid transit public meeting at the Sheraton this afternoon, I'm still mulling the recent consultant report recommending LRT in the middle of King Street with both King and Main converted to two-way.

I got really excited about the proposal when I first saw it because I was so pleasantly surprised to see that two-way conversion, a long-time goal of mine, was included in the plan.

I still think two-way conversion for both streets is the right way to go, but having debated the configuration over the past month or so I find myself concluding that it makes more sense to put the LRT lines down the centre of Main Street, not King Street. Here's why:

Economic Development Potential

For much of its downtown length, King Street already has a coherent two- to three-storey streetwall. There's certainly plenty of opportunity to increase the variety and density of use along that streetwall, particularly in the upper levels, but the built form is more or less intact.

Main Street, on the other hand, is a compositional disaster, full of big gaps where empty lots, deep setbacks, surface parking and strip plazas break up the streetwall.

Factor in empty large-frame buildings like the empty federal building at Main and Caroline, and the potential for new investment in higher density is much greater - without having to demolish the existing built form.

Since King Street would be inside the transit corridor of a Main Street LRT line (and vice-versa), both will benefit economically in either case, but land values and the value of density increases steadily as you approach LRT stations, so you want the biggest bang on the street with the most room for expansion.

Street Configuration

King Street is already starting to benefit from a street reconfiguration a few years ago that has slowed through traffic - particularly along the International Village BIA - and the overall balance of road lanes, parking and sidewalk space is not bad.

With a two-way conversion, there would be room for one lane in each direction and one curbside parking lane. Echoing Donald Shoup I advocate charging a variable market-based parking rate at the right level to maintain about 15 percent occupancy (this maximizes the utility of the curbside parking at turning over drive-in shoppers).

With two-way conversion and LRT, there will be no room for any curbside parking at all. Now, ultimately that might not prove to be a big problem, but in the short term that will terrify local businesses and could frankly prove to be the catalyst for some kind of organized opposition to LRT itself.

I think it's important to pick our battles, and creating enemies of LRT over a lane of curbside parking strikes me as deeply counterproductive.

Again, Main Steet seems a better candidate, given that it consists of five full lanes running through the entire downtown core. That's plenty of room for two lanes of traffic (one each way), two lanes of LRT, and a lane for curbside parking / loading and unloading.

The question is whether there's room to include bike lanes anywhere in the mix on either street (or both). That would be ideal, but I haven't yet done the calculations to see if it's feasible.

One big benefit for cyclists in either case is that if this reconfiguration goes ahead, the traffic flow will be much slower than it is today, putting cyclists on more of an even footing with cars.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 09, 2009 at 16:02:02

but in the short term that will terrify local businesses and could frankly prove to be the catalyst for some kind of organized opposition to LRT itself.

Why aren't you working in urban planning for the city of Hamilton?

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 09, 2009 at 16:34:44

The more I look at this, the more I think the LRT should go along King Street and not Main Street. Your first point was high density redevelopment potential along Main. Main St, west of Queen has an intact streetwall, as does Main St east of Wellington. The only area that is a compositional disaster (and boy, is it ever) is right downtown. King and Main are literally a 20 second walk from each other in the downtown section. Any empty lots on Main, Jackson or Hunter will benefit from LRT on King just as much as Main. Don't forget about the mega empty lots sitting along Wilson, Rebecca, King William etc.... These are ripe for high density redevelopment too.

As for street parking, I recently posted a blog identifying spots where curbside parking could easily be retained. Main Street from Dundurn to Sherman can have curb parking along one side and King Street from John to Bay and again from Queen to Dundurn could have street parking.

I think LRT on King is much more symbolic and would breath life into the 3-story streetwall that desperately needs it.
In my opinion, LRT gliding through the Gore just feels right.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted June 09, 2009 at 16:50:26

It's really hard for me (little knowledge regarding urban planning) to say one way or the other, but we do know for certain that Hamiltonians (particularly of the business-owning variety) don't always accept change well.

Many long-term businesses of the core feel all decisions made by council are immediately false and should be ignored with consideration of the Gore Park butcher days.

I, too, would be concerned with a collective BIA smoking the prospects of LRT.

It would be really great if LRT could show King St. what they are missing when Main St. inevitably resurrects, if Main St. was the coarse.

I do agree that LRT through Gore would be great, unfortunately lost parking spaces will be a interim hot topic for King St.

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2009 at 17:01:51

the lost parking on king really bugs me for the same reasons, ryan. i also like the protective barrier of parked cars while i am walking on sidewalks downtown. (also i am partial to the line running on main street because of its proximity to my house near wentworth).

however, i havent made up my mind yet on the whole issue and i am not educated enough in urban planning to do a full evaluation.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 09, 2009 at 17:29:46

Didn't see your post before I left for the meeting, but I completely agree, and made a similar case to one of the city reps there this afternoon. Not sure I convinced him. LRT on King means fewer lane reductions and that seems to be all that matters, although he did say they were open to public input.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2009 at 17:43:18

I think I still prefer it on King. Although I live near the International Village (and love what's happening there) it is a comparatively small section of King. As much as I'd hate to see things there temporarily shift, I'd much rather see King from James to John look better as the downtown becomes a real hub... every day as I walk from the International Village downtown it's disappointing to see things go downhill as I walk downtown and only pick up again after John.

However, other benefits on Main Street would be the ability of LRT to run right past McMaster without a detour, and have closer proximity to the GO station. Those could be important to maximize its efficiency, and if they are, that could be good reason to put it on Main... but again, that's right downtown or close to it.

I was very briefly at the city meeting today, and my husband was done work early for once so he stopped in also. I'm hoping I didn't miss too much with the actual presentation.

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By You know what? (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2009 at 19:42:59

you know what? i don't care where it goes, king, main, whatever, as long as they build the thing! we can debate it would be better on this street or that street, but either way its going to turn around the core! light rail right now!

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By hunter (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 09:04:21

I think I agree with Ryan about Main being the better option.

Over the last couple of weeks I've been looking at King downtown and it just seems too narrow and problematic. Construction would destroy a lot of recent streetscaping and seriously disrupt current businesses. Main is more of a blank slate to work on. It's simpler, straighter and has more room to grow. The transportation benefits of LRT on Main would carry over to King anyhow. Basically, what Ryan said.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 09:16:36

curious if anyone has anything newsworthy to share from the open house last night. All the info is online, and it appears as though it was just a consultation meeting, but any tidbits would be cool.

Ryan, I'm curious as to where you expect street parking to be located if the LRT uses Main Street? In looking at the route, I think your idea would result in less opportunity for parking, not more. If the LRT runs on Main they will have a similar format as the current proposal for King - LRT in the median with one lane of traffic in each direction. King Street would become two-way and I presume would be 2-lanes in each direction. There's no way the city would convert both streets to two-way and limit vehicle traffic to one lane each way on both streets in order to accommodate parking along King.

Unless I'm missing something, it seems as though running the LRT on King would result in more opportunity for street parking, not less.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2009 at 09:21:26

Jason wrote:

curious if anyone has anything newsworthy to share from the open house last night

I attended the afternoon seminar, and I plan to post a summary from my notes some time today.

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By Jonathan Dalton (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 10:01:19

I have to side with King at the moment. The consultants identified higher economic development potential on King St. and have determined that the effects of lost parking can be mitigated. Street parking is absolutely important and beneficial but LRT is so much more so that if the two are in conflict, LRT wins.

Either way the line will pass by abandoned buildings and empty lots. King Street will be a quicker win for revitalization because of the amount of intact buildings. There will be an immediate psychological impact with LRT running past downtown landmarks such as Gore Park and Jackson Square which already enjoy high pedestrian traffic.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 10, 2009 at 11:33:01

Jason wrote >In my opinion, LRT gliding through the Gore just feels right.

One of the reasons I prefer Main is because LRT gliding through our civic heart: City Hall, Hamilton Place, the sculpture court of the AGH, "just feels right". LRT on Main would also be a huge impetus for the creative development of the Board of Ed site at Main and Bay. King will survive and thrive with two-way conversion and proximity to LRT, but LRT on Main would truly revitalize and reconnect the civic square to downtown.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 08:53:21

Not only is Main Street an ultra-wide expressway currently, but it's also the most direct east-west route across the City. I don't know why it's not really an option at this point?

I have gone back and forth, from one train on either street to both trains on Main to both trains on King... now I'm back to both trains on Main!

I believe that a two-way conversion of both King & Main will help both streets regardless of LRT or not (LRT would be the bonus... but in OUR case, two-way conversion is the bonus).

If there happens to be a loss of parking along Main in certain areas (Gage Park area maybe?) then why not utilize the same 'Side Street Pkng Lot' solution that was suggested for the King St option!?! These lots are popular along Bloor St West in Toronto, especially in the Kingsway neighbourhood (Bloor & Royal York'ish).

A full 4 lanes of East-West TWO WAY traffic along King will slow the pace dramatically enough to have the same effects of an LRT running along the street, while at the same time NOT scaring off potential drivers/shoppers by offering only a Single Lane for use. People are going to have to walk the 5-min walk from King to Main to catch the LRT, so it's going to help King either way... didn't someone say that One's transit trip always starts with a Walk?

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 12, 2009 at 08:53:38

Highwater, all of those sites are well within walking distance (we're talking a few hundred feet) of King Street and I don't think that putting LRT on King would make anyone less likely to visit the AGH Hamilton Place and City Hall. I don't think these venues can be called a civic "heart". If you look at the way they're accessed now, usually evenings and weekends for the AGH and Hamilton Place, it seems relatively futile to run a train through them. The Gore area has far higher pedestrian volumes and as someone else was saying, King appears to have a higher ec dev potential. King Street also runs past Jackson Square, The Standard Life Building (which by my guess has more ppl using it than City Hall), it's closer to Copps, it's closer to Ivor Wynne etc... I think King should get it hands down. I'd still like to see the entire Gore area as a pedestrian plaza accessed only by buses and/or trains....

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By strummer25 (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2009 at 13:26:03

I really think Main is the best option, for all the reasons Ryan and the other posters have discussed. I believe we can't lose using either Main or King but that Main has the most room for growth and intensification over the long-term. The current revitalization of stretches of King will just keep happening. I hope Hamiltonians get behind the push for LRT by calling their councillors, their MPPs and their MPs and getting involved in public meetings. A modern, efficient intra-city transit system, linked up with an improved GO schedule will be the single most important components in Hamilton's turnaround.

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