Transportation

London Abandons One-Way Streets

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 21, 2010

Last week's Times of London features a delightfully vicious column offering a libertarian take on that city's long-time-coming decision to give up on its one-way streets:

Transport for London, perhaps the biggest manager of one-way systems in the world, at last acknowledges a truth painfully proved by harrowed pedestrians, bruised bicyclists and infuriated drivers: one-way systems do not work. Cities have been wastefully sacrificed to the false gods of efficiency and rationality. Now we want our cities back.

What follows is an engaging look at the history of the one-way street in London from its invention in the 1800s through the disastrous mid-20th century fetish of regarding speed and flow-through as the only road metrics worth tracking.

To enter any gyratory system - often survivable in a car, more precarious on a bike, but suicidal on foot - is to go on bargaining terms with urban aggression and the one-dimensional solutions of the traffic engineer. In pursuit of something that looks good on a graphic, but does not work on the ground, sinister gyratory systems generate millions of unnecessary miles and thousands of tons of pollution.

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 schmadrian (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 10:24:55

Add one-way streets to the various societal blunders and missteps we've witnessed over the past two centuries. (Cigarettes, bottled water, cell phones, residential lawns, processed food to name but a few) Thank God we're beginning to see their reversal. (Not that we're bound to see much in the way of admissions regarding 'errors of our ways'...)

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 10:49:55

this is great news for Hamilton. Once they lose their one-way streets you can be sure that their business community will flee that city and come to the greener pastures of Main St or Cannon St in Hamilton!

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By michaelcumming (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2010 at 12:14:58

I don't think too many businesses will vacate London, UK and relocate in Hamilton.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2010 at 18:18:35

thanks for the laugh, Jason.

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By Rod (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 19:39:21

Seems to be a common topic here - one-way streets. But, understandable, given how Hamilton is cluttered with these.

In my time there, what struck me as absurd was the minor residential streets in the Aberdeen Ave. area that were (still are, no doubt) designated one-way. At least I can see the argument for one-way on the main streets - speedier traffic flow - but for the life of me, designating minor residential streets with minimal traffic flow as one-way struck me as carrying the one-way philosophy to the point of absurdity.

In general, I agree with the desirability of conversion from one-way to two-way, and accept the sort of evidence provided here. But, I still think we need to be careful before committing to conversion on the main east-west thoroughfares for LRT.

What about partial conversion? I mean, the intermittent step of allowing one-way flow for cars, buses, etc., but providing two-way flow (together with dedicated lanes) for bicyclists, skateboarders, powered wheelchairs, maybe electric bikes, in addition to pedestrian flow (of course!).

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 21, 2010 at 20:05:19

@michaelcumming

whooooooooosh

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By Anders (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 08:56:56

Rod - why do you think we should keep the main thoroughfares one-way? I'd argue the opposite - that on small streets it's not as big of a deal, and can calm traffic, since there's only one lane of it. Whereas on busier streets it destroys the streets for everyone but people passing through. As for two way dedicated bike lanes on one way streets, I don't like that idea. One of the streets near me has this, and it feels dangerous both when I'm driving and biking.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 08:59:29

But, I still think we need to be careful before committing to conversion on the main east-west thoroughfares for LRT.

Problem with being careful is, the city has deteriorated for 50 years under one way streets and continues to do so. Given the snail's pace at which projects are executed here, we can't afford to be careful, we need to act now.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 10:04:11

There is a divide here that I think can be easily overlooked.

  • The angered motorist who is stuck on North America and auto
  • The cyclist/environmentalist/etc.
  • The general public who couldn't see a problem with an efficient, time saving, flow controlling idea to which one-way streets provide.

My out-of-town friends often comment about Hamilton's traffic system. "5PM and you can get home in 15 minutes? Those one-way streets!" or similar positively re-enforced comment. I used to take pride in that fact. Then I learned the long-term effects. My opinion changed immediately but it is hard for any one person to be deeply informed about topics such as these. If you have an inclined interest, sure. It is easy for us to see these obvious, necessary changes because we had a desire at one point or another to know more.

Most people do not care or want to know how a city is built, no more than how a cell phone is built. They just want the person who's doing the work to do it right and do it based on the "correct way". In Hamilton, the correct way is one-way streets.

The city of Hamilton should strongly convey the reasons why this great sounding traffic system actually kills the businesses and land it speeds by, and then do the right thing and convert Main and King to two-way traffic. Make those 2 streets work well, then move on.

I respect the Mayor's position on studies, but Hamilton studied very little to get in this mess. Studies might not give the answers we need. Proven examples are available today. Pick your city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 10:18:14

The city of Hamilton should strongly convey the reasons why this great sounding traffic system actually kills the businesses and land it speeds by, and then do the right thing and convert Main and King to two-way traffic.

The city could do this in a jiffy by simply converting Ottawa St North to 4 lanes one-way, King St in Dundas to 4 lanes one-way, King St in Stoney Creek to 4 lanes one-way, Concession St to 4 lanes one-way, Wilson in Ancaster to 4 lanes one-way and so forth. People are ultimately selfish. Once they see their own precious neighbourhoods quality of life lowered they will support a move to convert all one-ways to two-way. Not because they give a rip about downtown, but due to the negative effects in their own neighbourhoods.

Otherwise, I don't see how the city can convince outlying residents that these street should change, especially when their councillors don't support downtown either.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-04-22 09:18:53

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 16:31:59

The city could do this in a jiffy by simply converting Ottawa St North to 4 lanes one-way, King St in Dundas to 4 lanes one-way, King St in Stoney Creek to 4 lanes one-way, Concession St to 4 lanes one-way, Wilson in Ancaster to 4 lanes one-way and so forth. People are ultimately selfish. - jason

I don't know about that Jason. Is it the flow of traffic or design of the streetscape? I have to admit this whole one way roads as a blight on downtown thing is new to me. I grew up right next to a city of 80K (Waterloo) that had two three-lane one way streets (Erb and Bridgeport) running from the expressway through residential neighbourhoods and in to downtown (or "uptown" as they call it). Never in 20 years did I ever hear any complaints about them.

I will conceded that in many spots Main, King, Cannon and Wilson streets are abominations of urban planning. They are ugly, unfriendly, unwelcoming streets for the most part but I don't think the direction of traffic is as big a factor as the basic streetscape/design is. Losing a lane on each and installing some trees and making them more scenic, walking friendly and safe would do more for these streets than a mere change of direction.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 22, 2010 at 19:55:08

yes, you're right about the horrible planning (I'm hoping that every planner involved in stuff like this and the King/Main/403 fiasco has never found another planning job). Portland has one-ways downtown and they move ultra slow. Lights are timed in that city too - to turn RED if you happen to hit one green. It's virtually impossible to hit 2 greens in a row. Both sides are lined with street parking (the entire block, not with huge gaps of 'no stopping' like we have here) and lots of trees and most importantly, VERY wide sidewalks. Wider than Hamilton's widest.

Part of the problem unique to Hamilton though is the fact that we only have 3 streets connecting the city to westdale. If all 3 were two-way, it would give people more options and easier access into that part of the city. Same goes for downtown. We have a narrow downtown. It's hilarious when there is an accident on King and you sit there not moving an inch while Main St, one block over, has entire minutes without a single car driving by before the next 30 second wave. If everything was two-way, it would be easier for driving, easier for transit and easier for cycling in our narrow downtown.

This isn't NYC. We don't need one way streets. Period.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2010 at 07:52:36

Notes Jason ...

Part of the problem unique to Hamilton though is the fact that we only have 3 streets connecting the city to westdale.

Main,King and ... Aberdeen? But even Aberdeen crosses Main, so I would argue for only two and that those two, as you suggest, really count as one and that's absurd: only one way into Westdale and Dundas from downtown (without going up the mountain and back down via Ancaster or Flamborough).

Once upon a time, there were more ways in and out of the West end: York Street went down below the bridges and then up either Longwood or Paradise (not sure which); Main and King went both ways, and there was the rail line into Ainslie Wood (same route as the current CN, maybe?).

But now that we have only one road coming in, it had better be a big road. And since there is a big, (one-way) road, why, we don't need any more roads!

Now I'm not suggesting we reconnect Longwood to York Blvd or drop a causeway from Dundas over Cootes Paradise, but I would like to see us ease away from these roaring expressways which fragment neighbourhoods and bleed blight from their margins (just look around the next time you drive Main West between the 403 and the ravine down into Dundas). There are other options.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-04-23 06:54:26

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 26, 2010 at 21:22:21

"But now that we have only one road coming in, it had better be a big road. And since there is a big, (one-way) road, why, we don't need any more roads!"

Heh. Yeah, that's typical of thinking here.

I was remarkably lucky in my year-plus of commuting between the Westdale area and downtown, that only on two nights did I try to come home at rush hour when there was a blockage/accident problem along King Street West. (Usually, if I heard there was traffic, I'd stay late until 8 or 9 and of course take Aberdeen). On one memorable evening, I actually abandoned the bus I was riding at Victoria Park, and walked home. That simply wouldn't happen if there was more than one route into West Hamilton.

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