Transportation

A Modest Critique of the York Blvd Two-Way Conversion

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 21, 2010

this blog entry has been updated

Let's say you're heading north on James past the blank, cartoony walls of the City Centre, and you decide you want to make a left turn onto the newly two-way-minted York Blvd.

Well, forget about it.

No left turn from James onto York
No left turn from James onto York

Okay, so maybe left turns are a bit tricky, what with the requirement of a dedicated left-turn lane so that no one behind you has to wait even a few seconds to proceed straight through the intersection.

So instead, let's say you're heading south on James and decide you want to make a right turn onto the newly two-way-minted York Blvd. Surely a right turn from a two-way street onto another two-way street is uncontroversial, even in Hamilton.

Nope.

No right turn from James onto York
No right turn from James onto York

Yes, in classical Hamilton fashion, we've managed to engineer York Blvd into a TWINO: Two-Way In Name Only. Three of the street's four lanes still run east - including an obligatory left-turn lane so it's actually possible to turn from York onto James.

Only one lane runs west - and it's apparently forbidden to turn westward onto York if you aren't already on it. I'm not quite sure how that works.

Perhaps, like the cyclists expected to teleport from the terminated bike lane on York at Dundurn to the resurrected bike lane on York at Queen, cars can teleport onto York and drive the few blocks from there.

There is a silver lining, however: transport trucks driving through the city are still allowed to drive south on James and turn left onto Wilson.

Truck route on Wilson
Truck route on Wilson

And that's how we "put people first" in Hamilton.

Update: the turning directions on the no turn sign photos were originally mislabeled. Thanks to the intrepid RTH reader who pointed this out.

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 jason (registered) | Posted December 21, 2010 at 12:51:08

ugh, so lame.

A left turn lane at John and Hughson. Really? Are thousands of people turning left there everyday? I love this design better than the previous one, but honestly, why can't we just convert the streets to two-way like they are in the rest of the city and the rest of the country??

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By myrcurial (registered) - website | Posted December 21, 2010 at 13:11:59

I, for one, welcome our new traffic 'engineering' overlords.

Based on their wisdom, we will accept 'lanes' which are narrower than the track of the most popular civic owned vehicles (HSR buses) as well as new traffic 'calming' measures such as synchronized lights and de-facto 80km/h speed 'limit'.

I wonder if citizens of Hamilton are really ready for a world which does not include the necessity of air-quoting around the uncomfortable truths of our lives.

I'm so ready to spend the stadium money on teaching our city employees and elected officials how to speak truthfully and think logically. Money well spent.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted December 21, 2010 at 13:57:49

This says a lot about the transformation that good ideas go through when they hit City Hall. Given the way they often leave, I might liken it to digestion.

Not that I'd ever advocate such a thing, but if an elite RTH hit squad went down and simply painted two yellow lines down the middle of the road, with little stencilled corax traffic signs zip-tied to poles, it's hard to imagine it not working better than this in many ways. People do this with bike lanes all the time (a much safer alternative, for obvious reasons). Is it so much to ask that multi-million-dollar budgets and professional engineers perform at least as well as what can be accomplished in a night with a few cans of paint?

Still glad to have that one lane, though. Better than having to ride on the sidewalk or go blocks out of my way to get a couple of blocks west.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2010 at 16:30:18

Wow...

I'm just about speechless.

Who should we write this time, our councillors, or the traffic department?

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By Luckyone (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2010 at 16:45:49

Last week I took a trip down the new westbound section of the street. Having heard that turns at James St. were verboten (had to see it with my own eyes to believe that one), I turned onto Wilson at Ferguson and headed westbound.

It was very strange to travel on a Wilson St. that was a NORMAL street with two pairs of travel lanes, one pair in each direction, separated by that all important yellow line. Somewhere along the way the second westbound lane disappears. (I guess it turns into a right turn lane at James. Have to go back for another look at that.)

Continuing westbound, I swear I could almost feel the people in the other cars going 'what the heck is that car doing there, traveling in the wrong direction?'. I felt rather odd myself, having never traveled against the by-now familiar traffic flow on York Blvd. It was unfamiliar, but it felt good.

It was nice to experience the street from a different perspective. I realized that, experientialy, always traveling on one-way streets in the same direction is a bit like knowing a person but having only ever seen their left profile. Something that had been missing was now before me. And it felt very comfortable. I thought 'this is nice. It's like knowing both sides of a person'.

Not surprisingly, I didn't encounter any other cars traveling in my westbound direction. Before too long at all I was approaching Bay Street.
Facing a solid green light, I had a moment of panic. What was I supposed to do now? I quickly recalled that since Bay Street is northbound only, a left turn was not an option. I don't believe there was any signage to that effect. Neither was there a 'No Entry' red circle/white hyphen sign in FRONT of me.

FORTUNATELY, despite the fact that I was facing a full green light, I realized that proceeding in a straight direction would have had me driving HEAD-ON into a left turn lane for the opposing flow and then into oncoming one-way traffic on the eastbound section of York Blvd! I deduced that the only option was to turn right. At this moment I was very glad not to have the usual pushy Grille right on my back bumper impatiently rushing my impromptu assessment of this strange and potentially life-threatening situation.

I made my turn and found my way onto the continuing westbound section of York, relieved but wondering just what kind of traffic engineer would design such an inherently dangerous intersection? Why wasn't there a 'No Left Turn sign' and a 'No Entry' sign mounted on the green light that was facing me?

Then I thought well that's not really how it's done here. These days it would be more like Montreal-style signage -- one sign only, showing a green circle around a right turning arrow, showing the one option that IS allowed rather than all the things that AREN'T allowed. This 'permissive' signage is like the new truck route signs that have been recently installed at Dundurn, and other places downtown. Of course my very next thought was, and this occurred to my passenger at exactly the same moment, why wasn't the full green lamp screened to simply be a right arrow? This as a right turn is the only possible option here. So what we have here is zero signage AND a misleading traffic light that implies three options where in fact there is only one.

This analysis and solution process all took place in less than ten seconds. Between myself and my passenger we had redesigned the lights and signage at this fantastically dangerous new intersection in a few moments. How long did traffic engineers study this intersection before coming up with this kamikaze arrangement? Knowing that the answer is about TWO YEARS, I can only ask if this is a deliberate effort to sabotage 'two-way conversion' in the downtown core. To this I would say something like 'as a disgruntled traffic engineer you may have a problem with two-way streets, and you may even want to CAUSE traffic havoc to back up your personal belief, but what were you thinking?.'

You may THINK it is clever of you to undermine these changes by literally engineering collisions into this intersection. But what about if someone is seriously injured, or killed? What if it's your Mom?

It ought to be possible to literally charge engineers who engage in this kind of rogue, self-serving behavior with Highway Traffic Act or possibly Criminal Code offenses if it could be proven that this sort of mischief has occurred. If it was up to me, I'd give them 24 hours notice to fix it and then start laying charges. It's not funny.

Sorry for the rather long post.

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By Homer Simpson (anonymous) | Posted December 21, 2010 at 19:13:42

I wanted to make that right turn onto York Blvd just to see what it might feel like to drive west on York Blvd like my ancestors did when they arrived here in the 1950s. I was denied by that no right turn sign. I thought it was a vestige from the one way era and someone forgot to take it down. I'm not a traffic engineer, but that is an easy fix -just add "on red" below the no turn arrow, and that should avoid any catastrophes. For now, I will continue to imagine what it might be like to go west on York Blvd in my motor car. Maybe, I will just take a train, which I can also afford (adjusting monocle).

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 21, 2010 at 19:45:18

actually that 'no right' sign was added about 2 days before the street opened as 2-way. Apparently all the useless left turn lanes are more important than allowing people to turn right.

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted December 22, 2010 at 00:48:03

Luckyone, that was an awesome post. So much common sense there, please send that to your councillor and the traffic department. I appreciate a good driver's perspective as it relates to safety and navigability (rather than just 'me want fast'), since I don't drive more than once a month or two now.

As a cyclist, I have to wonder. If I'm going from the coffee house to the farmers market (a very likely scenario), do they really expect me not to turn right on York from James to get there? I mean how else would it be done?

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By james north (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2010 at 06:06:59

to be fair, heading south on james approaching wilson/york is a busy intersection with lots of pedestrians crossing york. even before the two way conversion it was easy to back james up if one lane was taken out by a "delivery" and the other was a left turn onto wilson with pedestrians crossing on the east.

i assume the logic of restricting right turns west bound onto york from south bound james street is that it works better for everyone if you simply turn right on vine and left on macnab then right onto york. there is nothing between james and macnab on wilson that you can't get to other than the tiny municipal parking lot that was given over to councillors while city hall was city mall anyway.

it might seem like a pain in the ass to make a little detour, but really if it means less pressure on pedestrians crossing the street that should be a good thing, no?

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted December 22, 2010 at 09:20:26

The NW corner of James and York is not 'rounded' like most sidewalks. The streetwall is very tight to the sidewalk there, making right turns onto York almost impossible, especially for anything larger than a compact car.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted December 22, 2010 at 09:33:04

The NW corner of James and York is not 'rounded' like most sidewalks. The streetwall is very tight to the sidewalk there, making right turns onto York almost impossible, especially for anything larger than a compact car.

The streetwall is only tight to the sidewalk because the city decided that the streets had to be as wide as they are. Sacrificing a lane on both James and York would permit a proper sidewalk. I am surprised that the city didn't build the sidewalks to its own standards.

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By Cartoon (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2010 at 09:37:01

"Cartoony walls of the city centre" as far as that building goes it's says it all. Compared to the Original Eatons building, the city centre is a cartoon,an embarrassment of a building. I wouldn't mind seeing that building go. Sorry about going off topic.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 22, 2010 at 10:12:17

I am surprised that the city didn't build the sidewalks to its own standards.

I'm not. It's pretty clear that the City will sacrifice any other standard or objective to prioritize its standards for vehicle lanes.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 22, 2010 at 10:30:51

...and it appears to me that the 'standard' for vehicle lanes is a lane wide enough for a transport truck to speed along and feel comfortable doing so. That NW sidewalk is a pure embarrassment.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 22, 2010 at 11:26:15

to be fair, heading south on james approaching wilson/york is a busy intersection

OK but coming Southbound on James at Cannon there is only one traffic lane. Seems to me that is a bigger bottleneck. So unless a huge volume of traffic is coming from cannon or being generated on that block of James, I think the "no right turns" sign is overkill.

Not to mention, occasional traffic backups on James make it a nicer place to be :-)

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted December 22, 2010 at 23:16:33

Somewhere there is a senior traffic engineer laughing at how he has helped sabotage the city for the past 30 years. Basically don't take James St if you are trying to get somewhere - you can't make left turns from James St onto King St either!

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 23, 2010 at 08:24:11

but isn't that part of the point of redeveloping downtown into a people-friendly place? James should be a pedestrian-first street. Hamilton has gobs of streets you can take to get somewhere. Bay, Wellington, Victoria, Queen etc.... I'm kind of glad that James is being viewed as pedestrian-priority with various turning restrictions.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted December 23, 2010 at 10:28:11

but isn't that part of the point of redeveloping downtown into a people-friendly place? James should be a pedestrian-first street.

Yes, but restricting turns doesn't really advance that goal. It inconveniences local traffic (e.g. driving to the market parkade from the North End) and prioritize through traffic (e.g. using James as a route from Cannon to the mountain). It also makes motorists drive around in crazy loops trying to get to their destinations (e.g. James - King William - Hughson - Wilson to end up on York St. westbound), which increases the overall burden of traffic.

Allowing turning in both directions on a green light should be the standard, but if any turn is restricted it should be the left turn, not the right. If pedestrian traffic is heavy enough to cause traffic jams, then a pedestrian scramble would help.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 23, 2010 at 10:48:26

Restricting turns doesn't really advance that goal. It inconveniences local traffic ... and prioritizes through traffic

THIS. I feel I'm starting to sound like a broken record, but I can't emphasize enough that a) the two traffic flows you identified really are distinct, and b) our traffic system optimizes for the latter by sacrificing the former.

I also can't emphasize enough that when you make it harder for people to drive to downtown as opposed to through downtown, fewer people will do it.

a pedestrian scramble would help.

Naturally, this proposal is a non-starter in the City's traffic engineering office, even though it was favoured in the community input on the plan and appeared in all three proposals before the Traffic office unilaterally killed it. Hart Solomon, the city's manager of traffic engineering, explained that it would be too inefficient for motor vehicles to have to wait for pedestrians in a scramble.

Best of all, Solomon is an advisor to the Transportation Association of Canada on developing standards for pedestrian crossings.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-12-23 09:48:41

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By JM (registered) | Posted December 23, 2010 at 11:32:06

If Hamilton ever needed a pedestrian scramble, it should be at King and James.... i've never seen heavy pedestrian traffice anywhere else downtown.

JM

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted December 23, 2010 at 12:56:29

Here's a nifty site that I just discovered (and have blogged about today) that is potentially a great mechanism for addressing issues such as this:

http://seeclickfix.com/citizens

Hamilton already has its own area on-site:

http://seeclickfix.com/can_hamilton

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By simonge (registered) | Posted December 23, 2010 at 22:11:29

Fast Company did a good article on seeclickfix last month. http://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/151/... Does anyone know if City Hall is monitoring the Hamilton site?

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By scramble (anonymous) | Posted December 24, 2010 at 12:00:13

I've been scrambling (that is to cross the intersection on a diagonal) York Blvd since it has repopened. There is little traffic along York during non rush hour times, and when the East-West lights are red, there is rarely a vehicle traveling north or south on McNab, so I scramble (in a leisurely manner of course).

A couple people have looked at me weird. A couple people have even followed suit! Most don't care to notice.

My suggestion is that we ALL start to scramble at that intersection, being as safe as possible of course! Once the trend catches on, everyone will be doing it. When dozens of people start to cross on a diagonal from the Market entrance to the Parkade entrance, especially on a busy saturday morning, it will be impossible for Mr Solomon and the Hamilton Traffic Engineering Dept to ignore!

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted December 24, 2010 at 12:21:08

Does anyone know if City Hall is monitoring the Hamilton site?

I posted about SeeClickFix back in April and at the time I emailed councilors and the mayer regarding the monitoring of its Hamilton page and received no response. So my guess is that council (at least officially) isn’t monitoring the page.

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