Walkability Fail

Main Street Walkability Fail

By Adrian Duyzer
Published February 27, 2011

I live near Main Street - just one small city block away. In the debate over LRT and two-way versus one-way traffic on Main Street, there's plenty of data supporting two-way conversion. In this blog post, however, I'm going to share anecdotes from personal experience living right next to Hamilton's downtown freeway.


View Larger Map I live pretty much right here.

My backyard backs onto a gravel parking lot right off Main, and in the summer when we hang out on our pleasant little patio, we hear the roar of traffic crashing up Main towards Queen, surfing the green wave.

We don't mind most of the traffic noise, save for the occasional inconsiderate showoff with a souped-up exhaust and too much testosterone, because we're used to it. The effect Main Street itself has on my immediate neighbourhood, however, is unmistakeable.

Main Street is dangerous. I've taught my young son that when he goes dashing down our street, he is never, ever to head down the streets that lead to Main Street.

Measuring from the corner nearest our house, Main is only 70 metres away. A child can cover that ground in just a single moment of parental distraction. All streets are somewhat dangerous, but in our neighbourhood, only Main has the feel of certain death for children about it (and in fact, people have died on Main).

Main Street is a barrier. We like to walk and it's astonishing how rarely we venture across Main when we do. The local businesses we frequent are almost all on our side of Main, with the exception of La Luna and the convenience store in the Queen Street strip mall.

In some places you speak of people on the other side of the tracks; in Hamilton, it's the other side of Main.

Main Street is a dead zone. There are astonishingly few pedestrians given that it's our "main" street. No one strolls down Main Street. They hustle down it or scurry across it.

Commercially speaking, there are businesses along it but the ones that do well seem to thrive in spite of Main, not because of it. The exception are the handful of car-dependent businesses on the street, like the Tim Horton's with the drive through, or the car wash place.

People drive really fast down Main Street. The 55 km/h timed lights only keep the leading edge of the wave at 55 km/h; everyone else is speeding, trying to catch up. I don't think I've ever seen a speed trap anywhere along Main. As a result, 60 to 70 km/h is accepted.

In fact, if you deliberately set out to make a street as unfriendly to pedestrians, cyclists, businesses and neighbourhoods as possible, only by putting sidewalks on the Gardiner Expressway could you do better than Main Street.

Walkability Fail? More like Giant Walkability F***Up.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: adriandz

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By Doubtful (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 22:07:30

Hear, hear Adrian! I love the line "In some places you speak of people on the other side of the tracks; in Hamilton, it's the other side of Main." It is, sadly, so true.
Also sad is that, as you note, "There are astonishingly few pedestrians..." but lots of "People drive really fast down Main Street." Since the majority rules, were probably stuck with this situation for awhile/forever.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 22:07:56

I live on Cannon and can concur with the wave, it may actually be a faster drive. Yet I've only ever seen speed traps on Burlington, which is the least livable street IMO.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:10:22 in reply to Comment 60339

Yup. In general, the city's speed traps are obviously chosen based on how much people speed in the area, not how much damage a speeder could do. Areas people naturally speed in because there are no obstructions, cross-streets, or pedestrians get all the officers attention, despite the fact that those are the ones where there's hardly anyone living there to need that protection.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 08:51:26 in reply to Comment 60339

They're too busy catching people as they cross the King St bridge into Westdale. That one irks me as the road dramatically shifts its nature at that point and slowing down is inevitable.

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By More Doubt (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 22:18:18

I feel almost troll-like making this comment but...
Maybe if more kids were allowed to "just be kids" and venture forth to Main Street, we'd see some carnage and enhance the realization of just how stupid allowing an urban expressway like it is to exist here is. I'm certainly not suggesting you sacrifice your kid to the cause but somehow our civic leaders aren't seeing that "highways" like Main Street, causing concerns like yours, aren't conducive to Hamilton being "the best place to raise a child."

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By peter (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 22:52:44 in reply to Comment 60341

Yeah, but as was already pointed out, people have already died on Main. It's a sacred cow and ain't nothin' gonna change that! Human casualties are the cost of doing business in our car-dependent world.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 06:36:11 in reply to Comment 60344

t's a sacred cow and ain't nothin' gonna change that!

This is only too true. It is simply verboten among Hamilton's all-powerful Traffic Engineers to convert Main Street to two-way traffic. They recently put the kibosh on the plan to convert Main to two-way as part of the east-west LRT project - despite the fact that the city's own consultants and even Metrolinx argued that LRT will be more successful with two-way streets. This is in addition to a long line of architects and planners who keep telling Hamilton, over and over, to switch back to two-way.

I attended the first two Transportation Summits organized by the City's public works department. I stopped bothering to go once I figured out that all the engineers, architects and planners at the summits telling the City to embrace two-way traffic and other pedestrian improvements made not one dent in the city's absolute commitment to traffic flow above all other goals.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 22:22:41

I have to agree. I would never walk along Main with my son and I only walk it myself for the shortest distance possible. Forget cycling it. When I moved here I thought the 1-way streets were just amazing because I could make it from one side of town to the other in very little time - I referred to it as rally racing because of the speed and proximity to the other vehicles. If Hamilton wants a livable city then I do believe the rally needs to end.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 23:02:22 in reply to Comment 60342

We live in West Hamilton near McMaster (in Ainslie Wood) and frequently walk or bike across Main Street to go places in the neighbourhood, whether to the pool/gym, to the library, to Westdale, Churchill Park, etc. Crossing Main Street, or even worse walking down it for a block or two, is the only part of the trip that is anything less than enjoyable.

If I am going to a local business, I will deliberately go out of my way and take a longer route, to stay on side streets rather than walk along Main.

I can't even listen to my iPod along Main - just to hear the thing over the traffic noise requires me to crank the volume to an unsafe level for walking. Forget about placing a phone call.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted February 27, 2011 at 23:30:59

I guess you can only drive down mainstreet (unlimited) times.

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By Andrea (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 07:35:12

Agreed, I live about six houses south of Main Street (east of James but West of Gage Park). The noise is a part of choosing to live in an urban neighbourhood, but the speed at which cars travel (especially in the curb lanes) is alarming and the sidewalks do not have any additional width or a blvd to buffer the cars from the sidewalk. Most nights I hesitate to walk the dogs along the Main St. route. If I have to go to the drug store or variety store or mailbox, I opt to take the laneways until I get closer to my destination. More than once I have seen a parked car (parked legally) get rear-ended by a fast-moving, lane changing aggressive driver.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 08:30:10

When i first moved to Hamilton i live on the corner of main and albert, in a half basement .. I lived in fear of an out of control driver smashing into the west wall of my apartment ... I find it interesting that burlington is an 'internationally' known speed trap .. Yet you have just about a zero per cent chance of hitting a pedestrian on Burlington, Yet Main where there are pedestrians is basically an unenforced AutoBahn ...

Comment edited by rednic on 2011-02-28 08:42:54

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 09:26:11

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 15:36:21 in reply to Comment 60368

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 17:46:51 in reply to Comment 60405

Two-way conversion is no more 'artificial' than the solutions you propose. And eliminating parking would only cause further harm to the beleaguered businesses along Main.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 18:21:08 in reply to Comment 60415

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 19:41:07 in reply to Comment 60418

You're right. Reducing lanes and lowering the speed limit do not 'inhibit' auto travel, they merely slow it down, just like two-way conversion. At least with two-way conversion, drivers have more navigational options to compensate for the loss of speed.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 17:02:13 in reply to Comment 60425

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By graham (registered) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 20:22:07 in reply to Comment 60471

  1. Rue St Catherine has parking on BOTH sides of the street and has only two lanes of travel.

  2. Blvd Rene Levesque is two ways - but ranges from 1 lane of parking and 2 lanes of travel to 1 lane of parking and 3 or 4 lanes of travel. Also, there is a big concrete median down the middle in the downtown stretch.

  3. Wider lanes will not help slow cars or make a street more pedestrian friendly. Ancaster has wide lanes. Not many pedestrians though.

  4. 48 km/h is not slow. Go get a friend to drive by you at 48 and stand 5 ft away. It will feel fast. Now go stand on Ste Catherine - rarely will a car be able to go faster than 30km/h.

  5. One way streets limit navigational options. How you conclude that two way would do so when it effectively doubles the number of roads to travel on is baffling.

  6. Everything is 'artificial' when it comes to road design. I've never seen a 'natural' 40' wide swath of pavement.

I don't think that the goal of two-way conversion is to 'inhibit auto travel'. The goal is to make a street or road where things other than cars can use it. Or even just get across it.

Comment edited by graham on 2011-03-01 20:22:53

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 20:37:45 in reply to Comment 60480

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 20:44:31 in reply to Comment 60481

Troll fail, Allan. If your goal is to get cars off the road the best way is to make the street pedestrian only - like your St Catherine Street in Montreal in the summer. As a DRIVER I prefer two-way streets because it means I have more choices on how to drive somewhere. And when I get there, there's more likely to be something worth driving TO.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 20:59:48 in reply to Comment 60483

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By drb (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 18:56:07 in reply to Comment 60418

From a business perspective parking on both sides of main is an absolute necessity. We will never see businesses thrive without it. Street side parking also provides a buffer for pedestrians.

Artificial is appropriating property to build 5 lane throughways to shoot traffic past neighbourhoods leaving social and economic dead-zones throughout our city. It's antiquated planning.

Comment edited by drb on 2011-02-28 18:56:57

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By MattM (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 09:57:22 in reply to Comment 60368

I agree, it's not about that and once again it seems like you're already getting unfairly downvoted.

I'd wager a bet though that St. Catherine has some differences that separate it from Main Street. Main Street isn't so bad just because it's a one way street, but because its a very WIDE one way street with timed lights that is used as a primary route for hauling goods across the city. I think if it had one side of on-street parking and/or bike lanes and the synchronized lights were gotten rid of, it would be a much more friendly street. The one-way itself isn't entirely to blame.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 13:03:18 in reply to Comment 60372

Main Street isn't so bad just because it's a one way street, but because its a very WIDE one way street with timed lights that is used as a primary route for hauling goods across the city.

Let me put it this way: if Hamilton's traffic engineers reduced Main street to two lanes with curbside parking on either side, wide sidewalks, frequent street closures for festivals and pedestrian-friendly events, and built a subway under it, I could live with Main remaining one-way.

But here's the thing: the only reason for Main Street to be one-way is to maximize the speed and volume of through traffic. There's no other benefit - not to pedestrians, not to local businesses, not even to drivers who are not trying to get across the city as fast as possible.

We could keep the street one-way and introduce wider sidewalks, curbside parking, bike lanes, and so on, but the street would no longer function as a thoroughfare at that point - so why not make it two-way and give drivers the option to approach a destination from either direction?

The nicest thing you can say about one-way streets in terms of local vitality is that some streets in dense, lively cities can survive being one way - and Rue St. Catherine is only two lanes, with parking on both sides and wide sidewalks.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:05:16

I always say - the problem with main isn't just that it's a downtown highway, but also that the city has done so very little to mitigate the problems intrinsic to being a downtown highway. It's bad enough to run a highway through the heart of our city, but it's ludicrous to do it on the cheap.

Where are the lighted pedestrian crossings at Pearl and Margaret and Strathcona and every other small, residential street that crosses it? The speed traps? The widened sidewalks with boulevards to put a little space between pedestrians and screaming-fast traffic? Yes, that stuff would be expensive... because running a highway through the heart of town should be expensive. Even little, obvious things like a yield-to-pedestrians sign at the 403 Eastbound onramp on the King Street bridge are missing.

What disgusts me is how the city obviously makes these kinds of choices when it comes to large businesses. There are lighted crosswalks at non-cross-streets for private parking lots throughout the city - MIP has one. Dofasco's main office has one. Hamilton General has one. There's a nice yield-to-pedestrians sign for the onramp that divides Columbia International College's dormitory from its classrooms - a clear message to drivers that you have to wait for the gaggle of Asian kids in uniforms to cross the street, they don't have to wait for you.

Where there's a single, private stakeholder, the city makes things happen. Where there's just the general welfare of local residents? No such luck.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2011-02-28 12:06:26

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:18:26

Granted, Montreal has one-way streets, too. But neither Maisonneuve nor Saint Catherine are as wide as Main West. Nor do they move as fast.

And when I'm in Montreal, they are not the streets to which I gravitate to walk across town. Unless I'm biking, in which case Maisonneuve's curb-separated bike lanes are attractive.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:28:16

Even in Westdale where Main Street West runs two-way for most of its length it forms a barrier to pedestrians. Ainslie Wood is an interesting neighbourhood to walk around in (if you can overlook the trashy student houses), but I really have to force myself to walk up to Main and cross it. It's ugly, smelly, wide and noisy. The cross walks are few and far between and two-stage in many cases.

Biking Main West is something I avoid when at all possible, again because of the speed and the width - getting from the curb lane to the left turning lane is always an adventure.

I don't even like driving on Main West - but there is basically no alternative.

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By dsahota (registered) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 00:40:30 in reply to Comment 60384

Two-stages to cross main street is a dream, try three stages or four stages in some places: http://www.raisethehammer.org/blog/1672/

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 01, 2011 at 11:47:51 in reply to Comment 60439

Interesting counterpoint - I spent some time in Buenos Aires a few years back.

Avenida de Nueve de Julio is the widest street in the World. 16 Lanes and 140 meters, with a massive obelisk plaza in one part of the median.

It takes 4 stages to cross. 3 in some places.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted February 28, 2011 at 12:29:46

I walk a lot, sometimes 3 hours per day, and I prefer King (marginally) to Main. But both are bad streets and for every vibrant one-way from a different city, I can provide multiple examples of dead ones, i.e. Adelaide & Richmond in Toronto spring to mind.

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By ilpo (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 21:34:55

Generally I end up crossing Main once a day - with a hope and a prayer each time - on my way home from the GO stop @ Queen or Pearl. Then I need to cross King and finally York Blvd. Main is the worst, with King close behind, but what would help me is knowing what the signal is for the cars!

Having grown-up on Yonge St and crossing it at least 4X a day to go to school taught me proper techniques. Main is crazy with those green light racers. King is bad as the turning traffic keeps coming with King stopped. York, although I am so disappointed that it was ever razed to be a blvd, does give me the best chances to cross with pedestrian crossings - not signalized in any manner for cars to know. It effectively gives me the same result I had when crossing Yonge - a place in the middle to stop and wait for traffic gaps [Yonge only had the double white lines but it was enough with lower speeds]. The one-ways do not allow for that chance.

Lets get these 2 expressways reconverted back to the 1950's now that the entire [at least enough of it] expressway system has been completed. The city does not need the mid-downtown expressways anymore!

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2011 at 22:04:39

The effects of the highway interchanges at Dundurn and elsewhere have pretty powerful psychological effect. Coming onto Main at rush hour feels like some sort of cross between a bar-room brawl and stock-car racing event.

As noted above, urban freeways are not neutral or natural. Look at what was done to York Blvd in an effort to channel traffic more effectively. Homes and businesses were expropriated and demolished, replaced with a bizarre uniformity of architecture found only along that strip. But despite all these utopian planning efforts, the street has never recovered. Businesses can barely stay open, there's virtually nobody on the sidewalks, and only a fraction of the traffic of Main. And much like York, the current state of Main was planned and engineered.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 20:40:01

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted March 01, 2011 at 23:09:30 in reply to Comment 60482

Yes, I too would have expected the six months, most in the dead of winter, since conversion to have produced a complete reinvention of the York streetscape.

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By RB (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 05:36:53

I've said this before and I'll say it again: if the one-way system is so great, let's turn Upper James one-way and West Fifth the other. As a matter of fact, let's turn the entire mountain, east and west ends of the city one-way. Why not, it works beautifully in the core, right?

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 07:33:46

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By MattM (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 09:47:49

The problem however is that large volumes of traffic should not be moved along King, Main or any of the streets that cross through downtown. We have a belt of highways that surround the region along with Burlington street. Trucks should not be flying down Main, Cannon and Wilson. They never should have been.

Downtown areas of cities are never supposed to be friendly to traffic moving ACROSS the city. They are designed to direct traffic around within the downtown.

The mountain of course is different as there are few, if any, intensified urban nodes. The mountain is constructed in "destination" format where people move from A to B. A primarily being a residential area, B being a commercial/industrial area. The roads were built wide originally as you said for this reason. In the newer, more suburban areas of the mountain it is clear to see this destination format. Townhouse complexes are lumped together with big box complexes in their own area. Townhouses are A, Big Boxes are B. Office parks serve as an alternate B.

Downtown/inner city of course is composed of a mix of A and B. Sometimes A and B are literally situated within the same structure, therefore the destination format does not exist and the wide, open roads are largely un-needed.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 10:27:32

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 11:08:40 in reply to Comment 60531

Burlington St, Barton St, Cannon St, York/Wilson, King, Main, Hunter, Cumberland/Lawrence, Sherman/Kenilworth access....

Make them all two way and there'd be lots of choices to get east west across the city.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2011 at 10:55:19 in reply to Comment 60531

We have more than enough perimeter highway lanes to accommodate the traffic that currently travels THROUGH the city on main/cannon and their smaller cousins. We are just so used to Main and Cannon being SO easy that we can't imagine a world where they move at a more reasonable speed.

say what, I wonder what your plan is for limiting traffic speeds on one-way Main WITHOUT "inhibiting auto traffic" (not sure exactly what you mean by that).

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 11:08:17 in reply to Comment 60537

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By MattM (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 10:39:32

True, although the 403/Linc/RHVP/Burlington Street exist, it does take truckers fairly far out of the way in order to get to the North industrial sector. I would guess that a lot of the truck traffic that has problems with this is trucks coming from South of the city, not from the East or West, as that traffic could easily take a combination of QEW/Burlington Street/Eastport Drive to get to the industrial sector.

I still believe trucks should not be using Barton/King/Main/Cannon/etc. but I also cannot really come up with a fair alternate route. I guess the bay kinda throws a wrench in things. Because of this we should be making more use of existing rail and ship infrastructure, I think.

Comment edited by MattM on 2011-03-02 10:40:17

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2011 at 11:49:10

Stoney Creek->mcmaster - if you want to drive fast, you take QEW ->main west OR RHVP->Linc->403. Otherwise, you'd simply give yourself 5-10 extra minutes and deal with inner city traffic.

Define "beyond mcmaster". To get to aldershot area from stoney creek, one SHOULD be taking the skyway. To get to ancaster one SHOULD be taking the rhvp/linc.

Central Hamilton is still close to many options for getting "out" of the city. Burlington street is a sufficient connection as a "through" street. Burlington@Wellington is only 4.5 km from the 403. Surely being <4.5km from access to an "Easy out" is sufficient for almost any motorist. And any through traffic that chooses to drive through rather than around, can take burlington street and then "suffer" the 4.5 kms of traffic through the urban centre. In any other city, you would EXPECT to have some traffic in the urban core. In toronto, the end of the allen to the dvp or gardiner is 8-9km. Luckily they were smart enough to NOT build the allen highway all the way through the city.

Please tell me the worst that will happen if we slow down main and cannon - ideally making them two way. It will take a bit longer to drive THROUGH the city. That's it. Boo Hoo.

I'm tired of hearing excuses about why we should continue to let through traffic use Hamilton as a short cut. It's inappropriate and has been proven to damage neighbourhoods. To save 5-10 minutes from trips of drivers who live nowhere near the core, we have allowed their speeding traffic to negatively affect a great number of neighbourhoods in the lower city.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 11:53:49 in reply to Comment 60552

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2011 at 13:27:11 in reply to Comment 60554

I also think it's stupid to drive from Westdale to Burlington to Stoney Creek just to go to Lococo's. Which is why I take Main West and Barton, even though it takes a little longer.

And I'll still take Main West and Barton and King if we have slower, two-way streets because I much prefer to see my city than the highway, provided that the trips are of roughly the same duration (as they are, roughly).

I'm driving right through town - it's not supposed to be fast. If I want to go fast, I'll travel 15 miles out of my way in order to use the highway.

Comment edited by moylek on 2011-03-02 13:27:52

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 12:03:23 in reply to Comment 60554

I'm tired of people telling me I'm not entitled to LIVE ON MY OWN STREET because you want to use it as a highway. Do people get to drive at 65 km/h in a wave five lanes deep past your house?

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 11:55:23

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By DBC (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 12:02:33 in reply to Comment 60555

You mean impassable like York is since the 2 way conversion?

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 12:04:11 in reply to Comment 60557

Or like James and John? Or like, wait for it, EVERY SINGLE STREET ON THE MOUNTAIN?

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 12:04:51

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2011 at 12:25:33

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted March 02, 2011 at 13:02:50

a) two way streets are not impassable

b) please share your plan for how to slow it down to a reasonable level

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted March 03, 2011 at 19:20:43

Heh. What that really says is that we need a Lococo's in the west end of the city. We are well served all in all, but a Lococo's would be terrific!

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