Transportation

King William Street Closure Demonstrates Awkwardness of One-Way Streets

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 30, 2011

Starting next Wednesday, July 6, the City's Public Works Department will close King William Street between James and Hughson to install a new sanitary/storm sewer and water main. At the same time, workers will resurface the street and add some streetscaping. The work is expected to take two months.

Because King William and Hughson are both one-way streets (eastbound and northbound, respectively), Hughson will also be closed between King and King William during the work. However, King William between Hughson and John will be converted temporarily to two-way to provide access for vehicles to reach destinations 'downstream' of the closure.

City staff confirmed that King William will be converted back to one-way when the road work is completed, as it "was not identified in the plan for two-way conversion" under the Downtown Transportation Master Plan. The stretch of King William between John and Mary has been identified for conversion, but will be converted at some point in the future "as soon as the budget allows".

Despite a strong rhetorical emphasis on walkability, the Downtown Transportation Master Plan report, titled Putting People First, takes a tentative, go-slow approach to two-way conversion. Listed among the objectives is: "Over the long term, return the residential street system to a residential scale with opportunities for two-way traffic."

Significantly, the plan excludes major streets, like Main, King, Cannon and Bay, on the grounds that they are "Mobility Streets", primarily designed to accommodate "through-trips with the origin and destination of the trip outside the Downtown."

The City recently converted York/Wilson to two-way between Bay and Ferguson and is currently extending the two-way conversion of Wilson from Ferguson east to Victoria. However, the two-way conversion was completed in such a way as to preserve the existing, predominantly one-way flow of traffic.

For example, motor vehicles on James are not allowed to turn west onto York from either the north or the south. As a result of this bizarre, self-fulfilling design choice, the lonely westbound lane sits empty most of the time.

As well, in early 2009 the traffic department vetoed a proposal to add a pedestrian scramble at York and MacNab because it would be inefficient for automobiles. Chief traffic engineer Hart Solomon defended the decision on the basis that adding a scramble would have short-term impacts on traffic and the goal of diverting people out of their cars is long-term and needs to be undertaken in combination with other land-use and transportation changes, which will also happen at some point in the future.

The Downtown Transportation Master Plan Five Year Review from 2008 makes it clear that the York Boulevard two-way conversion remains subject to the overarching objective of maintaining traffic flow through the downtown.

The plan justifies maintaining two eastbound lanes on York so it can continue to serve as an eastbound through-traffic corridor, and recommends against converting Main Street to two-way because Main has to accommodate eastbound traffic diverted from a converted York Boulevard.

It does propose converting King Street to two-way, subject to traffic analysis under the Rapid Transit project, but last December, the two-way conversion was dropped from the Rapid Transit plan, again so that our east-west thoroughfares can continue to function as "the primary corridors of through traffic".

So much for "putting people first".

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 Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:07:49

This kind of expert planning is going to leave me cross-eyed.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:14:40

Nicely put. Ryan, do you see value in any main intra-city thoroughfares maintaining one-way designation? (And apologies if I've asked this before...don't believe I have.) I get King and Main confused, so bear with me...If Main was maintained as a one-way inlet into the city's downtown - could this be seen as something that could enhance/ expedite the trip to downtown as the destination? Somewhat playing devils advocate here, but provided that (and I don't know this for a fact) that there are seemingly few surface-level residences, could this benefit the businesses that are on, and adjacent to, Main Street?

I definitely want to see downtown based on walkability (and scrambles seem like a no-brainer), but I would also like to ensure choking emissions don't result due to gridlock -- resulting in those from the nearby communities not wanting to participate in the downtown economy.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:44:02 in reply to Comment 65385

The goal should not be to entice people to drive downtown on shiny thoroughfares (which we have been trying for the past 50 years to no avail), but to entice people to move downtown by making the place functional and livable.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2011 at 14:48:29 in reply to Comment 65391

>> entice people to move downtown by making the place functional and livable.

It's quite clear that low tax rates attract new development dollars, much more so than transit/walkability/etc.

That said, who cares?

Maybe the goal should not be to get MORE people to live downtown, but simply to make the downtown a better place to live for the existing residents.

The great thing about most lefties is that they think with their heart rather than their head.
So when lefties try and sell their ideas using numbers (money), they can't win, because the goal of most lefties can't be measured in dollars and cents.

In other words, if you lefties want to pile up more victories in this city, I would stop talking about money altogether and just focus on livability. By refusing to even discuss money/numbers, you will take away the tool that righties use to show the inferiority of your ideas.

Just as there is no logical reason for buying candy, good advertisers know that by appealing to the emotions of people, they can make lots of money. Does Coke debate the health aspects of their product? No, because there is none.

Fight the battle on emotions, not facts and you lefties will probably have much more success.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2011 at 15:42:37 in reply to Comment 65391

>> entice people to move downtown by making the place functional and livable.

Look at this area of Markham...

http://tinyurl.com/3v5mue8
http://tinyurl.com/3e69t9b

It has plenty of new condos going up and yet it is far less walkable than downtown Hamilton, with far less transit.

Do you have an idea as to why this is happening?

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted July 02, 2011 at 20:01:47 in reply to Comment 65476

You know. I know. They all know why. They just do not want to talk about it and admit that LRT, transit and two way streets will change Hamilton.

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 12:02:54 in reply to Comment 65391

While this is true, I think the goal of the past 50 years has been to get people drive in to downtown, and quickly drive out of downtown. What I'm speaking of would be to allow dollars to flow easily into the downtown while ensuring walkability and controlled traffic flow. So, a slight hybrid. In theory, that could be a benefit to the hotels (current and proposed) in the core, entertainment facilities like Copps - where upwards of 18,000 could be descending into en masse. Potentially, you could have a destination that appeals to visitors given its easy to get to, only 5 minutes from the highway, AND have a walkable, pedestrian friendly environment that can be enjoyed and frequented.

Certainly rose-coloured-glasses suppositions, but what the hell? Perhaps there is a cake-and-eat-it-too style solution out there?

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By Mahonebone (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 12:26:56 in reply to Comment 65392

There is undeniably some sort of value in creating a main intra-city thoroughfare - it is valuable for any number of people wishing to cross the lower city. However, it is a much BETTER value to prioritize the traffic needs and local environments of the lower city to maximize the prospects of walkability and contiguous communities.

In a hierarchy, we should be looking to support:
residents living downtown-->people looking to travel downtown-->people looking to cross town.

I do not doubt the good intentions of our planning forefathers in establishing those large one-way roads through town. No doubt, the argument was made that it will allow people to travel faster to and from downtown. However, history has shown that those changes have come at the expense of downtown life, which should have been top priority.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2011 at 12:33:08 in reply to Comment 65393

In a hierarchy, we should be looking to support:

residents living downtown-->people looking to travel downtown-->people looking to cross town.

In fact, that closely matches the Public Works Department's stated hierarchy of transportation modes:

  • Pedestrians > Bicycles > Transit > Local Vehicular Traffic > Through Traffic

The problem is that this hierarchy does not seem to have had much impact on day-to-day operational decisions.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:28:05

The plan justifies maintaining two eastbound lanes on York so it can continue to serve as an eastbound through-traffic corridor, and recommends against converting Main Street to two-way because Main has to accommodate eastbound traffic diverted from a converted York Boulevard.

I love that circular reasoning.

Personally, I'd be satisfied with the compromise approach of providing a single one-way thoroughfare going through town (Main, the Cannon-Queen-King route, and Victoria/Wellington) and converting the rest to two way. It wouldn't be perfect, but I think it would preserve the things the traffic engineers desire while allowing the majority of the city to be rehabilitated. But the two way streets should be actually two way, not this ludicrous 1.5 approach.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2011 at 11:41:14 in reply to Comment 65388

I think it would preserve the things the traffic engineers desire

That's exactly why I oppose it. What the traffic engineers desire is incompatible with a livable, successful downtown. Bastardized half-measures like the TWINO conversion of York Boulevard simply give them an excuse to say, "See? Two-way conversions don't work."

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-06-30 11:44:26

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:17:18

Can someone define "walkability" and/or "walkable". Once that is done, can some explain how conversion to two way makes something more walkable?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:31:02 in reply to Comment 65401

Okay, SpaceMonkey, I'll bite.

Walkability: The extent to which a given street or neighbourhood is safe, friendly, accommodating and inviting to people walking.

Some common characteristics of a walkable street:

  • Buildings are arranged in a streetwall with porous main floors that open directly onto the sidewalk and mixed residential, office and other uses on upper floors.
  • Sidewalks are wide enough to accommodate a variety of uses, including walking, sitting on patios, and browsing stalls and windows.
  • A canopy of street trees provides cooling shade, frames the sidewalk as a grand archway and signals to drivers to slow down.
  • Curbside parking helps to provide a physical buffer between pedestrians and drivers.
  • Dedicated bike lanes provide safe space for cyclists as well as a further barrier between pedestrians and drivers.
  • Driving lanes are designed to discourage speeding and to reduce both the incidence and severity of collisions: narrow lanes, two-way traffic flows, and so on.
  • The totality of traffic lanes is narrow enough that young children and seniors can cross in a reasonable time.
  • Integrated transit, particularly rapid transit, makes it easier for people to move into, out of, and through a walkable neighbourhood without having to do so in single-occupancy vehicles, which take up a lot of space and prevent the density and proximity that makes a neighbourhood walkable.

A walkable neighbourhood may also include pedestrian-only streets, public plazas, outdoor markets and so on, which support a virtuous cycle of increasing the density of pedestrians and supporting local businesses that benefit from pedestrian traffic.

As a business owner complained all the way back in 1957, "Our windows are no good nowadays, people have no time to stop and look. ... It seems as if everything possible has been done to take people away from King Street East!"

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-06-30 15:31:51

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:45:43 in reply to Comment 65427

Perfect. Thank you Ryan for that. I share the same thoughts as you about what makes a city walkable and what "walkability" means.

I just don't understand how a street like Main St would be any safer if it were two way than it is as a one way.

I think that if the lights were synched differently to encourage even slower (perhaps 40 km/h?) speeds than the speeds it now encourages (currently 55km/h), one way streets could be used to make speeds considerably slower than their two way counterparts.

I also feel that, as a pedestrian, it's easier to cross a one way street than it is to cross a two way street. From my experience, this is most obvious when I try to cross Main around Gage compared to when I try to cross Main around Nash. It is considerably more difficult to cross around Nash.

I've explained why I feel that, in some cases, one way streets are safer than two way streets. It frustrates me that people automatically down vote me, simply for an opinion, when they haven't even explained their own view.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:53:46 in reply to Comment 65429

I think that if the lights were synched differently to encourage even slower (perhaps 40 km/h?) speeds than the speeds it now encourages (currently 55km/h), one way streets could be used to make speeds considerably slower than their two way counterparts.

Unless other necessary changes are made to the street design - narrower lanes, more visual visual cues to slow down, oncoming traffic, and so on - this will simply result in drivers accelerating from one red light to the next, causing frustration all around and even more dangerous driving than today.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:59:45 in reply to Comment 65431

Ryan, The lanes can not get any narrower than they already are. They are extremely narrow as is. I'm fine with the narrowness, but they truly can not get any narrower because cars and buses will be rubbing up against each other.

On coming traffic will not do anything to slow drivers down. This is evident on Barton and 2 way Main where people speed all day long (more than they do on Main/King one way).

I really REALLY don't understand your logic about the whole "drivers will accelerate from one red light to the next". How is one way any different from two way in this respect? Regardless, I don't believe it to be true that people will accelerate to the next red light on one way streets as is demonstrated by the current traffic flow on one way streets here.

I think it's a bit of a stretch to try and argue that synching lights to encourage slower traffic will increase the danger factor. Seriously?

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By Barton Babe (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 17:52:41 in reply to Comment 65433

I will have to disagree with that. Check the traffic statistics, Barton has the lowest injury to cyclists and pedestrians of any cross street and it runs 21km in length making it by far the longests. It sadly doesn't translate into renewed business, but give it time. For my paesos it has the most potential of any street in the city. More shops and James and better streetscaping.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 19:01:07 in reply to Comment 65447

Barton babe, what are you disagreeing with?

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By shabooga (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:52:45 in reply to Comment 65429

SpaceMonkey: I agree with you that it is possible to calm traffic on a one-way street and make it more pedestrian friendly. I feel a lot more comfortable in the International Village stretch of King Street than I do on other one-ways in the city.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 16:01:51 in reply to Comment 65430

Thanks Shabooga. I appreciate your honesty. You're obviously arguing/conversing in good faith and looking at things honestly with an open mind rather than trying to support ideas with ridiculous "logic".

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:55:17 in reply to Comment 65430

It's possible, but why bother? The only real benefit to a one-way street is that it enables through traffic. A lot of other things, including local accessibility, get sacrificed for that, even if you reject the evidence that two-way streets are safer for pedestrians than one-way streets.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 16:05:12 in reply to Comment 65432

There are lots of reasons to "bother". Lets consider something you said...

"drivers accelerating from one red light to the next, causing frustration all around and even more dangerous driving than today".

So, lets assume Ryan is right. If we could somehow figure out a way to discourage drivers from accelerating to the next red light, things would, therefore, be safer. One Way streets provide the solution to this problem. There is one reason to "bother".

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 30, 2011 at 21:11:48 in reply to Comment 65436

A big problem with one ways is that it adds to the total trip kilometers meaning more cars driving further - which is bad for pedestrians.

An extreme example: driving southbound on John approaching King, one cannot turn right onto the south leg of the gore. One must turn right on King, left at mac nab, left on main. left on john, left on south leg of gore. All of these one way streets and arbitrary turn restrictions fore people to drive further to reach their destination - even if they know how to get there - and are multiplied if the driver does not know exactly where they are going. one way streets are poisonous to tourists and bad for walkability.

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By shabooga (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:57:32 in reply to Comment 65401

SpaceMonkey: If you're serious about finding out about walkability this might help you wikipedia article on walkability

Comment edited by shabooga on 2011-06-30 15:00:04

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:01:27 in reply to Comment 65413

Thanks Shabooga. Are you able to provide real reasons why two way makes a street more walkable? It's simply not true that speeds are higher on one way than they are on two way in Hamilton.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:57:01 in reply to Comment 65401

Can those who down voted me explain why they did so to the above post?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:00:30 in reply to Comment 65412

If you can't even be bothered to look up "walkability" before knocking on it then you're obviously not serious about discussing it honestly.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:02:57 in reply to Comment 65415

I haven't knocked on it AT ALL! If you can't see that, you're obviously not giving me a fair chance.

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By shabooga (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:25:10 in reply to Comment 65401

Take a walk down Main Street West during rush hour and use the un-sigalized school crossing at Pearl to cross Main Street traffic and what is not walkable will become clear. See streetview

Comment edited by shabooga on 2011-06-30 14:29:32

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:31:51 in reply to Comment 65404

I'm still waiting for a thoughtful defintion. But, to respond to Shabooga, can you explain how conversion to two way would make crossing at an un-signalized crossing on Main Street easier? I think it would be pretty easy to argue that it would be more difficult to cross if it was 2 way rather than 1 way.

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By shabooga (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:40:35 in reply to Comment 65407

Traffic on two-way streets is generally slower than it is on one-way streets. On a two-way street the city could install an island in the middle of the street between directions allowing pedestrians to take the crossing in two chunks. I have lived and walked one regularly on one-way and two-way streets the width of Main Street and I would take crossing the two-way street over the one-way street any day. Main Street is just scary when you are using it as a pedestrian.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:55:29 in reply to Comment 65410

"Traffic on two-way streets is generally slower than it is on one-way streets". In the city of Hamilty, the above statement is false. I proved this with a video I posted several months ago.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 15:07:00 in reply to Comment 65411

Apparently RTH voters don't like facts? Seriously, why would anyone down vote me for providing accurate, specific to Hamilton information. I took the time to actually drive several one way and two way streets, filmed it, and posted it here. That is real, concrete, information and I get down voted? I think some of you really need to think about why you are down voting me.

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By shabooga (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:18:37

I find that the lack of redundancy in our one-way system leaves our network vulnerable whenever a major blockage happens on one of these streets. You have fewer alternatives to travel in the direction you need to go when a tie-up happens. For instance when a major accident blocks many lanes on Main Street, the only other viable option to get you cross-town eastbound is Wilson Street which is blocks away. With two-way streets you would have many more options to get around the issue without going a long way out of your way. Also I have spoken to a few drivers who have a choice of getting to Burlington using the highway or cutting through downtown using our one-ways (one from the East Mountain and another from East Hamilton). They have told me that they prefer cutting through downtown due to traffic light synchronization. In rush hour, it saves them time to whip through downtown! I know these people will find alternate routes and avoid cutting through downtown if we change these roads to two-way or at least calm traffic somehow. We sometimes hear arguments saying there is no way to convert a street because it will not be able to handle current traffic volumes, however traffic patterns are influenced by the way a street is designed. The way you design a road can encourage or discourage the type of traffic that uses it.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:23:51 in reply to Comment 65402

The other possibility is that those same people may choose to live elsewhere, like in Burlington rather than in Hamilton. Count me in as one of the latter.

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By shabooga (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:27:42 in reply to Comment 65403

I'm all for people choosing to live closer to where they work. It's better for your wallet, for the environment, and for downtown livability apparently!

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:29:22 in reply to Comment 65405

Just for the record, I work in Hamilton.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted June 30, 2011 at 14:59:25

Yup, nothing wrong with your voting system Ryan. On second thought, perhaps there really is nothing wrong with your voting system. Perhaps it's that your voting system is fine, but people blatantly abuse it with no repercussion from the moderators.

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By Tree (anonymous) | Posted July 01, 2011 at 09:56:18

insult spam deleted

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2011-08-08 22:34:48

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2011 at 17:38:57

http://www.thespec.com/opinion/editorial/article/569969--hey-can-t-you-drive

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2011 at 13:19:55

Update: King William Street road construction

HAMILTON, ON – September 26th, 2011 – As the construction project on King William Street nears completion, the following roads will be converted back into one-way streets effective this Wednesday, September 28th:

• Hughson Street from King Street to Wilson Street
• Rebecca Street from John Street to James Street
• King William Street from Hughson Street to John Street

The roads were temporarily converted to two-way traffic in July to provide access to businesses and parking lots during construction. Two police officers will be posted at James and Rebecca and Hughson and Wilson Streets to help facilitate a smooth transition and ensure safety as motorists adjust to the conversion.

The project began in April and is expected to be completed by the end of October. The work involves the installation of a new sanitary/storm sewer, water main replacement, road resurfacing, construction of urban Braille sidewalk and streetscaping enhancements.

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By Art Brut (anonymous) | Posted November 01, 2011 at 15:28:38

Traffic restrictions on James and John Streets during road resurfacing

HAMILTON, ON – November 1st, 2011 – On Monday, November 7th, Hamilton’s Public Works Department will begin work to resurface James and John Streets. In order to facilitate this work, traffic restrictions will be required, as follows:

James Street South (Jackson Street to St. Joseph’s Drive)

• Two lanes of traffic will be maintained in the southbound direction only
• Northbound traffic movements from all side streets within the construction limits will not be permitted

John Street South (St. Joseph’s Drive to Augusta Street)

• Two lanes of traffic will be maintained in the northbound direction only
• Southbound traffic movements from all side streets within the construction limits will not be permitted

During construction, HSR transit service may experience delays on these routes. Access to all businesses on both James and John Streets will be maintained throughout construction, but on-street parking cannot be accommodated. Motorists and cyclists are encouraged to consider using alternate routes if possible. Pedestrian access will be maintained at all times.

The resurfacing project is expected to be completed in early December. Every effort will be made to complete this work in an expeditious manner and to keep any inconvenience to a minimum. The Public Works Department thanks the community for their patience and cooperation as we work proactively to enhance Hamilton’s infrastructure.

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