Transportation

Hamilton Does Not Have Gridlock

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 19, 2013

Today's Spectator reports that the public works committee voted to start charging developers $50 for a two-week permit to block a lane, followed by $100 a day for additional days.

The move was in response to developers who have indefinitely blocked lanes of traffic — often causing gridlock headaches — without facing any consequences.

I really think it's time to launch a campaign against abuse of the word "gridlock". Gridlock is a network condition in which traffic in every direction is at a complete standstill. This is why drivers are not supposed to enter an intersection unless they have room to clear it - a car stuck in the middle of an intersection blocks cross traffic.

Gridlock (Image Credit: Wikipedia)
Gridlock (Image Credit: Wikipedia)

Hamilton does not have gridlock. Let me repeat that: Hamilton does not have gridlock. Having to drive at less than 50 km/h on a downtown street during rush hour is not gridlock. Having to stop at the occasional red light before proceding through the intersection is not gridlock.

At 275 King Street West by Hess, where developer Denis Vranich has blocked a lane since 2012, there is nothing resembling gridlock even during afternoon rush hour. At worst, the lane closure produces some mild congestion at afternoon rush hour with free-flowing traffic the rest of the day.

Lane blocked at 275 King Street West (RTH file photo)
Lane blocked at 275 King Street West (RTH file photo)

What the lane closure at King and Hess tells us is that King Street has excessive lane capacity over most of its length - capacity that would be put to better use improving walkability and cycling.

And kindly note that if Main and King were each two-way streets, rush-hour traffic could proceed westbound on Main if King was backed up. A two-way street network is necessarily more resilient to disruptions than a network of paired one-ways.

But rather than make our street network more flexible and accept a little bit of congestion as a by-product of economic health, Councillors would rather punish and deter urban investment with more usurious and arbitrary fees.

We've been killing development dead with anti-urban regulations and fees for decades: is it too much to expect Councillors to learn from past mistakes instead of re-making them over and over again?

Main street reduced to two lanes past Bay - slow flowing cars but no gridlock
Main street reduced to two lanes past Bay - slow flowing cars but no gridlock

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 Cynic (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 13:22:38

After 20 years in kensington and 6 months in moscow, I'll say most people in Hamilton have no idea what gridlock is (unless you used the 403 and last year and tried to get off at York blvd). BUT is it really reasonable for a property owner to take over a lane of traffic perpetually and suffer no repercussions? 2 years is enough time to pretty much rebuild anything. 50 dollars likely doesn't cover the cost of issuing the permit. A hundred dollars a day after two weeks is still less than the cost of a person per day(or should be), and likely less than the cost of enforcement and collection.

I think a certain developer just got his own law....

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 13:32:35

While I agree we don't have gridlock by any stretch of the imagination, this is hardly going to prevent development. We've been without sidewalks on King at Hess, right in the bar district where people walk every single weekend, for two years now. There should be a charge for that kind of inconvenience.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2013 at 13:36:51 in reply to Comment 87337

I agree the city needs to lean on Vranich to hurry up and finish that restoration, but ham-fisted policy using arbitrary numbers (can any developer finish a project in just two weeks?) is absolutely not the way to deal with this.

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By Cynic (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 14:55:43 in reply to Comment 87338

If it is Vranich's law, and other developers see it as an issue. Let them deal with Vranich. The city has given grants / loans to him for that project.
They've tried leaning on him with no success. Let his peers deal with him. Thats how it works in the underworld, and the underworld and hamilton's development industry and really not to far removed.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2013 at 15:02:59 in reply to Comment 87347

I don't know that $1.2 million in incentives qualifies as leaning on him.

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By Cynic (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 16:09:53 in reply to Comment 87348

Yeah so he can block the street for 120 000 days ( 328 years) before he feels it in is wallet.

I was alluding to other developers 'leaning' on him as this is going to harm business? Although in the general scheme of things for the big boys it's a minor expense.


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2013 at 16:16:56 in reply to Comment 87355

Big economic decisions are made at the margins. $100 a day doesn't sound like a lot of money, but as I recently noted:

The equation for private investment in downtown Hamilton seems to have shifted just enough over the past several years that a number of impressive developments are now going ahead.

It wouldn't take much to nudge the balance of ROI back across the go-ahead line.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-03-19 16:17:04

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 13:48:31

It's very safe to assume that King West has twice as many lanes as it needs. First there was the blockage during Good Shepherd construction which didn't impact traffic one bit. Then the King/Hess project started, again not impacting traffic one bit. Then, more recently the city agreed to allow curb parking on the north curb of King 24-7 (it used to have a 'no parking from 4-6pm restriction) and now for the first time ever, you actually have to drive safely through that couple blocks of King before gunning it at the start of the 403, aka Queen St.

King is 2 lanes west of Wellington and flows like a freeway for 22 hours a day. Now it is 2 lanes east of Queen and flows like a freeway 22 hours a day. The other two hours aren't even remotely close to gridlock, but a tad bit more normal for rush hour in a big city. With the HOV lane coming from Mary to Dundurn this year it will leave 2 car lanes open on King from Wellington to Queen. I'm hopeful we'll see 24-7 curb parking on the south curb, right to Dundurn Street. Lord knows we don't need 5 lanes there.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 14:13:52

So we're down to the perennial challenge of coming up with funds for conversions. Hamilton is in status quo cruise control: too timid to propose a tax levy, too ashamed to admit that it's skint. Far easier to maintain that traffic volume is defining variable.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 14:37:32 in reply to Comment 87345

And no, Hamilton does not have chronic gridlock. There are times when intersections get gummed up, but the opposite is more often true.

http://www.thespec.com/opinion/columns/article/904661--fast-busy-streets-kill-livable-neighbourhoods

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 15:06:21

Ryan, I agree with you that there is no gridlock in Hamilton. But if that is the case then what is the argument for LRT? Couldn't we just have more large buses or a dedicated bus lane on King/Main during rush hours?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2013 at 15:11:23 in reply to Comment 87350

There's a limit to how many more buses we can throw at the transit demand along the B-Line corridor, but LRT is pretty expensive if the only point is to provide transit capacity. The real benefit is that LRT transforms the land use around the line by attracting billions of dollars in new private investment to increase the density and variety of uses. It is also far more successful than buses or bus rapid transit at attracting more people to ride the line instead of driving more often.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 15:46:15 in reply to Comment 87351

"The real benefit is that LRT transforms the land use around the line by attracting billions of dollars in new private investment to increase the density and variety of uses"

Really, perhaps you may want to take a look at Detroit and Buffalo to see where these billions in new development have benefitted them.

So you think that because we have LRT that takes you dt someone is going to build condos on Main and Sherman? First off the LRT trip across the city won't be much faster than it is now to induce more people to move to the lower city. Second, the King and Main corridors already are built up, there is not much available land for your billions in investments. Do you think that developers will buy property to tear them down? Good luck with that. People from RTH and McHattie will complain about hertage preservation. There just is not a great deal of demand to locate in the lower city. LRT wil not change that. This is not Toronto with hundreds of thousands commuting to their dt jobs.

About 25 years ago Hamilton received GO train service. City leaders said that it would rejuvinate the dt. Has it? Where are the billions in investments from that? Most people who use GO get dropped off and picked up at the station from their mountain homes. I know I did that for 9 years.If we get LRT the only people who would use it are those who currently use the HSR. People who drive to their jobs will still drive because they value their time and they probably don't work along the Main/King corridor in the lower city.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 19, 2013 at 16:12:48 in reply to Comment 87353

Over 400 cities have built successful LRT systems that are driving density and urban revitalization (and many of those cities are in the process of expanding their lines), while a tiny handful have not been successful.

Failures are worth considering for the lessons they offer in how to avoid the same mistakes, but they are no excuse to dismiss the proven benefits of well-planned, well-designed systems.

Buffalo's line has been underwhelming for a few important reasons:

  • They didn't revise the city's zoning rules to establish a transit-oriented development zone around the line. Developers who wanted to invest were caught in the same red tape that had deterred urban development for decades.

  • They ran the line underground through downtown and simultaneously closed the street to automobile traffic.

  • They built the line while the city was hemorrhaging population - half the city moved out in a 30-40 year period. No amount of LRT was going to reverse that.

Hamilton is avoiding all three issues: we're doing compatible land use planning at the same time we design the line, we are not closing downtown to traffic, and our lower city population is stable and slightly growing (especially downtown, where it is significantly growing).

Meanwhile, Detroit didn't build an LRT system; they built an elevated people mover that loops around the business district and doesn't particularly serve anyone's transportation needs - and again, it was built during a catastrophic collapse in the city's population.

Instead of cherry-picking the two or three cases that didn't work, try looking at the big picture - the general case among dozens (indeed, hundreds) of cities that built LRT and are enjoying real, measurable net benefits.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 17:19:27 in reply to Comment 87356

Well said Ryan , some poeples try to nit-pik and as a tax payer myself i take HSR and im for LRT and no i dont drive because im epeleptic and i use transit all the time to go do things or is its out the way i use a Taxi but with that aside i walk alot also and walkeble streets is the way to go .. i live not to far from Main street and King street is a bit further but i dont fel safe walking along thoses streets at all or biking i usaly use the bike lanes insted on cumberland stintson and so on

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 19, 2013 at 15:59:00

Really, perhaps you may want to take a look at Detroit and Buffalo to see where these billions in new development have benefitted them.

Or you could look at one of the 400 cities that did LRT properly and learn from them.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2013 at 15:43:03 in reply to Comment 87354

I'd like to know what your definition of "did LRT properly" means?

Just because 400 cities (out of thousands in NA) have lrt does not mean it has been done "properly".

My guess is that a cost-benefit analysis would bear out that LRT is negative.

You and Ryan did not answer my question as to where the billions in investment came from Hamilton's GO train service expansion?

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By Oh fer... (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2013 at 18:25:25 in reply to Comment 87393

Well you just keep on guessing then, buddy.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2013 at 20:16:24 in reply to Comment 87399

Thanks for the insightful comment

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 20, 2013 at 20:56:08

The fee is $100 per day after a 2-week grace period, and $50 for the lane closure. This is respectably small. If you're having work done on a building that requires closing a lane for over two weeks, your total expenses are going deep into five figures and up. $100 per day after that isn't going to be a make-or-break thing.

But $100 per day will prevent Vranich from leaving a lane closed on King Street for multiple years.

My only problem I have is that this doesn't take into account the specific cases of the building. It's a fee that should be waived for projects that are good for the city (infill developments) and might be too small if it's a road that sees bad congestion (Aberdeen is a good example).

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2013 at 04:32:31

Well here is something we agree on, Hamilton does not have gridlock. Hamilton has a terrific network of one way streets that enable traffic to flow efficiently throughout the city. That is the reason that the roads should remain the way they are and not be converted to two way. That is also the reason there is absolutely no need for a light rail line through the city.

Hallelujah!

Let the downvoting begin.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 24, 2013 at 03:15:58 in reply to Comment 87472

yes, there is nothing quite so glorious as living in a city with dead, boarded-up block after block after block while traffic roars by. We're really blessed here in Hamilton.

Who needs this

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-uKR-fNBZdHk/UC...

When you can have this

http://raisethehammer.org/static/present...

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2013 at 13:45:56 in reply to Comment 87485

The absurd nonsense never stops here does it. Who are you trying to paint as stupid? Me or you? What a comparison! You are taking an intersection from the largest city in Canada, it's economic capital, and comparing it to a stretch of roadway in some section of a SMALL city. No notice of times or any other relevant information. This alone should be more than enough evidence for all the residents of Hamilton to run screaming and yelling to their elected officials demanding that we immediately spend a billion dollars of taxpayers money and build a LRT line.

Get a few dozen corporations to open their head offices in Hamilton and then we can have a serious comparison of the two cities.

Let the downvoting begin.

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By Jean Pierre (anonymous) | Posted March 25, 2013 at 20:26:38

On a side note, Hamilton Magazine's Weekly Poll for this week has to do with this topic. Amazingly, 66% of voters think the fines are fair and that the affect on rush hour traffic has been horrendous. www.hamiltonmagazine.com to vote.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted March 29, 2013 at 13:47:17 in reply to Comment 87493

It's truly amazing how the scenery changes according to which side of the steering wheel you are watching.

Let the downvoting begin.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 22:44:48

Gridlock is all traffic being at a stand still for hours. Having one lane obstructed isn't gridlock. Taking 3 hours to get to a destination that ought to take 20 minutes is gridlock. Not moving in a car for 15 or more minutes is gridlock. It happens in Hamilton far too often & for some strange reasons. Every time a serious accident happens on the 403, or hwy. 6, or on the Link, Hamilton experiences actual gridlock, & this happens more than several times a year. I know. I have experienced it for nearly 16 years. The November sleet storm had all of Hamilton, from core to burbs gridlocked. I sat at Main & Dundurn for over 25 minutes waiting for cars stuck in the intersection to move out of the intersection, but more just kept filling in the gaps. It had taken me 1 1/2 hours to get there. (it would normally take about 20 minutes)

The problem is that the 403 goes right through the heart of Hamilton, & then it crosses the outskirts several times. When it is closed, all traffic that would be on it, is..dare I say..Gridlocked onto all of the streets near it. If traffic is at a standstill from Ancaster to Stoney Creek, & through the core of Hamilton, then YES! This is gridlock. Last Summer, all GHA 403 exits remained closed from about 2 p.m. until well after 8:30 p.m. because of an early afternoon accident on Hwy 6 South. WHY? When I called the OPP to ask what had happened, the police were at a loss to explain to me why private citizens had placed barricades at the Garner Rd. entrance & exit ramps to the 403. Garner Rd/Rymal Rd was blocked as far as Stoney Creek. There was no way in or out of the GHA. I saw 2 accidents happen on Garner because of people becoming impatient. Police & ambulances had a difficult time getting to the scenes of these accidents.

The problem is the 403 & other hyw's & how accidents are handled. If an accident happens, why is the entire hwy system closed from one end of the GHA to the other? Block some entrances, or exits as need be to investigate & clean up, but why block any possible escape route for rush hour traffic? We do have gridlock, but not because of lane closures.

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By D. Shields (registered) | Posted May 15, 2013 at 17:41:12 in reply to Comment 87644

Well thanks I guess for the 0 comments. Suburban traffic hurts us all & is the major cause of gridlock throughout the GHA. We need to plan to get as many cars as possible OFF the 403. We can't do that if reasonable access to Main St., King St., & the GO Station are only possible by car. We had to travel to Oakville several times last Fall during morning & afternoon rush hours. It was pretty easy, because no one was using the Diamond Lanes. One car & One driver in almost all instances. No passengers. Look, if we could get even 1/2 of these vehicles off the 403, even part of the time, it would be so much better for everyone! It's not going to happen unless decent, usable public transit gets implemented in the Burbs.

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By Dave (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2013 at 18:19:12

I read this post awhile back. Didn't think much of it. Yesterday I was approaching King and Hess Construction Lane. Traffic was backed up as a result of the lane reduction at 5:30pm yesterday. Hurry up Vrancor please.

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By Gored (anonymous) | Posted May 01, 2013 at 18:51:40 in reply to Comment 88306

Really?? I drive that way every day just after five. Couple of times I've had to wait at a red light. If that's what folks consider "backed up" then we haven't got a hope in hell of making things better for the Downtown.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 08, 2013 at 20:40:37

More proof of the vitality of the suburbs.

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/2555884-construction-season-get-ready-for-west-mountain-gridlock/

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