If Main Street is So Great, Why Are We So Embarrassed to Show It?

By Jason Leach
Published November 22, 2013

It's funny how the business community supposedly loves Main Street as a five-lane, one-way freeway, yet nobody ever represents it as such in renderings of new developments or upcoming projects.

Look at these renderings of planned renovations to the Art Gallery of Hamilton (AGH) fronting onto Main Street:

Rendering: AGH presents friendlier face to Main Street
Rendering: AGH presents friendlier face to Main Street

I love the guy cycling along merrily on Main Street and the people strolling right at the street edge. I guess they won't mind losing their elbows to a transport truck.

Here's a recent rendering of the new McMaster downtown health campus at Main Street and Bay Street. They turned Main Street into a two-way street and added a bike lane.

Rendering: McMaster Downtown Health Campus, Main and Bay
Rendering: McMaster Downtown Health Campus, Main and Bay

Look at all those people! I wonder why the designer didn't add a transport truck loaded with 19-tonne steel coils.

Remember this rendering of the Homewood Suites Hilton at Main and Bay? Lots of people, one car.

Rendering: Homewood Suites, Main and Bay
Rendering: Homewood Suites, Main and Bay

In this rendering, they decided just to ignore Main Street altogether:

Rendering: Main Street from Caroline to Bay
Rendering: Main Street from Caroline to Bay

If Main Street is such a great competitive advantage over Toronto, as some City Councillors seem to think, why does everyone take such great pains to hide it and make it look more like a normal city street in, well, Toronto?

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2013 at 12:39:33

Another thing: why do we keep pretending Main Street has an efficient design, even for drivers? An efficient street would make the most use out of scarce road space, but thanks to timed lights, all the cars on Main Street drive in clumps and the street is completely empty the rest of the time.

Main Street empty

It's the worst of both worlds: blasts of high volume, high speed traffic - including transport trucks - punctuating stretches of desolation.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-11-22 12:39:57

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 12:53:03

Another earlier rendering of 'Education Squre' (current Mac downtown site). These renderings also greatly minimize the horridness of Main and Bay, and seem to show both as two-way, normal looking streets.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 14:15:30

Renderings are only ever loosely based on reality, and more about market cliche: off-white consumers with perfect teeth.

Still hold out hope for an FPO mock-up using inclement weather, partially denuded trees, and dirty vehicles and patchy roads.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 14:34:35

I'm not asking for patchy roads and dead trees. How about something even close to real life on Main.

Here is a condo rendering next to the GO Station in Mimico:

And here is the real-life view of that same street:

The renderings always make life look uber grand, but at least they perfectly depicted the design and feel of the street.

Here's another one on Dundas St in the Junction:

Here's how the street really looks:

Again, completely accurate representation of the street.

There's a reason architects refuse to show a 5-lane freeway with trucks and tiny sidewalks next to their beautiful designs on Main.

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By Dawn (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 15:26:16

I'd sure love to see this article written with a positive look forward. If you're pushing for complete streets or some other solution, then by all means, push! Bashing the "horridness" of the heart of our downtown just makes people grumpy.

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2013 at 18:51:06 in reply to Comment 95093

It's not as bad as this site makes it to be. I agree it can be better. However I completely disagree with horrid, disgusting and other negative comments. It's a big turn off for me on the overall cause. Peoples eyes see different things. I see positive change happening, just not quick enough for some people I guess.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 26, 2013 at 15:24:13 in reply to Comment 95135

I'm talking about the street itself, not downtown. I see no changes happening on Main, let alone "not quick enough for some people". What am I missing?? It looks the same today as it did in 1960.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted November 26, 2013 at 10:18:41 in reply to Comment 95135

I see miniscule positive changes but no will to change the things that actually matter, i.e. wider sidewalks, dedicated/protected bike infrastructure and two-directional car lanes designed for a continuous, slow flow of traffic on Main. Those are the design factors that have been identified for King and Main time and time again on this site and in multitudes of urban studied. What positive change have you seen happening in these areas? Zebra crossings? My definition of 'positive change' requires that something about the way Main/King work actually changes.

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By R (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 15:35:09 in reply to Comment 95093

Main is horrid. It needs to change.

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By AlHuizenga (registered) | Posted November 25, 2013 at 13:55:08 in reply to Comment 95094

Main Street is also pretty disgusting, let's be honest.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2013 at 15:48:52

Bit of a tangent, but I was rather taken aback by the cyclist in that first image ...

Rendering: AGH presents friendlier face to Main Street

He's riding on the left-hand side of the street wearing some sort of futuristic battle armour. Perhaps appropriate for riding in the left-hand lane of a five-lane expressway, but I'm not sure how that's meant to be part of an appealing urban landscape.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 16:58:03

Maybe they were trying to capture the moment between green waves. Or paying homage to the surplus capacity?

I take your meaning. But I also regard renderings as flights of fancy. Suburban tract homes are no more faithful.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 17:16:31

I want very much to have the optimism and faith that these drawings were intended to show the city not as it is now, but as it will be in the near future!

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By Efficiency (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 17:25:02

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 26, 2013 at 15:25:49 in reply to Comment 95098

I'm glad you are concerned about health impacts of emissions. You'll be glad to know that people walking and cycling don't emit any. So, the more of them we can encourage and accommodate into our road network, the better off everyone is.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted November 24, 2013 at 13:32:46 in reply to Comment 95098

Auditor General of Ontario, 2012:

“According to the Ministry of the Environment (Ministry), approximately half of Ontario’s smog comes from pollutants that originate in the United States and are transported here by winds. The other half, however, comes from domestic sources, including utilities (for example, power plants), industries (for example, metal smelters and petroleum refineries), on-road motor vehicles and other forms of transportation (for example, trains and aircraft). Vehicles also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions (such as carbon dioxide) and toxic contaminants (such as carbon monoxide and benzene), which also adversely affect air quality. “

Figure 1: Changes in Province-Wide Domestic Emissions and Contribution by Road Vehicles to Those Changes 1998-2010

Pollutant / % of Total Domestic Emissions Contributed by Road Vehicles

Nitrogen oxides: 34% (1998) 25% (2010)
Volatile Organic Compounds: 21% (1998) 12% (2010)
Particulate Matter: 4% (1998) 3% (2010)
Carbon Monoxide: 62% (1998) 44% (2010)

Pollutant / Source of Most Domestic Emissions (2010)

Nitrogen oxides: Non-road transportation
Volatile Organic Compounds: General solvent use
Particulate Matter: Residential
Carbon Monoxide: Road vehicles

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 23:00:38 in reply to Comment 95098

our ring highway.

Where do all the east/west cars go in Toronto between the Gardiner and 401? Why don't we bulldoze Rosedale, Casa Loma, the the Bayview/Eglington neighbourhoods and anything else in the way and build a new east/west highway through the centre of Toronto for the poor souls who have to drive all the way to the 401 or Gardiner to find a freeway. Oh wait, they aren't poor souls. They are rich in fact if they are lucky enough to own property in central Toronto where streets are calm, leafy and property values are insane....far from any freeways. Funny how that works.

Hamilton has a stunning ring freeway network now. So stunning in fact, it's quicker to take the 403-Linc-Red Hill to reach the east end from Westdale instead of using this gross Main St freeway. If Main was a proper city street like these renderings show, it would be even quicker to use the ring freeway. If people don't want to use our nice highways, let's turn them into linear park space for local neighbourhoods.

Comment edited by jason on 2013-11-22 23:02:58

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By ASmith (registered) | Posted November 23, 2013 at 15:52:01 in reply to Comment 95104

I have been living in the Annex since May and the pedestrian experience is brutal, far worse than Hamilton.

Those leafy residential areas you mention are packed with SUV's which barely slow at stop signs. Even when they do stop, most drivers "encourage' pedestrians to increase their walking speed by entering the intersection soon after you've started crossing.

Curiously enough, I feel safer walking on Bloor St than in the residential areas. The reason? Lights that are timed so there are gaps in traffic.

My two cents.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 25, 2013 at 14:18:47 in reply to Comment 95120

Here's the thing: if, heaven forbid, something goes wrong? Which traffic is more likely to kill vs. wound? On a low-speed street, most of these "dangers" result in an angry exchange of words (and possibly insurance information). On a high-speed street, if something goes wrong, somebody dies.

Even if it's easier to cross, that doesn't mean it's safer.

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By R (anonymous) | Posted November 22, 2013 at 21:21:01 in reply to Comment 95098

They can take the ring highway

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 22, 2013 at 19:18:37 in reply to Comment 95098

Where do you propose that all the east-west vehicle go?

Some people will continue to drive on the various streets. If we convert our streets to two-way, drivers will have more options to get from a given origin to a given destination.

Some people will use the city's ring highway system, which is already as fast as our surface streets, even though they are also configured as de facto highways.

Some people will take transit for some trips, especially as Hamilton transit continues to improve with dedicated lanes and, once the Ontario government funds it, LRT.

Some people will take bicycles for some trips, especially as Hamilton's bike lane network continues to improve with protected bike lanes that connect to each other and take people to the destinations they want to reach.

Some people will decide to take some trips at different times, pushing non-essential trips outside rush hour.

Some people will decide to combine some activities in fewer driving trips.

Some people will choose alternate destinations for some errands.

Over the longer term, the shifting economics of driveability vs. accessibility will bring more destinations within closer distance to more people, reducing the need for long driving trips. More people will move into denser, more mixed-use urban neighbourhoods and reduce their driving even further.

The important thing to remember is that all the myriad individual people make choices in a context, and when you change the context, people's choices start to change as well.

what about the health effects with emissions?

Cars emit just as much pollution at high speed as they do at low speed (more, actually), so when you reduce vehicle speeds and vehicle throughput on a street, you actually reduce overall emissions. You reduce emissions further when the transportation network encourages some trips to be made using alternatives to the single-occupant automobile.

Generally, cities that commit the most fully to making it as easy as possible to drive have the worst overall air quality, since more people driving longer distances more frequently produces more air pollution.

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By beancounter (registered) | Posted November 23, 2013 at 00:49:54

And sometimes traffic just disappears...

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By good for the gander (anonymous) | Posted November 23, 2013 at 05:37:29

waterdown has growing congestion on dundas street during rush hour. if main street in downtown hamilton is the solution to moving high volumes of traffic at high speed through downtown areas i think the time has come to turn dundas street into a one way west bound highway. after all, highway 5 is an important intercity truck route. we can twin this with making parkside drive one way east bound. think of how well all the businesses on dundas street will do with the same amount of cars traveling way faster in a single direction with limited parking and reduced pedestrian activity! let's get on this! let's save waterdown downtown! after all, i have a right as a citizen of hamilton to drive as fast as possible through any community. i want to be able to get from clappisons corners to burlington in 5 minutes.

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By ORiTvOnline (registered) - website | Posted November 25, 2013 at 10:27:05

This is why we are So embarrassed to Show the Main Street West Vehicle Tidal Wave

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 25, 2013 at 10:47:23 in reply to Comment 95145

A little over a year ago, I shot a light sequence at Main and Caroline with one lane removed:

Despite the lane reduction, traffic flows so smoothly through the intersection that there are no cars left on Main by the time the light turns red.

Here's a short clip I shot earlier this year of Main Street at Bay when it was down to just two lanes:

As you can see, traffic flowed smoothly even with 3/5 of the lane capacity removed.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted November 28, 2013 at 09:17:28

An article posted yesterday on CBC Hamilton has another rendering of a two-way Main Street, complete with a car turning westbound from Summer's Lane onto Main:

AGH Rendering

(h/t to David Linton for pointing it out)

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2013-11-28 09:17:54

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By JoeyJoeJoe (anonymous) | Posted December 07, 2013 at 00:10:11

Sigh. Your sarcasm is neither intelligent or appreciated.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2013 at 21:56:55

I thought the gaps in traffic was so pedestrians can cross the street safely. But you know that, you're just trying to get your nonsense to cover up the truth.

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By granny2 (anonymous) | Posted December 27, 2013 at 09:45:10

Who would ever use an "entrance" off Main St? Nobody walks on that wind tunnel!

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