Revitalization

A Switcheroo on Readers

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 30, 2006

Last week, the Hamilton Spectator commemorated the fiftieth anniversary of Hamilton's one-way street switchover with an article that sprinkled the case for switching back to two-way without committing to its own obvious conclusions.

Tantalizingly, the article led with a number of fifty-year-old quotes from locals who warned about what would happen: "King and Main streets had become 'speedways'"; "Pedestrians were on the run"; cars "don't have time to even see the stores, let alone shop here".

The reader waits for the author to draw the obvious point that all these fears were borne out: Main and King became expressways, pedestrians no longer feel safe, and business downtown has declined despite demolishing whole blocks to create suburban-style indoor malls.

I've been arguing for a long time that Main-King is a de facto expressway; it was nice to see historical confirmation of this purpose.

[Wilbur Smith] was the traffic consultant called up from New Haven, Conn., to solve Hamilton's congestion.

Traffic flow would have been even worse if there had been more signals, he said. "The heavy volume of traffic having neither origin or destination in downtown Hamilton which uses Main Street cannot be easily displaced from this important artery," he wrote in his report.

A crosstown expressway would be expensive. A solution to the traffic problem was one-way streets.

Other cities whose downtowns have suffered a high volume of through-traffic are responding in a variety of ways by discouraging cars from simply passing through the city. In Hamilton, the right to drive anywhere quickly and conveniently is sacrosanct, and bother the bystanders.

The article does end with historian Bill Manson making a case for reverting back to two-way, but not until the author sets the psychological scene, so to speak, by presenting Manson's observations in a wistful, nostalgic frame. Assuming readers make it this far, the framing unfairly weakens Manson's argument.

The case for two way streets is so strong that it should be a no-brainer. Even John Dolbec, the CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, recently admitted - also in the Spec, also in an article that did not examine the implications - that making James North two-way dramatically improved the street, drawing new investment, attracting more people, and revitalizing the sidewalk.

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 steeltown (registered) | Posted October 30, 2006 at 12:40:51

According to that article it mentioned that changing King St West into a two way street "is now on hold"

So not 2010? So what have to wait until 2020?

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 30, 2006 at 14:09:52

the city probably put it 'on hold' after seeing the huge success on James North and South. They don't want King, Main or too many other streets downtown to experiece and full-out revival or the business owners on these streets would actually become strong voices at city hall and demand that the urban core stop subsidizing sprawl. We can't have that. If downtown stops subsidizing sprawl, who will?? Don't even suggest the residents or developers....we know that'll never happen.

Yea, I read that Spec piece and felt the need to check the date on the front of my paper....is it 2006 or 1956?? They've got "one way streets for newbies".... um, I don't think any Hamiltonians are 'newbies' when it comes to one-way streets anymore.

Also funny that they converted the entire system in one night in the 50's. Apparently now you and I are so stupid that they have to do tiny sections at a time spread out over decades. No, we really are - check out the new left turn signals at James South. After several accidents where people suddenly forgot how to drive, we had to pay for left turn signals at St Joes Drive. Perhaps a lot of people should have been made to get their license again instead of blaming 'two way streets'.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 30, 2006 at 14:26:33

The biggest swindle on small business owners is their faith that the Chamber of Commerce (CoC) represents their interests. In Hamilton, the home building industry and related areas - suppliers, construction unions, etc. - runs the show, supplying most of the campaign money (it will be interesting to see Tony Greco's list of contributors once the election is over), sitting on the city's planning committees, and ghost-writing or strongly influencing the city's zoning regulations that encourage sprawl.

Judging from organizations like the Downtown BIA, too many urban businesses think the answer to their troubles is to become more like the suburbs: hence the preponderance of urban parking lots, one-way expressways, and strip plazas.

However, the evidence is clear that a huge market exists for real urban living. Unfortunately, business tends to follow a one-size-fits-all planning model, and Hamilton business is strongly shaped by what the CoC wants. As a result, people who want something different than sprawl have no choice, and the downtown continues to suffer.

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By A Robot (anonymous) | Posted October 30, 2006 at 21:40:18

I think the return to two-way is great, and hope to live long enough to see the curse reversed.

King and Main have likely been delayed until they figure out the proper way of turning back time. The south halves of James and John are so half-assed it's no wonder motorists are frustrated. The old lanes are still drag strips while the new lanes are stuck behind reverse-timed lights. Why can't I turn left from James northbound onto King? Why is St Josephs westbound completely useless?

Please, Hamilton...
Fix the light timings so both directions are equal. This may require some people to maintain a lower speed. I think we'll get over it. In fact, I think the planet may just keep spinning.

Diversify the bus routes. Y-You know you can keep going down James, rather than turn right on St Joe's... ok just checking. Speaking of which, please let those poor folks living on St, Joe's go straight through, or maybe even turn left. I know there's not that many of them, but I get pissed just visiting.

While we're at it, get rid of that dumb turning lane thing on Hess before the village and allow right turns from Main. Just let us give those trees one last hug. Remember, they're going to a better place.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 30, 2006 at 21:48:57

ha...great comments Robot. You're bang on with your assessment of James/John South. It's like the city wanted to go two-way but not dare slow down the Mountain commuters. I have friends on St Joes...they were excited about being able to come straight out of their street to access James or James Mtn Road only to find out once the project was done that, nope, no luck. Don't waste your time suggesting proper bus routing for the HSR. Why come straight down James when you can go onto John and sit for 5 minutes all bunched up waiting to go left onto King. Yea, that makes transit attractive. Everyone wants (I'm not sure what the downtown BIA wants anymore) the buses off the Gore....have them come straight down James to Wilson, right on Wilson, right on John and back up the mountain. Is that hard?? No, and it will be quicker making right turns instead of lefts....better yet, those mountain routes should head all the way to Barton and a few should go to Pier 8 and then come back up John. Heaven forbid Mountain transit users have any chance of seeing our beautiful harbour via bus.

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By tim jacobs (registered) | Posted October 26, 2007 at 14:43:39

Here's a little tidbit from the Calgary Herald on Edmonton's successful switch to two-way streets:

"One-way streets: Edmonton changed all its downtown one-ways back to two-way several years ago. The result is sanity – no driving 10 blocks and making four turns to cover two blocks." Don Braid, "Sleepy Edmonton's makeover just might deserve imitating," Calgary Herald, Aug. 1, 2004.

I got into an email exchange with Brian McHattie last June over the issue, and he told me that City Hall is doing a "five year review of the Downtown Transportation Plan," so we shouldn't exactly sit on the edge of our seats with anticipation.

Nevertheless, it's high time we lobbied for this change, of course, so that council implements stuff faster. The LRT, two-way streets, and a new downtown stadium for the Tiger Cats are major priorities for downtown renewal.

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