Transportation

Reduced Drive-Through Traffic is a Benefit of Two-Way Streets

By Jason Leach
Published February 22, 2008

Terry Cooke's recent Hamilton Spectator column on the need for Hamilton to convert downtown streets to two-way has generated some letters to the editor.

This letter in today's Spec makes some interesting points worth reprinting here and highlighting.

First, the letter writer states that he now avoids driving to work on James or John Streets since their two-way conversion. This is exactly the point: to cut down on pass-through traffic.

This is why I was hoping the city would just do a straight conversion of those streets instead of this crazy three-lanes-southbound, one-lane-northbound thing, which attempted to preserve the one-way dynamic. Had they done a simple, proper conversion we'd probably have even fewer people driving these streets to work.

Second, the letter writer doesn't seem to indicate a change or loss of job as a result of the conversion, so I'm going to assume he found a new way to drive to work.

Again, the city needs to put this higher on the list of importance when looking into two-way conversions. There are plenty of route choices in Hamilton. I still see a barren and empty Claremont Access everyday. Perhaps more people should follow the lead of this writer and find another route to work.

Finally, business has improved on these streets and many new restaurants, galleries and shops have opened since their conversion. Having fewer cars zipping through the area has helped create a more pedestrian-friendly feel, which is great for business.

Someone going straight from their driveway to their work parking lot isn't doing a thing to help the merchants on these downtown streets.

People walking the neighbourhood, living in the area and now feeling more safe and comfortable to cycle or stroll are helping the merchants and now drawing new merchants to set up shop on once-dying streets.

I hope the city will fast-track the conversion of other downtown streets, and listen to the experience of drivers who are easily finding alternate routes to continue their daily lives.

Drastic improvements to the HSR would further allow for lane reduction and less cars on downtown streets. Downtown is not a highway or thruway. It is the heart and soul of our city.

Terry Cooke is bang-on in his suggestion to bring life back downtown, and street conversions are undoubtedly the single greatest step the city could take to see that happen.

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 Thom (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2008 at 15:51:37

Jason, great response to these dismal letters to the editor. I would encourage you to send an abbreviated letter to the editor (letters@thespec.com) because not everyone visits RTH and the Spec needs progressive voices.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2008 at 16:42:30


Let's get on with more of the two-way conversion already. Main street is a five lane highway. Not even the linc is five lanes!

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By urbanboy (registered) | Posted February 22, 2008 at 16:51:36

I agree with Thom. Send this to the Spec...this is twice now they're stirred the debate up with the one-two way conversation in the last year and they have yet to publish ONE pro two-way letter to the editor. If your letter doesn't get published, clearly they have an agenda, as they sit comfortably up on their little hill overlooking the highway and not living anywhere near the downtown core.

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By Gump (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2008 at 18:30:17

Sorry, I have to agree with the letter writer. If your downtown isn't a destination, (or even close to becoming one), creating slow moving/idling traffic with confusing configurations only convinces more people to avoid the area completely. If, or when (and I do hope so), life starts breathing again in the downtown, shut if off to traffic altogether. Wellington to James, Main to King. Two way streets don't create demand, this is trying to solve the problem backwardly.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 22, 2008 at 19:01:21

Gump...I hear what you're saying, and I agree that two-way streets don't automatically create demand. What they do, however, is help to create an ambiance and vibe that is pleasant for people. Old builidngs can be renovated and turned into lofts or apartments, cafes and restaurants can open patios....as more people come to live in the area, the critical mass grows - more services, shops and dining along with more residents. So, in fact, two-way streets do play a critical role in helping to create this pedestrian-friendly atmosphere. Look at James North. Only 1 thing has changed down there in the past decade - the two-way conversion. I'm only 30 so I don't remember the booming days of the mid 1900's. In my lifetime, the number of new galleries, restaurants and cafes that have opened in the past 5 years along with new lofts, offices, studios and apartments constitute the biggest boom I've ever seen on James North. The hope is that there is much more to come.

This might be a better analogy to use - look at Locke Street, Hess Village, downtown Dundas or Concession Street....all successful shopping/entertainment districts in various parts of the city. Now, take the 2 lanes that exist on each street (only 1 in Hess) and substitute it with the 5 lanes of Main Street. Or the 4 lanes of Cannon. Have timed lights, narrow sidewalks and instead of directing trucks to use our freeways (like every other normal city on the continent), allow them to use these city streets as signed, legal truck routes. I guaruntee you that shops and restaurants would close down so fast your head would spin. Residents would move to other, more enjoyable streets leaving upper level apartments to lose their value and become "bottom of the barrel" units that can only be rented to people with no other options.

Successful retail districts like Hess or Locke would fold up like a cheap tent simply due to this one change.

Perhaps one more angle to share with you - why is it that all of Hamilton's successful street retail districts are on streets with 1-lane each way and street parking? Dundas, Locke, Ottawa, Concession, dowtown St Creek, James North etc.....

And why hasn't the bustle and vibrancy of Locke or Hess spilled around the corner onto Main Street? I think the answer is pretty clear. Cheers

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By gump (anonymous) | Posted February 23, 2008 at 09:33:43

Ambiance and vibe? I walked James north on Monday (family day) from King to Burlington St.. There's more than one thing changed than the two way conversion. You don't have to go back to the mid 1900's for a more vibrant James north, 20 years ago would do. I was so disheartened by the closed up stores, deteriorating buildings and all round desolate look and feel of the area.
Hamilton's not a village, it's a medium sized city. Niche shopping areas such as Locke, Hess, Westdale etc. are great, and I'd love to see more. But reality is, Hamilton is a city, people have to get around efficiently, major east/west, north/south corridors HAVE to be available, not only for the city dwellers, but for commerce access to the "niche" type businesses,and I believe the major corridors should remain one way. How can you encourage people to utilize these unique shopping districts when you impede access? Best to start with a more user friendly transit system I'd say, one that encourages usage and rewards frequent users....but I digress....
Hamilton is not Hobbitville, traffic has to move!

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 23, 2008 at 14:22:27

"traffic has to move".

well, we're certainly experts at that! Go stand along Cannon or Main and tell me how many days, months or years you have to wait to see your first traffic jam (not caused by a blizzard or accident - just due to slow volume). It's funny how in Hamilton "traffic has to move!" is our mantra, yet all of us bundle into our cars and go to Toronto to enjoy a 'real city' with a 'vibrant downtown' which interestingly enough includes incredible traffic jams all day, every day. If you're theory is correct, then Hamilton should be the city with booming business and commerce. Toronto should be boarded up and dead as a doorknob if slow traffic equals no business or commerce. Go to Byward Market in Ottawa, anywhere in Manhattan, Boston's North End ( narrow streets, virtually no parking and shockingly, booming business in 200 restaurants, shops and cafes) or any other successful retail district in a North American downtown - big or small- and I promise you two things. You'll see throngs of people. And you won't see 5-lane streets with timed lights, skinny sidewalks, huge transport trucks flying past 24-7.
NYC is the only city on the continent that has HAD to use 3 to 5 lane one-ways and if you've ever been there you'll likely have stories of going 3 blocks in 45 minutes.

I think we understand these concepts in Hamilton (Hamiltonians are a well-travelled bunch who seem to come back from bustling cities all ticked off at our own)....we just don' want to implement them here. It's a sad reality when citizens of a city reach the point of not caring at all for their own town and future.

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By gump (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2008 at 09:45:05

I don't live in Ottawa, Manhatten, Boston, NY or Toronto, and I don't care to. I want to get around my city as effortly as possible, why import traffic problems from other cities? Traffic jams don't equal successful cities. Does slow moving traffic give you the perception of "a happening place"?....not me. I shudder watching the morning gridlock of all the unfortunate people that have to commute. There are so many options to create a more friendly pedestrian/cycling environment then creating more pollution with idling cars. Two way streets in the core, have almost eliminated street parking, (to the delight of the vast number of Toronto owned parking lots in the city), STOP adding to the excuses of Hamiltonians to avoid the downtown at all cost....carrot, or stick?

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 24, 2008 at 14:29:01

now we're getting somewhere. Our goals are clearly stated.

Yours - "I want to get around the city as effortlessly as possible" I assume you mean in a single occupancy vehicle, and not on a bus or bike.

Mine - I want downtown Hamilton to be full of commerce, business and streetlife. If creating that environment happens to add 5 minutes onto the 'effortless' zip through town for all the single occupancy vehicles, so be it.

It's time we stop hijacking the success and future of our downtown (and entire city by extension) just to keep cut-through drivers happy. Drivers who are never going to walk the streets or shop the shops. They are at the bottom of the list in my books when considering all the various people, businesses and effects of creating a pedestrian friendly downtown. Sorry, but that's just the facts. Imagine if TO started demolishing buildings and widening roads to accommodate all the cars in Mississuaga and Markham?
It would be stupid for them to do that....and it's stupid for us to continue to do that when we clearly know better. the single occupancy car cutting through downtown from the suburbs is like item #1,346 on the list of considerations in the future of our city. They'll find another way around as I mentioned in the original blog. They always do.

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By Forrest (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2008 at 14:33:08

>>I want to get around my city as effortly as possible, why import traffic problems from other cities?

Sorry to say, Gump, you're part of the problem. You only want one thing -- free rein in your car -- and you plug your ears so you don't have to understand the affects of what you want. Every city that has great public spaces and healthy urban centres also has traffic congestion.

**Congestion is a sign of health. It's what happens when you make your city for people, not cars.**

If you care more about moving quickly than having a healthy downtown, then be at least honest about it and stop pretending different.

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By everywhere365 (anonymous) | Posted February 24, 2008 at 20:00:13

Hi all, I cycle or walk. sometimes run. We need bike lanes on Main & King & don't understand why not yet. funding? Safety should always be 1st and foremost over $$$.
As for 2 way streets. Yes & no. Yes is best but now we look both ways before crossing(get used 2 it) No is from a friend says it should've have remained 1 way(?)I forget his explantion or logic.
Cycling is bad for winter but overkill of salt(nothing but crap)ruins bicycles mechanics. And cars too. And roads for traffic(cars etc) over bike lanes or sidewalks because it seems "we' pedestrians/cyclists/walkers are second class citizens. true or not, sure seems that way when many roads aren't snow cleared(especially side roads/streets)and we are stuck to walk on roads and on our toes to watch behind traffic.
I don't object to bus transit. I somehow prefer cycling/walking and sometimes a run. it's healthy but too many drivers than need be especially the rush hour ideots and "what's the rush" Main?King etc? Heavy vehicles ruin roads. Not just weather. View any road less used by cars is evident.
i hate when cycling on snowy unshovelled uncleared snow roads when cars behind me when some moron drivers mouth off at me "get on the Fn sidewalk or move over!" I never take that crap from drivers. Fortunately I can defend myself verbally and if necessary, self defensively. been lucky none physical last while but most talk/listen or simply ruse or ignorant.
Critical Mass all the way! ironically, cyclists do have more rights to the roads than drivers.But, evidence seems to prove otherwise. Too much favouritism towards drivers.......

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By Gump (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 08:58:50

You know what that say about people who assume.... I don't drive, I have a bus pass, I cycle, I walk. My choice of travel doesn't keep me ignorant or dismissive of others.

"Congestion is a sign of health" ??....Not on my planet.

If you truly believe crawling traffic is the saviour of the city, there's plenty of other cities (you've mentioned them) you may be happier in.

I only want the major corridors to remain one way, and with that, enhance their pedestrian/cycling experience. If you convert them to 2 way, there won't be the room. If you had read my previous post, I'm for shutting down all traffic on King, Wellington to James. Main St and Cannon can serve the bulk of the traffic.

This is it for me, communication can only happen with receptive participants.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 09:06:32

hey Gump...not sure who you're referring to (all comments have been good on this blog) but I'm interested to hear your ideas to "move effortlessly through town" in ALL modes of transportation. Walking, cycling, transit and vehicles. And by the way, nobody is calling for massive congestion....Look at James St. It takes an extra 2 minutes to drive this strip during rush hour than it did before the conversion. I still consider that flowing effortlessly through town. I would like to see an extra 3-5 minutes added on the trip through downtown on both King and Main from Dundurn to Sherman. I would still consider that a great flow of traffic. Once that extra 3-5 minutes is added to the cars, we can get more transit riders and cyclists by having LRT and buses in their own lanes along with cycling lanes. Suddenly, all 3 of those modes are competitive with each other....and the vehicle is by far the most expensive. Then, I believe, we would see a good shift of people from their cars into the other modes.

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By Gump (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 09:45:39

Ok, ok, my passion for the city compels me......

Creating a false need to obtain your objectives is an old tried and true Hamilton methodolgy.

Imagine if they didn't improve Rymal and Stonechurch Rds, chopped up Limeridge, used inflated traffic projections.....hey! we need an expressway across the mountain.

Slowing down traffic to make alternative methods of transportation more attractive, in my view, is deceitful and provocative. We have to, as a society, change our culture regarding transportation, and each of us have to come to that conclusion individually. I'm not saying we can't help others along the way, but I wouldn't want it forced on me, there's enough people/organizations telling us what's best for us.

Why not be proactive (foreign term in cityhallspeak) in regards to mass transit, build it, operate it effectively, and price it MORE than competitively, make it a no brainer to choose. It wouldn't be cheap initially, it's money I'm sure city hall would say isn't available. How much is the future worth investing in? Let's try and actually put some "truth in the pudding" with regards to the city's mission statement.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 10:46:58

hey, now we're really getting somewhere...I agree completely. For the record, I'm not suggesting we 'force' anyone to change their modes of transport. But the fact remains, in order to improve transit times and convenience as well as cycling safety we need to slow down street traffic...not jam it up, but slow it down.

I know people who have said "I will NEVER use transit regardless of how great they make it" (apparently they have been hijacked by their car, but I digress). I tell those people that they should be the first ones supporting LRT and world-class transit and cycling lanes. Because a large chunk of the population will change their habits once they see the benefits to their own health and pocketbook. Those who still choose to drive everywhere will have the road to themselves! It's a win-win.

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By OLDCOOTE (registered) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 10:59:33

This is not a battle of absolutes.

Conversion to two-way traffic will not result in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

I walked down King Street this morning, from Westdale to James Street. I was astonished at two things:

  1. The speed of the traffic. Cars were easily traveling 80 km/h.
  2. The proximity of traffic to the sidewalk. This can be a terrifying experience for pedestrians and bicyclists.

If two-way conversion results in slower, safer traffic in what is supposed to be a mixed use neighbourhood, it's a no-brainer. Save the highway mentality for the highways.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted February 25, 2008 at 20:07:18

Gump said: "If your downtown isn't a destination, (or even close to becoming one), creating slow moving/idling traffic with confusing configurations only convinces more people to avoid the area completely."

No one is advocating "slow moving/idling traffic with confusing configurations". We simply want the one way traffic converted back to the way it was: two way with left turn lanes as necessary. The speeds that people reach on King and Main are absolutely absurd and unsafe. We aren't talking about slowing a street down from 50 to 30. We are talking about making it difficult to go more than 50 through downtown where right now people can and do go 70 or more as the norm.

Gump, you keep talking about major corridors that need to bring you from one end of the city to the other. We have SO many that aren't King or Main. We have a full ring of highways around the city now. We also have the mountain accesses which will always be fast moving east-west corridors.

Think about Toronto... their "main" streets in the heart of downtown(yonge, dundas, etc) are not built for speed. Instead they offer a ring of highways and one or two alternative city streets that are wider. Meanwhile in Hamilton, we have much less demanding traffic yet we offer DOZENS of fast moving accesses right through town IN ADDITION to our ring highways that, i must add, are an absolute breeze to navigate in comparison with Toronto's. Our network of accesses that you want to protect is already seriously overbuilt.

And my final point is simply that I believe you are thinking about this in the wrong way. The goal of slowing down traffic and building a people-friendly core is not to bring more visitors driving in and parking to shop. It is to make a city that is comfortable for urban-minded citizens to live in every day.

We are talking about attracting full time permanent downtown residents. This is the number one key to downtown revitalization.

Everyone talks about revitalization as if it's chicken or egg - businesses won't open without vibrant life, but vibrant life won't build unless businesses exsist. But guess what... there IS a first step. Create a livable place at the fundamental civic infrastructure level -- a comfortable physical space for people who do not necessarily drive every day. People will come to permanently live in such a space (especially with housing prices as low as they are now). Those people will attract businesses. Businesses will attract more residents. More residents will attract more businesses. And the end result of the snowball effect will be a vibrant downtown that does in fact attract visitors and external shoppers despite any traffic problems!

If we continue to pander to those that just want to drive through town as fast as they can, guess what: that is the kind of downtown we'll have forever.

We need to build a livable city so that people will want to live in it. That is the absolute first step and the key to revitalization. Slowing down traffic to reasonable levels is just one of many many steps that need to be taken. But it is an important one -- and it is probably one of the cheapest to boot!

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2008 at 08:16:10

Last night I attended the Gil Penalosa lecture at the Upwind Downwind Conference. He showed many before-and-after pictures of cities whose street infrastructure had previously catered entirely to fast moving cars, but was transformed to give priority to pedestrians and cyclists.

The transformations were nothing short of astonishing. What's more, despite the relentless protestations of people like Gump who insisted it would be a disaster (just like the James and John conversions were a disaster, right?), urban neighbourhoods long written off as dead, hopeless places came back to life very rapidly.

Most people have no idea how much latent demand there is for healthy urban environments with wide sidewalks, bike friendly routes and people-scaled amenities; but whenever a city decides to try and reclaim its downtown - whether that city is Portland, Melbourne, Vancouver or Bogota, people rush to come back.

Sorry to sound pissy, but I'm just sick and tired of people who, without bothering to do any research whatsoever, are certain that making our city streets people-friendly places will be a disaster, will drive away traffic, will ruin the city, yadda yadda yadda, at nauseam, forever and ever, amen.

The evidence is abundant, overwhelming, and incontrovertible: if we want a healthy downtown full of people, we need to make our downtown streets safe, healthy and attractive for people. That means the urban expressways have to go.

It's not about 'punishing' motorists, as many people have claimed. It's about changing our priorities to put pedestrians, cyclists and transit users first, as cities like Vancouver and Portland have explicitly done.

It's about getting rid of the public incentives that subsidize driving at thee expense of walking, cycling and transit - abundant wide lanes with high speed limits that destroy neighbourhoods, mandatory "free" parking at every destination, the lion's share of the public works budget, plows that cheerfully dump snow from the road onto the sidewalk, and so on.

It's about deciding as a city that we want to be a city of people, not cars. It's that simple, and all the hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing is really just fear of change. Cities that brave the opposition (the "squeaky wheels" as Penalosa put it) and change their priorities transform rapidly - within a few short years - into exciting, vibrant, healthy, attractive, desirable places that people living in cities like Hamilton decide to visit while on vacation.

As Jason points out, why do we pay thousands of dollars to visit vibrant cities, but refuse to make our own city a vibrant place?

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