Comment 95778

By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2013 at 15:15:36 in reply to Comment 95774

Large cities all over seem to be thriving despite one-way streets (Toronto, Montreal, New York City, etc.),

Toronto has mostly two-way streets. Its few one-way streets are comparatively desolate, and many advocates in Toronto have been asking for them to be converted back to two-way. Meanwhile, advocates for easy driving (like Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong) are calling for thriving two-way streets like Yonge to be converted into paired one-ways. (!?!)

Montreal does have some one-way streets, but those streets notably have wide sidewalks, canopies of street trees, dedicated bike lanes and dedicated transit lanes.

New York has one-way streets in Manhattan, but it's important to remember a few things: 1) Manhattan has the highest population density in North America with 1.6 million people living on 59 square kilometres, a number that balloons to a staggering 3.9 million during the workday; 2) Almost no one drives in Manhattan, and the streets are mostly given over to taxis and buses; 3) Manhattan has excellent transit, wide sidewalks and a tremendously tall, dense, diverse streetwall of mixed uses in close proximity.

Outside of Manhattan, New York's other boroughs have mostly two-way streets. In Brooklyn, residents are campaigning to convert pedestrian-unfriendly one-way streets to two-way.

Locke street, James North, Westdale, etc. aren't thriving because of the conversion to two-way streets, it's because what's there is desirable.

Locke Street and James North did not begin their revitalization until after the streets were made more pedestrian-friendly. On James, which was being written off as a dump just a decade ago, the taming entailed converting traffic flow to two-way with curbside parking, bumpouts and so on. On Locke, which barely supported marginal retail businesses in the early 1990s, the taming entailed allowing all-day curbside parking and adding several controlled intersections.

In both cases, the changes had the effect of both slowing automobile traffic and creating safer, more comfortable space for pedestrians.

As far as I can tell, Westdale has always been two-way, with slow automobile traffic and walkable streets surrounded by a fairly dense, walkable residential neighbourhood.

There are several necessary conditions for a successful urban place:

  • Pedestrian-friendly - people have to feel comfortable and safe walking around

  • Streetwall - buildings should be built to the sidewalk with open/retail uses on the main floor

  • Density - the built form must bring a critical mass of people in close proximity

  • Diversity - buildings must be allowed to serve a wide variety of different uses

With all of these characteristics, and especially when you include good transit and a public policy that supports healthy urban development, a place has a good chance of becoming successful and prosperous.

If any characteristics are missing, the street is going to suffer. For example, John Street has not enjoyed as much revitalization as James, mainly because much of the built form was demolished and sits vacant as surface parking. Without existing buildings to bootstrap reinvestment, the depopulated area around John will have to wait until property values rise enough to support new construction (as is currently happening at James and Vine).

The of John whose streetwall is still more or less intact - between King William and Young - has seen some decent recovery, but even this is hampered by all the low-value pavement where buildings should be, e.g. the mostly-demolished block bounded by John, Jackson, Catharine and Hunter.

As for Barton, it has a lot going against it - including the fact that most of the street is four or five lanes wide and dedicated to fast automobile traffic (only six short blocks have streetscaping - between Victoria and William). The neighbourhoods around Barton are among the poorest in Hamilton, the buildings are not the best quality and are in poor repair, and several big bites are missing from the streetwall (e.g. between Mary and East Ave).

Again, a lot of necessary conditions have to be in place for a street to thrive. Walkable streets are a necessary condition but not, in themselves, a sufficient one in the absence of the other characteristics.

The important thing to understand is that desirable destinations follow those necessary conditions, not the other way around. As Jennifer Keesmaat, Chief Planner for the City of Toronto, said last week in a talk at Liuna Station, public policy has to lead, and private investment will follow.

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