Special Report: Walkable Streets

Complete Streets Renovations in Toronto Should Inspire Hamilton

As Hamilton prepares to do complete streets renovations on Queen and Cannon Streets, we should take a cue from Toronto's successful renovations on Landsdowne and Roncesvalles Avenues.

By Jason Leach
Published April 03, 2013

Hamilton has tremendous opportunity coming our way with potential complete streets projects on Queen and Cannon Street. I've found two Toronto streets that are excellent candidates to learn from when we discuss Queen, Cannon and Barton. They are Landsdowne Avenue and Roncesvalles Avenue.

These two streets carry 17,000-18,000 cars per day, plus buses and streetcars and are both one lane in each direction - and, I might add, very vibrant and bustling.

They have both been reconstructed in the past four years to remove extra lanes, widen sidewalks, and add 24-7 parking and new trees, planters and seating areas in the extra width created on the sidewalk.

The end result is absolutely wonderful and should be our goal on Queen, Cannon and Barton, considering all of them have daily traffic totals in the 12,000-18,000 range.

Lansdowne Avenue

Stroll along the street and have a look at the new bumpouts creating 24-7 parking and safer pedestrian crossings, new trees on one side due to added sidewalk width by narrowing the street, and parking removed at signalized intersections to allow for a centre turning lane.

This would fit on Queen Street - and Lansdowne carries more daily traffic than Queen at 17,000 vs. 12,000.

I would prefer the treed boulevard to be placed next to the street instead of the sidewalk next to the street as TO did here. A safe, complete street is the result, which would still allow for ease of traffic flow from the Mountain to the West Harbour district at Queen's northern terminus.

Roncesvalles Avenue

Roncesvalles redesigned (Image Credit: Roncesvallesvillage.ca)
Roncesvalles redesigned (Image Credit: Roncesvallesvillage.ca)

This cross section would be perfect for Barton and Cannon. 24-7 curb parking on both sides, one traffic lane each direction and with the extra sidewalk width the city created large new planters, continuous rows of street trees, bike parking areas and benches.

Again, traffic here is 17,000 cars per day - same as Cannon at James.

Please 'stroll' down the street here on streetview and notice the new elements: trees, benches, bumpouts, parking, patio space and level transit stops created by having sidewalk bumpouts:

This street carries heavy bike, streetcar, and bus traffic and is a signed truck route. By narrowing the curb lanes from previous full sized lanes of roughly 12-13 feet to permanent parking lanes of 6.5 feet, space is created for all the safe, green sidewalk amenities.

Barton Street and Cannon would benefit tremendously from such a treatment, as would the surrounding residential neighbourhoods.

Let me close with a quote from a Globe and Mail column on the renovations and seeing past the short-term inconvenience to the long-term benefits:

The result is quite marvelous. Roncesvalles, always a lively street, with its pastry shops, delis, bike stores, public library and Revue cinema, was looking a little tired before the do-over. The renovation has given it a fresh, new face. For all the pain they cause, projects like these are just what an ambitious city should be doing, seizing the chance to transform mediocre streetscapes into something better.

Amen to that.

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 Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 13:29:40

Patience should also be cultivated by those waiting for major infrastructure fixes to make complete streets a reality. A couple of paragraphs earlier in the the Globe article cited, the author writes:

"As on Bloor, the street had to be torn up for major work – in Roncey’s case, the laying of new streetcar tracks. The merchants took advantage of the opportunity to spruce up the streetscape."

In the case of Roncesvalles, needed roadwork enabled the city to start more or less from scratch:

The current $9.2-million phase of work, being carried out by Sanscon Construction, includes TTC track construction, transit platform construction, road reconstruction and resurfacing, sidewalk repair and streetscaping, including continuous soil trenches to give planted trees more root freedom.

The earlier work, carried out between July, 2009 and May of this year included water main and sewer replacement over the same 2km stretch of beleaguered road roughly between Queen and Dundas.

"More or less, all of the infrastructure was of an age that it needed significant repair or replacement," says John Kelly of the city's technical services division. "The surface works were the first to be identified as required, and we always try to co-ordinate any underground utility work with road reconstruction to maximize the life span of the road by minimizing the need to cut into it in the future."


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 17:41:53 in reply to Comment 87621

In order to effectively manage and maintain the state of Hamilton’s roads, Hamilton staff utilize a Pavement Management System (PMS). The PMS is a powerful software tool that stores road condition rating data, analyzes and prioritizes road rehabilitation needs and rehabilitation strategies, and predicts future funding needs based on forecasted road deterioration.

The key to managing the City of Hamilton’s roads is to apply the correct rehabilitation strategy at the correct time. This includes applying preventative maintenance strategies to roads in early stages of deterioration (e.g., crack sealing), then applying rehabilitation strategies in later stages (e.g., resurfacing) and finally, reconstructing roads.

Ideally, road reconstruction is coordinated with subsurface infrastructure rehabilitation projects because it is most cost-effective. It increases our customers’ level-of-service and reduces the frequency of construction inconvenience.


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 18:01:33 in reply to Comment 87635

Roncesvalles Ave., Toronto (1.7km) = ~1.5 million-$5.4 million/km

Lansdowne Avenue, Toronto (900m) = ~$2 million/km

Division Street, Portland (2.5km) = ~$2.8 million/km

York Boulevard, Hamilton (400m) = ~$8.75 million/kilometer

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 22:27:51 in reply to Comment 87637

amazing...and York is worse than all of those other ones. Better than it was, but still ultra wide and fast. More like Burlington plopped in the middle of downtown. Good streetscapes don't need to cost a ton of money. And Roncesvalles includes new streetcar tracks and platforms. Wow. Great find.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 13:45:58 in reply to Comment 87621

This is a good point, but walking/biking around Hamilton I get the impression that a lot of the infrastructure is in need of "significant repair or replacement".

This is simply the cheapest way to do it, however in my opinion the city needs to be more proactive about complete streets than a "while we're at it" approach. I agree that it makes sense to implement complete streets in concert with other infrastructure investment, but there is also a sense in which we can't wait for the stars to align - in some cases the benefits outweigh the cost of bad timing.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 21:01:23 in reply to Comment 87625

Roadwork constitutes 40% of Hamilton's 2013 budget (and that's without contingencies for two-way conversions). Is there a candidate among the projects in the pipeline, or -- to the "bad timing" possibility -- are they too far along to be modified at this point?

I'm also curious about the relationship of BIAs to "complete streets." It seems as if the presence/absence of a dynamic BIA is alternately a significant help or hindrance to progress on such projects. That would certainly be germane to proposals such as Queen or Cannon, which lack merchant-advocates.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 13:36:25 in reply to Comment 87621

exactly. This is why we are entering a potentially exciting time in Hamilton. Queen, Cannon and Barton are all being examined and studied for upcoming repair work. This is the time to also carry out such street-scaping work. I'm hoping that enough local residents will be engaged in this process so that we don't get the status quo laid back down on all 3 streets like we just saw with West 5th near Mohawk College - lanes as wide as the 401 were more important than bike lanes or parking.

We can do some amazing things on Queen, Cannon and Barton and accomplish several goals at once - easier transportation flow around the city for all users, better quality of life for residents, safer for kids, better for business.

Imagine Mtn residents now being able to come to Copps or the West Harbour using Queen back and forth instead of having to cut through Durand or Kirkendall everytime they want to go somewhere.

And of course, other amenities such as protected, two-way cycle lanes would also be a consideration for Cannon St in place of parking on one side of the street. We have ample space for wonderful complete streets.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 15:25:58

One other point to keep in mind regarding the need for complete street renovations is our massive urban flooding problems. When going around the city, look at all the spots where new street garden beds and trees can be located.
From corner curb bumpouts on Locke, Ottawa and Augusta to new complete street opportunities on Cannon, Barton, Main, King, Victoria, Wellington, Parkdale, Kenilworth etc...... This isn't just about 'complete streets' but green streets too.

More here: http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/16...


Think of all the stormwater we can capture in new planter boxes instead of everything overloading our storm sewer system. This concept can literally be implemented across the entire city. And should.

Hamilton has been addicted to big box complexes the past decade, yet unlike more forward thinking cities, we continue to allow slabs of empty parking lot to be built instead of mandating good environmental design:


While in Portland last fall I was in a big box plaza near the airport and was amazed at all the mature trees, plant life, bike lanes and wide well-marked sidewalks all through the complex. It was nothing like the vast expanses of asphalt we allow here.


Think of all the residential streets in Hamilton that could incorporate these: http://portlandfrogs.wordpress.com/2008/...

Comment edited by jason on 2013-04-03 15:27:46

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2013 at 15:47:48 in reply to Comment 87628

To be fair, when the city makes planter boxes it seems to do it in a very labour-intensive fashion. Massive flower-beds of annuals that are manually planted yearly looks rather pricy. And also there's costs associated with the sprinklers they install.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 15:58:32 in reply to Comment 87632

yes, exactly. This is why we need to learn from all of these other cities implementing green streets with native grasses and trees. Sprinklers are not needed when boxes are designed properly to allow rainwater to flow into them. Some general weeding may be necessary, but the millions of dollars saved in huge storm-water plant expansions is well worth the extra summer-time hours for student weeding. Annuals are not necessary.
When in Portland last year, most boxes I saw had native grasses or small shrubs, no annuals. In certain prominent locations flowers were used, and I would suggest we continue that practice here, but for all the new boxes we could install all over the city, let's simply go natural.

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By Leif (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2013 at 15:29:38 in reply to Comment 87633

Annuals are a farcical landscaping element at a municipal level, and mainly serve to give summer student employees something to busy themselves with. Otherwise, an outdated civic aesthetic and one that only serves to compete with the natural beauty of the city's surroundings. Native plantings should be an uncontroversial standard.

I'm all for Carolinian trees but even with available rainwater, transplanted trees require prolonged periods of weekly or semi-weekly irrigation for the first three years after installation, perhaps more so during periods of exceptional stress (such as the 2012 drought).

Giving trees room to grow and not relegating them to tiny chokeholes is also helpful. It's possibly the only thing that the original York streetscapiing got right.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 04, 2013 at 18:13:24 in reply to Comment 87664

great points. Let's keep those summer student workers to water our new trees instead of planting annuals every year.

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By Leif (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2013 at 18:40:37 in reply to Comment 87665

Generous of you... but it's not like watering a flowerbox. Nor will mobs of redundant hands help.

Transplanted trees benefit from slow-flow drip irrigation systems. Healthy trees also need professional maintenance. The cost is not exorbitant and entirely worth it.

If you're looking for a dummy-proof, cost-averse solution, and that is small shrubs and ornamental grasses.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 04, 2013 at 23:28:36 in reply to Comment 87666

I agree...the cost isn't huge and long term is certainly worth it. Walking around Portland you really see how worth it, it is. Amazing tree canopies abound now that many of their trees are getting large and aren't constrained by metal grates in the sidewalk like we use here.

We could redirect some of the money we'll save by not growing, planting and maintaing tons of annuals every year.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 18:17:27 in reply to Comment 87633


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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2013 at 21:05:19

... And by "merchant-advocates" I refer not to impassioned businessfolk but to formal BIAs.

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By PearlStreet (registered) | Posted April 08, 2013 at 18:35:37

Wow, Roncesvalle never looked so good! It even sufferes from the TTC hub at its bottom at Queen.

Comment edited by PearlStreet on 2013-04-08 18:36:06

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 10, 2013 at 14:31:33

Participatory budgeting foists millions in discretionary spending on the councillors of Wards 1-3, and the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 10, 2013 at 14:33:33 in reply to Comment 87798

Participatory budgeting foists millions in discretionary spending on the councillors of Wards 1-3,


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 27, 2013 at 10:08:49

The 2013 Complete Streets Forum, our sixth annual active transportation conference, is fast approaching, and time to register is quickly running out! The conference will take place on May 27, 2013 at the Hyatt Regency Toronto.


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted May 30, 2013 at 15:55:41

When the city redesigned and rebuilt Roncesvalles Avenue, it tried an experiment with new bike lanes. And while the city and the TTC say they're happy with the design, many cyclists, pedestrians and TTC users are not.

Cyclist Tim May is frustrated with the so-called "bump outs" — elevated concrete platforms that run only in front of streetcar stops along Roncesvalles.

"Some urban planner did not get this right," said May.

The bump outs create a 10 to 20 metre-long stretch at each streetcar stop where the bike lane double as a place where transit users can board the streetcar.

'Bump outs' create confusion

Cyclist Jonathan Armstrong says the bump outs are creating problems.

"A lot of people, when they're waiting for the streetcar, they don't notice that it's a cyclists' lane too — even though it's painted."


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