Special Report: Walkable Streets

Longwood Road Should Follow Complete Street Guidelines

According to Chicago's complete streets design guidelines, Longwood Road is an excellent candidate to be one lane in each direction, not four lanes with a centre turn lane.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 10, 2014

As we have written several times, the redevelopment plan for Longwood Road through the McMaster Innovation Park District between Aberdeen Avenue and Main Street continues the City's practice of prioritizing automobile traffic over more sustainable transportation choices, a human-friendly environment and even the economic success of the Innovation Park.

City staff are entrenched in their position that the automobile traffic on Longwood will require four wide travel lanes plus a dedicated centre turn lane.

An otherwise commendable plan to build an off-street cycle track depends on Council's willingness to spend millions of dollars on a second bridge across Highway 403. In the meantime, the plan is to build a cycle track that goes as far as Frid Street and then dumps bicycles into mixed traffic on the street.

It's completely unnecessary. Longwood Road carries 18,000 cars a day, making it an excellent candidate for one travel lane in each direction with a dedicated centre turn lane.

City staff argue that once you take turning movements into consideration, having just one lane in each direction would produce an unacceptably poor level of service. Even with a dedicated left turn lane, drivers will have to wait behind people making right turns if they don't have a second passing lane in each direction.

Chicago Guidelines

Compare the City of Chicago's Complete Streets Design Guidelines [PDF], which specify that a so-called "Connector" street with less than 25,000 vehicles per day should be - wait for it - one vehicle lane in each direction.

Chicago Complete Streets Design Guidelines by roadway form and function
Chicago Complete Streets Design Guidelines by roadway form and function

Again, there is no good reason to make Longwood Road four vehicle lanes plus a centre turn lane. It will significantly overbuild the lane capacity, which will encourage more driving and increase dangerous vehicle speeds.

It will also force the addition of millions of unnecessary capital dollars (plus lifecycle costs of a new bridge) to provide a cycle track - or, more likely, put off the construction of a continuous cycle track indefinitely. That, in turn, will deter people from choosing to cycle to MIP, forcing more automobile trips in self-fulfilling predict-and-provide prophecy.

It will also undermine the mixed, pedestrian-friendly character of the innovation economic growth district. (Astonishingly, the administrators of MIP seem to support the five-lane Longwood Road design.)

Declining Automobile Traffic

City staff assume that, like background radiation, automobile traffic volumes will continue to grow year after year. However, overall traffic volumes across North America stagnated nearly a decade ago and have been falling steadily ever since.

That holds true in lower city Hamilton, where traffic volumes fell significantly between 2000 and 2010 according to the City's own data.

Daily Traffic Volumes, 2000 and 2010
Location 2000 Volume 2010 Volume Change % Change
Cannon E of Sherman 16,000 10,800 -5,200 -32.50%
Cannon W of Sherman 11,000 9,100 -1,900 -17.27%
Cannon near James 18,000 16,700 -1,300 -7.22%
Bay N of Main 15,700 12,400 -3,300 -21.02%
James S of Herkimer 30,000 18,700 -11,300 -37.67%
Main at Dundurn 41,100 37,300 -3,800 -9.25%
Main E of Bay 31,000 28,400 -2,600 -8.39%
Main near Kenilworth 32,000 20,300 -11,700 -36.56%
Queen S of Charlton 13,000 12,200 -800 -6.15%
Hunter W of John 11,000 7,500 -3,500 -31.82%

Policy in Hamilton needs to embrace and drive that trend into a future in which the demand for transportation is met by a complete, balanced, multi-modal approach that increases the share of walking, cycling and transit trips and reduces the share of driving (especially single-passenger-vehicle) trips.

We need only look at models like Vancouver, which has managed to reduce automobile traffic by 20-30 percent on downtown streets while its downtown population has boomed.

Longwood Road is particularly well-suited to this approach, given the economic development strategy of this innovation-based, urban-form employment cluster.

Chicago's guidelines are to have one travel lane in each direction for any Connector street with under 25,000 vehicles per day. Longwood Road, with only 18,000 vehicles per day, is a shoo-in.

Let's do the right thing instead of letting a great opportunity to make a positive, transformational change slip by.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Billy (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:00:33

Isn;'t reasonable to assume that many of the new downtown condo dwellers will be working at MIP and other downtown lactations?

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By Steve (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 18:31:07 in reply to Comment 96631

Perhaps. But that is a pretty big assumption, with no factual or scientific backing.

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By Mac_Alumni (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 18:34:18 in reply to Comment 96679

Horrible assumption.

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 16:43:34 in reply to Comment 96631


(Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

Comment edited by StephenBarath on 2014-01-10 16:43:57

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By Mac_Alumni (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 12:56:44

Traffic volume is 18000 in 2014 or is that 2010?

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By durander (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 13:05:24

Chicago is also a MAJOR city with a huge population base...obviously things are going to be different there. I would also argue that Longwood isn't exactly a 'connector' road...within the road network it serves the purpose of a more 'traditional' arterial road, connecting Highway 401 to Westdale (namely McMaster). Also, the 18,000 vpd AADT I'm guessing is a bit skewed...what is the peak hour volume? Going to one lane in each direction might have serious traffic impacts (I'm thinking particularly in the AM peak), and might back traffic onto the 403...something that would not be a good idea.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2014 at 13:22:32 in reply to Comment 96636

The traffic is one lane coming from the 403 right now. There's only one lane turning left from Aberdeen westbound to the 403.

Longwood is long. It's got room for cars to back up very far.

As for the traffic coming Westbound from Aberdeen and going up Longwood, I'd say encouraging that traffic is solving the wrong problem - much of that traffic is coming down Beckett/Queen hill and crawling up Aberdeen. Aberdeen's usage as a throughway is bad for Longwood and bad for Kirkendall.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2014-01-10 13:29:15

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 17:24:05 in reply to Comment 96637

So you'd rather have that traffic going through Durand to King along alternatives like Hess?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2014 at 17:27:54 in reply to Comment 96665

I'd rather see the traffic split between Aberdeen->Longwood, Queen->Charlton->Frid->Longwood, and Queen->King rather than everybody crowding onto Aberdeen and making one residential street bear the brunt of all that traffic. And either way, the 403 should be the first choice for coming down the escarpment in the West end.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 23:17:56 in reply to Comment 96666

This. I'm tired of people in all the other parts in Hamilton wanting calmer, safer streets, but then acting like it's their right to use these neighbourhoods as their short-cut, even with new luxurious freeways that literally run right where they need to go. Make it harder for them to use Queen/Aberdeen and they'll start using the highway.

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By durander (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 17:42:00 in reply to Comment 96666

I for one would not consider Aberdeen to be a residential street...at least not that acts, or should act, as a local road. It's meant to move traffic. I agree with your comment about using Highway 401 as the primary route down the escarpment, but as a user of the Queen Street Hill, sometimes going that far west to only come back (to Bay Street in my situation), just doesn't make sense.

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By JohnnyVelvet (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 13:34:32 in reply to Comment 96637

As a current resident of the area with an young toddler who's daycare happens to be accessed from Longwood only, I will have to disagree with this post. Whereas I am in agreement 99% of RTH, my personal experiences with Longwood have not been positive. While it's great to see the foot traffic of students and some young professionals along Longwood, it is equally frustrating to try and get around the area due to the amount of cars. Taking into account that Longwood is a truck route, a bus route, and vehicles going to work, school and, in my case, daycare, it is quite a treacherous commute. Add to that, when there are events at Careport Centre, it feels like you are in Mississauga! I have tried walking along the route with baby in stroller and can say I have tried my part to promote less vehicular traffic on Longwood, but I think just due to the sheer layout alone, any traffic adjustments should be more in line to help deal with the peak load times for Longwood. Now, if you turn Aberdeen to a non-arterial road and force highway drivers to get off the highway at Main W instead of Aberdeen...I'll gladly back that proposal!!

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 23:21:56 in reply to Comment 96641

I don't think anyone is saying we should make it hard for cars on Longwood. The stats being presented are showing that we are way overbuilding a road for no reason. 1-lane each way can easily handle it's traffic volume. Hamilton is not rolling in dough. There's no reason we should be literally throwing money down the toilet building a street 2x as wide as it needs to be. We did this back in the 50's and now have millions of dollars in extra maintenance costs each year for traffic lanes we have no need of.

We should be building this street to handle the traffic on it, not 2.5x the traffic on it.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2014 at 20:42:16 in reply to Comment 96696

I happen to have kids at Westdale whom I must drive to school due to their schedules. The intersection at Main is a disaster. Because they eliminated the through lane, traffic heading northbound is stuck as cars hold to turn right for pedestrians. I have sat at that intersection for 8 red lights in the morning. Before the changes I used to wait for one. It was never a bottleneck. Now it is.

Similarly, for southbound traffic out of Westdale, you sit through five or six lights trying to head south at evening rush hour because they eliminated one lane through making a mandatory left turn lane.

When you build roads you have to build capacity for the high volume times. It appears to be wasteful on off times, but it meets capacity at high volume times.

Using your throwing things down the toilet analogy, one would never build a house with a one inch black water pipe just because a big pipe is rarely used and is expensive. Yes it's expensive to use a larger pipe, but when you flush the toilet, the waste is eliminated as opposed to just sitting there - or worse, backing jup into your home.

Why does everyone want to punish people in cars forcing them to sit for ten minutes at an intersection polluting away? Don't get me started about that stupid light at Aberdeen and Dundurn!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 14, 2014 at 17:07:16 in reply to Comment 96768

The traffic seems pretty variable: I rode my bike along Longwood this morning towards Westdale at 8:50am and, although traffic was fairly heavy, I didn't have to wait at all. I've always been surprised at how many parents drive their kids to Westdale given the excellent bus service on both Longwood and Main and the fact it is cycling distance for most students, and walking distance for many.

If you you live in Kirkendall or Durand I'm not sure why you MUST drive your teenagers to Westdale: the 6 bus has service every 20 minutes at rush hour and is well-used by high school students. Outside of rush hour, traffic is light on Longwood.


As Ryan has pointed out, if you make it easy to drive everywhere then more people will drive. There is no reason for most parents to drive their children to Westdale, unless they live out of catchment and far from HSR routes. Remember, these are teenagers who can get there on their own, not elementary school children who need to be walked to school.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-01-14 17:12:34

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted January 14, 2014 at 19:12:55 in reply to Comment 96785

I didn't say I always drive them; I said "I must" - when I must. And when I must I must. They walk many days and take the bus when they are late but we live on the very fringe of the district and my daughter is in many bands with early practices, etc. etc.

I don't think I should have to justify when or why I do it. I am telling you the truth that when I do I sit at the light. In fact, in 3.5 years I have never not sat at the light and it is literally 8 light cycles.

If you ride a bike maybe you don't wait in line all the way back to the non-synchro light that also holds up traffic. Maybe you ride up the side of the cars. But I am not lying when I say that I have to wait - a lot.

I went to Mac in the 70's. I have a clear memory of how the intersection has worked over the last 40+ years and the current iteration is the worst by far. If the statistics on this site are correct, and I am sure that they are, this is all the more galling given that traffic volume is down.

Sometimes when the line is really long, I drop them off at the non-synchro light and turn around and go back downtown along Aberdeen because it is faster. With all due respect, that is ridiculous.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 15, 2014 at 10:47:21 in reply to Comment 96788

Sorry if I misinterpreted "must" (although I still don't quite understand why you must drive your kids in, even sometimes).

When I ride my bike there, I stay in the lane of traffic ("take a lane") and don't pass by the side. I also was taking the 6 bus for several weeks during the very cold weather at the same time, and there were never any problems. 8 light cycles is extreme and would only occur if there is an accident, or extreme traffic due to a blockage on the 403. Before the CP trail was built I cycled or took the bus on Longwood virtually every weekday morning and evening during rush hour from 1998 to 2010 and it was rare to have severe slowdowns. It did happen (especially due to accidents or severe weather), but was not a real problem.

I agree that the design should be improved for drivers: maybe a right turn only lane, a straight ahead lane and a left turn lane would work. But there are other options than taking Longwood. I guess, what I still don't understand is that if you find Longwood between Aberdeen and Main St so frustrating, why don't you just take Main St? Or have your kids take the bus?

When you say " If the current design was to discourage people from driving down Longwood, it has more than done it's job in my view." this is like saying "the restaurant is so crowded no one goes there any more". Some drivers may complain, but obviously most still aren't bothered enough to actually take another route (or walk, cycle, take transit or travel at another time).

Longwood between the rail bridge and Main St is clearly not residential now, but many students walk along that narrow sidewalk to and from Westdale High School. More importantly, the goal that the Innovation Park will be developed as a walking and cycling campus, which means the street must be designed to be comfortable, safe and convenient for pedestrians and cyclists (which it is not now). Redesigning it with an additional turning lane does not solve the "choke point" at the bridge (for either cyclists or drivers), makes the street anti-pedestrian and cyclist, encourages more driving.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-01-15 10:55:22

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted January 15, 2014 at 18:06:27 in reply to Comment 96803

8 light cycles is normal in the morning during rush hour. I have lived it. I have had to turn around as I said.

I am coming from the South East so Main is irrelevant.

I should not have to justify why I have to drive. Sometimes I just have to. If I could avoid it at all I would. There are personal things that need not be shared on a blog. I am just asking you to assume that I must drive occasionally and that buses are not an option and a cab would have the same problem as I have.

Maybe most people still go there because they have to go there - i.e. get to work, drive from Aberdeen to Mac. Drive from the west mountain or east mountain to Mac. I don't know. Blocking traffic just to block it is questionable. Blocking traffic that could easily flow more smoothly at a higher volume just to engage in behavior modification is questionable. The justification for blocking traffic should be shared with those who paying taxes for the privilege of being frustrated.

It's not just that they are not bothered to take another route. It could well be, like it is for me, that there is no other route that makes any sense.

I agree, a through lane would work better.

When they get a tenant for the innovation park they can re-adjust it again.

I am not a traffic engineer. I am just reporting what happens to me. It used to work fine. Now it doesn't.

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 11:46:22 in reply to Comment 96837

Just to correct you: MIP already has dozens of tenants of varying sizes, and hosts two large laboratories. There are hundreds of employees on the campus. Events of all sizes are routinely held during and after business hours.

If you believe as I do that MIP is a great resource for the city, the road that bisects it needs to be improved. I’m sure it would be difficult to prove empirically, but the types of people who do and will locate at MIP genuinely want different transportation options- they will be turned off by having to contend with 70km/h traffic. MIP is competing for tenants with places like Mars in downtown Toronto and Communitech in downtown Kitchener (among others), so I think the impact could be significant.

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By johnnyvelvet (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 15:19:43

Just for my general knowledge, is there anything out there that compares volume coming off the 403 to Longwood vs. from Aberdeen westbound?

As long lifelong Hamiltonian, I've been waiting a very long time for us to do things differently...thanks for pushing the subject...much needed!

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2014 at 15:23:55

Ryan - Has the City provided any data that indicates the amount of traffic that would be turning (left or right) off Longwood into either side of MIP or Careport? Could the argument be made that, notwithstanding general guidelines of traffic volumes and corresponding road design (e.g. Chicago design), this specific study area has data that suggests dedicated lanes are needed to accommodate turning?

I'm no traffic engineer or expert but I have never heard of the City collecting such data to make that argument, nor any study collecting this kind of data in order to add additional lanes (other than left-turn lanes).

If the City hasn't collected that data and is just speculating, that's troublesome as we are dealing with multi-million dollar capital expenditures for a permanent second hwy. 403 bridge, not to mention walkability and attractiveness of the whole MIP area.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 15:34:01 in reply to Comment 96650

As a general rule, part of traffic forecasting includes projecting traffic volume and turning movements based on land use. So in the case of MIP, they would look at existing conditions (traffic counts and turning movements today), and then project to a set horizon year, which in the case of Longwood would most likely be the year when they expect MIP to be fully built out. Based on what they expect in terms of number of employees on site and types of businesses and an estimate of the percentage of trucks in the traffic, then they establish the horizon year traffic volumes and turning movements. It is a combination of what they know based on current conditions, and best practices related to the planned land uses. Any new development is generally required to submit this sort of study, called a Traffic Impact Study, to the municipality for approval. The Longwood Road EA would also have required this sort of work.

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2014 at 15:32:54

Regarding comparing Chicago and Hamilton, there is a subtle but powerful logic we should keep in mind: there is no direct correlation with size of the City to the volume of vehicle traffic on a study area.

As an example, you could be living in a small or rural town with a small population but vehicle use is extremely high. This would yield high traffic volumes in a low-population and low-density area. Conversely, you could be living in a major city area but vehicle use is extremely low. This would yield low-traffic volumes in a high-population or high-density area.

Because we don't live in a black and white world. Most places we live or travel to will be somewhere in-between: a certain level of population and density and a traffic system trying to match the volume it anticipates.

The point I'm making is that yes, you can compare Chicago to Hamilton to Toyko to Melbourne when you are talking about traffic volumes (regardless of the population size or density around it) and the corresponding appropriate road design that accomplishes your goals.

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By durandette (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 16:03:24

The usual Hamilton squelching. Since Chicago is bigger it has MORE congestion not so so it would be easier to follow the complete streets guidelines here. What, you think Chicago doesn't have peak traffic at rush hour just like Hamilton? No more excuses! We can't afford to build and maintain 5 lanes for a street that needs 3. Multiply that across the whole city and you see why we've fallen so far behind in infrastructure maintenance.

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By durander (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 17:50:34

I'll admit I haven't read the document, but I do wonder what the design suggestions would be for an Institutional/Campus 'building form and function'. I'm not convinced that Longwood Road is a mixed-use type of roadway... Also...no zebra crossings on the front cover of the guidelines....blasphemous! Let's get those tactical urbanists out there!

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 13, 2014 at 10:56:30 in reply to Comment 96670

I do wonder what the design suggestions would be for an Institutional/Campus 'building form and function'.

Looking at our other 'institutional/campus' zone, it seems we should close Longwood off to all through traffic other than buses, we should plant trees and install a myriad of pedestrian pathways and bike racks.

I'm not convinced that Longwood Road is a mixed-use type of roadway.

This discussion is not about Longwood in it's current form, but about how to achieve the cities stated goals for the road.

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By Groan (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 19:24:35

Your spam filter is blocking responses for reasons I can't fathom.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 20:09:55

What's the difference between Chicago and Hamilton? Apart from the obvious, a person who's in his early 40's and progressive in charge of transportation vs. I don't know who in Hamilton...

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 23:48:37

Here is a video of a very similar street to Longwood in the city of ʼs-Hertogenbosch in The Netherlands. While watching it, please note Duhamel College and associated institutional buildings that are similar to MIP.

Note also one lane for cars each way, proper cycle paths and intersections featuring protected roundabouts. The video is here:


In my opinion, this is the proper model for Longwood.

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