Special Report: Walkable Streets

Baby-Steps Citizens Panel on Two-Way Conversion Scares Councillors

Even an all-wards citizens' panel to consider the two-way conversions that Council already approved over a decade ago is too radical for some councillors.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 03, 2014

What does it take to get anything done in Hamilton?

The City began studying the two-way conversion of its lower city one-way multi-lane thoroughfares back in the 1990s. Since then, Council has approved several major plans, including Putting People First, the Downtown Transportation Master Plan and the Transportation Plan Five Year Review, which identified a modest set of streets for conversion.

Yet the city has made very little progress in actually budgeting and going ahead with the conversions.

James and John Street were converted to two-way in two phases: the North segments were converted in 2002 and the south segments in 2005, both amid apocalyptic outpourings of predictions that chaos and doom would prevail, none of which actually happened.

But even today, years after those very successful conversions (plus a few others), Council is still petrified of acting on its schedule of conversions, let alone expanding the list to include other badly-needed streets like Queen, which just had two serious vehicle collisions with pedestrians in a single month.

There are even some opponents of two-way conversion who are still predicting disaster, though it's hard to understand why anyone takes them seriously at this point.

Citizens Panel on Two-Way Conversions

So this year, with yet another review of the Transportation Plan getting underway, Councillor Brian McHattie is trying to break the conversion logjam with an all-wards citizens panel on two-way conversion to "pull back on the rhetoric" and, as seconder Councillor Terry Whitehead put it, "bring the temperature down".

The proposal barely passed at GIC in a 7-5 vote and still needs to be approved by Council. It's an open question whether a majority of councillors can even bear to support consulting about the two-way conversions that Council already approved and re-approved multiple times. From the Spectator article, here's an example of what we're dealing with:

[Councillor] Tom Jackson said the city has recently introduced too many major transportation changes, too fast.

Jackson said he and his constituents are "exhausted" with the changes, adding the Cannon Street bidirectional bike lanes "pretty well tapped me out."

Jackson says he opposes the two-way conversion of lower-city streets because his residents, who all live on two-way streets on the east Mountain, want streets in other parts of the city left one-way. (Yet somehow it's "divisive" for the people who have to suffer these one-way streets to call out the councillors who oppose changing them but don't have to live near them.)

Perhaps we should be more charitable. Perhaps Jackson, clearly overwhelmed by the blistering pace of change to Hamilton's transportation network, just needs a breather.

After all, he recently voted with a unanimous Council to add one significant addition to the city's cycling network on a street that nearly everyone agrees desperately needs transformation, in a different part of the city than he represents, using the special projects budgets for the affected wards rather than the city's general transportation budget.

In other words, the vote cost him no political capital whatsoever. Yet he is now using it as an excuse to rate-limit his willingness to support the changes to Hamilton's transportation network that it desperately needs to achieve its potential as a safe, inclusive and prosperous city.

Normally, calling for more consultation and study is a dodge, a stalling tactic to shift attention elsewhere and avoid making a decision. In this case, Council might even vote down the dodge, lest it eventually prod them to act on the policy they already approved more than a decade ago!

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 JeffH (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 11:40:32


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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 23:50:37 in reply to Comment 99713

Double facepalm

For when one facepalm just isn't enough.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 13:02:49

I don't really understand why they just don't follow through on the 2001 DTMP slate of conversions. Surely streets that found consensus previously would be easier to stick-handle into implementation. That is the low-hanging fruit. The only reason it's not regarded that way is a lack of spine and leadership on council. Instead, we are left with election-year busywork: a randomized panel struck to discuss potential conversions that might be tabled in some distant year once there is time and money dedicated to it. If we're characterizing past policy commitments as white-hot and steeped in rhetoric, I am less than confident that we'll reinvent the wheel with a zero-budget citizen panel (despite the merits of such tools).

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 09, 2014 at 21:59:46 in reply to Comment 99717

Colour me unsurprised.


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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 13:13:07

So sorry to read that Councillor Tom Jackson is "exhausted." Sounds like he needs a well-deserved rest come October.

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By Let's Do It (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 14:07:38

Let's do it. But let's very clearly and eagerly publicize it and ensure that a true representation of the public sits on the panel. By true I mean true - as in real - as in representative of the public at large - and not just those who have the time or the inclination or the interest in the project. However, if you do that, I expect that nothing will happen, or less, as has not happened so far.

Rome was not built in a day. It took almost 50 years to get the Red Hill Creek Expressway built from initial formulation to end. Re-ordering the streets in Hamilton could easily take as long.

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 14:51:08

In a sense I can understand why folks who live on the Mountain might think that they should be part of a discussion on what happens on streets like Main, King, Queen, Bay. Is anyone actually saying that small residential streets need to be one-way, and can’t be converted to two-way traffic without the say-so of the residents of Ward 9?

Hunter Street, as an example, has no non-residential uses west of Bay. What motorist could possibly be using that street that would not be better-served having it two-way? It’s faster in its current form, but nobody is using it to get anywhere besides home since there is nothing but homes on it (at least, they sure shouldn’t be as there is nothing but homes on it). I’m not saying that Sleepy Jackson is justified when he says that people on the other side of the city should decide whether Queen is a race track or a pleasant place to live, but what could his argument possibly be that they should have any input whatsoever as to what form a purely residential street takes?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2014 at 15:49:50

What I'm happy about is Farr bringing up the issue of low-hanging fruit. I feel like this is an issue that could get real traction - do people on the mountain really care whether the streets in Durand are 1-way or 2? At the absolute most they would pull for Queen and Bay, and that's worth fighting over... but regardless, the remaining expanse of Durand/Kirkendall is completely uncontroversial.

I'd love to see a working body focusing on the streets that could be converted right now. The ones that Pasuta and Whitehead and Clark will have nothing to say about - do they care if Herkimer is one-way?

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 16:21:42 in reply to Comment 99730

Councillors called these streets "low-hanging fruit" during the meeting. But they can't be done right away because of lack of time and money, said Don Hull, the city's director of transit.


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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 17:08:52 in reply to Comment 99733

Did any councillor ask Mr. Hull when they COULD be done? Understandable that they can not be done this afternoon, tomorrow, but public works should be asked to commit to a date, and then do the work on that date (I can only assume this is how it usually works).

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2014 at 16:38:35 in reply to Comment 99733

Well, I guess we shouldn't rush them, I mean, they only slated these streets for conversion 13 years ago.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 16:05:22

"Jackson says he opposes the two-way conversion of lower-city streets because his residents, who all live on two-way streets on the east Mountain, want streets in other parts of the city left one-way."

Ryan, I didn't see where Jackson made this statement.

Anyways, I agree with you on this issue. This is moving much too slowly and the conversions they have made to date are just half measures.

My thoughts:
- Convert Queen to two way all the way. Why are you forced to turn right on Herkimer when you are heading down the mountain? Why can't you keep going straight?
- Same with Bay. If you are going south you are forced to turn. Its pointless.
- Turn York into a real two-way street.
- For the love of God convert Main and King to two-way.
- I think Cannon and the Mountain access such as wellington and victoria should stay as is.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 18:02:11

One change every 4 years. That's about 3x the usual rate of getting anything done at city hall, so I can see why they'd feel exhausted.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 18:10:54

It might make sense to determine ahead of time which streets the citizen's panel should consider and which should be decided by the neighbourhood or ward with the support of the councillor and advice of city staff (traffic engineers).

A reasonable suggestion would be that only major-arterial streets would need input from outside the ward or neighbourhood. Minor arterials, collectors and local streets would not.

This makes sense as only the major arterial streets primarily serve people outside the ward and are intended to carry larger volumes of traffic.

For example, Cannon, King, Main, Hunter and Queen would be considered by the panel, but Bay, Herkimer, Charlton (minor arterials) and MacNab and Park (locals) would not.

As other commenters have pointed out, the concern from Mountain councillors is over big arterial streets that are heavily used by commuters from their wards. It really doesn't seem fair to have someone living 10km away decide that a local, collector or minor arterial street cannot be converted to two-way or re-made as a complete street even though the residents are demanding the change!

This agrees with City policy, which describes traffic calming as "where required" for local, collector and minor arterial but "not applicable for "major arterial". (Of course, I would argue that even major arterials need traffic calming, but this at least suggests there needs to be a more in-depth analysis of major arterials).


The classification of all roads in Durand is given in Appendix E of the Durand Traffic Study Environmental Assessment:


The committee or neighbourhood could also recommend down-classification of some roads. For example, does it really make sense to have Hunter designated as an arterial (like Main and Queen), or for Herkimer and Charlton to be designated as minor-arterial (instead of as collectors)? Does the traffic volume on these roads warrant it (a collector can have a volume up to 8000 per day, while a minor arterial can have a volume up to 20,000 according to the road classification above).

Shockingly, in the above report the "design standard" for minor arterial roads is 70km/h, while the design standard for major arterials is 70-100km/h. No wonder people exceed 50km/h on roads that are designed to be driven safely at up to double the legal limit! These design standards should be reduced to 60km/h at most (like collectors). Why would the design standard be for 1.4 to 2.0 times the legal speed limit!

Even worse, the "average running speed" is supposed to be faster than the legal speed limit: 50-60km/h on minor arterials and collectors and 60-80km/h on major arterials. How can the traffic engineers be designing roads with the assumption that motorists should break the law!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-04-03 18:30:06

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 09:04:10 in reply to Comment 99744

"It might make sense to determine ahead of time which streets the citizen's panel should consider and which should be decided by the neighbourhood or ward with the support of the councillor and advice of city staff (traffic engineers)."

This makes perfect sense to me. For one, any group of people getting together to do anything is going to waste a lot of time needlessly unless they are given clear direction as to their purview, and what exactly they are supposed to decide. Also, city-wide committees should not be deciding every single issue that really only affect one neighbourhood, or one street: that’s not efficient, and that’s going to lead to bad decisions that don’t reflect the needs of the area.

Your idea to allow residents of streets to decide whether they still want to live on something classified as an “arterial” and therefore designed as such makes a lot of sense, too. Hunter has no business being an arterial, but I don’t live on that street so I’m not 100% confident about that. Let the property owners on the street decide that- if they are businesses who want more traffic of every type and so want to be an arterial, good for them; if they are residents who want to be able to relax about letting their kids play on the sidewalk, who am I to say otherwise? I’ll drive down another street if what they want to collectively do with their properties impedes my ability to drive the speed I want to.

Question for anyone: have there been petitions from residents on one-way streets to convert them to two-way (or the other way around, I suppose)? This one seems like a no-brainer to me. Firstly, I can see a few concerned neighbours being very able to convince people on their street that they would be better-served being able to drive east as well as west out of their driveways. Secondly, what could the municipal government really say if a petition from 70% of the property owners on Birch arrived calling for it to be converted? “The speed of traffic in front of your homes also impacts the people speeding by your homes, so we need to consult citywide”?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 03, 2014 at 22:45:37 in reply to Comment 99744

... reading the definition of "major arterial" it seems to imply something like Highway 6. To apply that definition to King or Main Street is the height of insanity.

In general, whoever wrote "Exhibit 4.2" in the document you posted has taken a vacation from reality.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 03, 2014 at 18:30:42

Who sits on these panels? Who amkes up the people on these panels, are there issues we should be concerned about as to who is sitting and who their bakcers may or not be? I ak this why no articles about the need to get cars off the roads altogether? I know some of you will go on about the economoy, however I ask what economy?

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By Councillor Retirement Party (anonymous) | Posted April 04, 2014 at 08:35:09

Time for Tom "Tapped Out" Jackson to retire if he's too "exhausted" to do his job of running a modern city.

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted July 21, 2014 at 09:11:29

"What does it take to get anything done in Hamilton?"

Make sure the impetus for an issue comes from residents, not Council, or Councillors. And by 'residents', I mean an identifiable consensus across the board.

"Councillor Brian McHattie is trying to break the conversion logjam with an all-wards citizens panel on two-way conversion to "pull back on the rhetoric"

Such a panel CANNOT be generated or overseen by anything attached to Council. If it's a City initiative, ultimately its efforts will be controlled and co-opted. If not, in the end, patronized. How proceedings (in all situations) are framed is paramount. (Which is why I laugh at 'community meetings/councils' with a Councillor as the Chair.) Continued waiting with crossed-fingers, hoping against hope that something will finally be done by Council is, according to 'evidence-based reasoning', folly.

Comment edited by ItJustIs on 2014-07-21 09:14:13

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