Special Report: Walkable Streets

No Need to Remove Curbside Parking on Bold and Bay

Removing curbside parking spots will only result in higher vehicle speeds, less protection for people walking, and needless opposition from people concerned about the loss of parking.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 13, 2015

this article has been updated

Yesterday, Nicholas Kevlahan wrote about a recent public meeting on the planned two-way conversion of Bold and Duke Street, noting that a number of attendees raised a series of objections that were thoroughly addressed by the City staff on hand - with one exception.

Duke Street
Duke Street

While most of the objections amounted to knee-jerk fear of change, one concern was quite valid and staff did not lay it to rest: the concern that the two-way conversions will result in fewer curbside parking spots.

Under the current plan, approximately 19 spots will be removed from Duke - 12 spots on the north side of Duke between Hess and Caroline, and seven spots on the north side of Duke between Hess and Queen.

The width of Duke ranges from 8.1 metres (26.6 feet) to 9.4 metres (30.8 feet). The width of Bold ranges from 8.4 metres (27.6 feet) to 9.3 metres (30.5 feet).

According to City staff, the City's policy for two-way streets is to allow parking on both sides of the street where streets that are 8.5 metres (27.9 feet) or wider. However, that policy has only been in place for the past ten years and there are many streets narrower than that which have parking on both sides.

Recurring Theme

This is a recurring theme in recent years: to the extent that the city is doing any two-way conversions at all, the tendency has been to remove parking spots out of a misguided attempt to maintain wide lanes.

The City did the same thing last year with the Rebecca Street conversion, which was going to involve the totally needless removal of 13 parking spots.

Rebecca Street between Catharine and John before two-way conversion (RTH file photo)
Rebecca Street between Catharine and John before two-way conversion (RTH file photo)

Fortunately, local residents spoke up in support of keeping the parking spots and Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr got involved to work with staff. In the end, only a few spots were taken out.

Rebecca Street between Catharine and John after two-way conversion (RTH file photo)
Rebecca Street between Catharine and John after two-way conversion (RTH file photo)

Needless to say, Rebecca Street works just fine as a two-way street, curbside parking and all.

Safer and More Convenient

The relative narrowness of the street means that two cars can't pass each other at a free-flowing speed of 50+ km/h.

That is a feature, not a bug. Calming automobile traffic and reducing dangerous speeding is one of the goals of the two-way conversion, in addition to making the neighbourhood more navigable to people on bicycles and in cars alike.

Two-way conversion also reduces excess driving and turning movements (the most dangerous) from people driving to local destinations who otherwise are forced to overshoot a destination on a parallel street, then make two turns to double back.

Like Rebecca, Bold and Duke have curbside parking on one side, with the exception of Duke between Caroline and Queen, which has parking on both sides. Currently, that means each street has a single extremely wide lane: eastbound on Bold and westbound on Duke.

With two-way conversion, each street will have two narrow lanes, on in each direction. Removing curbside parking to widen those lanes will only result in higher vehicle speeds and less protection for people walking - plus avoidable opposition from local residents who are understandably upset about lost parking.

Residential Side Streets

Bold and Duke are residential side streets. It should not be possible to drive down them at dangerous speeds.

Hamilton has streets that are even narrower than Bold and Duke that function just fine as two-way streets. In fact, some streets are narrower than Bold and Duke and also maintain curbside parking on both sides.

Wood Street: narrow two-way street with curbside parking on both sides (RTH file photo)
Wood Street: narrow two-way street with curbside parking on both sides (RTH file photo)

On such streets, if two people in cars are approaching each other, they both need to slow down and negotiate past one another. That is entirely appropriate and, indeed, an ideal outcome for a residential street.

Bold and Duke should not be designed for fast through travel. Keeping more curbside parking spots will actually make the streets safer for all users by making it harder to speed and physically protecting more of the sidewalk. It will also alleviate the legitimate concern about lost parking and remove the only serious objection to this conversion.

I urge City staff to revisit the design and restore the lost curbside parking. There is no trade-off here: keeping curbside parking is safer, more convenient and more usable for everyone using these sreets.

Update: Updated to note that Duke has curb parking on both sides between Caroline and Queen. You can jump to the changed paragraph.

Update 2: Updated to add more detail from the City on the planned parking spot removals and road widths. You can jump to the added paragraphs.

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 AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 13:53:29

Imagine if city staff did this kind of basic thinking for every street project? It shouldn't be necessary for citizens to write in and demand appropriate design considerations for every conversion or street project. Public works needs to stop designing by the book and actually think about each project.

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By durander (registered) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 14:18:24

The book is there for a reason...liability. Unfortunately, right or wrong, there's not much sympathy given to a designer who designs something against the book in a court of law if something goes wrong. So while the suggestions may be worthy, they take time to implement into guidelines and standards.

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted March 16, 2015 at 11:44:25 in reply to Comment 110207

I understand the idea of liability. I'd like to know more exactly what kind of liability? Are planners concerned about parked cars' doors being scraped by moving cars? Are they concerned about head on collisions by motorists who don't navigate around each other? Are they concerned about "dooring" a pedestrian or cyclist? Are they concerned about people not being able to see into oncoming traffic as they attempt to move into traffic from a driveway?

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 15:33:41 in reply to Comment 110207

People say this all the time but i'd like to see an example where a city was actually held liable for something like this . If this is such an issue, how is the city not negligent for leaving many streets narrower than this as two lanes?

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 15:48:46 in reply to Comment 110220

if the city can get away with bike lanes that become highway ramps and sidewalks that end at stairs at the bottom of a hill, why is a narrow residential street considered a liability? it's a cop out excuse. just because the book describes how to design to maximize throughput doesn't mean the city has to, and nor should it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 14:28:25 in reply to Comment 110207

in Portland and other cites, staff go and add mid-block bumpouts that are too narrow for 2 cars to pass through at the same time. They intentionally develop a yield situation like you find on narrow streets like Wood, shown above. If two idiots refuse to yield and smash head-on into each other, that's not the cities liability anymore than it is when people do the same thing every single day of the year on every other street.

Next generation safe streets overview from Portland. Amazing how far behind Hamilton is on pretty much everything.


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By durander (registered) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 14:33:07

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Comment edited by durander on 2015-03-13 14:35:23

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 14:44:49 in reply to Comment 110210

we should design for safety for all human users of the road. Go troll somewhere else

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By SOP (anonymous) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 14:59:22

This constant over complication of conversions/reversions is meant to sap the will of those who keep asking for change.

This city is over the top 1950's car centric. Just read the letters to the editor in the Spec. In the last 2 days alone we have people advocating for countdown clocks on red lights and decrying cars "blocking" a lane on (5 lane) Main while queued in a drive thru.

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By Derek (anonymous) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 17:17:08

When the hell are we going to convert Main and King to 2-way already? I hope to see this during my lifetime. What can we do to add pressure besides writing to council as I've done that already.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 14, 2015 at 18:25:32 in reply to Comment 110223

King could be managed as 2-way downtown. As much as the bus-lane was hopelessly bungled, it did demonstrate that King can function with less lanes, because Cannon is configured as a bypass for through-traffic.

I don't think you could ever get Cannon and Main converted 2-way, but I think King downtown could be done. Do King from Victoria to Queen and put a sign up at Victoria for a Cannon street bypass. Then 2-way convert Wellington, Hughson, Mary, Bay, and Hess between Cannon and Main - this provides convenient access to the now-slower King from the bypasses.

Then run the B-line LRT on Main.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 14, 2015 at 22:05:40 in reply to Comment 110241

I would love to see Wilson converted to two-way all the way to Sherman. You can roll a ball underhand at King and Sherman right through the intersection of Wilson and Sherman. They almost touch. It's a simple, easy alternative to King. Then switch Bay to two-way. 1 lane each way, left turn lanes at lights and bike lanes both ways.

King should be like King/Queen in Toronto (which is exactly how our King used to be) - 1 lane each direction with curb parking on both sides. During morning rush hour, the parking is restricted for traffic headed into downtown. Even rush hour the opposite. Rest of the day, evening and weekend it's full parking.

Main: 2-way LRT, 2 eastbound car lanes with curb parking on one side of the street, except rush hour where it can become a 3rd car lane.

Traffic would flow fine, and in fact, better than it currently does by having all these two-way options without touching the precious Main St expressway that suburban councillors wouldn't dream of allowing in their wards, but insist on maintaining in the poor wards.

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By m (anonymous) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 20:36:25 in reply to Comment 110223

Unfortunately, it's becoming pretty obvious that 2-way conversion of Main and King will never happen. The only perceived benefactors of such a conversion would be downtown dwellers, and there are more than enough councillors to prevent this from ever happening (I can't imagine how frustrating it must be to be in the powerless positions of Farr, Johnson, and Green). If put to a vote, the breakdown would mirror the results that have killed both the bus lane and, more recently, LRT. Until ward boundaries are redrawn (not gonna happen), nothing is going to change; the lower city wards are voiceless.

At this point, I would be thrilled with 1-way streets that are more complete in nature. Would it possible to have 24-hour uninterrupted curbside parking and protected bike lanes along the lengths of Main and King? Would that be an unrealistic request of suburban councillors? Would business owners object to more parking in front of their shops? Would drivers complain of more parking options?

As an aside, does anyone know if there has been any pressure placed upon the city by downtown developers, such as Vranich, to calm traffic 10 feet outside of the $300,000+ condos they're trying to sell? We're just a bunch of unemployed highjackers (right, Terry?), but can these developers not use their influence to create positive change (safer streets) while still satisfying their own interests (selling condos that are not next to an urban expressway)?

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By adam (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2015 at 00:30:52 in reply to Comment 110227

I don't believe in being pessimistic. Never say never. With any luck, some of these councillors could just drop dead and maybe people with some brains will take their place.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 23:56:28 in reply to Comment 110227

you'll be interested to know that Vranich has shared some constant feedback he's received from prospective buyers with city hall. Folks love the units and downtown location, but don't see how they could live a car-free or car-light lifestyle on such unfriendly freeways.

I know a couple who declined to buy a unit for that one reason alone.

Another developer is working with Brian McHattie in his new role with CivicPlan. A condo at Main/Margaret is planned but the developer wants a lane removed from Main for wider, safer sidewalks.

But I imagine these guys go from being developers to whiny hijackers the minute they call out the disgusting dangers of these urban expressways.

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By Why Not? (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2015 at 14:50:05 in reply to Comment 110232

If a traffic study shows lane restrictions caused by construction haven't caused significant impediments, why not automatically make that area sidewalk?

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 14, 2015 at 16:31:32 in reply to Comment 110237

because Hamilton has classist councillors who believe that only their rich neighbourhoods deserve walkable, livable, complete streets. They view poor downtown neighbourhoods as a dumping ground and traffic sewer.


Comment edited by jason on 2015-03-14 16:31:52

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By Steven (anonymous) | Posted March 13, 2015 at 23:13:54

I agree 2-way conversion of Main & King will not happen in any of our lifetimes, unless we de-amalgamate. One only has to look at voting result of the bus lane to see we need de-amalgamation if we are to move the core forward at anything more than a glacial speed.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 14, 2015 at 16:33:12 in reply to Comment 110230

agreed. And I'm one who loves the rural areas in our city, and really thought we could make it work for the last 15 years. I'm over it. The suburban councillors refuse to even try, in fact they actively oppose lower city neighbourhoods every chance they get. Let's de-amalgamate 100% - no regional government nonsense - true deamalgamation. Immediately.

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By Bob bratina (anonymous) | Posted March 14, 2015 at 17:23:02

Thats what I said

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By Bashtich (anonymous) | Posted March 18, 2015 at 17:10:48 in reply to Comment 110240

You gonzalo!

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By insane (anonymous) | Posted March 15, 2015 at 09:26:38

Yes de-amalgamate please. Right now it's a parasitic relationship. The suburbs all depend on downtowns blood to survive. Without downtown they are dead. Blood suckers. Too bad they can't see with a prosperous downtown they benefit too.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 16, 2015 at 10:05:47

One thing I've noticed in recent trips to the US, a country not exactly known for excellent pedestrian friendly neighbourhoods, is that without exception their downtowns all have nice wide sidewalks. The streets are often extremely wide (especially in the west), but the sidewalks are also extremely wide (typically three to five times wider than the sort of 1.5m -1.8m sidewalks we have on Main between Locke and Hess).

This means that the streets are still comfortable for pedestrians even though they are multilane and wide for motor vehicles.

Somehow in Hamilton because of street widening and one-way conversions we've ended up with the worst combination for pedestrians: wide expressway style streets for cars with narrow sidewalks appropriate for quiet residential streets for pedestrians.

How anyone could think 1.8m (let alone 1.5m in some parts) without a buffer was acceptable on parts of Main St W is beyond me. And this street was actually widened in the past!

If traffic volumes permit, the best thing to do would be to increase sidewalk widths closer to the US standards.

Note that when Haussmann redesigned Paris the standard was that the total widths of sidewalks (on both sides) should equal the width of the vehicle part of the street. That is also a good standard that naturally scales to different street widths.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-03-16 10:09:28

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By Progress (anonymous) | Posted March 17, 2015 at 14:33:30

I think you're on to something.

The speed on the roadways should be increased to the absolute fastest possible. Young fully mobile pedestrians will have the good sense and ability to stay out of the way. Everyone else; not so much. Oh well.

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2015 at 12:50:56

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 19, 2015 at 13:39:12 in reply to Comment 110315

I never claimed it was an engineering "standard": the minimum sidewalk standard may well be similar to Hamilton's actual widths. But this minimum width is not what is actually used in US downtowns and urban areas

I claimed that I observed that in practice it in US downtown areas to have sidewalks far larger than what we have here. I've been in Minneapolis, Boulder, Pittsburgh, Salt Lake City, Berkeley and San Francisco recently and I've seen personally that they have very wide sidewalks in their downtowns. In other words, in the US they install very wide sidewalks systematically in their downtowns and urban areas.



The Salt Lake sidewalks are typically between 6m and 9m wide according to Google maps measurement (6m seems to be pretty standard).


4.25m in Berkeley


3.5m in Pittsburgh


8.5 m in Minneapolis

In contrast, roughly 2.2m on Main St in downtown Hamilton next to 5 lanes of fast one way traffic. And it is only 1.2m on the southeast corner of Queen and Main!


Even on James St near King William the sidewalk is only about 3.5m

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-03-19 13:59:57

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By H1 (anonymous) | Posted March 19, 2015 at 15:00:49 in reply to Comment 110316

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By durander (registered) | Posted March 19, 2015 at 16:14:31 in reply to Comment 110317

I applaud your efforts H1...but even coming up with examples wouldn't matter to most on here. They've found examples of what they want, and that's all that matters.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted March 19, 2015 at 18:38:56 in reply to Comment 110319

You applauding a mega-troll like H1 pretty much settles what we can expect from you...

Comment edited by Cultosaurus on 2015-03-19 18:39:11

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By durander (registered) | Posted March 20, 2015 at 09:06:54 in reply to Comment 110320

Lions and tigers and mega-trolls, oh my! Maybe I'll start to look up to H1 then, since clearly that's all I'm destined to be on this site. Maybe some day, after lots of training, I too can be a mega-troll! ALL PRAISE H1!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted March 19, 2015 at 15:15:54 in reply to Comment 110317

I specifically said that these are the sidewalks that are typical in all the downtowns of US cities I've visited. The street-level experience of pedestrians is strikingly different. We're talking about downtowns, not suburbs (which very often are missing sidewalks)!

As I said, extra wide (compared with Hamilton's typical 1.5m - 2m) sidewalks are standard in the downtown cores of US cities, especially in the west, just as I said in my original post. And I stand by that and have included many examples.

If you can find several examples of 1.2m sidewalks on the Main St (or other central arteries) of a western US city in its downtown core, please post it! I've never seen it.

Otherwise please accept the evidence that sidewalks are generally much wider in the downtown cores of US cities, especially in the west. Just claiming you know "thousands" of examples (but won't actually show any to the readers) isn't going to convince anyone.

Los Angeles: 3.7m (next to a parking lot)!


Seattle: 5m


Denver: 7m


Phoenix: 4m, again, next to a parking lot


Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-03-19 15:46:25

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