Special Report: Walkable Streets

New McMaster Report: Shaping Hamilton with Complete Streets

A new report by the McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics reviews the opportunities for Hamilton to adopt a street design approach to make our streets safer, more inclusive and more economically prosperous.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 15, 2015

A new report by McMaster Institute for Transportation and Logistics (MITL) reviews the opportunities for Hamilton to adopt a street design approach to make our streets safer, more inclusive and more economically prosperous.

Wilson Street in Ancaster (RTH file photo)
Wilson Street in Ancaster (RTH file photo)

The report, titled Shaping Hamilton with Complete Streets [PDF], reviews the concept and research on the "complete streets" philosophy of road design and applies it to the specific Hamilton context. (Disclosure: last year, I reviewed an early draft of this report.)

A "complete streets" approach to roadway design is an approach that seeks to do two things: 1) regulate and calm dangerous automobile traffic; and 2) increase accessibility and connectivity for other transportation modes like walking, cycling and transit.

The conclusion suggests that the first objective is arguably more critical than the second, since calming automobile traffic naturally makes a street more accommodating to other modes.

The report cites Wilson Street in downtown Ancaster as a good local example of a complete streets approach. Wilson is a two-way street that carries 19,000 automobiles a day with one lane in each direction. It recently enjoyed a makeover that incorporated bike lanes, a centre median, turn pockets and other traffic-calming amenities.

There are several design tools that traffic engineers can use to achieve these goals on a given street, including:

The report also reviews the data on safety outcomes from traffic calming measures, including this impressive summary of 50 studies:

Pedestrian Safety Interventions and Resulting Safety Effects
Safety Measure Types of Pedestrian Crash under Influence Attained/Estimated Safety Effect
Source: Jensen, S. U. (1999). Pedestrian Safety in Denmark. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board (1674), 61-69.
Speed reduction of 0.5-18km/h All pedestrian crashes -17% to -92%
Sidewalk All pedestrian crashes Crash reducing
Combined, two-way foot- and cycle path All pedestrian crashes -37%
Pedestrianization of street All pedestrian crashes -82% to -100%
From two-way to one-way street All pedestrian crashes -34% to -62%
Zebra crossing on road link Crashes with crossing pedestrians +50% to -50%
Zebra crossing at non-signalized junction Crashes with crossing pedestrians +127% to -35%
Footbridge Crashes with crossing pedestrians -85%
Side road pedestrian refuge with curb All pedestrian crashes +50% to -27%
Other pedestrian refuge with curb All pedestrian crashes +27% to -81%
Central reserve - marked or with curb Crashes with crossing pedestrians -57% to -82%
Guard rails on central reserve or at sidewalk All pedestrian crashes -20% to -48%
Signalization of a zebra crossing on a road link Crashes with crossing pedestrians -20% to -35%
Roundabout All pedestrian crashes -46% to -89%
Signalization of junction All pedestrian crashes 0% to -70%
Exclusive pedestrian signal phase, scramble All pedestrian crashes -7% to -63%
Road lighting Pedestrian crashes in dark -35% to -45%
Improved lighting at pedestrian crossing Pedestrian crashes in dark -30% to -62%
Reflector, reflective strip Pedestrian crashes in dark -89%

Another study, which reviewed speed humps and speed tables at 18 locations in Salt Lake City, found that they reduced speeding and improved speed limit compliance. The total number of collisions was reduced slightly, but there was a large reduction in the severity of those collisions and the corresponding injuries.

On the economic side, the report includes case studies of several complete streets renovations that resulted in increased retail sales and improvements in economic vibrancy.

The report also argues that a complete streets approach has construction costs that are similar and in some cases even cheaper than conventional cars-first road design.

Light Rail Transit

Significantly for Hamilton, the report argues, a complete streets approach supports and reinforces the goal of leveraging our light rail transit (LRT) line to maximize its overall benefits.

Complete Streets stand as an important element in implementing transit-oriented development within LRT station areas. With the project now funded, Complete Streets should be viewed as an important element for achieving the greatest possible return on investment for LRT.

The report also argues that there are benefits of moving ahead with complete streets in advance of the opening of the LRT line to make them more "Rapid Ready", i.e. "safer, more economically vibrant, and even better places to live."

One-Way and Two-Way Streets

Not surprisingly, the report gives considerable treatment to Hamilton's legacy of one-way arterial streets.

In the post-war period, many North American cities converted important arterials to travel in one direction, consistent with a traffic engineering mindset that the most important objective was maximization of vehicular traffic flow.

While conceding that one-way streets do, in fact, accommodate high volumes of fast vehicular traffic, the report argues that maximizing traffic flow is not the most important goal of a city street.

Rather, the goal in a city should be "to maximize overall accessibility, or the rate at which large numbers of people reach their destinations." Toward this end, one-way streets are a worse choice because they make it more difficult for people to reach local destinations.

Two-way traffic makes a street more accessible and well-connected, for obvious reasons: it becomes possible to reach a given destination from either direction, and the number of possible routes to a destination increases.

Since connectivity and accessibility are core advantages of a city, two-way traffic is better for local economic vitality. "Most observers link two-way travel, and its improved connectivity, to a more livable street environment."

Multi-lane one-way streets do the opposite:

In contrast, multiple lane one-way streets are in many ways associated with the traffic symptoms that road diets and other traffic calming measures explored above seek to address: excessive speeds, more potential for aggressive driving behaviour, greater risk of pedestrian injury, and an unwelcoming pedestrian environment.

That unwelcoming environment deters pedestrians, reduces the vitality of local street retail, depresses property values and weakens the essential economies under which urban environments create value.

Hamilton Case Studies

Every street is different and there is no single one-size-fits-all design that we can apply everywhere, but "complete streets concepts can apply most anywhere in Hamilton because they are sound concepts."

That said, different contexts call for different combinations of tools from the complete streets toolkit. The report looked at 15 specific streets in Hamilton to assess their potential for complete streets treatment, organized into a few groups: Neighbourhood Commercial Strips, Major Commercial Arterials, Major Arterial Thoroughfares, Central Arterials, and Suburban Arterials.

Neighbourhood Commercial Strips

This section looks at complete streets opportunities on Locke Street, James Street North and Concession Street, noting great potential for local economic vitality by increasing connectivity and reducing vehicle speeds.

Local urban farmer Russ Ohrt waves from a bicycle in front of the Locke Street Farmers' Market (RTH file photo)
Local urban farmer Russ Ohrt waves from a bicycle in front of the Locke Street Farmers' Market (RTH file photo)

On Locke Street, the report recommends de-emphasizing through traffic and enhancing the pedestrian experience through wider sidewalks and possible defined bike lanes. It recommends a speed limit of 30 km/h instead of the current 50 km/h, which the report considers "excessive".

James North has an even greater potential to reduce the need to drive through a superior walking environment, noting that the inclusion of a north-south LRT spur "is quite likely to reduce the prominence of the automobile here".

On Concession, however, local movement has "more of an automobile orientation than the other two cases" and "pedestrian activity is typically not high." Complete streets alone will not be enough to overcome the broader automobile-oriented context that is hurting economic vibrancy on Concession.

Major Commercial Arterials

This section looks at Upper James and Centennial. Upper James, unlike its lower-city namesake, is "highly auto-oriented", though the section between Fennell and the Linc is more compact than the sprawling section between the Linc and Rymal Road, which carries over 40,000 cars a day.

North of Fennell, Upper James has a more compact, urban form but lacks vibrancy due in significant part to the high volume and speed of automobile traffic.

Sadly, the report concludes "there is not a great deal from a complete streets perspective hat can undo what has been done" on Upper James. I was hoping to see a dramatic recommendation for a grand boulevard that would accommodate fast through traffic on central lanes and slower, more inclusive travel on local 'collector lanes'.

Queenston Road is presented as a "more moderate" case of the same automobile-oriented planning that produced Upper James, right down to the demarcation between more compact development west of the Red Hill Valley Parkway (RHVP) and more sprawling development to the east.

The report is similarly despairing of potential to apply complete streets principles on Queenston, limiting its suggestions to lower speed limits, police enforcement and "design cues that might moderate speeds".

Longwood Road

Defined as a Major Arterial Thoroughfare, Longwood Road has been undergoing a redevelopment plan for the past several years, and despite the stated objectives of making the street more pedestrian-friendly, the plan calls for two wide travel lanes in each direction, plus a dedicated turn lane.

Half-assed off-street bike lane on Longwood between Aberdeen and Frid (RTH file photo)
Half-assed off-street bike lane on Longwood between Aberdeen and Frid (RTH file photo)

According to the report, Longwood Road carries 22,000 cars a day south of Main based on 2012 counts, in addition to relatively high levels of walking and cycling, including 1,800 pedestrians a day crossing the intersection of Main and Longwood.

The City's current plan is to build a new pedestrian and cyclist bridge across Highway 403 adjacent to Longwood Road, but this is a very expensive undertaking.

The report makes a controversial counter-proposal: convert Longwood to one-way northbound between Main and King, turning the entire Main-Longwood-King-Paradise block into a de-facto roundabout.

Proposed de-facto roundabout on Main, Longwood, King and Paradise (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Proposed de-facto roundabout on Main, Longwood, King and Paradise (Image Credit: Google Maps)

This seems like a terrible idea. The one-way southbound Paradise Road is already off-putting and inhospitable to pedestrians, and turning Longwood into a one-way northbound street would do the same to that street.

It would likely increase overall traffic by making Longwood less accessible, forcing people to circle a large block instead of driving directly.

The report suggests that some of the southbound traffic on Longwood is drivers short-cutting down Marion Avenue instead of staying on King Street and that makind Longwood one-way northbound would eliminate this, but it seems to me that it would create more problems than it solves.

The report notes that the traffic volume of 22,000 cars a day makes Longwood a challenge to tame, but the report's own conclusion notes that "the worst fears with regard to traffic congestion rarely materialize" when roads are put on a diet.

This is because people's travel behaviour is actually a lot more flexible than most people might think.

In the short run, people shift modes, defer trips, take alternate routes or refrain from making a trip altogether. This phenomenon is known as "disappearing traffic" and it is the reverse of induced traffic that occurs in the presence of excess infrastructure for cars. In the long run, somewhat reducing the relative attractiveness of automobile travel in certain cases can literally "shape" the city by increasing population densities in desirable areas with extensive complete streets treatments.

It does note that this becomes more difficult in highly automobile-oriented streets with more than 30,000 cars a day, but that does not apply to Longwood.

Main, King and Cannon

In the section on Main, the report notes, "there is something unsettling about the five lane convoys of oncoming traffic that make their way east down Main Street in periodic bursts. It means that the road surface is used less efficiently and it means that left and right turns may well require a lot of lane changing manoeuvres."

Main Street West (RTH file photo)
Main Street West (RTH file photo)

This is the "platooning" effect of Main Street's timed lights, in which cars are all lumped together in large bunches that roar down the street together, interspersed with stretches in which the street is desolate.

In what might be the understatement of the report, "Overall, the case is fairly convincing, and the literature suggests, that these walls of fast-moving traffic limit the vitality of the immediate surrounding areas."

While Main and Cannon Streets were converted into a "paired" one-way network, the pairing has weakened as traffic volumes went up on Main but went down on Cannon. "In retrospect, the conversions were likely a mistake but one that is easily explained by the trends of the time."

However, conversion back to two-way "might be cost-prohibitive" due to the challenge in converting the Highway 403 interchanges on Main and King. Nevertheless, due to the street's critical role as the gateway to downtown, "perhaps the very significant investment that would be required for a conversion to two-way travel could be worthwhile."

But even if two-way conversion turns out not to be feasible, the report still recommends applying a complete streets approach to making Main more accessible and inclusive.

High traffic levels are accommodated elsewhere in the city with many fewer than the five lanes of traffic we see on stretches of Main Street. There should be room to be more accommodative towards pedestrians, transit access and cyclists potentially while seeking out calming effects.

Queen and Bay

The report also considers the downtown areas's north-south arterials, particularly Queen and Bay Streets. It notes that traffic volumes are "fairly modest by the standards of urban arterials" with flexibility for allow two-way conversion.

A challenge on Queen, which has been the site of several serious pedestrian collisions in the past year, is that 10,000 cars a day turn from Main Street onto Queen, many of them bound for the Beckett Drive escarpment access. The report concludes, "Further study would be needed on this specific case."

Main and Queen (Image Credit: Google Maps)
Main and Queen (Image Credit: Google Maps)

Elsewhere in the report, the authors note the 2013 study from Toronto which found that urban arterials with lots of non-local through traffic have higher rates of local child pedestrian injury, possibly due to non-local drivers "lack[ing] the same degree of moral and practical responsibility for their behaviour than someone who resides locally."

That study recommended traffic-calming measures to curtail the dangerous driving behaviours.

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 Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 15, 2015 at 10:01:15

What insane person suggested Longwood go 1-way? And which roads run alongside his family's local school so that can get the same treatment?

I'm, honestly confused why Longwood carries so much traffic, since most of the major destinations would involve turning East or West on Main. Longwood North mostly just feeds into the North half of Westdale. For point of reference, I live in Westdale and I drive fairly frequently and I never find myself driving North up Longwood. I actually find the reverse more common - you can't turn left from Main onto Longwood South, so if you want to get from King to the 403 West you have to go South on Longwood.

In fact, if you made Longwood 1-way you'd have to allow left-turns onto Longwood South so drivers could use Paradise->Main->Longwood S (currently illegal), which creates a whole new traffic snarl.

The only reason I'd ever want to see Longwood go 1-way would be if they decided to run the LRT on it (aside: a Longwood/King would be an awesome LRT stop if they wanted to go that way, because I'm disappointed the stop closest to the Village in the current LRT plan is Longwood/Main).

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2015-06-15 10:14:15

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By higgicd (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 11:26:12 in reply to Comment 112246

While I can't claim responsibility for writing that section of the report, one of our major priorities was looking through the concept from a position of 'balance'. The Longwood case is a pretty crazy one - massive traffic flows from the 403 into West Hamilton funnelled on top of a great deal of local traffic. Note I mean cars as well as many transit riders, cyclists, and pedestrians. At peak times the whole corner is a mess of people turning left, others stopping to let their kids out for school (the issue of no one walking to school is another entirely), and a whole bunch of other trips in other directions.

And though I personally am not fond of such a roundabout solution being implemented, I thought the Longwood case starting on Pg 109 was considerate of all these opposing forces. If the goal is to improve safety by removing opportunities for collisions while considering the existing street network and reducing local emissions by keeping traffic moving, it is an option, and one where for better or worse 2/3 of the necessary infrastructure already exists.

I also don't think one-way streets done right (NYC is full of complete one-way streets) are incompatible with complete streets as a concept. Paradise, Main, King, etc. as they stand now however, are. As one example, the amount of drivers that get pulled over crossing the King St. bridge into Westdale for exceeding the 50kph limit there is amazing, and exposes the fact that speed limits can only do so much to overcome poor design. And I don't have blind faith that this roundabout idea would be implemented in a different way.

Also note that the linked report should have been marked 'draft' as it is my job to incorporate a few changes made during a final proofread over the weekend. Edited grammar.

Comment edited by higgicd on 2015-06-15 11:33:34

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 15, 2015 at 11:27:51

Paradise should be 2 way, not longwood one way. god

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 22:20:46 in reply to Comment 112248

Wow...who on earth would even think to suggest this?? Paradise and Longwood are racetracks. I would hate to live on Paradise. It's brutal.

Why is there this crazy mindset in Hamilton that we must maintain this wacky network of highways that no other city our size has???

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By StephenBarath (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 12:17:37

If Marion is experiencing issues with rat-running (I can believe it), it seems to me that the right thing to do is to make Marion less useful for rat-runners with traffic calming. Maybe introduce a restriction on turns from Marion to Longwood at certain hours. The same could be done for right turns at Longwood and Main if the smaller volume of southbound traffic turning right onto Main is holding up the larger volume of northbound traffic wanting to turn- then that traffic would effectively be diverted to Paradise, when necessary. I don't think these kinds of restrictions should be used willy-nilly, but it's less complicated than making Longwood switch from two-way to one-way back to two-way again.

The report didn't really say what should be done with the Longwood and Main intersection, though it said that the issue of the road is "secondary" to the issue of the intersection. If Longwood north of Main were made one-way to allow drivers turning left onto Main the absolute minimum encumberance, I'm guessing that the west side of the intersection would still be closed to people on foot.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 15, 2015 at 16:23:56 in reply to Comment 112251

Marion already has a plethora of all-way stops to discourage rat-running. Ultimately, I I think rush-hour turning prohibitions or even dead-ending Marion at Longwood would be the only real solutions, but that might not be too good for the folks living there and might just redirect some of the same traffic up Bond or Paisley.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 14:14:48

In the list of “tools,” two important ones are missing.

  1. Make the street car-free.
  2. Permeable filtering to make the street a through route for walking, cycling and public transit only.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 14:29:07

I like the idea of widening sidewalks on Locke. This would be a change that reflects the demand in that area. I think Dundurn could also use wider sidewalks - they are abysmally narrow.

Don't fully understand the one-way idea for Longwood either as it doesn't seem to be that congested ever. However I think that road is an ideal location for a separated bike lane - at least up to the bridge. The buildings (where there are buildings - east side) have a deep setback and could support a 5' grassy curb with 2-way bike lanes and sidewalk. This might be an opportunity to showcase what a separated lane would look like and thus encourage residents in other areas of the city to adopt them for their own streets.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 15, 2015 at 16:27:33 in reply to Comment 112256

They've actually already built part of that lane you described - that's the absurd "half-assed off-street bike lane" in the article above. The problem is that completing the lane is in permanent limbo because the city doesn't know how to get the bike lane across the bridge to reach Main Street - they don't want to close a lane of car traffic, and sistering a pedestrian/cyclist bridge would be expensive.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted June 16, 2015 at 10:29:15 in reply to Comment 112260

That's a bike lane!?!? Oh. I thought it was crappy asphalt sidewalk! They do realize that there are telephone poles in the middle of it I hope?

Anyway the city should do it right (no telephone poles), paint lane markers and have it run right up to the Innovation building. For the time being they could draw a Hail Mary bike lane across the bridge and if a cyclist survives that he could cross Main into relative safety.

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By expert? (anonymous) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 16:33:50

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 17:04:24 in reply to Comment 112261

Why does anyone need credentials to see a draft of a report?

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 18:59:06 in reply to Comment 112263

Looks like our anonymous "expert" thinks that all public consultation should be eliminated. Because, ya know, the masses are asses.

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By expert? (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2015 at 09:20:09 in reply to Comment 112268

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted June 16, 2015 at 09:58:03 in reply to Comment 112276

Presumably the authors of the report felt Ryan's comments would be knowledgeable and helpful given his over ten years of research and writing on issues around complete streets and urban design in Hamilton. That's why they asked him to review the report.

In other words, the "experts" used their "expertise" to determine that Ryan is in fact knowledgeable about this subject (despite not being an academic researcher) and they therefore wanted to get his feedback on their report. This is generally the way it works in the academic world: credentials are useful shortcuts, but anyone can contribute to the knowledge base if they can convince their peers that they have something useful to contribute.

It's really not that complicated.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-06-16 09:59:03

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 18:55:56

The City's current plan is to build a new pedestrian and cyclist bridge across Highway 403 adjacent to Longwood Road, but this is a very expensive undertaking.

How expensive? As costly as this new 17 million Euro bridge?

The linked bridge was built to connect the city centre with a new residential district that was built where there was derelict warehousing and industrial land. Sound familiar for Hamilton?

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2015-06-15 18:57:51

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 15, 2015 at 22:27:07

FYI, if anyone dares to walk around Main and the 403 ramps (I've done it, climbing the hill in front of the Spec etc....) you'll see that the 403 ramps can very easily be reconfigured to exit perpendicular to Main St at a new signalized intersection like every. single. Linc. ramp.

The Main ramp from the 403 Westbound currently sweeps into the north curb lane of Main. The land already exists beside this ramp to have it bend to the south, instead of east approaching Main so the ramp faces Main. Cars could then go left, or right onto Main. Like every. single. Linc. ramp.

The Main St ramp from 403 Eastbound can also veer north, instead of east into the south curb lane and also give cars the option to go right or left like every. single. Linc. ramp.

Very easy fix that doesn't require a massive rebuild. Cars wishing to head to the 403 from downtown can drive west on a two-way Main and use Dundurn to go to King.

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By Westdaler2 (anonymous) | Posted June 16, 2015 at 10:24:11

Firstly, thanks for summarizing this report. Personally, I am feeling frustrated that Westdale continues to be isolated from downtown unless you are driving a car or in a bus. Paradise Road should be two ways with bike lanes. The on and off ramps on Main and King are terrifying to almost anyone who is walking, cyling, and in some cases, driving. Going south on Longwood Rd bridge over the 403 as an alternative is not much better. Walking or cycling across that bridge is brutal.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 16, 2015 at 10:57:51 in reply to Comment 112281

Ever try to get to Frid Street from Main? Always feels like you're either going to die or kill somebody.

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By Matt (anonymous) | Posted June 22, 2015 at 02:43:16

While I agree that a remake of King and Main 403 overpasses to allow for 2 way traffic is the best solution, I am proposing a less expensive solution as follows:
-Convert Main and King to 2 way with bike lanes east of Dundurn (an LRT lane would run down the centre of King although with 2 way conversion I personally think Main is the better spot for LRT due to the bottlenecks in Westdale and International village on King)
-Convert Dundurn at King heading north to 1 left turn lane, 1 through lane/right turn lane with the bike lanes for left turning and through lane/right turn
-Where Main meets Dundurn heading east after the overpass reduce to 1 left turning lane, 2 through lanes (to match up with the beginning of a two way Main St east of Dundurn), 1 right turning lane and 1 right sided bike lane with a bike box for left turning bikes onto Dundurn (this set up would act similar to the Garth/Fennel/Scenic configuration with the addition of bike lanes)
-Convert Main and King to 2 way with bike lanes between Paradise and Macklin
-Reduce Main to 2 one way lanes between Macklin and the overpass with a bike lane and dedicated pedestrian walkway
-Convert Paradise to 2 way with bike lanes between King and Main
-Reduce King to 2 one way lanes between the overpass and Macklin with a bike lane and dedicated pedestrian walkway

This would leave the on-ramps on King and off-ramps on Main alone while solving the problems of pedestrian and cyclist safety and speeding due to having 5 lanes traveling one way with timed lights as well as having incomplete streets.

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