Two-Way Street Conversion in Saturday's Spectator

By Ryan McGreal
Published August 13, 2012

If you haven't already done so, be sure to check out this past Saturday's Spectator, which features an article on Hamilton's one-way streets and an editorial in support of conversion to two-way.

The article starts:

There are no one-way streets in Ancaster. None in Glanbrook, and only a handful in Dundas. There's a lone one-way street in Flamborough - Dundas Street East - and three in Stoney Creek.

And 111 one-way streets in the old city of Hamilton.

Urban planners, experts, and academics agree that one-way streets serve one purpose: to move cars through the city as quickly as possible. Businesses, pedestrians, cyclists and neighbourhoods suffer when cars move in only one direction. Dozens of cities across North America, including Calgary, St. Catharines, San Fransisco, Jacksonville, Denver, and Louisville, Ky., have converted their one-way streets to two ways.

The city of Hamilton itself recognizes this. In 2001 and 2008, council approved and updated a plan outlining the future of transportation in downtown Hamilton, including the conversion of several one-way streets "as soon as budget allows."

So why haven't they become a thing of the past?

Spec editor Howard Elliott follows up with an editorial that asks, "What's taking so long?" He goes on:

Conversion is not a panacea, but just about every urban development expert agrees it's a significant piece of the puzzle. There are many examples, including nearby St. Catharines as well as Calgary, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Denver and Louisville, where one-ways have been converted with positive outcomes. So why is Hamilton dragging its feet?

One reason may be that, as the comments to these two articles makes clear, a number of Hamiltonians are still reacting to the idea of two-way conversion from a heady mixture of fear and misinformation.

If the push for complete two-way streets is to be successful, we need to do a better job of debunking the myths and overcoming the inertia that perpetuate the status quo.

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 we need a leader (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2012 at 08:39:23

>> “Hamilton has transportation and traffic issues that need to be resolved by careful expert planning, requiring more than just overnight conversion of our one-way streets … I believe we will move toward more two-way conversions, but they have to be done within the context of a well-developed traffic plan.” - Mayor Bob Bratina

Spoken like a true politician. When you don't want to take a stand, ask for more studies!

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2012 at 09:26:31 in reply to Comment 79672

We probably have about four of five suitable plans done already (and not implemented)...maybe he should check the mayor's bookshelf.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted August 13, 2012 at 10:39:57

Here's my plan: Everything but King, Main, Cannon, Queen, Wellington, and Victoria right now. No more debate, no more planning, just get out there with paint and stop-signs and traffic lights and convert them immediately. Get every last one completed before the end of next year.

Then, after the public sees that the world did not end when the majority of the city went 2-way, we do the big ones.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-08-13 10:40:49

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted August 19, 2012 at 18:01:12 in reply to Comment 79679

I can get behind this, save that I am for keeping King and Main one way as they are the natural extensions of Highway 8, and given how many lanes they have, complete closure is rare, and closing down a couple of lanes for roadwork for these main thoroughfares makes repair easier.

I am for converting Wellington and Victoria but because the conversion involves somehow converting the Clairmont access, which is the busiest access save for the 403, I understand that would be no small feat and would compromise there.

All the others though, convert them. Catherine, Wentworth, Bay, Queen, Charlton, Hunter and Herkimer especially. York and Cannon I can give a bit of time on as of the odd configuration on how they merge into York. That's just how I see it, and think that's a fair compromise.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2012-08-19 18:06:47

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2012 at 19:21:19 in reply to Comment 79679

I agree that there is no reason in the world to wait to convert the smaller streets - not even cost. The big guys - OK, I can understand it taking a bit longer.

Last week, King was closed between Bay and Hess for what appeared to be a police investigation. Result: no alternative route out of the city and total traffic mayhem, with cars doing several loops, zigs and zags with ridiculous backtracking in order to get around. This would not happen with a standard two way grid.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:14:55 in reply to Comment 79679

Only problem with this is that opponents of two-way conversion are still howling about how the James and John conversions are utter failures that created total gridlock.

No amount of proof will ever convince these people, so I have a hard time with the idea that the wishes and aspirations of lower city businesses and residents should be put on hold in an effort to appease them.

Quite simply, they do not have the best interests of the lower city at heart. Never have, never will. It's time to stop kowtowing to them, and muster the courage to do what's best for the city as a whole in spite of them.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted August 13, 2012 at 12:48:54 in reply to Comment 79685

Highwater, I think that's the heart of the issue. A slim majority - who are familiar with the lower city and its issues but they don't have a personal stake in it. They just don't see the WIFM, and therefore they're resistant. This is something that as proponents of conversion, we need to do a better job of.

While a strong downtown benefits all, in order to generate the support needed to make this happen, there has to be something in it for the citizens that use the downtown as a throughfare over and above 'changing your travel mode' in order to win them over.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 13, 2012 at 13:15:14 in reply to Comment 79688

I would agree with you if I thought it was even remotely possible to achieve this. Unfortunately the obstinate refusal on the part of so many, to see the success of the James and John conversions, or at least the absence of the predicted traffic armageddon, makes it pretty clear that this is a waste of time.

Two-way proponents are beginning to sound like the proverbial women who love too much. Maybe they'll love two-way if we just try a little harder! Let's face it. If the successful conversions to date aren't enough to convince them, it's time to accept the fact that they're just not into the lower city, and move on without them.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted August 15, 2012 at 11:52:57 in reply to Comment 79690

it's time to accept the fact that they're just not into the lower city, and move on without them.

I was at a backyard bbq with "lower city" residents recently and this topic came up... surprisingly the vast majority supported the one-way streets.

This is a much tougher battle with way more people opposed than many "conversion supporters" seem to want to admit.

Taking the "I'm right and you're all wrong" approach to this debate is a fool's gambit.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 15, 2012 at 18:00:45 in reply to Comment 79817

Taking the "I'm right and you're all wrong" approach to this debate is a fool's gambit.

That isn't what I was suggesting. I was simply pointing out the futility of waiting and hoping that one-way proponents will change their minds when they see successful incremental conversions on smaller side streets.

We already have several successful conversions under our belt, and as our friend LOL has so amply demonstrated, one-way proponents continue to claim that the conversions are a "nightmare" and a "colossal mess" against all evidence to the contrary.

I have no idea what more can be done to convince them, and I have doubts if it's even possible, but I am open to suggestions.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 14, 2012 at 22:52:46 in reply to Comment 79690

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

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By DBC (registered) | Posted August 15, 2012 at 15:49:27 in reply to Comment 79797

You are nothing but a troll.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted August 14, 2012 at 22:57:42 in reply to Comment 79797

I rest my case.

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By concerned (anonymous) | Posted August 14, 2012 at 10:42:58 in reply to Comment 79690

Its that attitude of moral superiority and disregard for democracy that puts your voice in the pile of crazy people. This is not the way to get things done

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By arienc (registered) | Posted August 13, 2012 at 16:26:01 in reply to Comment 79690

I think Ryan actually nailed this one, when he focussed on how one-way streets do a poor job of allowing drivers to get to their destinations conveniently, in addition to all of the costs they impose on residents, shoppers, pedestrians and cyclists.

I definitely feel your frustration, but that's really the piece that's got to be overcome to see this change happen faster than the pace we are all too sadly getting accustomed to.

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By LOL (registered) | Posted August 14, 2012 at 22:58:00 in reply to Comment 79698

How much did he pay you for that comment?

Drivers really are not that stupid. It is not hard to figure out that since one way streets usually run in pairs their must be another one not far away. Especially with GPS being so common these days, trying to find another street is not that hard. Maybe its just due to the fact that our streets are closer to capacity than all the know it alls on this site care to admit.

Any city if a major street gets closed it will result in chaos. One way, two way, three way, all way, does not matter they all get trumped by no way.

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By Gleamer (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2012 at 19:20:06

Could it also be a matter of cost? The James/John conversions, if memory serves, were implemented piecemeal over a number of years. And even at that, they seem like relatively short distances compared to the length of King, Main or Cannon that would need to be converted. Not for a moment suggesting that those streets aren't candidates for conversion, but the cash flow to date for these projects seems rather piddling. And those were the low-hanging fruit. Anyone?

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By ThisIsOurHamilton (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2012 at 06:24:52

That was quite a one-two punch on Saturday. It certainly had me thinking...and posting...

4) Generate the required leadership yourself: Don’t look to Councillors to provide the necessary leadership to get what you want, reversion-wise. Indeed, bet your bottom-dollar that almost none on Council will take the lead on this issue. Just this year, just recently even, we’ve seen a distinct paucity of conviction on their parts, and I don’t see this changing…unless things change from the residents’ side and they force their representatives at City Hall to lead in that direction. It’s too nebulous a concept, too ambiguous a prospect to sell to voting constituents, so it’s just not worth the effort…without a proven groundswell. (See #2.) We have not constructed a city of change-inclined Councillors. But don’t blame them; that’s not who we elect, given the 90% return rate on incumbents come election time. So, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’? Yup. Lead, and they will follow. Whine and kvetch and obviate online and in print, and you’re almost guaranteeing a disappointing ending.

Excerpt from:

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted September 26, 2012 at 14:44:10

Re: "Dozens of cities across North America, including.... Louisville, Ky., have converted their one-way streets to two ways."

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

From today's New York Times:

A half-century or so ago Louisville, like so many American cities, bet the farm on cars and suburbia. It sacrificed a swath of its downtown to three interstate highways. There was the usual reasoning: highways would bring business, without which downtown, already struggling, would shrivel and expire.

Blocks of historic commercial warehouses and banks were leveled as a consequence; the center of the city was severed from Louisville’s spectacular waterfront; mass transit was largely abandoned and many corners of town transformed into parking lots. Around the same time the construction of a plaza and a hotel, along with a Mies van der Rohe building that commanded a singular view of the falls on the Ohio River, aspired partly to reconnect the city to the water. But the completion of the big John F. Kennedy Memorial Bridge leading into downtown capped off the massive entanglement of highways that produced what locals came to call Spaghetti Junction.

And the traffic?

It got worse.

Since then cities everywhere have been tearing down postwar highways that ripped through downtowns. They’ve replaced them with parks and streets and neighborhoods. It has happened from Seoul and San Francisco to Milwaukee and Madrid. In San Francisco removal of the Central Freeway has turned a destitute neighborhood into one of the most fashionable quarters of the city. Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (which is linked to Louisville by one of the interstates rumbling through downtown) have made headlines, too, successfully recovering historic riverfronts.

So what is Louisville doing now?

Pursuing a plan that would, in part, enlarge the downtown highways and construct a second bridge next to the Kennedy. It would even eat up some of a park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, of Prospect Park and Central Park fame. Louisville is a car city with auto plants and a big investment in the auto industry. But still, I was stunned to hear this.

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