Queen Down to One Lane at Hunter, Traffic Flowing Smoothly

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 09, 2014

This dispatch from the we-have-too-much-lane-capacity files comes to you courtesy of the polar vortex.

Earlier this week, the west lane of Queen Street South was closed at Hunter Street, presumably because of the large accumulation of packed ice there. Walking past the corner in mid-afternoon, I was able to watch the automobile traffic on Queen while it was reduced to one lane.

Smooth flowing traffic on Queen at Hunter with a lane closed
Smooth flowing traffic on Queen at Hunter with a lane closed

It should come as little surprise that traffic was moving in a smooth flow and a reasonable speed despite the lane closure and the icy conditions.

It occurred to me, not for the first time, that Queen Street is an excellent candidate for conversion to two-way automobile traffic. It's clear that one lane in each direction is adequate to accommodate automobile traffic flow, and a northbound lane would actually make the street more useful to motorists.

Queen has to be one of the least essential one-way streets in a city burdened by far too many inessential one-way streets.

It's already two-way south of Herkimer, where it connects to the Beckett Drive escarpment access. All the northbound drivers who travel down the escarpment have to go somewhere, and are currently diverted either westbound on Aberdeen or eastbound on Herkimer (another pointlessly one-way street) instead of just proceeding north on Queen.

Last year, a two-way study group met and walked the length of Queen Street as part of a grassroots environmental assessment process approved as a compromise after Council recoiled from a motion by Councillors Brian McHattie and Jason Farr to establish a two-way implementation team for Queen and Cannon Street.

No one can accuse Council of moving too quickly on two-way conversions - even the conversions that were approved in the Transportation Master Plan back in 2001, most of which are still pending more than a decade later. At the current rate of conversion on Queen, we can expect it to be completely two-way by mid-century.

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 Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2014 at 15:45:53

Budget bollards stretch your infrastructure dollar further.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted January 09, 2014 at 16:03:32

There's no advantage for either Queen or Locke to be one way. In both cases it's still really slow crossing the Main/King block, because it's limited by the big streets priority, and everything north of that is not exactly free flowing for cars. (It is possible for psychopaths to make the King light from Locke at Main. If you do this, the world hates you and in the words of Inigo Montoya...)

So if there's no advantage to cars, except for the people-unfriendly race zone of Queen southbound from Main to Charlton, change it! Queen residents and businesses will thank you.

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By Eric (registered) | Posted January 09, 2014 at 16:15:28

It's important to note than one lane of one-way, as you observed due to the lane closure, is different from two-way traffic. Turning left with one lane doesn't slow traffic because you don't have to wait for a break in oncoming traffic like you would on a two-way road.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 13, 2014 at 10:34:16 in reply to Comment 96602

And yet somehow the majority of roads in other cities function just fine.

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By JKS (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 11:53:54 in reply to Comment 96602

EXACTLY Eric! In the case of James and John, for the stretch between the Jolley Cut and King St., the conversion from 1-way to 2-way traffic was, in my opinion, poorly exectuted and a waste of money. It would have been better to keep each street 1-way but reduce the lanes of traffic down to two lanes (and use the surplus space for bike/transit lanes, streetscaping, and parking/dedicated turning lanes). That, along with synchronized traffic lights that limit travel to 40-45 km/h, would have reduced the footprint of the traffic lanes without creating a dangerous highway effect. It'd like to see that happen on Main and King St. Reduce the lanes. Resynchronize the lights. Pedestrians get safer streets. Motorists still get a free-flowing, albeit slower, drive. Win-win?

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 13:21:55 in reply to Comment 96630

what you describe is exactly how John and James currently function: free-flowing for cars, but slower, safer for pedestrians etc.... one big benefit for drivers and cyclists is that you can now come down from Mohawk College and head straight up James to the waterfront instead of making all sorts of unnecessary turns over to John and back to James etc..... A win-win for sure.

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By TheDude (registered) | Posted January 28, 2014 at 21:23:43 in reply to Comment 96718

Sorry Jason, but I disagree. John and James are not slower and safer for pedestrians. I battle daily with traffic that doesn't slow down for pedestrians, honks at them, makes them wait, as well as push buttons that don't do anything along both of these thoroughfares. Not to mention you can't really walk up James to West 5th easily, and the Jolley Cut is a pretty steep walk in both directions.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 29, 2014 at 09:48:25 in reply to Comment 97261

What does James Mountain Road have to do with it? It's always been steep and it's always been two-way. James is definitely a friendlier atmosphere than it was, for most of its length. It gets nasty for pedestrians as you go further south, mainly because the city half-assed the conversion - it retains the feel of a one way while having one lane in the other direction. The city needs to get rid of the "right turn only" lane from Main onto James South - it convinces people that James is still "the way up the mountain", encouraging people to drive up James and jog East on St. Josephs Drive as if it's the olden days of one ways. All of those cars should be on John.

John is another matter - it has been designed as too wide and too fast to be friendly for anyone. Is there a reason we need two lanes coming down the jolley, only to be squeezed down to one lane at the GO station? This fake highway from the top of the hill all the way down to augusta creates ripe conditions for festering driver anger, when they inevitably get stuck behind a bus. If it was one lane all the way from sam lawrence park, through the entire city, we would have room for turn lanes to get left turners out of the through traffic's way, and everyone would arrive at their destination much calmer and in the same amount of time - instead of widening out and racing down the mountain only to have to jam in together to get around the buses between hunter and Jackson. It would be hard to create a more road-rage inducing situation if one tried.

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By Freddie Mercury (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2014 at 20:42:58 in reply to Comment 96602

Yes. When I drive from my house on the West Mountain to Queen and George, I take the Queen St. Hill, turn right on Herkimer, and then make three left turns onto Bay, King, and Queen. These turns work smoothly because the streets are all one-way. If the streets were all two-way it would take forever to make so many left turns.

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By he's serious (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 18:04:49 in reply to Comment 96612

I do think that this person is serious.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted January 13, 2014 at 08:48:12 in reply to Comment 96674

No, I'm not ;)

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 09, 2014 at 23:08:19 in reply to Comment 96612


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 09, 2014 at 17:35:56 in reply to Comment 96602

There's room for left turn lanes at major streets, but besides that an analysis of the actual traffic counts would likely show that even that is not truly necessary.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 09, 2014 at 19:20:10

Queen is not a major street. It's a freeway with houses on both sides. NO left turn lanes are necessary. It's not a God-given right to be able to hold stead at 65km on every street in a city. Heaven forbid someone has to slow down a few times an hour when someone is turning left onto those crazy, congested, traffic-choked streets like Bold or Robinson.

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By left overs again? (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 04:32:11

queen street being one way is an amazing example of vestigial infrastructure. i can imagine at one point it made (marginal) sense to have a route dedicated to flushing the traffic created by large numbers of people working in the employment lands at the foot of queen, but has anyone from the city been down to that area lately? remember the west harbour stadium fiasco? very very few people work down there now, but unfortunately we are left with the ridiculously over engineered streets that (possibly?) at one time seemed necessary.

if you have ever sat at the uselessly long light at queen and york you will see what i mean.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2014 at 23:14:47

Here's a similar street in Toronto with bus routes and in a similar type of family-oriented neighbourhood. It carries much more traffic than our Queen St of course. It used to be 4 lanes. The city narrowed it to 1 lane each way with parking on one side. Exactly what Queen should look like. Toronto took the extra space and added it to the sidewalks and front yards and planted new street trees in each yard right next to the sidewalk. Queen St should have one southbound lane from Stuart to Aberdeen, one northbound lane and 24-hour street parking facing northbound. Get rid of the highway ramp at Aberdeen and create a normal intersection with a typical right turn. All the space in that triange can become a new small parkette with trees, benches and fencing to create a new greenspace.

South of Herkimer where Queen is 4-lanes we can either widen the sidewalks and front lawns and plant trees, or have street parking on both sides with 1-lane each way.

From York to King the city should proceed with their plan to shave back a bit of property from the properties on the west side of Queen in order to create a green buffer with a row of street trees between the street and new sidewalk on the other side of the green buffer.

Just like that, Queen becomes a safe walking, cycling and living street while still maintaining adequate traffic flow for it's light volumes, as well as new convenience for folks heading north and south on Queen from the Mountain to the harbour .


Another nice touch in Toronto is the concrete bumpouts at bus stops. This creates a shorter walking distance for pedestrians crossing the street, and also allows buses to load/unload without having to pull off the road and then merge back into traffic.

It should be noted that residents in this hood hated the idea and predicted gridlock and doom and gloom by losing 1-lane each way. As you can see from the pics, the doom and gloom never the same way it will never materialize here if we start taming streets that are designed to carry 30,000 cars by only carrying 11,000.

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By Hi (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 10:28:18

When was the picture taken, and on what day? Context is key to an argument like this one.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 11, 2014 at 14:44:48 in reply to Comment 96714

We don't need context. We have numerical traffic count data that proves these photos and observations are correct.

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By Hi (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 15:29:43 in reply to Comment 96724

Hi, that's a rather chilly welcome to the site :)

I don't see any numerical traffic count data in this article, can you share please?

I hope all posters aren't as rude as yourself!

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By WelcomeAnyways (anonymous) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 22:59:00 in reply to Comment 96727

Don't mind that guy. He's one of the rudest here. Context, schmontext. Hourly traffic data means nothing at this site either. Just find a daily number and divide by the hours of the day. Voila.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted January 12, 2014 at 10:27:42 in reply to Comment 96733

Here are some numbers:

Unfortunately, the hourly data is not easy to obtain as the city guards it quite closely. It would be nice to have open data for all of us to see, but that isn't the case. Occasionally they let some of their counts out of the vault.

A major city will have occasional slowdowns due to rush hour, collisions, road work, etc - we cannot design these streets to be empty 95% of the time in order to smooth out the busier 5% - this is the kind of infrastructure spending that has brought us to the point of having a billion dollar deficit that grows by over 70 million a year...

The article shows Queen Street during a weekday. It's not as if the author went out at 2am to prove the street is overbuilt. I'm sorry if my original comment sounded harsh, I did not mean it that way. These sorts of questions have been answered over and over on this site. Numbers have been presented, photographic evidence of different streets at busy times of day - but it's never enough. There's always an accusation or a question that the data isn't "real" for some reason. Meanwhile we suffer with an enormous tax burden driven largely by our roads spending. It's not something the citizens can afford!

Comment edited by seancb on 2014-01-12 10:31:57

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By WelcomeAnyways (anonymous) | Posted January 12, 2014 at 11:01:49 in reply to Comment 96739

Well, if the movement is to grow, there will be new people reading and they won't have the luxury of having read every stat and story. The reader made no accusation of anything. Just asked for context of a new picture. If you don't have context, don't reply. I understand you may be frustrated. Perhaps a page is required with commonly quoted data. I personally would find date and time stamps handy as well. Act as an ambassador to the new people whether they are on board yet or not. This is all to educate right?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted January 16, 2014 at 14:00:07 in reply to Comment 96740

Well, if the movement is to grow, there will be new people reading and they won't have the luxury of having read every stat and story.

What this person said is very important to keep in mind. We're not here just to preach to the choir. Ultimately, what we're trying to accomplish is to broaden the perspectives of skeptics.

That said, if you take things personally on the internet where tone and body language is missing, you'll have a bad time on most websites probably :)

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 11, 2014 at 13:24:11 in reply to Comment 96714

I'm on Queen everyday and it's looked like this at morning rush hour, afternoon rush hour, evening, mid-day etc.... no slowdowns whatsoever. That shouldn't surprise anyone since an urban traffic lane can carry 10,000 cars per day easily and Queen in this area carries less than 10,000 per day. Queen's busiest stretch is south of Charlton, and even there its only 12,000 per day. Only in Hamilton do we take 1-lane worth of traffic and build 30,000-40,000 road capacity to carry it.

For comparison sake, Upper James carries 32,000 per day at Mohawk. Main St carries 28,000 per day in front of city hall. In other words, Queen St would be able to handle the traffic on Main St at City Hall with no problems at all.

Comment edited by jason on 2014-01-11 13:26:29

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