Press Release: Make Hamilton's Streets Two-Way Today

By RTH Staff
Published November 07, 2006

(Download this press release as a PDF)

November 7, 2006 - Raise the Hammer calls on the City of Hamilton to create a safe pedestrian environment by converting Hamilton's streets to two-way today. This weekend, Matthew Power was killed when one of two cars that appeared to be racing hit him so hard that it cut him in two. He was crossing King St. E. close to his home.

Cindy Smith, a resident of the area where Matthew Power was killed, told the Hamilton Spectator she is afraid to let her child walk to school alone. Hamilton will never be "the best place to raise a child" as long as our streets remain too dangerous for children. Our eagerness to provide maximum convenience for motorists has created a hostile environment for anyone not 'protected' inside a car. Wide, multi-lane urban expressways like Main St. and King St. are a bonanza for speeding drivers.

So far this year, 22 people have been killed in vehicle accidents in Hamilton. In their 2005 report, "Child- and Youth-Friendly Land Use and Transport Planning Guidelines", Richard Gilbert and Catherine O'Brien found that the risk of death increases exponentially with increasing speed. Below 25 km/h, the death rate rapidly approaches zero. Also in 2005, Eric Dumbaugh of Texas A&M University conducted a study called "Safe Streets, Livable Streets" and found that wide-open corridors encourage motorists to speed and cause more crashes. The best way to reduce speeds is not through enforcement but engineering: two-way traffic flows, narrow lanes, non-synchronized traffic lights, and tree-lined roadways.

In 1997, a downtown revitalization charette sponsored by Architecture Hamilton recommended converting Hamilton's streets back to two-way. When James St. N. was converted in 2002, opponents predicted a disaster of gridlock and boarded-up windows. In fact, James North has seen a significant renaissance, with new investment, increased business, more pedestrian traffic, and a vibrant street life. John Dolbec, CEO of the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce, recently admitted that the two-way conversion helped spur the revival.

Last year, the renowned architect Donald Schmitt, who is designing the McMaster Innovation Park, gave a lecture in Hamilton on downtown revitalization. In an interview after the talk, he explained:

Two way streets slow cars down. The environment on the sidewalk, particularly if they are widened with parallel parking and street trees, becomes more protected from traffic and more conducive to window shopping, outdoor food and sidewalk life.

Pedestrians cross the street more safely and both sides of the street start to work together as a true retail strip.

The City of Hamilton already plans to convert Main St. and King St. to two-way - eventually. Raise the Hammer believes we should not have to sit through another decade of urban decay and needless deaths before doing the right thing. In 1956, Hamilton's streets were converted to one-way overnight. There is no reason why we cannot act swiftly today to restore the pedestrian-friendly streets Hamilton needs and deserves.


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By jason (registered) | Posted November 07, 2006 at 16:29:43

as a follow-up, the Spec reported today that the city is 'looking at all options before it' in order to deal with this problem. About 2 sentences later they quote a city rep as saying this:

The city says it will look at all options presented before it, but that un-synchronizing lights and adding more signals to one way streets won't curb the problem. Instead, officials say more enforcement is needed.

In other words, city officials value their ability to save 5 minutes on their trip to and from work more than your childs life. This comment is irresponsible and downright ignorant. Stats prove that high-speed, wide open streets with timed lights are dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. They are also damaging to business districts as downtown merchants reported almost instantly back in the 50's when the switch was first made. If I were this family I would sue the city for compliance in this death. Simply because they have been told by experts, engineers, citizens, business people and everyone else imaginable that these urban freeways are bad for the city and downright dangerous. They don't care and need to be sued for negligence. I know money can never replace a life, but it seems to be the only thing city hall pays any attention to.

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By Matt's (step) Grandfather (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2006 at 17:11:59

You people are going off on the wrong track.

Lights are always SYNCHRONIZED FOR A GIVEN SPEED. This speed is usually slightly BELOW the speed limit.

The REAL problem here is that the side streets are DEMAND DRIVEN. King/Main only get a red light if there is a car (or a pedestrian pushing a button) waiting to cross King/Main. In quite times King and Main are solid green from end to end.

1)Leave the synchronized lights there to help the traffic flow in rush hour.

2)Leave the cross streets in "demand mode" BUT ONLY during rush hour. It does help traffic flow.

3) In non rush hour, disable all the demand mode settings and let the lights cycle.

This will keep rush hour exactly as it is AND it will mean that anyone driving through town at 3am AND DOING THE SPEED LIMIT will see nothing but green lights. BUT, anyone exceeding the speed limit will be stopping at EVERY light. People will quickly learn the speed that gives the smooth ride and get out of the habit of speeding.

Matt's (step) Grandfather

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 07, 2006 at 18:30:24

Hi There 'step' father. First and most importantly allow me to say sorry for your loss. It seems kind of trivial to be here chatting about street lights at such a time, but I do appreciate you taking the time. I'm planning on contacting Matt's mother sometime next week once things have settled down and will offer our website as a place for her petition to be hosted online.

Regarding your evaluation of our timed lights, I have a couple of comments from my own observations as a resident downtown near York Blvd - we have the same problem here. Quite possibly the only time of the day where Hamilton's streets feel somewhat normal is rush hour. The rest of the time it is like walking along the shoulder of the QEW. I don't believe it will ever be possible to time the lights so only those doing 60km hit them green (furthermore, I believe 60km is MUCH too fast for urban, residential/commercial streets. 30-40km would be more appropriate). If you come along Main and find yourself slightly behind 'the wave' as young people call it, all you need to do is step on it and you can reach speeds of over 100km for several lights before finally hitting a red. I think our streets are too wide and with too many lanes. We have far too few stoplights - try getting to the bus stop at Main and Strathcona from my side (north side) of Main. Or use the bike lanes on Ferguson where it crosses Main. Brutal and dangerous. Hamilton's best streets and most successful in terms of retail/dining are King William/Hess/James North and now South/Locke South/Westdale etc....all have one thing in common - no wide, fast moving streets with narrow sidewalks and speeding cars. It's almost impossible to speed on James North even if you wanted to.

That's how all streets in our city should be - even if adds 3 or 4 minutes onto daily commutes.

Thanks for writing, and again, my deepest condolences to you and your family.

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By nospeed (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2006 at 20:59:18

Don't forget - lights that are timed for 60 km/h (too fast anyway) are also timed for 120 km/h.

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By Joe (registered) | Posted November 08, 2006 at 08:10:06

I was never one to care about one way streets until recently--since the birth of my daughter. Personally, I don't feel unsafe walking along a one-way street when I'm by myself (thanks to habituation), but if I'm walking with my daughter I can't help but worry about how there isn't much in between a car zooming by at 100km/h and the sidewalk beside it (a curb is what separates the two).

Even though such changes wouldn't alter young persons' perceptions about road racing, at least it would minimize other sources of accidents and fatalities.

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By Matt's (step) Grandfather (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2006 at 12:49:42

On 11/7/2006 8:59:18 PM "nospeed" said

Don't forget - lights that are timed for 60 km/h (too fast anyway) are also timed for 120 km/h.

Hi "nospeed",

Your concept is correct but your math is not. It is not that simple. It depends on the distance between the lights and the length of each of the (red, yellow and green) light cycle times.

However, when multiple lights are involved and when they have unequal separations and cycle times, then there is usually only one speed that will "work".

But when all the lights are green all the time, as is the case here (Hamilton at night), then speed does not matter at all. A fact that all the drivers quickly learn.


Asking for "more enforcement" of speeds will only help until some other part of the city asks for "more enforcement". Guess what happens then.

Asking for "unsynchronized lights" won't help either. This WILL succeed in causing more traffic jams at rush hour. It will have NO effect at 1:00am as long as the "demand driven lights" on the side streets leave King and Main with green lights from end to end.

The three options that will cut speeding are:
1) Radar traps 24 hours a day forever.
2) Photo radar 24 hours a day forever.
3) Get rid of the demand driven lights and enforce the sequenced lights for a while until drivers learn that there now are red lights to stop at.

Matt's (step) Grandfather

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By Matt's (step) Grandfather (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2006 at 13:08:01

Just to clarify one point ...

When I said "Get rid of the demand driven lights" I did not mean to uproot the signals. I meant that the light's mode of operation should be changed from "demand driven" to "continuous cycling". This should be done ANYWHERE there is a street with "synchronized signals".

Matt's (step) Grandfather

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By (anonymous) | Posted November 08, 2006 at 15:04:45

I agree completely about the importance of doing something about Main St. When I drive that stretch of road downtown, I feel compelled to keep at 60km/hr as I'm rewarded with a green light at each intersection. I also notice people are anticipating the green light and jumping the gun. The synchonization should be slowed down by 10km/hr. The synchonized lights are fine for rush hour but at off peak times it should be turned off. If we're not careful, dragsters from all over will come to see Hamilton as a racetrack.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted November 09, 2006 at 12:32:51

First of all, the comment stating that if lights synchronized for 60 they're also synchronized for 120 is correct. the distance is a fixed distance so math takes that part of the equation out. I don't feel that having a 7km stretch of road travelling at 30-40km/h is the answer. Two way streets will be an advantage because the lights will no longer be synchronized. The only problem with any solution posted is that you can lower speeds or reduce traffic flow ONLY IF THERE'S A VIABLE ALTERNATIVE INTO THE CITY... i.e. better public transportation. Not to mention that I used to live squarely in the middle of this (Grant St) and drove to and from work on Grays Road for about 6 months. A speed of between 62 and 64 will get green lights all the way along. Having said that, I've seen many many times when pedestrians either cross the road where there is no cross walk or cross when the little hand is showing. They're there for a reason. Changing the intergreen (the time between red in one direction and the green on the other) will only make the pedestrians more bold. Whether we like it or not, there will be vehicles travelling into the city to and from work for a long time to come. They need to be facilitated and stop and go along king/main isn't the answer. As long as the two streets are the main corridors into the city, changing anything about them will cause DIFFERENT accidents to occur. I say, let's put up some red light cameras at every intersection. That'll get people jumping the light as well as those who ignore them completely - a circumstance i've seen quite often. If motorist know there's no one to catch them flying through downtown, they're going to do it regardless of the colour of the lights. I've travelled through Cambridge at 11 o'clock at night. Highway 8 through the northern part Cambridge is a 2 way, 2 lane roadway with parking on both sides of the road, wide sidewalks and trees and non-synchronized continuously cycling lights. Despite all of these "safe" characteristics, I was passed by an idiotic individual travelling through downtown at breakneck speeds disregarding the lights at every intersection until he came to the part where the police frequent.

As a final statement, we can do as much as we want to make our roads safe, but the bottom line is, it's not what the roads look like, it's the attitudes of the people using (both driving and walking) them that makes the difference.

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By attitude_adjuster (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2006 at 13:13:18

"As a final statement, we can do as much as we want to make our roads safe, but the bottom line is, it's not what the roads look like, it's the attitudes of the people using (both driving and walking) them that makes the difference."

You know what? Since I read this i've noticed that I drive faster on big wide streets like main and king. Some people will drive like jerks no matter what, but most people drive based on what kind of street it is. Check out the report from eric dunbaugh (linked from the article) he's studied different kinds of streets and the big wide ones have worse accidents.

Forget enforcement. Maybe red light camera will help but there just aren't enough cops to watch all the corners all the time, even if Diianni hires 100 more. just make it really hard to speed, and less people will do it. This isn't rocket science.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2006 at 19:18:29

"Whether we like it or not, there will be vehicles travelling into the city to and from work for a long time to come. "

Frank, This is true, however the real problem is that the main corridors as more than access "into the city". They are highways that happen to run THROUGH the city. In fact I look at them more along the lines of access out of the city. It is like we are rushing everyone away from Hamilton as fast as we can. I think the occasional traffic jam in the core would be a good sign of a thriving city (until people learn that driving may not be the best way to get around downtown). As it stands, I can drive between Stoney Creek and Westdale faster through downtown in rushour than via the skyway/403. Hamilton should not be a short cut.

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By Jae on Hess (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 00:25:20

I definitely don't have the answers, but as a resident of Hess St. South that has switched to two way, has tons of stop signs and mismatched lights, I can honestly say that this does not feel like it's helping. Drivers rush from mismatched light to mismatched light at huge speeds and roll through the stops because they're trying to rush to catch the lights. Even bus drivers speed to catch the "new learned" speed. Any speed will eventually be learned by the regulars, and 40km/h is learned as 80, and so on.

This is not to mention the concern I have for all the people who still haven't learned that it's a two way. You take your life in your hands if you don't look both ways at least twice. In today's traffic, these things can not be changed overnight as they were in the 50's.

I admit that the situation on Hess appears as unsafe as over on Queen, which sees another one way speedway. I can't say for certain, but residents on Hess could possibly be more unsafe because they are less guarded crossing Hess having a perception that it's slower when in reality it's not.

The lack of boulevards and overgrown shrubbery make it extremely challenging for drivers on the side streets to view traffic in both directions as they cross Hess, causing lots of near misses that further endanger pedestrians.

I know Hess is no Main or King, but I'm not convinced that the solution is a blanket elimination of one ways.

An additional concern is that slowdowns on King and Main would likely result in more traffic scuttling through the neighbourhoods to avoid the congestion.

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By Jason Goodburn-Moffitt (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2006 at 14:19:06

This site never ceases to inform and motivate me. I currently live in Oakville, but am considering Hamilton as my next move.

I had a similar issue on my street, which is a four-lane divided road, speed limit is 50 km/h.

This is a 100% residential road, with two primary schools being serviced by side streets, and hundreds of children walking the sidewalks and crossing the street twice each day.

There are several stop signs along its way, which are often ignored, even though there is a crossing guard during the morning and afternoon rush.

Parking is severely restricted, there is no stopping, and there is a grassy centre-median.

As a result, speeding along this road is quite common, which the town enforces with police presense at least twice a month. Usually speeders are 20-30 over, but one police officer clocked someone at 130 recently.

Several years ago on one weekend when parking is allowed, a speeding car lost control and took out 3 parked cars, and then jumped the curb onto someone's lawn.

The town is well aware of this problem, as it gets raised frequently with them by residents, to which they always reply that "they are addressing the issue with enforcement."

I mentioned to them that enforcement is required every day, because as soon as it lets up, drivers are speeding again. To which they replied, "they don't have enough resources."

Being bold, I made the suggestion to Oakville's traffic department that parking should be allowed, to which their response was "but this would slow down traffic."

When I replied that this is exactly what we want in our neighbourhood, they had nothing further to say. They are hell-bent on making residential roads high-speed nightmares for children and pedestrians.

This road is frequently used by street-racers says much about its design and lack of enforcement.

Keep up the great work.


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By simplemath!!!! (anonymous) | Posted October 25, 2011 at 14:43:57

I know this is a 5 year old article, but I hit this on a Google search and read the comment by someone who clearly doesn't understand math.

The lights timed for 60 km/h are NOT timed for 120 km/h!!!

What your calculation is not taking into account is the duration of the red or green light. If the red or green light lasts for an odd number of seconds, then the speeder will hit a red light.

What if the green light lasts only 5 secs, then the red light lasts 35 secs? The 60 km/h car will sail through, but the 120 km/h car will be stopped.


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