This week Brian McHattie and Jason Farr will be putting forward a motion to convert one-way streets to two-way.  The DNA supports the motion and representatives will be attending the meeting on Thursday.  

If you would like to express your support please email city clerk, Carolyn Biggs (Carolyn.Biggs@hamilton.ca), before noon tomorrow (Wednesday)!  

The following letter, written by Jon Dalton describes the position of the DNA on this matter.

Councillor Brian McHattie’s efforts to push forward with the conversion of one way streets in Hamilton’s downtown core comes at a time of unprecedented shift in public opinion towards the concept of livable streets.  Residents’ associations, business owners, urban studies experts and planners alike have recognized the need to make our streets more oriented to the pedestrian and to local access rather than through traffic.  Perhaps this is why, time and again, year after year, experts in the field of transportation planning have exhorted Hamilton  city council to move ahead quickly with the conversion of our downtown streets from fast, one way, synchronized throughways to slower, safer, two way streets more conducive to pedestrian activity.

In representing one of Hamilton’s oldest neighbourhoods, the Durand Neighbourhood Association applauds the efforts of Councillor McHattie and Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr in bringing this issue to Council.  Although two way conversion dates back to the Downtown Transportation Master Plan of 2002, progress has been excruciatingly slow and some of the most harmful one way streets were completely omitted from the process.

In 2002, our neighbourhood association worked with the city on a traffic study that resulted in the conversion of Hess Street South and Caroline Street South to two way.  The results were predictably good, with nearby residents reporting slower traffic speeds and less collisions on those streets.

Despite such success, the process of a traffic study cannot be relied upon to produce appropriate actions from Public Works staff, who continue to prioritize through vehicle traffic over pedestrian safety and mobility.  For example, requests from Kirkendall residents to install a pedestrian crossing light on Aberdeen Avenue were denied on the basis that not enough pedestrians crossed there to justify it – despite the fact that in its current state it is illegal to do so!

McHattie’s suggestion to begin conversions with Queen Street South and Cannon Street is particularly noteworthy because it is those high volume streets which the staff ?refuses to address, despite the fact that they are the most harmful to neighbourhood life.  Queen Street, dividing the Durand and Kirkendall neighbourhoods, contains few traffic lights and can be difficult to cross.  Pedestrians must wait for a gap between waves of high speed traffic, or else walk to the nearest crossing.

Several years ago, we were told by a traffic planner that Queen Street could not be made two way because the side streets do not line up, and there would be a reduction in on-street parking.  Such waffling by Public Works simply underlines a deep-rooted bias towards the supremacy of the automobile, and it will not be accepted.

The strength of an urban neighbourhood is in its walkability.  There is a growing North American trend towards the inner city following decades of suburban flight, as transportation costs and commuting times rise.  Downtown life is attractive in that it offers proximity to work and leisure.  Higher real estate prices are quite often endured as travel expenses and even car ownership itself is reduced.  We have seen this trend in Hamilton with the construction of new condos with reduced parking, bicycle storage and on-site car sharing facilities.

The market has shown a demand for quality urban living, and the city must respond with the appropriate changes in policy and infrastructure.

For those who express concern about the impacts of two way conversion on automobile traffic, it is important to understand the historical context of our one way streets.  There are some key differences between the Hamilton of 1956, when the entire street network was converted to one way overnight, and the Hamilton of today, or even that of 20 years ago.

In 1956, there were no divided highways surrounding Hamilton.  The QEW Skyway Bridge and the 403 through the Chedoke Valley had yet to be constructed.  The Lincoln M. Alexander Parkway and the Red Hill Valley Parkway were plans for the distant future.  For decades, the route through Hamilton from east to west was Highway #8, otherwise known as Main Street.  A crosstown expressway was considered to alleviate traffic congestion on east / west streets, but engineers ultimately decided to reconfigure the existing streets in such a way as to maximize traffic throughput.

Today, with the completion of the Red Hill Valley Parkway, Hamilton has a comprehensive perimeter highway system.  Traffic may bypass downtown Hamilton by means of the QEW, 403, LINC and RHVP.  In addition, Burlington Street allows fast passage from east to west between Wellington Street and Centennial Parkway, where it connects to the QEW.  While some motorists, and especially truckers, may find utility in our one way system, saving mere minutes by cutting through town rather than accessing the highway at the nearest point, there is simply no longer any justification for a crosstown expressway, which our paired one-way streets still constitute.

Downtown Hamilton in the 1950’s was a thriving business centre.  While suburban expansion was underway, downtown was still the destination for shopping and entertainment.  Flagship stores such as Eaton’s, Robinson’s, The Right House, Kresge’s and Woolworth’s drew scores of people downtown every day, and hundreds of independent shopkeepers flourished on the overflow.  Only the most forward thinking critics like Jane Jacobs could imagine the destruction soon to follow as suburban expansion coupled with misguided downtown expropriation took its toll.

Nonetheless, downtown merchants felt the effects of the one way street system almost overnight, at times packing Council Chambers in protest.  Business declined as customers could no longer park, or even slow down, on King Street.  Narrower sidewalks and speeding traffic discouraged people from walking when it could be avoided.  The main business supporters of one way conversion were the large department stores with parking facilities; even they ultimately did not survive.  Today, pockets of revitalization aside, the main strip of our downtown remains a shadow of its former self.  No amount of superficial aesthetic improvement or treat-the-symptom policing can give back to downtown business what traffic and poor planning took away.  The streets must be restored to fully functional and safe pedestrian environments, promoting local access over through traffic, for business to succeed.

Finally, the industrial heart of the city in the time of one way streets was the lakefront.  When the steel mills employed tens of thousands, and other industries many thousands more, in the city’s north end, mobility to and from this area was vitally important.  The prosperity of Hamiton’s inner city industry afforded many workers the opportunity to own a vehicle and a house in the newly developing suburbs.  Traffic to the industrial areas had to be accommodated at peak times and this meant excess capacity was needed.  Thus, the one way street network once served an economic purpose.

Today, however, Hamilton’s industry has declined in pace with its downtown retail activity.  The number of commuters to the north end at peak times no longer justifies the excessively wide roads built to accommodate them.

Vehement, knee-jerk opposition to two-way conversion on the basis of traffic concerns is sure to be generated by recent attempts to effect change.  However, this is as predictable as it is unfounded in fact or credible argument.  Hamilton has 7.2 kilometers of highway or arterial road per person, the highest among all cities in Ontario.  Against this fact, no honest claim can be made that converting to two way streets would greatly harm mobility by car.

Converting to two way would, however, greatly increase mobility by foot and by bicycle.  It would make our streets safer, especially for children and the elderly.  It would appreciate property values in some of the most depressed neighbourhoods.  It would encourage more active transportation choices, helping us achieve goals set out in the Transportation Master Plan, GRIDS, and Vision 2020.  It would result in more people moving downtown, helping fulfill intensification goals to which we are committed under provincial Smart Growth legislation.  It would encourage more downtown residential and commercial development, helping to ease the burden on taxpayers.

The world is changing around us, and Hamilton can no longer remain with its head stuck in the sand.  The fact that fast, synchronized one-way streets remain only in Wards 1, 2 and 3 betrays cynical contempt for the downtown and its neighbourhoods.  They must be eliminated to make way for safe, complete streets that serve the needs of the residents and business that live and operate around them.

This cannot be done over decades of studies and lost opportunity; too many decades have already been wasted.  These changes need to be voted on, funded, designed and implemented, and this is why we, with great enthusiasm, support the efforts of Councillors McHattie and Farr in moving forward with this vitally important work.