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CITY FILE | Two-way or the highway?

Are two-way streets the key to Hamilton's continued revitalization in the core?

The hue and cry surrounding the conversion of Hamilton's one-way streets is at a fever pitch. We asked some of our fellow Hamiltonians how they felt about converting our one-way streets to two-way traffic: Is it an idea whose time has come, or is it better to maintain the status quo?

Al Knapp
Proud Hamiltonian and Dofasco retiree.
I have driven in many cities that don't have one-way streets or at least not to the extent that Hamilton does and it can be a frustrating experience. Bumper to bumper traffic jams are the norm at rush hour. Buses making their scheduled stops, idling trucks, illegally parked cars or minor fender-benders cause extensive traffic backups. Hamilton's oneway streets largely eliminate this problem.

Some argue that one-way streets are responsible for the decline of the downtown. In reality, big box stores and shopping malls that provide free parking have much more to do with keeping people out of the core.

If you want to avoid traffic gridlock in Hamilton, keep oneway streets, at least on the major arteries. As the old adage says, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

Aaron Newman
Proprietor of Newman's Menswear on King Street East, since 1927.
For the last 60 years Hamilton has been in an automobile courtship, and one-way streets are its bride. Our downtown languishes amidst a myriad of one-way highways that speed people through and around its very importance. Our divide today as citizens pits cars/ efficiency vs. liveability, and for too long we have chosen the former and our downtown bears the result of that choice. Two-way streets are the first step in cracking our own code toward downtown prosperity and liveability. Slowing traffic down, creating new panoramas, making people stop and enjoy is the base for which to create a more human scale city. This city has all the ingredients for a renewed core, we just need to change the recipe.

Larry Di Ianni
Beloved former mayor of Hamilton.
When Terry Cooke speaks we must listen. After all, Terry is a serious urbanist with experience in running government. When Aaron Newman offers an opinion, it is incumbent on us to pay heed. After all, he and his family have done retail business in Hamilton for generations, serving the community and investing private funds.

And what have they been saying? Convert Hamilton's one-way streets to two-way routes.

So, it is time to do just that. However, when others chime in, indicating that one-directional roads are the cause of downtown blight, unwalkable streets and, as one blog article put it, "holding Hamilton back," the hyperbole must be challenged.

Proof of their exaggerations, Barton Street. It has never been one-directional. It has had all kinds of traffic calming done: restricting lanes, slowing traffic, beautification; and what has been the result? Boarded storefronts, hooker corners and abject poverty as far as the eye can see. Clearly changing traffic flow isn't the panacea some suggest.

James St. North is a success. Private money, pride of ownership and the influx of people at the Art Crawls and such have created the buzz which now exists. The directional change may have helped, but wasn't the catalyst all by itself. So, as we convert, let's be bold, but also realistic. We owe it to ourselves to do so.

Chris Farias
Imaginitarian and partner at kitestring creative marketing + design.
My Grandfather worked for the Ministry of Transportation in Essex County for over 30 years. He is a true Canadian road warrior. Even though we don't always see eyeto- eye, I asked him to visit me in Hamilton a few years back. As I was driving him around the city, showing him the lovely sights, we came to Hess and King and I was about to make a left-hand turn on a red. My Grandfather was floored. He had never seen anything like it. I gave him the lowdown on the one-way street business in this city. His response to me, "Well, that doesn't make much sense, does it?" Finally, something we could both agree on.

Ryan McGreal
Editor of Raise the Hammer, raisethehammer.org
Walkable two-way streets are safer for children, friendlier for pedestrians and more lucrative for retail. Creative businesses thrive and produce new jobs. It's easier to drive to a destination on a twoway street. Our legacy of one-way thoroughfares solves a problem Hamilton doesn't have, and in the process exacerbates several problems Hamilton doesn't need. Converting streets back to twoway does not create gridlock; it merely creates a fighting chance for downtown revival. Dozens of cities across North America have converted or are converting their downtown streets back to twoway, helping to reverse decades of decline. What are we waiting for?

Christopher Kiely
Global Training Manager, freelance journalist and resident of Ward 3.
Travelling through Hamilton often leaves me with the feeling of a city built for a different time. Major commercial strips stretch in all directions: Barton, Main, King, Locke, James, Ottawa. Testaments to a time when haberdashers, watchmakers, cobblers and butchers lined the avenues of urban North America and the happy industrially employed middle class cruised those streets with the implicit understanding that driving was their right and they were on their way to a bold future.

Well, the future is here and as we see in our city many of the stores are gone, replaced with the boarded-up storefronts of abandoned properties; vanishing too are the well-paying industrial jobs. Much of the traffic remains, now driving through the neighbourhoods where people once stopped and shopped.

For some people, changing the flow of traffic may be a top priority. I can't disagree with many of their reasons for two-way conversion; however, I caution that while streetscape design can overcome traffic flow issues, traffic flow cannot overcome bad streetscapes. What we suffer from in Hamilton are many atrocious streetscapes.

To bring about the economic growth Hamilton needs to rehabilitate those streetscapes, it is going to take more than just two-way conversion. Hamilton's rebirth is hindered by deep-rooted socioeconomic problems that a change in the flow of traffic cannot solve.

Fernandes Filmmaker, small business owner, driver, pedestrian and cyclist.
Since moving to Hamilton in February I have seen about 15 traffic accidents and witnessed two, including my own — a rearender and my first accident ever. I've seen young parents scramble for their lives pushing a baby carriage, I've been tailgated more times than I can ever remember, cut off constantly, honked at for going the speed limit — even screamed at for slowing down to make a turn. Hamilton's one-way streets are unsafe to drive on, ugly to walk down, crazy to cross and suicidal to cycle. And it's no mystery why businesses along these strips suffer.