Special Report: Walkable Streets

Another Failure of Our One-Way Street Network

A problem at a single intersection should not make an entire three-block radius inaccessible.

By Sean Burak
Published April 22, 2015

Here's a fun situation I encountered yesterday during a street closure at Cannon and Mary Street.

I needed to get to Catharine Street. Normally I would go down Mary, turn left on Cannon and left on Catharine.

Now, that's already a roundabout way of getting there, due to our one-way street network.

How I should be able to get to Catharine south of Cannon
How I should be able to get to Catharine south of Cannon

How I normally have to get to Catharine south of Cannon
How I normally have to get to Catharine south of Cannon

But yesterday, Mary Street was blocked. As a result, cars turning onto Mary had to do a u-turn and drive the wrong way back to Wilson.

So what was the solution? Maybe right on Wilson and left on Ferguson to Cannon to Catharine? Nope: Cannon was closed.

Okay, how about left on Wilson and right John to Robert to Catharine? Nope, Catharine was closed.

What happens when there is a closure at Mary and Cannon
What happens when there is a closure at Mary and Cannon

I ended up having to go the wrong way down Catharine.

I know this is a one-time event, but still: even a one-time problem at a single intersection should not make an entire three-block radius inaccessible.

And by the way, this was after I already had to go out of my way to get to Mary. From Main I took Hughson to King William to Mary, instead of just turning from Main onto Catharine, which is what I should be able to do.

We need to fix this ridiculous network of barely-usable one-way streets.

Related:

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted April 22, 2015 at 12:16:18

The most infuriating thing about this story is that there's no tradeoff here. Mary and Catharine are both wide enough for two-way traffic and bilateral curbside parking. Neither Mary nor Catharine carries enough traffic to warrant more than travel one lane in any direction.

In other words, reverting to two-way traffic would inconvenience nobody but would improve connectivity for cyclists and local motorists, as well as making the streets safer for pedestrians by calming traffic.

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By resident (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2015 at 17:11:31

As a resident living on Catharine - please convert the streets back to two way. There is no need for one way streets in this area unless of course you wish to maximize driving time and reduce the flexibility of the road network.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted April 22, 2015 at 21:29:28

We need to consciously think about it EVERY SINGLE TIME the one-way streets cause us to drive past our destination and then back to where we want to be.

We do it automatically most of the time, especially for routes we drive or bike regularly. But if we really thought about it each and every time, if everyone thought about it, we would realize that it's a ridiculous system causing all kinds of extra driving.

The streets are controlling us, instead of the other way around.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2015 at 23:37:56

The best (worst?) thing about Catharine is that its pair (presumably Mary ) does not even go as far south as main. So it's totally orphaned.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 23, 2015 at 00:12:30

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted April 23, 2015 at 01:25:01

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted April 23, 2015 at 11:10:48 in reply to Comment 110998

A couple of comments:

  1. Catharine currently has one-sided parking only, and I've never heard anyone in Beasley complain that this is inadequate.
  2. Catharine in the North End supports two-way traffic and bilateral curbside parking in the same road width, and no one in the North End is asking for this to change.
  3. If one-sided parking is enough, then the street is wide enough for wider sidewalks, one-sided parking, and two-way traffic. (An example would be the proposed Wilson-Kelly cross-section of Mary St. here
  4. If two-sided parking is required, then the street could still support two-way traffic (or one-way car traffic with a contraflow bike lane) with bumpouts at intersections. King St. in the International Village (if you reverse one of the lanes) is a great example of two drive lanes plus two parking lanes with intersection bumpouts. A lot of the sidewalk problems could be fixed by improving the design of curb cuts, as brilliantly described here.

Two-way bicycle traffic vs. curbside parking is a false choice.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted April 23, 2015 at 11:15:05 in reply to Comment 110996

A better analogy would be a mall in which one floor has only women's washrooms and another has only men's. That would be more convenient for a drunken soccer team that all has to pee together at the same time, but less convenient for the other 99% of customers who have to needlessly go up or down one floor to find a washroom.

My son was dropped off by his school bus on Mary yesterday during the road closure. I wasn't able to notice how the school bus left. It would have either had to go the wrong way on Mary, take the alley around the side of the Cannon Knitting Mills, or wait for the road closure to end.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted April 23, 2015 at 11:22:52

It seems to me that these are all general negative comments about one way streets. These were all seriously debated in the 50's and the people of Hamilton actually grew to brag about their value. People from out of town, those who have moved into town and cyclists in particular hate one way streets. Cyclists hate them because of the extra distance they have to travel. It ignores the fact that there are significant advantages to one way street. See this debate for example https://raisethehammer.org/article/1618/...

Long and short of it is that I see nothing new here in the debate that ads anything.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2015-04-23 11:23:36

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 23, 2015 at 11:39:37 in reply to Comment 111027

It comes down to what you value more: the ability to drive through Hamilton quickly and comfortably with a minimum of disruption (which is what some Hamiltonians brag about).

Or, to have a street network that makes it easy and intuitive to reach local destinations, helps local businesses thrive and enhances liveability for local residents (by reducing car speeds and volumes through their neighbourhoods and making the streets more comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists).

That is basically the argument. No one disputes that multi-lane one way streets with timed lights do indeed move traffic very efficiently at high speeds right through the lower city. But an increasing number of Hamiltonians have come to believe that sacrificing everything else to this goal has been and continues to be very detrimental to the rest of what is needed to make a city attractive and successful.

And Hamilton is not unique in this shift: many other North American cities have reverted to two-way in their downtown with positive results (e.g. Louisville which was described in a recent Spec article).

And, of course, Hamiltonians who love the ease and convenience of speeding through the lower city do not advocate for multi-lane one-ways in their own neighbourhoods. So there is a strong aspect of hypocrisy and inequality in the discussion.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-04-23 11:41:31

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By JMorse (registered) | Posted April 23, 2015 at 13:34:25 in reply to Comment 111027

I love this part:

People from out of town, those who have moved into town and cyclists in particular hate one way streets.

Are we deliberately keeping Hamilton unattractive to visitors, newcomers, and the emerging generation? Clearly the results of serious debate in the 50s continue to guide many of us.

The time has come to be welcoming to outsiders and young people. This is what makes great cities. Is greatness not our aspiration?

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2015 at 13:52:26 in reply to Comment 110998

There are roads worth having this conversation about. Hess for example, since there is no good option for 2-way in the Hess Village stretch (assuming you can't do a woonerf in between two high-speed arteries), so a contra-flow bike-lane running from the Cannon track to Main could be an appropriate enhancement as an alternative to 2-way conversion.

Catherine, on the other hand, is not among them. I can see no compelling reason for keeping it 1-way. It's a perfectly normal quiet residential city street with parking on one and it's about 3 lanes wide. You could say the same about street in front of my house. The street in front of my house is 2-way, and it works fine.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2015-04-23 13:53:10

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By walter_hbd (registered) | Posted April 23, 2015 at 23:25:00

You know when people say, "only in Hamilton" when a strange event happens, or someone does something weird? Well no, "only in Hamilton" applies to almost everything in the city. For some reason, everything has to be done backwards! I propose a city name change to Notlimah to better describe how things work around here.

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By Ms Me (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2015 at 07:13:41 in reply to Comment 110996

Good Point!

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2015 at 10:48:07 in reply to Comment 110996

I was driving for my job.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2015 at 10:51:07 in reply to Comment 111027

We figured it all out in the 1950's so why change now?

Geez think of all the morons who removed asbestos from their houses. It was all figured out in the fifties, why ever change it?

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By Advocacy (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2015 at 11:34:53 in reply to Comment 111059

And if you advocate for change you are a whiny activist..........unless of course you are complaining about the introduction of Super Mailboxes in your neighbourhood. In that case you instantly become an engaged citizen. Albeit one who likely sees themselves as an Ancasterite.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 24, 2015 at 17:53:35 in reply to Comment 111058

Don't forget Thalidomide. Everything in the 1950's was just so perfect!

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By j.servus (registered) | Posted April 25, 2015 at 10:57:09

I am one of those apparently irrational people who has lived in a lot of other cities before coming here, and regards the one ways as absurd. The absurd consequences are not restricted to unusual occurrences; they are every day. In 2001, the city decided it would normalize Wentworth. In 2015, it has yet to allocate any money to that end. Wentworth is three lanes southbound. It is mostly empty, which is a waste of space, a waste of money, a waste of opportunity, and encourages fast driving. I live on Grant Avenue, which is a two way residential street running parallel to Wentworth a block west. Because King and Main are also one way, anyone who wants to go west has to get down to King. They can't go north to King on Wentworth; it goes the wrong way. They come down Grant instead. Every day. Truck traffic on your neighborhood street is one of the perks of living downtown. They don't get that in Ancaster. Grant is relatively narrow for two way traffic and curbside parking. That's not really a problem, because it encourages people to slow down, which is good public policy in a residential neighborhood. On the other hand, Wentworth is mostly empty. Why is Wentworth mostly empty? Because it is one way. Why is Grant, a narrow residential street, used as a through street? Because Wentworth is one way (together with King and Main being one way). Now, it would be good public policy to disincentive through traffic on residential side streets. But the policy enjoyed by residents of the inner city actually encourages through traffic on residential streets, by making it impossible for people to use the empty lanes on the thoroughfares. Did I mention that the city decided to normalize Wentworth in 2001? That's before I moved here, but I think it's more recent than 1950.

Comment edited by j.servus on 2015-04-25 11:03:41

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2015 at 14:54:59

Said it before, I'll say it again: There are legit reasons for keeping Main and King 1-way. Now we can argue until our faces are blue whether the pros outweigh the cons, but the point is there are reasons.

For Caroline? Hughson? No, there is no reason. Converting those streets to 1-way has never served any purpose, and they should have been turned back a long time ago. The fact that 2-way reversions of these roads is controversial at all shows how far the dialog around urban planning in this city has fallen.

I can't think of a single time I've ever said "oh, Catherine is busy today" which could maybe possible be used to justify it being 1-way. I can think of lots of times - in a car or on a bike - when I've thought "oh rats, can't go that way".

Also, Bay Street. Holy crap.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2015-04-25 14:56:03

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By Holy Crap The Sequel (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2015 at 15:21:52

.......Queen, Herkimer, Charlton, Robinson, Duke, Bold, Hunter, Jackson, Stanley, Homewood, MacDonald, Linwood, Hawthorne.......need I go on.

Funny how they are ll in the lower city.

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By Not sayong (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2015 at 18:37:12 in reply to Comment 111071

He didn't say it was right. He just said it's all been hashed about before especially on this site. Old news.

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By Cry me a River (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2015 at 21:20:13

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 26, 2015 at 08:51:14 in reply to Comment 111077

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 26, 2015 at 08:56:10 in reply to Comment 111057

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted April 27, 2015 at 10:19:23 in reply to Comment 111094

As long as there's bilateral curbside parking, I agree that the case for two-way traffic on the three blocks from Augusta to Charlton is marginal. The street is wide enough for two-way traffic with cars having to slow down or pull to the side to pass one another, but that works in tons of other neighbourhoods. On the other hand, the street grid in this area is well-connected and none of the other streets is one-way, so the inconvenience of one-way Catharine here is way less than in Beasley, where the high number of arterial roads make lateral movement between the north-south one-way streets more difficult (especially for cyclists).

The bigger problem here, as you allude to, is the inappropriate use of curbside space as cheap long-term parking for hospital employees. The city needs to massively raise the price of curbside parking around the hospitals and create parking benefit districts to return some of the revenue to the surrounding neighbourhoods in order to create buy-in. The provision of subsidized parking for patients who need it should be the responsibility of the hospitals, not the city.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 27, 2015 at 10:22:27 in reply to Comment 111079

And? We've discussed it before so we never shall discuss it again? Specious.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted April 27, 2015 at 10:24:13 in reply to Comment 111083

You're rather rude. The point was to demonstrate how poorly one-way non-arterial streets fit into a grid network.

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By Let's Keep It going Then (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2015 at 17:47:38

Accurate arguments are not superficially attractive arguments.

You can always say something as many times as you want. discussions are two way streets so it might be helpful if you want to keep someone's attention to add something as you repeat your side of the "discussion."

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By it's all about the whining (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2015 at 16:15:04 in reply to Comment 110998

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By point (anonymous) | Posted April 28, 2015 at 16:18:54 in reply to Comment 111108

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By Local business owner (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2015 at 04:54:36

I agree the one way streets are a bit ridiculous. The other day I heard a group of proud folks discussing how they think it would be horrible if we ever converted King and Main back too two way.

They were a proud group of nay sayers.

I interrupted because I am tired of this garbage, and proposed that if you take both streets and convert them too two way, you end up with the same amount of lanes going west and east.

Math is amazing.

I then continued to point out that the businesses along both streets would thrive and that as a business owner on one of these two streets, I may be able to hire their kids one day. I also pointed out that if King and Main blossom then so does every side street. Oh and Not to mention the increase in property values would be pretty nice as well.

It really does amaze me the reaction I get when you point out that the flow of traffic would be the same if we converted back too two way on our main arteries.

The people running this city are very close minded for the most part.

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By Called it (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2015 at 06:56:56

This article is the Authors way of bringing attention to his business he owns. Notice how he needs to mention in his bio that he is the owner of bike hounds. It's a very cheeky way to bring attention to yourself during spring in a seasonal business.
Did this really warrant an article?

The energy expelled would have been greater utilized in a more constructive way.
People seem to thrive on drama in this city. Some Hamiltonians need more attention than others and become vocal about things over Twitter and various other social medias to draw in like minded individuals to their business.
It's just another ad.




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By Dylan (registered) | Posted April 29, 2015 at 07:24:09 in reply to Comment 111173

I'm completely for two way conversions, but is what you've said true, that the flow of traffic would be the same? I've not seen the traffic study, but instinct tells me that the conversion would have a significant negative impact on cross town travel times and speeds. By dividing directional traffic onto two streets you're doubling the number of turning lanes. Actually, if side streets see a conversion as well you're more than doubling it. That being said, slowing people down is entirely the point, and it's a sacrifice that needs to be made to make the downtown a destination rather than a thoroughfare.

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By Called it (anonymous) | Posted April 29, 2015 at 10:39:37 in reply to Comment 111176

It does say he owns the store at the bottom of the article.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 01, 2015 at 19:31:01 in reply to Comment 111106

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By NotLoggedInMyrcurial (anonymous) | Posted May 03, 2015 at 16:03:35 in reply to Comment 111074

I lived one residential street over from a 4 lane 1 way... our street had 'lost' 48' trailers running up and down it every day.

Now, I live on a residential street near a 4 lane bi-directional... and the limit on our street is 50km/h while the 4 lane is 'calmed' to a 40km/h limit. GUESS WHAT DRIVERS DO...

There's only one reasonable criteria for a one-way street: The width of the street cannot support two vehicles passing each other (ie: narrower than 20' of pavement) -- ALL OTHER STREETS MUST BE 2-way. Even shitty two way (3 lanes + 1 lane contra) is better than a one-way.

Of course, as long as the vote of a councilor who oversees a ward without sidewalks has a vote over whether or not city streets are sanely designed... well...

Sigh.

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