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City [of Hamilton] dumps plan for two-way King Street

by Meredith McLeod

The city is abandoning plans to convert King and Main streets to two-way car traffic to make way for light rail transit.

It is also giving up on the idea of closing King Street completely to vehicle traffic for 4 blocks downtown.

The plan had been to run LRT vehicles in both directions down the centre of the majority of the 16-kilometre route, surrounded by car and truck traffic moving in each direction on either side. Downtown, the narrow stretch from Wellington to Mary would have left no room for two-way traffic and the plan was to close King to traffic through that stretch.

The change represents a major shift for the city’s LRT plan and some transit advocates think it’s a step backwards.

The regional transit authority, Metrolinx, based its benefits case analysis supporting LRT on the premise of two-way traffic on King and Main.

But Jill Stephen, the city’s director of rapid transit, says it has become clear during detailed design and engineering work that plan won’t work. The scope of the rapid transit project running from Eastgate Square to McMaster University along Queenston Road, King Street and Main Street West will make two-way traffic on King unviable.

The proposal also wasn’t popular with many downtown business owners who said they would be adversely affected by the restricted ability of car traffic to turn left across LRT tracks running down the centre of King and by the lack of parking and unloading spots on the street.

The two BIAs serving the downtown were both opposed to the closure to car traffic through the International Village.

“It’s a function of space and making sure LRT works well and the operational everyday issues that have to continue, like loading and waste collection,” Stephen said of the decision to abandon two-way conversions.

She said the narrow right-of-way in some places, as little as 15 metres in spots, would mean significant expropriation and demolition in order to accomplish two-way traffic and parking lanes. Sidewalks and traffic lanes would also have to be narrowed, she says.

She said Metrolinx is well aware of the change and that the agency’s benefits report was completed well before feasibility studies looked at the details.

Stephen doesn’t believe retaining the one-way streets will lessen the economic and social benefits of LRT in terms of creating a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape and getting vehicles off the road. “We’re cutting half of the travelled lanes on King Street … it will have the feel of a two-way street but still allow operational things to continue.”

She says traffic will be slowed and drivers wanting to drive through the downtown will want to switch over to Cannon Street or an alternate.

The move also doesn’t mean the end of an opportunity to convert Main Street, west of the Delta, to two-way traffic, said Stephen. But that decision should be made after LRT is running and its impacts are known, she said.

Activist Ryan McGreal, editor of raisethehammer.org, says the city is taking a “huge step backwards” with the decision. He said there is an argument to be made for keeping King Street one way through the core since it’s narrow, but that should make it more imperative to make Main Street two-way.

“How can the narrow, neighbourhood-smashing objective of maximizing traffic flow trump all of the well-understood, abundantly demonstrated livability and economic development benefits that accompany two-way conversion?” McGreal posed recently on his website.


The city will host the first public information centre for a proposed rapid transit line between the waterfront and the airport Thursday, Dec. 9, at the Dave Andreychuk Arena, 25 Hester St. from 6 - 8:30 p.m.

Preliminary proposals call for the A-line to run along James and Upper James streets. There is no commitment to either light rail transit or bus rapid transit. It’s clear the grade of the escarpment would pose obstacles to LRT.

The event will include high-level information about transit-oriented guidelines adopted by the city, proposed land uses in the corridor, and challenges and opportunities offered by enhancing rapid transit. Public information is needed about what residents want to see changed in the area, what should remain the same and the key destinations along the route, said rapid transit director Jill Stephen.

The meeting won’t offer much in the way of technical information, since none of that study is underway, said Stephen.

“We need to nail down routing and part of that is understanding key destinations. We want the public to understand our vision for the network and what we’re trying to accomplish with rapid transit.”

The A-line is the city’s second priority in a future rapid transit network, behind the proposed B-line LRT route from Eastgate to McMaster. The city has already begun a peak-hour limited stop bus service from the downtown to the airport.




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