Saturday, August 09, 2008

the spec steps up

Balance key to city streets

The Hamilton Spectator

(Aug 8, 2008)

A livable city is not just about the people who drive its streets: It is about the people who live beside the streets, who walk the sidewalks beside them, who shop or dine out in the businesses that line them.

Two-way streets help make Hamilton's downtown more livable, more welcoming, more people-friendly. Conversions of some of the core's one-way arteries to two-way streets has been worthwhile and generally successful. Council's decision to move ahead on two-way conversions on more downtown streets is the right one. But it must not be at the expense of maintaining the streets we do have now.

The conversion of James Street North from one-way to two-way is probably the most visibly successful of the conversions that have happened downtown. It hasn't been a cure-all; there are still far too many closed storefronts and other signs of decay -- particularly, it has to be said, the Lister Block and the ruin-like remains of the Tivoli Theatre -- along James North.

But the conversion sends a message the historic artery between downtown and bayfront has more to offer than a quick drive from Barton or Cannon streets to King or Main streets.

The conversion has to get at least some credit for the emergence of a small gallery district, the apparent increase in people spending money there and the small miracles of the Art Bus, the monthly Maker's Market and replica trolleys between Jackson Square and Pier 8.

Councillor Terry Whitehead, who opposed the next stage of two-way conversions, said: "For the constituents I represent, two-way streets are a complete waste of money."

That sort of parochial, ward-centric comment illustrates what cripples council initiatives. It's not surprising West Mountain constituents would prefer a fast route into or through downtown. What would be surprising is if they would like to see their main two-way streets -- say, Upper James, West 5th and Garth streets -- converted to one-way thoroughfares.

Whitehead makes a solid point about the need for city investment in road and watermain repairs. We've argued in this space recently existing roads all over Hamilton are in deplorable condition and council should make fixing them a higher priority than rearranging them. Reporter Rob Faulkner looked this week at the state of Hamilton's bicycle lanes, and there's no doubt continuing investment in repairing and expanding that network is essential.

Two-way conversions are a manifestation of new possibility for downtown -- a possibility of a revitalized core where more people want to live, shop, work, stroll, entertain themselves and do business.

Council's hardest task is to find a balance and compromise between the mundane essentials -- what it has to fix -- with investment in a vision of what Hamilton could be. Continuing the reinvention of downtown is a strong, strategic move.

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