Hamilton city council is set to review new public opinion research about one-way street conversion that shows a little more than 50 per cent of residents support changes to secondary streets but most oppose changing major east-west routes.

The Canadian Automobile Association polled 400 Hamilton residents (both CAA members and non-CAA members, randomly selected) between November 14 and December 10, 2012 and found opinions mixed.

  • 54 percent of respondents either strongly supported or somewhat supported changes to secondary north/south streets such as Bay St.
  • 57.8 percent of respondents did not support changes to major east/west streets such as Main St.
  • 53 percent of respondents were aware of the ongoing consideration by the City to convert many one-way streets into two-way streets

CAA's government relations specialist in South Central Ontario said, on the surface, the poll shows people are pretty evenly split on potential traffic changes.

But John Ennis said the reasons for opposition to conversion will be useful in political discussions.

"We found the reasons for non-support are largely emotional," Ennis said.

He said people who opposed the conversion to two-way streets said things such as "'it has been this way for as long as I can remember, so it should stay this way.'"

Ennis said it's obvious city council has a "tough decision" to make when it comes to making changes, but added emotions can be swayed.

Emotional responses are "less entrenched than financial or safety concerns," Ennis said. "So it may be a little easier to change opinion than previously thought."

Younger residents favour change

City councillor Brian McHattie, who supports conversion, said he's a little skeptical of research done by a "car-based" organization such as CAA, but adds the results are "positive."

And McHattie's belief that younger people are big supporters of two-way streets in the city's core, is backed up by the CAA survey.

The poll shows the older you are, the less likely you are to support conversion on major east-west routes.

  • 64 per cent of residents aged 18 to 24 support two-way streets on major east-west routes
  • 67 per cent of residents aged 55 to 64 are opposed to two-way streets on major east-west routes

"There's a tradition in this city since the 1950s that people should be able to get around as fast as you want by car," McHattie said. "But this could very much be a generational thing. Young people are all about walk-ability.

"Ward 1 residents are ready for this change," he added. "They're the people who live in these neighbourhoods and are affected by the dangers of fast traffic."

James and John conversion not 'catastrophic'

Ryan McGreal, another supporter of two-way traffic said "done correctly, two-way conversion does reduce high-speed traffic - but this is a good thing.

"One of the major benefits of two-way conversion is that it balances traffic flow with safety and comfort for pedestrians, cyclists and local traffic."

McGreal said the conversion of James and John North to two-way in 2002, and James and John South to two-way in 2005 have shown the emotional fears, such as those revealed by the CAA report, are unfounded.

McHattie agrees, and said the gradual changing of opinions in favour of conversion are a result of people finding out that switching to two-way traffic is "not entirely catastrophic and scary."

The CAA research is on the agenda for city council on Wednesday.

Changes to one-way streets are part of Hamilton's transit master plan that is currently under review.

The margin of error for the CAA survey is plus or minus five per cent.