New law slows motorists in Hamilton's north end

Starting Monday, the posted maximum on most streets will be 30 km/h.

Starting Monday, the posted maximum on most streets will be 30 km/h

This sign on Wood Street East near Mary is set to be unveiled on Monday, Aug. 12. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Kathy Chamoun expects her daily commute to take a bit longer from now on — and she's not happy about it.

Starting Monday, a speed limit reduction will officially come into effect in the north-end neighbourhood where her workplace is situated.

"It's definitely going to lengthen my trip," said Chamoun, a program coordinator at a not-for-profit, which she declined to name. "It already takes me 25 minutes coming down the Mountain and it shouldn't." 

The posted maximum will be 30 km/h for all roads in the area bounded by Bay Street to the west, Strachan to the south, Wellington to the east and the waterfront to the north — with the exception of James Street North and Burlington Street East.

While the change rankles Chamoun, it's seen as a victory for residents of the area and especially North End Neighbours, the community organization that's lobbied for years to have traffic calming measures imposed in its part of the city.

"We did it to create a child and family-friendly neighbourhood," said Dave Stephens, the group's president, adding the highly residential area has seen a greater influx of traffic in recent years.

Traffic management plan

The speed limit reduction is one of a handful of measures the city is implementing as part of its North End Traffic Management Plan. The five-year pilot project has already seen a stretch of MacNab North between Cannon and Burlington converted to a two-way street.

The speed limit reduction comes two months after the city opened a stretch of MacNab Street North to two-way traffic. (Adam Carter/CBC)

About a decade in the making, the plan represents part of a balancing act the city has had to perform, weighing its renewed interest in building on the waterfront — and using it as a city-wide tourist draw — with the wishes of neighbourhood residents.

In its Setting Sail plan, the city identified growth in the area as one key to Hamilton's economic prosperity over the next few decades. The call has sparked concerns among community members who fear development will disrupt their quality of life.

However, the implementation of the traffic plan doesn't represent a full-on victory for North End Neighbours. It had made an appeal to the Ontario Municipal Board after council voted against including James North and Burlington East in the 30 km/h zone. In December, the OMB dismissed the claim, allowing the city's traffic management plan to proceed.

Despite the OMB loss, Stephens said he's generally happy with the implementation of the plan. "What we have done so far has actually slowed the traffic down."

He said he's received messages from residents on MacNab — once a "freeway for taxis," he said — who are thrilled about the effect the two-way conversion has had on their street.

"They've actually had a few kids out playing street hockey," said Stephens, noting the sight would have been unthinkable before June.

Effects on business

The speed limit reduction, Chamoun said, will discourage her from coming down to the north end for any other purpose than for work, raising the spectre that the change could hurt businesses near the waterfront.

However, Sandy Slaght, manager at Hutch's Harbour Front restaurant, which lies on the edge the reduced speed zone, said she doesn't think the conversion to cut down on her workplace's bottom line.

"I don't think it'll have that effect, but it'll just be a change for everybody."

Tom Falls, a boat captain with Hamilton Harbour Queen Cruises, said he doesn't expect the reduction to harm his business either. 

And Coun. Jason Farr, whose ward includes the north end, dismissed the notion that the new limit will dampen commerce in the area.

"With the main arterial, being James Street, [staying at 50 km/h], and the same for Burlington Street, I don't feel that this is going to be an issue at all."

For his part, Stephens said he hasn't heard from any businesses that are opposed to the speed limit reduction, but added the interests of the neighbourhood's residents should always take priority. 

"We've got to put the safety of the kids over somebody making a buck, in my opinion," he said. "But with a slower speed limit, people can actually slow down and see the sights."

The speed limit reduction affects the area highlighted in red. (Kevin Gamble/CBC)