A New Vision For Main Street West

What you're about to see is a radically different vision for Main Street West.

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An artist's rendition as to what Main Street West could look like. (Photo illustration Chelsea Robinson)

What you're about to see is a radically different vision for Main Street West.

But before we get to the pictures, take a moment to picture Main Street West between Dundurn and Queen. You've just exited the 403, crossed Dundurn, and you're heading down Main Street towards downtown.

This is where the Main West Esplanade BIA is located. An esplanade is "a long, open, level area, usually next to a river or large body of water, where people may walk".

Main Street West is certainly a large, open and level area. It also features a river, although it consists of speeding traffic. And people may walk along it, although most choose not to.

What comes to your mind when you picture Main Street West? How do you feel about it?

For example, as a Hamiltonian, does it seem homey and welcoming to you? Does it evoke a sense of pride, or comfort and belonging, or vibrancy and interest, or fun and excitement?

I rather doubt it, because how could it? I mean, look at it:

Main Street West, looking west from Queen Street. (Brian Potstra)

This photo is the starting point for the illustrations you'll see next.

This photo has been altered using Photoshop to remove the lane markings. This was done to turn it into the base for the next illustrations, but it's interesting to see it this way because you get a sense of what an absolutely massive strip of pavement this is.

For the same reason some edits were also done to the street in the far distance. Other than that, it's unaltered.

There's something very interesting and very relevant about this photo. It was taken at mid-day on a warm and sunny Monday in May. The perfect day for strolling around, doing some shopping, grabbing a bite to eat.

And yet there are virtually no people anywhere!

On the first block, there's one woman sitting outside. On the second block, there's a total of four people on the sidewalks. That's it. Now contrast that to Locke Street, which intersects Main in the middle distance. On that day in May there were more people on 10 meters of Locke South than on 1000 meters of Main West.

In spite of these issues, you can see that this is a beautiful vantage point from which to appreciate our city, one that's entirely missed by drivers since they never see it from this direction.

Main Street Re-imagined

Now let's get to the illustrations ( Here's the first one:

Main Street West re-imagined, looking west from Queen Street. (Photo illustration Chelsea Robinson)
  • Features of this redesign:
  • Street trees, which frame the sidewalk and signal drivers to slow down.
  • Wider sidewalks, which make room for street trees and give pedestrians a safe and pleasant environment for walking.
  • Physically separated, dedicated bike path.
  • Marked and signalized crosswalk at the intersection.
  • People, on foot and on bicycles.

And, of course, the icing on the cake, the change that for years we've been told is flat-out impossible: a single yellow line painted down the middle of the street!

Skeptics should note that this redesign only sacrifices a single lane to make room for wider sidewalks and the bicycle path, which is only a 20% reduction in road capacity. We've reduced Main Street by more lanes than that without adverse effects (such as during maintenance on the bridge over the 403), which makes this redesign eminently feasible from a traffic capacity perspective. 

Main Street Re-imagined For Everyone

But what if we stopped optimizing for through traffic and started optimizing for all users of the street, including drivers who want to find a destination along the street and then park?

That's the goal of the redesign shown here:

Main Street West re-imagined for everyone, looking west from Queen Street. (Photo illustration Chelsea Robinson)

About The Illustrations 

A consistent obstacle to achieving public support for transformative change is that people don't know what it looks like.

This gave me an idea for a design competition involving architectural firms, design companies, artists, and so on, that would showcase designs, renderings and drawings showing Hamilton's various one-way thoroughfares as complete, two-way streets.

I mentioned this idea to Paul Shaker, Executive Director of CCS Urban Research, and he suggested a prime candidate for re-imagination would be Main Street West between Dundurn and Queen. Here's why he believes this is a crucial location:

The Main Street West strip is strategically important for a few reasons. First, it is surrounded by revitalizing neighbourhoods to the north and south and in its current configuration, it acts as a barrier in connecting the two together.

Second, Main West has a number of under-performing buildings that have suppressed land values when compared to buildings on adjacent commercial streets. Conversion would help unlock the land value of the built environment, spurring further renewal of the street.

Third, Main West is a vital link connecting important nodes of the new Hamilton economy: McMaster University, McMaster Innovation Park, the South-West, and Downtown Hamilton. Much of this economy is knowledge-based and therefore, efficient people movement is key. To accommodate this, you need complete streets that will facilitate safe and easy movement for people by all modes: walking, cycling, transit, and car.

As it happens, our most recent intern here at the office is a very talented technical illustrator named Chelsea Robinson. She was excited about the idea. Here's her take on the design:

The purpose of the illustrations was to give the mood of the image a completely different feeling. The two-way street, bike lanes, trees, wider sidewalks, and curbside parking evoke feelings of a thriving city that pedestrians and cyclists enjoy touring. Hamilton has many areas that have great potential such as this portion of Main Street. I hope that these illustrations make people see what a beautiful, dynamic, and lively city Hamilton can be.

The illustrations are rendered in an architectural sketch style. This style is meant to be loose, without being overly rendered. My approach to this project was to create a conceptual sketch with a style that would keep the images fresh and give some life to the city. We chose to overlay the sketch on top of the photograph, so that viewers could get a good sense of what the space would actually look like.

The original photograph was taken by Brian Potstra. "This is perhaps the most lifeless portion of Main Street," said Potstra. "While it has the potential to function as a nice pathway between the Locke St. shops and Hess Street, it's really a no-go zone for pedestrians."

Special thanks are also owed to Ryan McGreal, who supplied key advice about the features the redesigned street ought to have.

Call For Design Submissions

Calling all architects, designers, photographers, illustrators and artists: Raise the Hammer would be pleased to feature your visions for Hamilton's one-way streets re-imagined as vibrant two-way streets. Contact me at to submit designs or to learn more about what we're looking for.

All images copyright factor[e] design initiative Inc. and distributed under the Creative Commons - Attribution license. For high-resolution versions, contact me directly. factor[e] believes we can and will transform our streets and is willing to do its part to make it happen.

Adrian Duyzer is an entrepreneur, business owner, and Associate Editor of Raise the Hammer. He lives in downtown Hamilton with his family. On Twitter: @adriandz