Hamilton’s light rail transit line will not cause gridlock or force a conversion of Main Street to two-way traffic, early studies suggest.
Preliminary traffic modelling predicts the 11-kilometre main LRT line will inevitably push some vehicles off the proposed King-Main street route and onto parallel roads, said city project manager Trevor Horzelenberg.
“But what the model spit out is basically that traffic can be accommodated within the existing (road) network without major, significant changes,” he said Wednesday.
That includes long-debated and controversial proposals like converting the entire length of Main Street to two-way traffic — a recommendation from provincial agency Metrolinx as far back as 2010.
Council could still decide to make that change based on information in a transportation master plan update coming this fall, or for other reasons.
But Horzelenberg said so far, traffic modelling suggests LRT doesn’t require a radical remodelling of the parts of Main Street without LRT tracks.
The proposed route starts on Main Street West at McMaster University and ends on Main Street East at the Queenston traffic circle, but will run along King Street for nearly six kilometres in the middle.
So far, the section of Main Street without LRT tracks, running from Dundurn Avenue through the downtown to the Delta, is slated to remain one-way eastbound.
The preliminary modelling by consultant Steer Davies Gleave compares peak period morning traffic impacts between 2011 and 2031, with and without light rail.
The report concludes there will be traffic congestion in the lower city by 2031 with or without LRT. “The take-away for us is with LRT, congestion should not be that much worse than without,” Horzelenberg said.
Coun. Terry Whitehead is skeptical of that conclusion without more details.
“What I’ll say for now is anyone that relied on driving that (Main-King) route in the past will undoubtedly spend more time in the car, away from their family,” said Whitehead, a vocal critic of the LRT route as currently envisioned.
Whitehead said he wants to see final traffic models factor in employment patterns in the corridor and how bus transit will function, as examples.
But he added the high-level findings still support his belief the city should hold off on changing or shrinking car lanes on lower city arteries like Aberdeen Avenue until the traffic implications of LRT are clearer.
Modelling suggests more westbound traffic will be pushed off King Street, which would shrink to two lanes to fit in LRT tracks, and onto parallel routes like Aberdeen, Cannon Street, Wilson Street and Barton Street.
The ripple effect could end up adding congestion at intersections like Dundurn Avenue and York Boulevard, for example.
The consultants also used models to measure changes in “level of service” at intersections along the route and nearby. The models predict longer “vehicle control delays” at some intersections along the LRT route by 2031. But it also suggests other intersections would see longer average delays without LRT.
Horzelenberg said the consultant “plugged in” early HSR predictions about how bus service will change as a result of LRT. (Those HSR predictions won’t be made public until information sessions slated for September.)
But he emphasized traffic modelling is not complete and will evolve based on “refinements” to project operations as well as efforts to head off anticipated problems.
For example, changing traffic signal times, adding pedestrian crossings or dedicated left-turn lanes can all affect how quickly both vehicles and LRT cars move through the city. “It’s about finding the right balance,” he said.
Councillors will consider the report at a general issues committee meeting Aug. 8.