Creating Spaces for Community Mobility in Alleyways

Hamilton’s alleyways are city assets that we can be using to walk, bike, and play!  Community groups like Beautiful Alleys and Green Venture have already begun to transform these under-utilized spaces by beautifying with art, gardens, and lighting to invite community members to explore and use alleyways more.

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Trocadero Alley mural being painted through funding from Green Venture’s Hamilton Alleyways project.

We’ve established a Friendly Streets Community Stakeholder group with the Hamilton General Hospital and other community groups like Beautiful Alleys, Trees for Hamilton, Smart Commute Hamilton, Barton Village BIA, and Hamilton Naturalists’ Club.   Through our work with this group and from engagement with residents in Wards 2 and 3, we’ve learned that there’s a need for safe and viable routes that will enable people to reach the hospital and Barton Village BIA by foot or by bike.  Did you know that Ward 3, which includes the Hamilton General Hospital and Gibson-Landsdale neighbourhoods, has over 37km of alleyways?  That’s more than any other Ward in Hamilton.  It’s exciting to imagine the potential for this space that can be developed for community benefit to create healthier, friendly spaces in downtown neighbourhoods.

By reimagining alleyways as mobility corridors, there is an opportunity to explore safer north-south active travel routes near the hospital or BIA that connect to other cycling infrastructure like the Cannon Cycle Track.  We’re not simply saying, “Let’s encourage people to take the back routes instead of tackling the big issues of traffic safety and lack of infrastructure along major roads.”  But we are saying, “If it’s going to get more people cycling and exploring new areas of their neighbourhood, then let’s look at how alleyways can be used as alternative routes to get around the city by walking or cycling.”

To begin exploring this idea, our team took a walk along what one of our members calls “Hospital Alley” (if you can think of a better name for this alley, by all means, we would love to hear from you). We were joined by Brenda Duke from Beautiful Alleys who was able to share her experience and insight when it comes to engaging the community to transform alleys.

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Hospital Alley connects Barton Street and Cannon Street.

Hospital Alley runs north-south and connects Barton Street to Cannon Street.  This alley is a natural linkage to the hospital that could be upgraded and enhanced as an active travel route.  So far the stretch between Barton and Cannon is in good, except for some rough spots on the paved area at the start of the alley off of Barton, facing the main entrance to the Hospital.  We walked along the alley and were impressed by the general neatness and upkeep of this pathway, likely led by local residents whose property backs out on the alleyway.  While we walked, we saw zero cars going through it and counted at least four cyclists and a few pedestrians.  So this alleyway is clearly being used for active travel!  We walked further along it until we reached the Cannon Cycle Track.  Again, this obvious connection to the bike track would be wonderful if it could become an official route for cyclists to travel to the hospital and BIA.  We also think that some wayfinding signage would be really useful to promote the alleyway and the BIA, as well as encourage Hamiltonians to take safer active travel routes.  Brenda from Beautiful Alleys also noted that there is potential to engage homeowners whose property backs out onto the alley. They might be interested in planting a garden or contributing to community art – similar to the mural in Trocadero alley pictured above.

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An original coach house located in Hospital Alley. There is opportunity to renovate and upgrade these cities to create more affordable laneway housing.

To engage community and share our vision for Hospital Alley, we tagged along with Kevin Love, a member of Cycle Hamilton, who leads an annual Jane’s Ride through the city’s alleys.  Kevin gave the name “Hospital Alley” to this space because it connects the downtown core right to the hospital area.  We were also joined by Emma Cubitt from Invizij Architects, who shared about her Masters thesis on laneway infill housing “as a response to the challenge of creating increased density within urban residential communities”.

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It was a beautiful afternoon on May 5th, so we were quite pleased that 15 cyclists came out to ride with us and learn about the potential of alleys.  We started at Gore Park and went east through the alley that runs parallel to King St. W.   This alley is located behind businesses in International Village – we’ve learned that the BIA has worked very hard to keep the alley clean and to adapt it for community use.

Meanwhile, let’s start thinking about alleyways as viable travel routes and how we can connect them to neighbourhoods, businesses, and major destinations.

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