Special Report: Cycling

Much-Needed Improvements Coming to Hunter Street

Hunter Street is becoming a little bit safer and more accommodating for pedestrians and cyclists, but there are still low-hanging opportunities for further improvement.

By Ryan McGreal
Published July 29, 2014

The Hunter Street bike lanes are a little bit safer, thanks to the installation of 11 knockdown sticks just east of the Park Street intersection, where Hunter goes up a rise and curves to the left.

Knockdown sticks installed on Hunter Street bike lanes, looking east from Park Street
Knockdown sticks installed on Hunter Street bike lanes, looking east from Park Street

Knockdown sticks installed on Hunter Street, looking west toward Park Street
Knockdown sticks installed on Hunter Street, looking west toward Park Street

One of the major criticisms of the Hunter bike lanes has been that they are not physically separated from the adjacent automobile lane. The only barrier has been an "atypically wide pavement marking" - a white line that will do nothing to stop a car from drifting across it.

The bollards along a short, especially conflict-prone stretch of Hunter are an encouraging start, but the Public Works Department has said there are no current plans to install any more.

Cycle track protected by knockdown sticks and rubber curbs (Image Credit: District of Columbia Department of Transportation)
Cycle track protected by knockdown sticks and rubber curbs (Image Credit: District of Columbia Department of Transportation)

This is unfortunate. The research indicates that most people will not feel safe riding bikes on painted bike lanes. For those few who already cycle in mixed traffic, bike lanes are an improvement on nothing but they do not attract a significant number of new riders.

Most People Won't Ride Without Protected Bike Lanes

Research from Portland, OR finds that there are four broad catetories of people with respect to cycling:

Four types of transportation cyclists in Portland (Image Credit: City of Portland)
Four types of transportation cyclists in Portland (Image Credit: City of Portland)

And that is in a city that already has a strong, idiosyncratic cycling culture.

Another benefit of physical protection is that it prevents automobiles from parking in the bike lane. This has already been an issue on Hunter Street. Anecdotally, I encounter a car parked in the bike lane at least one-fifth of the time I ride on Hunter.

Trucks parked in Hunter Street bike lanes (Image Credit: Bob Berberick)
Trucks parked in Hunter Street bike lanes (Image Credit: Bob Berberick)

Painted Bike Boxes

Another improvement the City made to increase the visibility of the bike lanes was to mark the bike boxes with bright green paint and stencils.

Green painted bike boxes
Green painted bike boxes

A bike box, or "advanced stop line", is a stop line for automobiles set back from an intersection with a marked area for cyclists in front of it. This allows cyclists to pull ahead of automobile traffic at a red light so they can turn safely when the light changes.

Anecdotally, the painted bike boxes on Hunter already seem to have significantly reduced the number of drivers who drive through the white stop line on a red light (a Highway Traffic Act violation) and block the bike box.

The City has also done some public communication to educate the public about what to do when encountering a bike box.

Pedestrian Activated Crosswalk at MacNab

There are no controlled intersections on Hunter Street between James Street South and Bay Street South, a distance of 400 metres.

Uncontrolled crosswalk on Hunter at MacNab
Uncontrolled crosswalk on Hunter at MacNab

The uncontrolled intersections at MacNab and Park see a lot of pedestrians who have to dash across the street between clumps of high-speed automobile traffic.

A high proportion of those pedestrians are children and senior citizens: Central School sits on Hunter between Park and Bay, and Park is home to several senior citizens' residences, including a high-rise managed by City Housing Hamilton.

The City is planning to install a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at MacNab, funded through the Ward 2 Area Rating fund. The Area Rating fund is a capital project fund made available to the old city wards 1 through 8 as part of a Council agreement to eliminate varying tax levy rates for some city services that had previously applied to different city wards.

Wards 1 and 2 allocate their area rating monies using participatory budget systems in which residents can propose projects for consideration, and then the projects to be completed are selected by popular vote.

Pavement markings have already been applied to the street in anticipation of the traffic controls that will be installed in the near future.

Pavement marking for pedestrian-activated crosswalk
Pavement marking for pedestrian-activated crosswalk

This would also be a great place for the City to paint a zebra, or ladder-style crosswalk to further increase the visibility of this much-needed crosswalk.

Another Crosswalk Needed at Park

However, the crosswalk at MacNab will not be much help to many of the people who cross Hunter at Park. There is no sidewalk on the south side of Hunter between Park and MacNab, so people crossing northward will not be able to walk directly to that crosswalk. (I have already seen people walking in the bike lanes between Park and MacNab.)

A pedestrian hoping to cross northward from Park would have to loop back to Hurst Place, follow it around to the MacNab underpass, go down a flight of stairs, cross under the TH&B train tracks and go up a flight of stairs to get to the south side of the MacNab crosswalk.

Again, a high proportion of the people crossing there are seniors and children, the two vulnerable demographics most at risk of injury and death in a collision with an automobile.

Many seniors coming from Park Street cross Hunter and walk through City Hall on their way downtown. Because Hunter rises and bends left heading toward Park - the same reason the City installed bollards to protect the bike lanes - visibility for drivers is less than ideal.

I have not once seen a driver obey the law and yield to a pedestrian, and I have seen some terrifying near-misses involving seniors scampering to avoid being run over.

Pedestrian-Activated Crosswalk at Locke

Finally, though it's a couple of blocks west of the end of the Hunter Street bike lanes, another much-needed pedestrian activated crosswalk is already under construction on Locke at Hunter.

Pedestrian-activated crosswalk on Locke at Hunter
Pedestrian-activated crosswalk on Locke at Hunter

This is another intersection with significant pedestrian traffic, but poor visibility to drivers going south on Locke due to the rise of the bridge over the TH&B tracks. Locke Street has become a highly successful pedestrian centre over the past two decades, and already has a pedestrian-activated crosswalk at Tuckett.

This new crosswalk is being funded by the Ward 1 Area Rating capital projects fund.

It is noteworthy that, despite Council's deep reluctance to spend capital money on projects that make streets safer and more inclusive, lower city residents themselves are choosing to allocate their discretionary area rating money on such projects where they are given a choice.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal.

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By Jason (registered) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 15:03:57

This area rating money is the greatest thing to ever happen here downtown. The requests for speed humps in Ward One has been overwhelming. Decades of being ignored by the city has led to this pent-up frustration and clearly residents desire for safe streets are coming through loud and clear with the area rating votes. I suspect Councillors Farr and McHattie have received an earful behind the scenes at city hall for allowing these public voting processes. Kudos to them for giving residents a chance to finally improve their neighbourhoods in the face of constant, decades-long opposition from city staff.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 17:06:02 in reply to Comment 103584

City staff vetoed some of the best proposals that went against their pet prejudices. Those proposals did not even appear on the ballot. Not very democratic.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2014 at 15:23:16 in reply to Comment 103584

And in front of the scenes. Remember the reaction McHattie got when he mentioned his area rating fund had pushed for bike lanes on York Boulevard during the absurd Cannon bike lanes meeting?

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2014 at 16:55:49 in reply to Comment 103586

Oh I remember that. Something about "scope creep" or something completely ludicrous from Terry et al. As if designing an active transportation route that DIDN'T abruptly end for no reason abandoning you into high-speed traffic was something that should be avoided at all costs!

Idiots.

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By theninjasquad (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2014 at 15:49:14

I've noticed that I'm running into fewer vehicles parked in the bike lanes as time goes by which is great. Seems that people just needed a bit of time to adjust for some reason.

I think my biggest complaint with these bike lanes is that they didn't repave it. The lane in some stretches is really chewed up and bumpy. Especially if you're heading east on the Queen - MacNab stretch. It makes it to be an unpleasant ride. I'd actually rather they spent money on making a nice riding surface than putting up some kind of physical barrier to the road.

Judging by the work that has started on Cannon St, it doesn't look like they're repaving that either. No one wants to ride on a bike lane that is uncomfortable to ride on.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2014 at 16:21:04 in reply to Comment 103587

Honestly, if re-paving was a prerequisite it would be years before we saw these improvements. Repaving is expensive and elaborate and goes on its own timeline. This is a huge improvement over the previous approach where they would wait until repaving was due before building any infrastructure improvements - that led to endless procrastination.

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By theninjasquad (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2014 at 16:42:44 in reply to Comment 103591

Perhaps in Hamilton, yes. But in other cities, it can be done. I was in Toronto over the weekend on my bike, and they're installing new bike lanes along Adelaide and Richmond. On both streets, they laid down a new lane of asphalt on the portion of the road where the bike lane was going in.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 15:50:07

Odd that despite the "atypically wide pavement marking," the knockdown posts were mounted inside the bike lane. Typically see safety features installed within the "barrier" zone.

eg: usa.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/BikeLane1.7Penn.Avenue.NW_.WDC_.15April2011.jpg

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 16:57:32 in reply to Comment 103588

I noticed this as well. The posts should be on the white line or just outside of it. Not inside. Lord knows the traffic lanes are already wide enough.

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By johnny velvet (anonymous) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 16:18:04

I wish they would have fixed the road first...before doing all that work. Hate to see what happens when they finally getting around to repaving all the holes on Hunter.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 16:58:28

The image in this article from Washington shows how simple and cheap it is to protect the lanes. Zero reason we can't do the same.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 17:08:46

The problem with the knockdown sticks is that they provide zero protection. There are security bollards that will stop a car driver before he kills someone. Too bad they were not used.

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By UrbanMom (registered) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 17:25:05

I'm happy to see some pedestrian safety initiatives on that stretch of Hunter! As a volunteer at Central school, I'm often walking classes of very small children across Hunter to the Art Gallery, the Library, to Whitehern and to the Police Station and the current safest route is not the most direct one, requiring students sometimes as young as 4 or students with disabilities for whom walking long distances is difficult and painful.

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By Cynic (anonymous) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 19:01:45

I am really impressed by all the cyclists in the photos. What's his name?

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By Jeff (anonymous) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 21:42:28 in reply to Comment 103602

Likewise with the sidewalk use. In most of the Hamilton photos no one is using the sidewalks. Clearly they're also a waste of your money.

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By jason (registered) | Posted July 29, 2014 at 21:51:49 in reply to Comment 103607

In all those pics of various streets, there is a total of 5 cars. We should get rid of all the roads.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted July 29, 2014 at 21:08:19

Why can't there be knockdown sticks on all bike lanes? I would love to see them on Markland in particlular.

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