Downtown Bureau

Time to Embrace Proven Good Ideas in Livability

The future will arrive in Hamilton at some point. Do we want to start benefiting today, or do we want to wait another fifty years?

By Jason Leach
Published November 09, 2011

I was pleased to see the cycling report being drafted in Ontario, which discusses the concept of stop sign 'yield signs' for cyclists.

Stop sign with bicycle yield
Stop sign with bicycle yield

I recall cycling many, many years ago in various US cities that had put this type of system in place. My understanding is that this yield system is designed for streets like Dunsmure, Napier or Central Ave - quiet residential streets with stop signs at most blocks and little vehicle traffic.

Portland, Oregon enacted this system and it made a huge difference in the speed of cycling as well as one more small step to make cycling more prominent, safe and visible in the community.

Hamilton, as we know, is not known for being progressive in virtually any respect these days. This is a shame considering our former nickname, 'The Ambitious City'.

Reading today's Spectator column by Andrew Dreschel, I found myself not surprised at all at the complete lack of understanding of the issue.

I read some of the concerns from council, as well as some of the support. My request to councillors is simply to get educated on the issue and make an informed decision.

With progressive issues like this, it's important to realize that this type of law will be enacted in Hamilton eventually - if not now, maybe in a few years, or a few decades.

Chicago had North America's first bus-lane in 1936. Here we are, 75 years later, finally getting one.

One of my most inspiration moments in Hamilton politics in the last five years was when Councillor Lloyd Ferguson went on the light rail tour to a few cities with LRT systems. Previously an opponent of the concept, he came back converted after seeing the facts and merits of such a system.

I ask Council to think of the future. Think of Hamilton's image and livability.

It would be prudent to approve this idea in principle and leave the detail design issues for down the road when we decide to build our first bikeway.

Whether it's LRT, bike boxes, yield signs, transit lanes or new flexible zoning, the future will arrive in Hamilton at some point. All of these ideas are already being practiced all over the world.

I'm simply asking that we give them a chance here instead of allowing uninformed commentary to shape our thinking.

You may remember all the outcry when a two-way bus lane was proposed on Main Street many years ago. Now we are preparing our LRT system to do just that - run two ways on a one-way street.

Opposing new ideas simply because they are new is the exact opposite of ambitious.

I'm not even asking us to break new ground and lead the country. I'm simply asking us to try to keep up so it's not 75 years before we finally embrace the ideas already in place in other cities.

Here is an inspirational video on greenways from Portland:

A city like Hamilton with our urban core, lower incomes and dangerous one-way freeways is a perfect setting for mid-neighbourhood bikeways/greenways. This is about livability, safety and making some changes that will help us become the best place to raise a child.

Please watch and enjoy.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

28 Comments

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By Hopeful (registered) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 13:43:46

Hi Jason, Your reaction to Dreschel's article, the discussion on it, and the need for Councilours to become more informed and think the issue through a little bit mirrored my feelings on reading the piece as well. Something that doesn't seem to be getting addressed in the discussion is that many stop signs have been put in place mainly to prevent streets from being used as 60kmh thoroughfares, not because a full stop is absolutely needed for the traffic volumes where they are --- Dunsmure is a good example of this. Since an average cyclist will never be travelling this quickly, they are unfairly impacted by the proliferation of stop signs being used to achieve another goal. I firmly believe that Hamilton (indeed Ontario) should allow "Idaho stops" and/or that "Yield to Cyclists" signs should be provided at intersections the same way as "Yield to Pedestrians" signs now in other places. The lack of these options seems to only support the notion roads are meant and designed for cars and that other means of transport are an afterthought. I hope your piece inspires some more reflection on what is being proposed here. It is not a black and white issue and a great many possible bike routes with fantastic potential are being limited in their implementation by considering things as such.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 14:08:39

comment from banned user deleted

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 10, 2011 at 09:35:12 in reply to Comment 71178

Here here!

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By jacob (registered) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 16:08:26

I like the optimism. I wish it wouldn't get interpreted as hippie idealism with the token portland reference. Our city leaders need to realise that transportation innovation is crucial to economic recovery, that this message is far more business friendly than the four-year 'economic planning' council and staff constantly engage in. The sad thing is that the status quo isn't even an ideological expression, it's merely the inertial momentum of a system deprived of any plan or ambition. At least when they called Hamilton the ambitious city - which was the same time as they tore down half the place - they believed in it.

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By jason (registered) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 17:47:23 in reply to Comment 71180

I was almost going to go with NYC as my outside reference due to the massive shift in cycling infrastructure that has taken place there, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to send the above video to council (I sent this blog as an email to council before posting it here). I mean, look at the screen shot of the video - that could be anywhere in Hamilton. It's such a perfect model for us to follow - mid size city once run down and struggling, but has now found a world-wide niche simply by investing in some of these simple quality of life things (and not so simple, like LRT, flex zoning etc...)
The fact that Portland is so easily used as a model for us over and over should give us some impetus to get moving and not constantly say no anytime a remotely new idea comes across the desk.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 16:52:45

Yeah, I think that the yield signs are a great idea. I don't understand drivers who get all bent out of shape when a cyclist safely rolls through a stop. There are lots of examples where it is perfectly safe for a car not to come to a complete stop at a 4-way stop, let alone a bike. Great idea... I hope it gets implemented in Hamilton (and everywhere).

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 10, 2011 at 09:34:23 in reply to Comment 71182

I will agree with this, there are many examples where yield signs (for all traffic) would be far more appropriate then stop signs, especially in lower traffic suburban areas. Two way stops and two way yields I think are a much better alternative to four way stops.

However, I'm sure the reason for four way stops is to press the "Everyone is at fault when an accident happens" that traffic law seems to have fallen in love with. Probably because it reduces the liability of insurance companies, but lets not get into that.

As far as getting bent out of shape, maybe it's because for a driver, that's a $100+ ticket and demerit points and for a cyclists it is a warning typically, if it's even noticed by law enforcement.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted November 09, 2011 at 17:56:40 in reply to Comment 71182

The same reason that car drivers get upset when motorcyclists lane split.

They're getting ahead when the driver can't. The driver feels that the person is cutting in line and thus slowing the driver down.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 09, 2011 at 19:02:04

I really like this idea if only for the clarity it would provide. More and more, the most obnoxious thing I find myself doing as a cyclist is stopping for stop signs. I'm surprised it hasn't come to blows on a few occasions when drivers fail to see why I won't just cruise through when they waive me on (nearly been killed a few too many times, either by the person waving or others). Frankly, if I've put the effort into stopping and putting my foot down, the most courteous thing a driver who has the right-of-way can do is go ahead and get out of my way. For this reason, I often don't stop (if it's surveyable and safe), and it almost always seems to go over better with drivers. Probably gets them where they're going faster, too.

I don't blame people for not expecting cyclists to stop, which is why we need to start clearly defining these rules. I don't fault people for cycling through a stop sign, provided they're able to stop if they need to, and they yield to people who were waiting. The mechanics of cycling are very different from driving and some things which wouldn't be safe in cars can be safe if done by responsible cyclists. The keyword of course, being "responsible".

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2011 at 06:14:28

For me, two things come to mind.

Firstly, in the UK, traffic is predicated on movement. So there are more 'Yield' signs than stop-signs or traffic lights. (I'm not talking about dense areas, but moderate residential ones.) In North America, traffic is predicated on stopping. Maybe this is why the ratio of standard-to-automatic transmissions for cars is pretty much opposite.

Secondly...and far more importantly...I don't think the psychology of driving is consciously acknowledged and processed.

Driving a car, from the moment it became the mechanism for pushing the North American economy forward (as it did for almost a hundred years, with the concomitant aspects of steel, rubber and petroleum), hasn't just been about getting from Point A to Point B. It's been something far more perverse than that.

It's a means of validation.

It's a means of 'expression of self'.

It's a process whereby control is effected.

And it's about power.

The last two are probably the most important. Because in a world where physically, we're essentially limited in our 'animalness', being behind the wheel of a car...an item weighing thousands of pounds and capable of 'magic' (being able to transport you relatively instantly to speeds otherwise impossible for a human) skews reality.

I see it in how people rev their engines when a pedestrian has cleared out of their way at a crossing, when they're expressing their impatience and peeling away.

I see it in excessive speeds on roads where speed is entirely unnecessary.

And of course, I see it in the knee-jerk reaction to proposals to reduce speed limits, to make the environment more 'liveable' for pedestrians.

Drivers believe...even if it's an unconscious belief, one they're not even aware of...that being behind the wheel somehow elevates their needs to an exalted status. I say this because I too, feel under this notion's sway every time I drive. Driving is empowering. It's fun. It makes your heart race. Anything and everyone that somehow 'impedes' this process...including other drivers, motorcyclists, pedestrians, trucks, cyclists...is in the other column.

And therein lies the problem.

Combined with this is the notion that driving is a right. It's not. It's a privilege that should have attached to it far more requirements, should demand far more training, far more testing, far more everything. I believe that if people actually saw driving in a different light, there would be a chance to shift things about a bit. Clearly, the way things are right now isn't working, and really; some of the resistance to 'change' and the subsequent discussions on making things better for all are far worse than absurd...they insult both intelligence and the basic tenets of being humane in an inhumane world.

More discussion, please.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted November 10, 2011 at 21:27:44 in reply to Comment 71192

Driving a car (is)...

a means of validation.

a means of 'expression of self'.

And it's about power.

Perhaps to you it is. Speak for yourself please. As a driver I don't feel that way at all. I find it scary and rather pathetic that you feel that way about driving.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted November 11, 2011 at 11:48:43 in reply to Comment 71211

Perhaps to you it is. Speak for yourself please. As a driver I don't feel that way at all. I find it scary and rather pathetic that you feel that way about driving.

Yesterday I was driving down Locke St just after 6 at 40 km/h. Light wasn't good, lots of parked cars people stopping to parallel park or turn onto side streets.

Before I crossed Charlton a vehicle started to cross Locke but stopped because they noticed a pedestrian on the west side. The vehicle behind them almost ran into them. I crossed Charlton after the first vehicle had cleared, the second vehicle proceeded to aggressively tailgate me all the way down Locke. They also honked at me when I let someone turn onto a side street in front of me.

This is the sort of driver who feels that everything that forces them to slow down is a personal affront to them. This is the sort of driver that MyStoneyCreek is referring to which is not all that uncommon.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted November 11, 2011 at 17:18:06 in reply to Comment 71215

This is the sort of driver who feels that everything that forces them to slow down is a personal affront to them. This is the sort of driver that MyStoneyCreek is referring to.

Did we read the same comment? When I read MyStoneyCreek's comment, it seems that he is making a statement about driving, not about certain people who drive. His comment is filled with generalizations which he presents as fact. Presenting well thought out arguments to illustrate this and solidify my claim would be pointless and a waste of time so I won't bother. It should be clear as day to anyone who carefully reads MyStoneyCreek's comment and thinks critically about what he is saying.

Comment edited by SpaceMonkey on 2011-11-11 17:21:20

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted November 12, 2011 at 10:52:01 in reply to Comment 71225

Since it only takes one of those drivers to take a life, seems the spirit of what he is saying is more the point than pedantic nitpicking.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted November 12, 2011 at 11:24:26 in reply to Comment 71233

comment from banned user deleted

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By z jones (registered) | Posted November 12, 2011 at 23:35:28 in reply to Comment 71234

Allan Taylor, is that you?

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted November 11, 2011 at 22:59:15 in reply to Comment 71225

Seriously?

Why do you think SUVs outsell minivans? It sure as hell isn't the "practicality" of them. It's people saying to themselves "we aren't minivan people" in a derogatory way, despite the fact that the extra space and reduced cost of a minivan would far better suit their needs.

Cars, for most people, are emotional purchases, attempting to show the world what they think of themselves. If they weren't there would be a fraction of BMW sales that there are today. They are amazing to drive, if you like that sort of thing, but the vast majority of people buy them for the image that they project.

Cars also isolate you from the world around you and give you the feeling of anonymity, allowing you to do things you would never do in a face to face scenario. Such as tailgating to try and hurry someone up or threatening a cyclist.

Not everyone is affected this way, but to pretend that no one is smacks of ridiculousness.

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted November 13, 2011 at 14:41:53 in reply to Comment 71227

Hey Brandon,

I agree with you about the SUV thing. I don't understand why so many people buy them. I can see their value to some people, but the majority of people who buy them would likely get a lot more practical use out of a car or minivan.

It bothers me that so many people make such ridiculous choices when they purchase a vehicle, fueled by emotion as you mention, but I don't think it's fair to say that driving in general and everyone who drives is a power hungry idiot.

Many people choose their shoes based on style/emotion over function/practicality. It would be ridiculous to say that walking or running is about power.

I know it seems like I'm nitpicking, but I'm not. I just don't think it's productive (and it really bugs me) to generalize and create a us vs. them sort of attitude between people who drive and people who don't drive.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted November 13, 2011 at 15:46:37 in reply to Comment 71244

I don't see it so much as "people who drive" vs "people who don't drive" as "people who are driving" vs "everyone around them".

This isn't a new concept: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0ZgiVicpZ...

By no means is it everyone, but consider the fact that many people are in a rush these days, stressed to get somewhere at a certain time, an hour of errands that have to be done in 45 minutes, etc, and you easily get Goofy behind the wheel.

Driving gives you the same sort of feeling of anonymity you get from posting on the net. People write things online they'd never dream of saying to someone's face, same thing happens behind the wheel of a car.

Can you honestly tell me that you never get annoyed at things when driving that wouldn't bother you at all when walking?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:31:08 in reply to Comment 71192

I agree completely. There is a serious cultural problem in this region which is costing many lives and holding back the potential quality of life.

There is a brown cloud of smog frequently enveloping this region. The GTA has the honor of being declared worse than LA for traffic congestion. Traffic fatalities are announced every single day, almost without exception.

And what are we doing?

LRT dies in Hamilton. Transit City dies in Toronto. I see people running in a panic for their GO train and feel really bad because if they miss it, it is a long wait for the next one. These corrupt retards in charge couldn't fix a straw if it was bent, let alone extend all day GO service. Newspaper articles continue to foment a viewpoint that bikes and bike lanes are somehow part of the problem. And, in many of these articles, and worse, the comments they generate, collective punishment is dished out on the vulnerable demographic of non motorized travelers. We (cyclists) are a bunch of anarchist, law breaking, entitled, selfish road hogs. Well there is another side to existence; another point of view. Also collective punishment is contrary to United Nations human rights laws. There is a spirit of collective punishment going on here also.

I travel to other cities and countries and see parents, children, healthy beautiful women, elderly, professionals, students, really people of all ages safely getting around on their bikes. I want to live and work in one of these places very very much.

Here is what it is like riding according to the textbook MTO guidelines for cycling: Busted pavement and sinking sewer grates. Angry drivers speeding past almost hitting you like you're not even there. Angry engine revs. Horn honks. Right hooks. For daring to use one meter of the right lane of a multi-lane arterial.

Have people like Andrew Dreschel, have city councillors, have people that get stirred up to hatred even at the mention of the topic, have people imagined what it must be like to be on the receiving end of this. To have anxiety attacks because it is time to commute to work.

Have people stopped to consider the anxiety, the pain, the suffering that this sick culture is imposing on some of its youngest, fittest, and healthiest citizens. To have to have anxiety attacks anticipating your bike ride home from the GO station. To ride carefully - MTO best practices, lights, helmet, etc, and yet have to pray every single day for protection so a rogue driver does not kill. Then to come home, open the news, and see Jenna Morrison's death on the front page. While Mayor Ford removes bike lanes. The pain and anguish of another loss of a beautiful mother who is an asset to her community.

But many who lack perspective and balance are desensitized to constantly murdering each other with horseless chariots. Keep getting offended when someone points out the human side of all of this. Keep fomenting petty fights over rules and infrastructure that would improve this. There you go. Keep getting offended. Your right to speed through the residential neighborhoods is way more important.

These are just the words of a breaking heart, horrified at what I still see in newspapers and comments.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 10, 2011 at 09:23:58 in reply to Comment 71192

As a driver, I wholly resent this comment. If driving was about power, people wouldn't sit for long hours of traffic along the 403. The overwhelming majority of drivers don't shell out hundreds of dollars in gas, maintenance and insurance costs to feed their god complex. They do it so they CAN get from point A to point B in a reasonable amount of time, because our society doesn't allow for things like jobs, or amenities to be readily at hand. Of course, I would prefer that our society did and slowed down, but that's a whole different can of worms.

There is no notion that driving is a right. Having to do through graduated licensing makes that fact very clear, and makes it very clear that there are rules the must apply to the road and if they aren't followed, people can get hurt and that there are consequences for violating them.

Frankly, I would say there is far more of an implication the cycling is a right, not a privilege then driving because a cyclist doesn't have to go through licensing, doesn't have mandatory liability insurance for damage or accidents he may cause and doesn't have to deal with traffic enforcement to any respectable degree for his traffic violations and that is just as dangerous as the few drivers who are "Speed Junkies" or "Ego Drivers"

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-11-10 09:43:04

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted November 10, 2011 at 09:25:41

I hate to sound negative, but what's the point? Lets be honest here, how many successful traffic ticket convictions of cyclists have occurred in Hamilton for the past year? Very few that I am aware of, so easing the code and putting up signage seems like a waste of money to me.

Second, assuming this change did happen, I can't honestly believe that any cyclist who is inclined towards running through a stop sign now is going to be any more inclined to yield. I'm not going to say that every cyclist runs stops or rides against the flow of traffic, but the overwhelming majority of the cases I've encountered as a driver do not seem to abide by the rules of the road.

Third, why is it that it's fine to restrict car traffic, but it's not ok to regulate bike traffic to the same degree in the interests of combined safety? Bike lanes are great, not only because they restrict cars from crossing into them, but because they also restrict bikes from getting into car lanes where both parties are more likely to have an accident. I agree, slowing down car traffic makes sense, but not slowing down/restricting cyclists, who don't have rear view mirrors, have to deal with many more physical distractions then a driver and don't have to go through any training or licensing is double standard in my eyes. What's good for the goose is good for the gander.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2011-11-10 09:39:49

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2011 at 10:59:05

First of all, cyclists can and do get tickets. It's happened to me and a good number of people I know.

The practical realities of cars and bikes are totally different. Cars are faster, but bikes are more nimble - able to start, stop and manoeuvre much faster. Bikes also have much less of a profile, and are far less dangerous to people, vehicles and pedestrians in a collision. Many practices which would be totally unsafe in a car or even with a motorcycle can be on a bicycle - such as sharing a lane with parked cars. That being said, the current 'wild west' approach clearly isn't working, especially with the growing influx of new cyclists.

As for driving and power, it may not be a central motivation of all drivers, but it certainly is to some. Any serious amount of cycling will confirm this, as will most driving. Some have a raging aversion to being passed, others simply love revving their engines, or just never want to hit the brakes. I'll admit, I feel it too - the capacity to travel at 150km/h makes it all too tempting to hate whoever's preventing you from doing so, even if you know intellectually that "they have every right". Unlike cycling, driving doesn't involve much personal energy expenditure, so it's far easier for stress to accumulate. Beyond this, I've seen far too much honking, screaming and threatening to ever doubt that people's ego and sense of power doesn't play a large role.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2011 at 11:16:36

Regarding the reaction to the word 'power'...

It's fascinating how certain words can trigger. Or that they take on transitory meanings. Or attachments.

Clearly for some, the notion of 'power' conjures up imagery that goes well beyond what I was talking about.

I see this 'power' thing at play not just in testosterone-prone males, but little old ladies.

(And I have to say that I got a good chuckle out of the umbrage taken at what I proposed. Not unexpected in the least, but still made me laugh.)

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By Sigma Cub (anonymous) | Posted November 10, 2011 at 20:23:41

So where do these "livability concepts" factor into the long-term plans that the city planners have in the pipes for the next 10, 15, 20, 25 years? Because I have the sneaking suspicion that if they're not in the official playbook already, we'll have a good long wait ahead of us.

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By bob lee (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2011 at 20:15:04 in reply to Comment 71210

Plans are full of promises but lack any boundaries. So when two competing provisions butt heads, whichever one is going to build up the tax base always wins. That's why sprawl is getting worse even though planners say nothing except let's contain sprawl. We're very willing to talk about livability but won't commit to any restrictions.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted November 11, 2011 at 11:52:02

Brucedale and Queensdale could really use these yield signs. I remember when the Linc was built but not open to cars yet, one could bike on it. Amazing how fast you could get across the Mountain without having to slow down at all.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted November 11, 2011 at 12:40:00

At the very least the city should be identifying bicycle corridors and be adding "bikes have to yield, not stop" signs to those locations.

Although I think it might cause confusion - cyclists might think they don't have to stop for pedestrians at these intersections. It's not like the drivers ever think a yield sign applies to people looking to cross.

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