Special Report: Cycling

Hamilton's Transportation Dilemma: A Two-Wheeled Winter Perspective

Sustainable transportation infrastructure is not a scheme to raise taxes and divide our city, but a plan to address a major gap without which our city will fall behind in livability and competitiveness.

By Dave Heidebrecht
Published February 27, 2013

On Monday, February 25 at Hamilton City Hall, City Councillors spent the day listening to presentations focused on a discussion around Hamilton's transportation future.

The focus of the day was on approving a city report to pass along to Metrolinx, the provincial agency that has been charged with the challenging task of developing a more integrated and functional transportation system within the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA).

With Hamilton hoping to have a large portion of new rapid transit infrastructure funded by Metrolinx, the day's dialogue covered a wide range of transportation options being considered by the city.

While much of the day was spent discussing the potential for development of much-debated Light Rail Transit (LRT) infrastructure, the dialogue covered the broader context of transportation planning, city building, and how any new developments might impact the social, economic, health and environmental well-being of our city.

Thanks to the work of local journalist Joey Coleman, the entire meeting is available online for viewing, providing some great insights as to where we stand as a city and how our council is approaching transportation issues as a whole.

A Multi-Modal Perspective

Being an all-season cyclist, and having spent recent weeks cycling to and from multiple downtown locations, I was especially interested in how issues surrounding cycling infrastructure were discussed.

A proposal to implement a cost-free bike share program in Hamilton came up against a great deal of pushback, while other discussions revealed a clear lack of appreciation from some councillors on active transportation infrastructure and how a multi-modal approach is necessary if we are to build a system that promotes healthy living and a health economy.

As someone who cycles, drives, walks, and takes transit in this city, I was disappointed to see that despite much progress, there is still a general lack of appreciation by our politicians as to the larger benefits to the entire system that come with a strategy that fully supports all modes of transportation.

Yes, those who need to use an automobile to get to and from work should be allowed to do so, but far too many of our leaders don't seem to appreciate fully that the goal of these efforts in the long-run is a social, economic, and cultural shift that will mean fewer of us need to.

In short, not only should those who work hard to own a car enjoy a safe commute, but as the City's Director of Transit, Don Hull, pointed out, Hamilton's transportation infrastructure should be equitable.

With this point in mind, I'd like to add to this dialogue by sharing the commuting experience of a cyclist in winter, traveling between downtown Hamilton and McMaster University, directly within the City's B-Line Corridor.

The following trip was taken in early January, two weeks after a major snowfall, and the photos shared here hope to bring into the conversation some perspective on what those of us who are hard working, but use two wheels instead of four, face on on one of Hamilton's major transportation corridors.

The Westbound Commute

This view from King Street West gives some appreciation for the experience of a cyclist traveling in five lanes of traffic.

Though there are bike routes that travel along side streets in the area, anyone hoping to travel to and from work in a reasonable time (as a driver would expect) will take King, as it offers a direct route and timed lights (a feature appreciated by both drivers and cyclists alike).

Crossing Dundurn and heading towards the Highway 403 overpass, a bike lane begins, though when covered in patches of ice, cyclists are forced to move outwards towards the driving lane, where drivers already going upwards of 70 km/h planning to merge onto the highway may already be picking up speed.

From a driver's perspective, a cyclist swerving into their lane in such a situation may be seen as reckless cycling, potentially adding to us vs. them driver-cyclist tensions.

Approaching what has been built as a two-way cycling lane to cross into Westdale, one can see that most of the returning eastbound lane is covered in snow.

As cyclists commuting across the bridge approach an already nerve-wracking highway onramp crossing, they face icy conditions that leave a narrow gap to ride through as cars pass by.

Having crossed the bridge into Westdale, a newly built cycling lane that crosses a bus stop at the corner of King Street West and Macklin Street North remains obstructed by snow a few weeks after a major snowfall. Note that surrounding snow has almost melted, meaning these piles would have been much larger for at least a week before this image was taken.

A cyclists-eye view. Narrow pieces of lane in some places mean cyclists must sometimes use the sidewalk. Though infrastructure has been built to support cyclists, a lack of concern for cleanup shows that despite good intentions, bike lanes remain an afterthought for transportation infrastructure maintenance and snow clearance.

Any cyclist and/or driver knows that sewer grates can cause some major bumpiness, let alone when they are surrounded by snow. At an intersection where right turns are being made, safety issues could be a major concern in terms of stopping or slipping on the snow.

On the opposite side of Macklin Street North, not one, but both sides of the two-way bike lane are obstructed.

Cyclists returning along this two-way cycling route are forced to ride on the sidewalk. Again, though forced to do so, such actions can result in further criticisms of cyclists for not staying on the road.

I firmly believe that cyclists should follow road rules and remain on roads at all times, though in this case, it was necessary to use the sidewalk.

The Journey Into Downtown

Current infrastructure allows cyclists to use both Main and King St. bridges to move across Highway 403. The result of recent construction work on these bridges, both provide two-way access for cyclists.

On the King Street bridge, this approach does make some sense, as there is an immediately accessible side street for cyclists to carry on their journey at both ends of the cycling lane, yet Main Street West is a different story.

Cycling into Westdale on the Main Street West bike lane, one comes up against four lanes of traffic, though can take Macklin Street North to connect to the King Street West lanes seen in previous images.

To be complimented on the concrete safety divide for cyclists, again maintenance is an issue, as some parts of the bike lane are completely covered, while the entire stretch across the bridge has only been cleared in the direction headed downtown.

Where this lane merges with traffic once again, snow and slush create very dangerous cycling conditions.

As one can see after spending some time clearing the snow, there is indeed a bike lane heading into Westdale

Similar to King Street West, cyclists must cross an off-ramp from Highway 403, riding through a lane covered in snow and ice.

This snow-covered section of road is the designated bike lane that one must ride on once the off-ramp has been crossed. On this day (and for a number of days before), the entire lane was impossible to ride on, meaning that a cyclist would need to share a lane for about 100-200 metres with vehicles coming directly off of a 400-series highway where the speed limit is 90 km/h.

Further up the road some ice has cleared, though there is not much room for error by either cyclist or driver. The point of showing this experience is not to shame drivers who use this road, as I often drive along this corridor myself, but to show the lack of equity in our current transportation infrastructure.

Just as cyclists on this stretch shouldn't need to worry about their own safety, drivers also shouldn't need to worry about a potential collision if a cyclist were to swerve or slip into their lane due to poor bike lane conditions.

Overall, the goal should be to encourage an appreciation and respect for all modes of transportation.

Another concern that originally caught my eye as a driver on this stretch of road, is what our city planners had in mind by installing a two-way bike lane in the middle of a major one-way street.

As earlier pictures clearly show, a two-way lane begins on the Main Street West bridge and ends at Macklin Street North, but in this image there is no West-bound lane to take cyclists to that point. Whether there should be one is another point of discussion.

Perhaps there are also plans to extend two lanes to a cycling route along Frid Street, though at this point the message is a mixed one, as anyone wanting to take advantage of the two-way option provided must cycle directly into oncoming traffic, traffic coming off of a major highway nonetheless.

Heading back into downtown is frightening enough on a calm day, let alone when the designated bike lane is covered in snow and ice.

As a hard-working, tax-paying citizen who chooses to commute by bike - for environmental, economic, and health reasons - I am appalled that current City Hall discussions on transportation continue to neglect the reality that though many of us do drive, many of us also cycle, walk, and take transit, and should be equally able to do so comfortably and affordably.

For those who argue that I'm a rare case, I beg you to visit McMaster University to see the many bikes that cover campus each day, many of which I'm sure cross the exact route that is laid out above.

For those on City Council who are concerned about constituents having their cars taken away by some overarching scheme to create a city full of transit-users, cyclists, and pedestrians, please wake up. Creating a sustainable transportation infrastructure is not a scheme to raise taxes and divide our city, but a plan to address a major infrastructure gap without which our city will fall behind in economic competitiveness and livability for decades to come.

This article was first published on Dave Heidebrecht's website.

Dave Heidebrecht is the Manager of McMaster University’s Office of Community Engagement.


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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 21:57:52

One of many gaps. And yet still people find reasons to love the city and live here. A bittersweet love affair.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2013 at 18:45:52 in reply to Comment 86876

Perhaps because the vast majority of citizens don't care about bike lanes.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 22:21:23

If only there was room on Main St to remove a traffic lane or two for more parking and bike lanes.....

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By stevesound (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2013 at 18:36:30 in reply to Comment 86878

There is more than enough room to remove a lane on Main street - even 2 lanes. Watch carefully the next time the city works department does road maintenance on Main Street and closes off 2 or 3 lanes (when in other cities they don't hog lanes this way for construction - but that's another story); What you'll find is that traffic is not really slowed much. Even during rush hour I've noticed that reducing lanes during construction might slow traffic by 30-60 seconds (I've sat in my car and timed it). There is not justifiable reason to have a 5 lane expressway through downtown other than to let traffic planners continue to make traffic throughput the ONLY thing they consider.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 28, 2013 at 13:37:07 in reply to Comment 86878

Well, if we don't turn it into a two-way five-lane street with a center turning lane (the worst case scenario besides the status quo IMO) there are two lanes to spare for just that.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted February 27, 2013 at 22:29:00

Dave this was simply an excellent report. Thanks.

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By DaveHeidebrecht (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2013 at 13:39:06 in reply to Comment 86879

Thanks very much for the kind words and glad you appreciated the article!

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2013 at 05:23:49

"A new ranking also lists Hamilton as one of the top 10 large cities in North America for foreign investment. The listing, produced in the British-based FDI Magazine, already has local leaders plotting a new strategy to catch the attention of world companies looking for a place to build new plants and operations in North America. Specifically, the publication ranked Hamilton ninth on its list of best large cities for investment, and seventh on a sub list of large cities ranked by infrastructure."


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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2013 at 18:49:00 in reply to Comment 86881

How is that even possible? With no liveable streets and one way traffic and no LRT? They must be lying. It seems so many people like the way this city operates but only those who don't live in the core.

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By karenmcl (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2013 at 13:12:57

I live in Westdale and cycle year round so I'm routinely using these stretches you've highlighted. I really thought I was taking my life in my hands going along Main St between Macklin and Dundurn last week!! It's frustrating that there have been some good upgrades to the infrastructure but that the lanes are not well maintained - when there's not snow in the bike lanes there are often large pieces of debris that need to be navigated around.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted February 28, 2013 at 13:45:28 in reply to Comment 86897

Both Main and King should have dedicated, separated bike lanes, (not just the painted ones) all the way from Mac to at least the Delta/Gage Park. I don't ride a bike (I really do suck at it) and I want to see that happen. You look at the layout of this city and the excess lane capacity of those streets and it is crazy that we don't have them.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2013 at 18:20:51 in reply to Comment 86903

The problem is that the council would absorb boundless rage from commuters the first time any minimal, reasonable amount of congestion occurred and drivers looked over and saw the empty bike lane.

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By lying (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2013 at 18:50:25 in reply to Comment 86911

Because for every cyclist trying to get to work there are 1,000 cars.

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By DaveHeidebrecht (registered) - website | Posted February 28, 2013 at 13:38:08 in reply to Comment 86897

Thanks for the comment Karen and I appreciate your frustrations. I agree that if the money is spent on the infrastructure, there should also be a plan in place to ensure that infrastructure is maintained. Hopefully this will shed some light for more people and raise the issue going forward.

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By billn (registered) | Posted February 28, 2013 at 15:14:22

I do a daily commute through downtown and along York Blvd.-Plains Road and have had many of the same thoughts over the last few weeks. My ride is a recumbent trike- a bit wider than a standard bike- so the "swerving cyclist" comment particularly rang true. One thing I've noticed is that in many places there simply isn't anywhere for the plowed windrow of snow except for in the bike lane. Also, after the plows have gone through, businesses and residents plow out their driveways and leave the resulting snow piles in the bike lane. I pretty much gave up on the bike lane and just took my spot in the right lane of traffic. Got honked at a lot, but at least I was more predictable.

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2013 at 23:10:41 in reply to Comment 86906

It is illegal to throw snow into the street. When that part of the street is a bike lane, the snow thrower is creating a serious hazard. This hazard could cause a bike crash and serious injuries or worse. Creating a lethal hazard constitutes the offence of Criminal Negligence.

Since this crime of violence poses an immediate threat to the general public, my suggestion is to respond to this emergency situation by calling 911. Ask for a criminal investigation and for charges of Criminal Negligence to be laid against the criminal perpetrator.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2013 at 18:51:55 in reply to Comment 86924

I can hear the laughter from the cop shop already.

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2013 at 23:25:48

As a general comment, there are some parts of the infrastructure in Hamilton that get cleared of snow promptly and to a high quality of clearing. There are other very important bicycle roads that are essentially ignored.

I will give two examples, one good and one bad.

The good example is the bicycle road between Corktown Park and Wentworth Street. It is promptly ploughed and salted after every snowfall. Well done!

The bad example is of the new Red Bridge over the QEW and its access roads. After spending millions of dollars, this bridge and the access roads are useless because of a total lack of maintenance. This is a critical commuter link to get to the employment areas of East Hamilton. The message from the City seems to be: We don't want you to get to work.

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By Frankie Gotz (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2013 at 10:11:58

Hamilton Street Railway Perpetuating Cashless Society:

Top 10 Scary Things In The Metrolinx Act Of 2006/2009:

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By Voice of Fire (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2013 at 12:34:23

Sometimes,due to snow the roads arent safe.Fire and ambulance routes are cleared first.Stay off the streets and buy a bus ticket when conditions are risky.Its called judgement.Swerving in front of cars is not sound reasoning its just plain stupid.

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By billn (registered) | Posted March 03, 2013 at 13:41:14 in reply to Comment 87005

Fair enough for a few days after a major storm. Everyone has to make adjustments for safety's sake. However, 2 or 3 weeks after the last snow fall it becomes apparent that the City has built infrastructure (bike lanes) with no properly thought out procedures for its maintenance.

Swerving in front of cars would be stupid. That's why I don't do it. Please reread my post. My point was that the unsafe condition of the bike lanes forces me back into the regular traffic lane, which inconveniences everyone.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2013 at 14:54:50

City councillors here are about to become the first in Ontario to officially make comments and recommendations to improve the Ontario Cycling Strategy that calls for a provincewide network of trails, more funding for infrastructure and better education for riders and non-riders.

And while cycling advocates applaud the move they note Kitchener is far behind many other cities in southern Ontario when it comes to built infrastructure for bikes and per-capita spending on cycling.

Mary Sehl, the chair of Kitchener’s cycling advisory committee, said the group is really pleased to see councillors support a stronger provincial cycling strategy.

Cyclists will be watching closely to see if the province adopts some of the recommendations from the City of Kitchener, she said.

“There has been a fair bit of disappointment in the cycling community with the strategy, it wasn’t as strong as people had hoped,” Sehl said.

“I think it helps to have their municipal partners supporting the kind of changes the cycling community would like to see, asking for the strategy to be stronger,” Sehl said.

Among the city’s recommendations:

• There should be more high-density, mixed-use development in the future that results in shorter bicycle trips

• The Ministry of Transportation should adopt a “Complete Streets” policy that has roads designed for all users of all ages and all abilities

• The province should work with cities in identifying trails for commuters, recreational riders and tourists when building an Ontario-wide network.

• The Ministry of Transportation should establish a fund for cycling infrastructure to help cities pay for trails and programs, and should provide money and staffing for a provincewide cycling education program.

Peter Dedes, a member of Kitchener’s cycling advisory committee, said Ontario’s proposed strategy and the city’s response are short on specifics.

“Until there is real, concrete money for implementation, it doesn’t really mean much to me,” Dedes said.

Last August, city councillors became the first to endorse the Ontario Coroner’s review of cycling deaths and support the recommendations that came out of that review.

With this detailed response to the proposed Ontario Cycling Strategy, the city is again taking a leadership role.

It’s great that Kitchener has decided to become the lead municipality on those issues, but it has to increase spending on cycling and trails, Dedes said.

“London spends four times the money per capita than what we do on trails infrastructure — it’s crazy,” Dedes said. “Clearly there is a lot of catch-up we have to do.”

Both Dedes and Sehl are disappointed there will be no bicycle lanes put on Moore Avenue when it is reconstructed later this year between Emma Avenue and Graham Street. Moore Avenue was identified as a cycling route in the master plan that was adopted in 2010.

Jim Witmer, the city’s director of operations, said the road is not wide enough for lanes, but there will be signs installed that say Moore Avenue is a shared cycling route.

“It is consistent with the Cycling Master Plan,” Witmer said of the approach.

Cycling and walking are viewed by urbanists as two of the best ways to make cities more lively, safe, sustainable and healthy, says Jan Gehl, a Danish architect, urbanist and international spokesperson for active transportation

About two-thirds of vehicle trips are less than five kilometres long, and a healthy adult can ride that in about 15 minutes. More cycling means more lively streets and greater safety for everyone. It means less green house gas emissions and a more active population.


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By rrrandy (registered) - website | Posted March 03, 2013 at 19:02:27

ON the westbound bike/ped lanes on King over the 403 my daughter (who walks across there daily for school) had a good suggestion. Currently the snow is ploughed from the right side, and a snow bank remains on the left side, beside the concrete divider that separates the lanes of traffic from the cycle/ped lane. This means that the snow melts from the snow bank, towards the drains on the right side, creating black ice. If the snow bank was on the right side (north) then this wouldn't happen. It is treacherous when the snow melt freezes into black ice there. A small change in practice would make it much safer.

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