Special Report: Bus Lane

Don't Kill the Bus Lane, Fix It

Gridlock is our future unless we leave the 1970s behind and start learning from the best cities on the planet about multi-modal convenience and options.

By Jason Leach
Published December 09, 2014

I live two blocks north of King Street near Queen in the area affected by the bus lane.

We all know how horrible King Street is for an urban street, and its dangers have been confirmed by merchants sharing stories of customers who don't feel safe enough to cross the street.

Please think of all of your travels to places like Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa. Try to remember a time when you attempted to grab a dinner or do some shopping in their downtowns but were too scared to cross the street.

King St is a disgrace and is directly hurting our bottom line by killing economic development potential. It lies along rapidly redeveloping neighbourhoods such as mine with a massive built-in customer base - a built-in customer base that avoids this gross freeway like the plague.

In our 11 years here, I've walked along King Street with my family a total of zero times.

Simple Fixes

I sent a submission to the person I was told was the lead contact on the bus lane back in the spring of 2013. Now I'm sending it to all of you, because it addresses one of the main points of contention: the loss of curb parking on the north curb.

From Bay to Locke, we have room for curb parking on the north curb (where the merchants want it), a bus lane, two general traffic lanes and bike lane on the south curb lane protected by bollards and narrow curbs.

West of Locke, a fifth lane appears on King. This extra space could be used to protect the bike lane with curb parking on the south curb. The rest of the street continues the same cross-section as described above all the way to Dundurn.

Please do not turn King Street back to its former status as a five-lane freeway. As you've clearly heard from the businesses you supposedly are trying to support, their customers are too scared to cross the street even with one lane of general traffic removed.

Adding another speeding automobile traffic lane back in won't solve our problems.

I find it ironic that the couple of businesses that left King Street West relocated into Jackson Square, with no parking at their front door. Customers now need to go underground, snake around, come upstairs, walk through the mall to find these businesses.

Yet all that inconvenience is clearly better than crossing a street in Hamilton. Sad.

Learn From Other Cities

Instead, we could have a complete one-way street like this one in New York City, with bus lane and curb parking for local businesses:

Complete one-way street in New York City (Image Credit: The Source)
Complete one-way street in New York City (Image Credit: The Source)

Here's how it's done in Brooklyn:

Bus lane and curbside parking on Brooklyn street (Image Credit: Brownstoner)
Bus lane and curbside parking on Brooklyn street (Image Credit: Brownstoner)

There are simple fixes to the bus lane, such as the design I've suggested above.

Another quick fix, which I've also emailed to staff, is to adjust the timing of the green lights on King between Wellington and James.

The lights should turn green from West to East, not from East to West as they currently do. When all the lights are red and cars are waiting, what good does it do to have the light turn green at Mary simply to allow cars forward into the block with a red light at Catharine? Ditto for the next block to John, then Hughson and so on

If James went green first, it would clear the cars from that block. Then Hughson could go green, then John and back to the east, each block clearing the way for the incoming cars. It's not rocket science.

The Future is Multi-Modal

During the heart of rush hour, more people use transit on King than all other lanes of cars combined. Surely we don't live in a city with such disregard for anyone who doesn't get around via car that we're willing to scrap a pilot project instead of fixing it.

The future of our city will depend on our ability to add transit lanes city-wide.

You've all seen what can happen when half of one highway is closed: Gridlock. Why? Because nobody has another option. Transit isn't good enough and our roads are dangerous for cycling or walking.

More than half of car trips in Hamilton are less than five kilometres. That is horrendous and will continue to harm our ability to redevelop into a truly livable, sustainable city.

I have personally not set foot into any of the businesses with 'no bus lane' signs as I refuse to support businesses not willing to put one ounce of creativity into making Hamilton better.

I expect better from elected officials being paid to move our city forward. Going back to the status quo should not be an option. King will continue to be horrible and dangerous and stifle economic development.

I can't help but notice that no residents from anywhere else in the city are offering up their local streets, or suburban downtown streets for five-lane freeways.

Please make the easy, simple fixes noted above, as well as adding transit-only turning signals at James and MacNab so buses can turn left without encroaching on the general travel lanes.

Chicago opened the first transit lanes in their city almost 100 years ago. Enough of Hamilton messing up the most basic non-car infrastructure improvements. This lane was poorly designed from the start, along with the unfinished Hunter bike lanes and general lack of non-car optons city-wide.

Gridlock is our future unless we leave the 1970s behind and start learning from the best cities on the planet about multi-modal convenience and options.

I look forward to a thoughtful and problem-solving debate tomorrow.

A version of this article was sent to Council as a letter.

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

35 Comments

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 11:07:19

But Terry Whitehead said it all on CH last night. Hamilton's unique geography makes us different from everywhere else. What works everywhere else would never work here.

Oh, and facts schmacts. His mind is made is made up. Regardless of what the data the says; kill the bus lane.

With this kind of evidence based decision making leading the charge we are doomed for another generation.

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By No (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 18:31:47 in reply to Comment 106760

I live in ward 8 and have been confused as to why Clr. Whitehead is so vocal on this. Our ward on the Mountain has far more pressing issues than bus lanes in the downtown core. Focus on those, Terry, please!

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 19:00:33 in reply to Comment 106818

any chance he gets to stick it to the 22 million folks who use transit each year, he takes gladly.

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By Email (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 16:44:56 in reply to Comment 106760

Send council an email.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 16:47:27 in reply to Comment 106805

Yeah. That oughta stop all the ward heeling dead in its tracks.

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By RTHS (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 11:58:16 in reply to Comment 106760

That picture has one lane of vehicle traffic.

One.

People aren't going to magically stop driving cars to work overnight because we reduce the lanes available to them by a significant percentage.

That picture depicts a much wider street as well - do you realize how long a change of that magnitude would take to implement?

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By PiersixBrawler (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 12:34:13 in reply to Comment 106768

  1. not 'overnight', but definately in future generations. 2.there are more drivers on the road than bicyclists and bus patrons, yet municipal and federal and municipal governments choose 'the blind eye' to the fact drivers are in the 'majority' and it's the drivers that pay for road maintenance by way of their sticker 3.if the federal government continues to frustrate drivers onto public transit starting on the municipal level, then in effect the federal government is trying to 'monopolize'the transport of human beings in Canada which clearly removes the money that the insurance and oil industries used to enjoy and deposits that money firmly into the pockets of the government transit system. 4. if the municipal and federal governments are 'allowed' to do this- slowly omit automobiles in favor of public transit, this then gives them 'carte blanche' to charge whatever they want for fare due to the monopolization, and you'll pay it...or lose you job. Considering this, and the fact that food banks and 'flop houses' are struggling to survive as it is now due to regulation and legislation, not only will you lose your job if you don't pay their 'ransom' but you will starve and be homeless as well. It's all part and parcel of their plan...this is NOT a mistake or 'error'. Control how people go to work, and you control people. This is the beginning of the deployment of a totalitarian dictatorship cleverly disguised as 'going green'which on initial inspection, seems like an excellent way to 'clean up' the environment, but the only 'green' thats 'going' is the green from the insurance and oil industries pockets into the government pockets leaving the environment issue nothing more than a 'side effect' of this policy. 'No cars' means no more corporate bail outs for the auto industry, the huge drop in fossil fuel sales puts the government 'in the drivers seat' considering that they will be the only ones consuming fossil fuel and the oil companies will 'comply' with government agenda or go bankrupt. This also solves the problem of the 'religous lunatic fringe' by putting rich religous oil barons out of business virtually overnight, therefore completely dis arming them by way of bankruptcy as far as 'terrorist attacks' goes. Your 'flash pass' for public transit will immediately inform police of your whereabouts at all times and will give access to your T-4 so the transit and government can see exactly how much you make and adjust your 'fare' according to what you make monthly, and you ll pay whatever they want or so much for your job and good luck with eating and finding a place to sleep after you've lost your job. Bicycle lanes and the political rise of 'concern for pedestrian safety' are just a lame way to show that this is 'still' a democracy because you still have a 'choice'as far as 'alternate' transportation goes. Good luck walking or riding your bike to work in Toronto if you live in Hamilton however. John Torys policy of further intentional frustration to drivers is clear in his policy of 'narrowing' lanes and 'halfing' the speed limits for 'safety reasons' which clearly underlines the governments agenda of railroading people onto public transit systems. We must also consider that it is TORONTO that is responsible for the bus and bike lanes, and the city of Hamilton has no say or authority to the contrary in the matter which proves the political dictatorship on a federal, provincial, and municipal level has already begun and is slowly 'trickeling down' to citizens in general, and drivers in particular. This is an excellent plan when viewed from a corporate standpoint, and considering that your 'say' is less important than the political agenda, and that driving is a 'privilege' and not a 'right' that can be taken from you at any time, the government is clearly 'well within their rights' to implement this plan which is just the tip of the iceberg as far as losing your voice in a democracy thats been re worked into a totalitarian dictatorship.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:34:23 in reply to Comment 106768

why is it that trolls never read the articles before offering their 'opinions'? Is that a hard and fast rule of online trolling??

a change of this magnitude will take as a long as it takes paint to dry. Still leaving us with curb parking, a bus lane and 2 car lanes.

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/18...

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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:48:21 in reply to Comment 106774

I wish RTH had a block featue. This individual is truly "special".

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:11:03 in reply to Comment 106768

I guess NYC just doesn't have the traffic volumes and businesses that Hamilton has.

With half of trips in Hamilton under 5km, many drivers could very easily switch to walking, biking or transit. Right now, with parking at $4 all day (much cheaper than two bus tickets) at $60 per month (just $2.73 per day) in municipal lots, and a transportation system that drastically favours driving it is no wonder that most people choose to drive. But don't forget that even now the city claims that during rush hour the transit lane carries as many people as the other lanes!

The first picture shows three lanes of non-transit motor vehicle lanes (plus a transit and bike lane and ample parking). That's more than sufficient for Main and King given the current traffic levels. It's not clear that this street is much wider than Main or King St at their widest points (the lanes are quite narrow in the NYC picture).

How long would a change of this magnitude take? Well, NYC has made this sort of change in just a very few years, in a much more challenging context. Presumably, Hamilton, with much less traffic could as well. Similarly, Paris (with a much higher level of traffic) has implemented a network of largely combined bus and cycle lanes on their arteries in just a few years. It is possible.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-12-09 12:20:06

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By pickin (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:06:21 in reply to Comment 106768

how do those cherries taste, coward?

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 11:08:28

This argument makes too much sense.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 11:17:21

A cheap and effective way to improve this lane - one I've been harping on since the first week the lane was installed (and I'm not the only one): Add transit priority signals for buses turning left out of the transit lane.

(And the next step should be to do the same for buses turning left from john to king)

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 11:22:20

The "Brooklyn" photo is *exactly* what should be done between Queen and Bay.

Except that the Bus Lane should be a Bus/HOV lane.

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By villager (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:04:22

Main problem I see is the bottleneck between Wellington and Mary. When the buses (especially B-Line) don't move faster --or at all-- it negates the purpose of the lane.
Get rid of that downtown sign, add one more lane of vehicular traffic to make it two Traffic Lanes, one Parking Lane, and one Transit/ HOV lane.
Start the Transit/ HOV lane at Victoria.

These simple steps will help ease that bottle neck.
Oh and remove that ridiculous border on downtown.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:36:54 in reply to Comment 106769

I don't think Wellington-Mary is the problem personally. It's always been a freeway until the bus lane arrived. Traffic volumes on King are simply not high enough to cause congestion with 2 lanes available. The problem is the horrid timing of the traffic lights from Mary-James. You'll notice that west of James the roadway is identical as east of James - 2 car lanes, a bus lane and parking lane. Yet traffic magically starts flying again at James all the way to Dundurn.

The city should have adjusted the traffic lights on King back when it was first suggested.

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By Villager (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 20:54:30 in reply to Comment 106775

Oh ok, so you're blind? Ignorant?
Listen, I have been a huge proponent of the King St Bus Lane, and have championed it to many Merchants, Citizens, and City Reps alike, and even I can admit that Wellington to Mary is a HUGE issue.

Why?
Because it impedes on the rapidness that is the B-Line Rapid Transit Bus!
B-Line flies from Eastgate to Wellington (which is exactly what it's supposed to do), but once it gets to Wellington, it can take upwards of 5 (!!!) minutes to get past Mary St.

Why would people choose Public Transit if it's not rapid? I always just want to get off at Wellington, but ALAS, it's not a B-Line Stop!

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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:41:09 in reply to Comment 106775

"I don't think Wellington-Mary is the problem personally."

Seriously? Have you spent time there? Beyond choosing the time of day to take a photo of how 'it's not a problem'?

(And FYI: at the worst times of the day, it's 'east of Wellington to John'.)

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By Villager (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 20:59:54 in reply to Comment 106785

Amen! Here Here!
Jason is being ignorant, or he hasn't actually been in this area (?).
It's not so bad mid-day, but come 4pm it's stupid!

Buses can't even get through, which negates the whole purpose of the bus lane!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 21:27:32 in reply to Comment 106828

i think jason's talking about the cause of the problem (light timings and buses going from John to MacNab) not the location of the problem (international village, duh)

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 21:26:43 in reply to Comment 106828

If you really live in this area you know King has been 2 lanes from Wellington to Mary for years and traffic flowed just fine. Now it's also 2 lanes west of Mary but traffic is slow because of the badly timed lights and lack of advanced left turn for buses just like Jason has been saying. So who is being ignorant?

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 14:19:23 in reply to Comment 106785

His point is not that there's no problem with traffic-flow from Wellington through to Mary, but that the problem is caused by the screw-up of lights through downtown. The lights need to be fixed, not the width or lane-profile of the roadway itself.

I mean, the bus lane doesn't even *exist* from Wellington to Mary. Obviously the road worked just fine before the bus lane, why is it congested now? The traffic from Mary through to Bay is the obvious source of the back-up. That area is now 2-lanes, just like Wellingotn->Mary. But Wellington->Mary worked fine as 2 lanes.

Basically, Wellington->Mary proved, *before the bus-lane* that King Street can run just fine with two lanes of live traffic, provided the lights stay synced and nothing else snarls the traffic.

So theoretically, Mary->Bay should be able to do the same isntead of backing up traffic right through to Wellington. But it doesn't. Why?

Well, the obvious culprits are twofold: the Mountain buses (John->King turns across all the traffic, and then King->Macnab turns across all the traffic) and the bad light timing.

Otherwise, the buses are out of traffic, so they're not a source of the snarl. That is, after all, *the whole point*.

Now, since we've already considered how King runs fine with 2 lanes, we can also continue this logic further to Queen (we'll ignore West of Queen since that's where the truck route begins and traffic from Cannon is shunted onto King). If we had 2 lanes there too instead 2.5 (right now it's 3 rush-hour, 2 otherwise) then we could give the North side businesses back their North-side parking meters (the South side businesses all have parking lots anyways). Bye bye "NO MORE BUS LANES" signs, everybody's happy!

Finally, let carpoolers use the bus lane, making the whole area into 2.5 lanes instead of 2 (I dissent on letting cyclists in there - the whole point is that packed vehicles should be able to go fast, which bikes aren't. And I'm a cyclist).

All these quick wins were obvious within a *week* of the launch of the bus lane. Why did the City sit on their hands.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 15:37:15 in reply to Comment 106791

well stated on all points. Amazing to me how people forget all the way back one whole year how fast flowing Wellington-Mary was prior to the bus lane.

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By cyclist (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 15:26:20 in reply to Comment 106791

yes it's an entirely fixable problem

Perhaps the bus lane isn't the best place for bikes, but the city needs to make space SOMEWHERE because the current choices are: 1. ride right on the line between cars to the left and buses to the right and probably die or 2. block an entire vehicle lane and surely get physically harrassed or 3. don't go anywhere on king street on a bike anymore and hopefully the destination you were hoping to reach happens to be on some rinky dink side street instead because that's the only place the city wants you to be

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 16:02:07 in reply to Comment 106793

Make the rinky-dink side-streets palatable with local or city-wide Idaho Stop legislation (put up "Yield to Cyclist" signs on all-way-stops on Napier, Market, and King William if city-wide Idaho-stop isn't palatable) streets and contra-flow bike-lane on the 1-way portion of King William. Put a bike lane on King in the wider segments (places where it's greater than 3 (2+HOV) live traffic lanes wide and *especially* Locke->Dundurn).

Not ideal, but more could be done to accomodate cyclists who are going to destinations on or near King.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 15:39:38 in reply to Comment 106793

I'm unsure of the exact width of King from Bay to Locke. It appears to be around 42-44 feet. IF it is, we could do the following:

north curb parking: 8 feet bus lane: 10 feet 2 car lanes: 20 feet bike lane on the south curb: 4-6 feet.

Once west of Locke the street widens to 50 feet. Everything can remain the same but we can add parking onto the south curb in roughly a 6-7 foot wide parking lane.

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 17:46:17 in reply to Comment 106796

Of course! I forgot that permanent parking lanes are permitted to be narrow. By converting the North lanes into permanent parking width, you could probably squeeze a bike lane just South of the bus-lane in many places.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 19:03:52 in reply to Comment 106810

true. I hadn't thought of putting it there. I'm thinking the south curb would be a little safer instead of being in the middle of all the traffic lanes. But yes, parking lanes are usually in the 7-8 foot range such as was recently done on Cannon east of Victoria.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:51:39 in reply to Comment 106785

I don't think Wellington-Mary is the problem personally. It's always been a freeway until the bus lane arrived. Traffic volumes on King are simply not high enough to cause congestion with 2 lanes available. The problem is the horrid timing of the traffic lights from Mary-James. You'll notice that west of James the roadway is identical as east of James - 2 car lanes, a bus lane and parking lane. Yet traffic magically starts flying again at James all the way to Dundurn.

The city should have adjusted the traffic lights on King back when it was first suggested.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:59:12 in reply to Comment 106788

A huge part of this is that they have all these buses turning from john onto king and then turning left to james or macnab, so they have to cross all the king car lanes twice with no dedicated signal allowing them to do it quickly.

if the john buses had a dedicated turn signal into the bus lane, and all of the king buses had a dedicated turn out of the bus lane into macnab and james south, the "problem" would go away.

in fact, keeping the bus lane and putting these 3 transit signals in would probably result in better driver experience than if the bus lane was completely removed - because even if removed, the buses still would have to merge across all of those lanes to get to the terminal.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:25:31

OMG. Those are one way streets!!!

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:30:42 in reply to Comment 106772

They are indeed one-way streets, but not as we know them in Hamilton.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:27:34

The city managed to alienate its natural support base for the bus lane through an implementation that was painfully tone-deaf.

  • Removing curbside parking from the side of King that has the most intact street wall and the most retail businesses.

  • Designating the lane as a "reserved vehicle lane" rather than a "high-occupancy vehicle lane", so cyclists could not use it.

  • Failing to implement advanced turn signals for buses turning onto James and MacNab.

  • Failing to adjust traffic signal timing to optimize vehicle flow.

And so on. The people who should have been its strongest advocates were systematically ignored and alienated by how the project was rolled out.

It's no wonder at least some Councillors feel killing it is a no-brainer - it was never given a real chance to succeed.

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By Now what (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 16:47:11

So what do we do? Should we write council an email pointing out the flaws made it a non-starter? Get a petition going for the changes to be made?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 19:04:31 in reply to Comment 106806

please email all of council, yes.

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