Special Report: Bus Lane

Bus Lane Foes Double Down on Decline

Collins and Whitehead want to sacrifice the enormous promise of high-quality rapid transit just so that drivers can roar through a ghostly downtown core a few minutes faster.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 08, 2015

City staff have released a report on the one-year bus lane pilot project running on King Street between Mary Street and Dundurn.

King Street bus lane (RTH file photo)
King Street bus lane (RTH file photo)

The report concludes that the bus lane has had a significant positive impact on bus times and is widely supported by transit riders. Staff recommend keeping the bus lane and making a few modifications - like restoring north curbside parking on King west of Bay and incorporating advance signal priority and advance turn signals for buses - to address the concerns that have been raised.

That's not good enough for Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins, who sent an email to fellow council members and local media announcing his intent to present a motion at the January 14 General Issues Committee to kill the bus lane.

The text of Councillor Collins' motion is as follows:

Whereas the number of vehicular accidents has significantly increased along the Bus Lane Pilot route, and

Whereas many commercial operators have been adversely affected by the implementation and operation of the Bus Lane Pilot project, and

Whereas there are no documented transit benefits listed in the Bus Lane Pilot report, and

Whereas the Bus Lane Pilot project has created unnecessary traffic congestion, causing lengthy delays for downtown shoppers, residents, workers and merchants,

Therefore be it resolved that the bus lane pilot project be discontinued and staff be directed to make the necessary arrangements to return the bus lane to a fully functional lane for all vehicles.

Collins already had his mind made up about the bus lane before seeing the staff report. He wanted to pull the plug on the pilot project in December, before the report was even completed.

Instead of revising his opinion in the light of the report's conclusions, he has doubled down on his opposition, ignoring most of the report's conclusions and misrepresenting the section on vehicle collisions.

Vehicle Collisions

Appendix F of the staff report provides a table of collision data by year for each segment of King between Victoria and Dundurn:

Collision Data by Year and Segment
Segment 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 Average
Victoria-Wellington 9 7 5 6 5 2 7 6
Wellington-Mary 7 12 6 17 7 10 13 10
Mary-James 14 18 21 23 17 21 23 20
James-Bay 10 10 8 17 17 6 7 11
Bay-Queen 12 16 14 13 18 12 20 15
Queen-Locke 5 4 4 4 11 5 8 6
Locke-Dundurn 11 14 22 16 18 17 18 17
Total 68 81 80 96 93 73 96 84

The collision totals for 2014 were higher than the seven-year average but equal to the 2011 totals and only slightly higher than the 2012 totals. It is by no means a significant outlier compared to the other years.

Quite simply, the data do not indicate whether the bus lane is responsible for a higher number of collisions or 2014 just happened to be on the higher end of the historical range of annual collision counts. The staff report makes this point:

While some increase can be observed for 2014, this data is a small sample size and it is difficult to identify or correlate collision data specifically to the operation of the TOL.

Again, if the 2014 totals were significantly higher than other years in the study, that would clearly indicate something in the street context has changed.

If the bus lane continues to operate and annual collision totals continue to be higher than the average, that would strengthen the case for the bus lane causing higher rates of collisions. As it is, there is not enough information to draw such a conclusion.

Issues Addressed

Likewise, Collins ignores the fact that the staff report recommends changes to the bus lane to address the concerns that commercial operators have raised about the loss of curbside parking on the north side of King Street west of Bay. Specifically, staff recommend restoring north curbside parking and moving the bus lane out to the second lane.

This would directly address the concerns raised by business owners, who report that their customers are afraid to park on the south side of King and then cross four lanes of traffic to get to the shops on the north side. What this clearly indicates is that the real problem with King Street is the multiple lanes of speeding traffic, not the bus lane.

Staff also want to incorporate signal timing changes, transit signal priority and advanced left turns for buses to further smooth the flow of traffic and alleviate congestion.

And the cost to implement all these changes would be covered by the money remaining in the Bus Lane capital fund, which was supplied by Metrolins through its Quick Wins fund. So there would be no impact on Hamilton ratepayers.

Documented Transit Benefits

Perhaps worst of all, Collins' motion then claims there are "no documented transit benefits" in the report, which is just false.

The report concludes that bus schedule adherence has increased across the Queenston-King-Main corridor and that a large majority HSR operators said the bus lane made their transit operations easier. In addition, most HSR operators report that the prevailing feedback from transit passengers is positive.

What has been astounding throughout the public and political debate over the bus lane is that the experiences and opinions of actual transit riders have been almost universally ignored.

The only people who seem to matter are those people who feel entitled to drive through the downtown core at high speed, even though a huge body of worldwide evidence tells us high-speed arterial traffic is devastating for a street's vitality - especially an urban mixed-use street with commercial retail fronting the sidewalk.

The report indicates that the bus lane carries as many people on HSR vehicles as the other three lanes combined carry in automobiles. That doesn't appear to include transit passengers on other services, like GO, which also use the bus lane.

That is an amazingly efficient use of scarce urban right-of-way: the bus lane is three times as effective at moving people as an automobile lane. Yet we vastly privilege the speed and convenience of drivers over the speed and convenience of transit riders.

Insulting Comments

Collins is not the only council member who opposes the bus lane, no matter the facts.

Ward 10 Councillor Maria Pearson was quoted in a CBC Hamilton article saying that it's harder to drive through the downtown on her way to work at City Hall:

If I can't drive through downtown to go to work, what's that say to business owners and their patrons?

What good could it possibly do to business owners and their patrons to have high-speed automobile traffic going though the downtown? The fact that multiple lanes of high-speed traffic are still roaring through the downtown core remains one of the biggest obstacles to its revitalization.

Meanwhile, Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead was quoted in a CHCH report accusing staff of twisting the facts to support the bus lane.

I've never believed for a moment that the individuals that have been involved in developing this report have been objective. I think they went with the mindset that this is the best thing to do and they try to justify it.

Aside from being an unprofessional way for a Councillor to speak about City staff, it does not reflect reality. The staff report cites actual data in support of its conclusions.

If anyone went into this with a fixed mindset, it was those councillors who had their minds made up long before they saw any evidence. Their opposition to this modest investment in making transit in Hamilton more viable is pandering, pure and simple.

Status Quo Does Not Work

The City has been systematically under-investing in transit for the past 25 years. Now some councillors are using the past lack of action as an excuse not to do anything to make up for lost time.

The public cost of universal driving is enormous. Everything we do to get more people to choose walking, cycling and transit over driving for some trips helps improve the City's ability to cover its infrastructure costs.

When we do invest in transit along busy corridors, the results are clear. Transit ridership along the east-west B-Line corridor has increased by 20 percent over the past five years while HSR ridership as a whole has increased by only four percent. Buses are operating at crush capacity while crowds of would-be riders are left standing at the curb as multiple overstuffed buses pass them by.

Can you imagine how high ridership would be along the Queenston-King-Main corridor if we actually provided a service with speed, capacity and headway befitting a modern city?

Yet Collins and Whitehead want to sacrifice the enormous promise of high-quality rapid transit just so that drivers can roar through a ghostly downtown core a few minutes faster. Hamilton deserves better from our civic leaders.

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. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and 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. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2015 at 11:09:51

What speaks volumes to me is how they shot down the Mayor's request to consider HOV conversion and other improvements (most of which, fortunately, staff identified independently). This forces it to be framed as a pure dichotomy of "keep it" and "remove it". It shows that providing the best service to Hamiltonian commuters comes in second to their demagoguery.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 11:10:48

This city doesn't stand a chance if this ward heeling can't somehow be offset in a way where the good of the whole city is considered above parochial politics.

These two tall foreheads have no career options outside of municipal politics so they must do everything they can to pander to their ward to ensure re-election.

Some legacy they'll have...........but I'm sure they don't care. It's all about the paycheque anyway.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 11:26:12 in reply to Comment 107672

you don't become the only depressed donut hole in the middle of Canada's most prosperous region by accident. Two words: city council.

Staff over the years have also played along, but now seem to be turning the corner and truly wanting to build a great city. Unfortuanetly too many councillors could care less about the city. Their bank account and political career is all that matters. Such a shame. We could be a spectacular city that others come to learn from.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 11:49:01 in reply to Comment 107675

City staff is starting to turn over, unlike council. New staff want to actually make a difference instead of treading water.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2015 at 12:19:20 in reply to Comment 107677

Case in point in this Spec article:

Hamilton's new transit director says the city should fix its imperfect bus-only lane with the goal of eventually expanding down the King Street corridor.

Councillors will consider a long-anticipated city report next week that recommends keeping — but tweaking — the unpopular dedicated transit lane, which runs two kilometres from Mary Street to just east of Dundurn Street.

The report doesn't explicitly recommend expansion, but transit director David Dixon noted a bus-only lane to nowhere is "not the endgame."

Nice to see in the city's brand-new transit director.

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By oldcoote (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 11:20:37 in reply to Comment 107672

Hmmmm, so what are the opinions of the councillors in the two wards that the bus lane currently passes through? Wards 1 and 2. Surely Councillors Johnson and Farr deserve input, right CH?

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By Steve (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 12:33:00 in reply to Comment 107674

Agreement doesn't provoke passion in viewers to keep watching like disagreement.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 11:45:46

The number of drivers who are going to / through downtown from Wards 5 and 8 who are now delayed by up to five minutes is likely equal to the number of HSR riders from both of those wards who are benefiting from the bus lane. Why are their voices not represented by their ward councillors?

This has less to do with ward parochialism than it has to do with car culture entitlement.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 11:51:05 in reply to Comment 107676

Maybe, but it also has a lot to do with the largest perceived group of voters...I think Collins and Whitehead believe that most of them are car-culture supporters.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 12:33:51 in reply to Comment 107678

Their belief would be fact.

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By Andy (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 11:55:00

"I've never believed for a moment that the individuals that have been involved in developing this report have been objective. I think they went with the mindset that this is the best thing to do and they try to justify it."

Is this not grounds for a defamation suit?

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2015 at 12:39:42 in reply to Comment 107679

You raise exactly the point that I was aiming to raise today on Twitter, Andy.

For Councillor Whitehead to say something like this, in essence saying that staff are lying or incompetent, is at best bullying, and at worst defamation. Either way, it's completely unacceptable, and warrants a full investigation by the City.

The way that City staff are treated is complete bullspit. When they stand up and try to institute change based on data, facts and indeed the City's own plans (Rapid Ready, Official Plan, Transportation Master Plan etc etc etc.), they get run down in the media by pandering Councillors. I've worked positively with Terry in the past, and hope to continue that in the future, but for him to insult City staff in such a public way is completely inexcusable.

Can you imagine the backlash if senior City Staff came out and said "I've never believed for a moment that Councillors Whitehead and Collins would be swayed by data and evidence meticulously prepared by staff and consultants. They've made up their minds already, and they're just trying to do the best they can to ignore the data to justify their positions."? That's tantamount to what Whitehead said. It would be CHAOS. heads would roll, resignations would be demanded, it would, undoubtedly, be the end of that staffer's career.

But staff can't say those things in public. They can only do their best to defend their methodology, their work and the work of the consultants that the City hires in boring, bureaucratic language so as to avoid the wrath of the political representatives. It contributes to a risk and change averse culture at City Hall, and creates a toxic atmosphere where people are afraid of being bullied by Councillors. I sincerely hope that the city takes action against Councillor Whitehead, and that his council colleagues recognize the importance of creating a work environment at City Hall that fosters creativity and innovation, not fear and status quo.

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By Hammster (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 12:51:21

Whitehead is a dick, no surprises there. But I didn't think Collins would be such a dick also. Notice how he's in all the public works committees. I'd like to know who is filling his pockets, because he's not representing his ward by going against improvements along the King-Main-Queenston corridor.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 13:15:08 in reply to Comment 107692

He's in all the PW committees, because his gig on the Waterfront Trust was torpedo'd during the last council term.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 13:12:14

The problem isn't the bus lane per say, the problem is the bottleneck between John and James. The bus lane is a great idea. It works really well west of McNab.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2015 at 13:15:28 in reply to Comment 107694

King between John and James has the same lane capacity with the bus lane as King between Wellington and Mary has had for serveral years.

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By CharlesBall (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 13:54:35 in reply to Comment 107696

I don't think its about capacity. It's about logistics.

Comment edited by CharlesBall on 2015-01-08 13:54:44

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By Pedro (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 15:01:45

Why are Terry Whitehead and Chad Collins suddenly in a contest to become the new Bob Bratina? Somebody should tell them that not every Council needs an embarrassing, narcissistic windbag.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 15:18:34

Ridership data in Appendix D shows that the average hourly ridership between 7am and 6pm was 689 TOL passengers — equal to a little over a lane and a half of vehicular traffic (w/o factoring in passengers on Burlington Transit or GO buses).

The worst hour of TOL usage (522 passengers 10am-11am) > the average lane of vehicular traffic in morning peak.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 15:28:52 in reply to Comment 107702

*2011 StatsCan data shows that 8% of Hamilton CMA commuters are passengers in a vehicle, so if you assume that of 1,190 recorded morning rush vehicles, 92% were one-person and 8% were two-person, that gives you 1,095 single-occupant vehicles and 95 vehicles with a single passenger, for a total of 1,275 vehicular passengers over three lanes and 1,104 TOL passengers in one.

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By Oppositional (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 16:44:24

What RTH says makes sense, but pleaaasssseeeeee...stop supporting what makes sense because Council doesn't like your logic. They vote against you just to vote against you.

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By Double Down (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 17:11:17

In all fairness to Councillor Collins, there are a lot of 11's in that collision data, so perhaps that is why he had no choice but to double down. Also, I heard Terry spewing this unprofessional nonsense on CH TV last night. Eleven people must have called him to complain.

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By ianreynolds (registered) | Posted January 12, 2015 at 21:15:42

I'm no traffic engineer or anything but isn't nearly a quarter of all this year's accidents at the Mary St. intersection where cars pile up? Couldn't that be adjusted with a simple tinkering of the lights? Or a number of other possible tweaks that aren't "Completely abandon transit"? As others have said, this year wasn't even an outlying year. If anyone wants to argue it's caused more accidents they'd be wrong.

So many of the proposed alterations address the issues of the anti-TOL folks and they still just want to say no. They don't want to admit that this works so they'll plug their ears and hide, all while collecting paychecks from the very folks they're avoiding.

I do a good amount of driving because I work out of town, and I'm still completely in favour of the bus lane. My routines haven't changed, nor have my shopping habits, and I've taken the bus a number of times down King St. As a driver and as a passenger I love the lane, which isn't supposed to jibe with their complaints.

Did anyone hear anything back from Maria Pearson when pointing out that it doesn't even make sense for her to take King St.?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted January 13, 2015 at 07:15:16 in reply to Comment 107786

Please consider writing a letter to council to share this excellent analysis.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2015-01-13 07:15:29

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2015 at 20:26:47

Re: "Whereas the Bus Lane Pilot project has created unnecessary traffic congestion, causing lengthy delays for downtown shoppers, residents, workers and merchants"

My math could be a bit off, but if three non-TOL lanes at King & Bay accommodated 1,200 vehicles in the peak morning hour, that averages out at 400 vehicles per lane over a 60-minute sample. Even if half of that hour is burned away waiting for the traffic lights to change, that works out to be a single vehicle in each of three lanes passing through the King/Bay intersection every 4.5 seconds — that's what, 30 km/h in the heart of the 10th largest city in Canada during the second-most congested vehicle-congested hour of the day?

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