Special Report: Bus Lane

Council Should Support Bus Lane

I fear a future with much greater than five-minute delays to commutes along our downtown corridors (and elsewhere) if we don't support and improve the bus lane.

By Andrew Pettit
Published January 08, 2015

In December I wrote a letter to Council encouraging them to wait for the bus lane report before supporting Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins' motion to remove it.

Now the report has arrived and I'm writing to share my support for council to heed the recommendation to keep and improve the bus lane.

I'm discouraged by the comments from Councillor Terry Whitehead that the report's author was not objective and was only justifying predetermined conclusions.

"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."

Council should give greater respect and consideration to the staff hired as content area experts in their roles and the work they produce.

The accusation is particularly ironic given Mr. Whitehead's comments in The Spectator back on Dec. 9, weeks before the report was released:

But Councillor Terry Whitehead said Monday he's ready to end the pilot even without seeing the detailed statistics. "I've made up my mind," he said.

The future development of our city will rely on strong transit and the strong transportation network it will help support. Please don't take us back to the drawing board yet again.

Heed the report's recommendations and make the iterative changes and incremental improvements to the bus lane to move us forward.

I fear a future with much greater than five-minute delays to commutes along our downtown corridors (and elsewhere) if we don't.

This article was adapted from a letter to Council.

Andrew Pettit grew up in Toronto before migrating to Hamilton to study at McMaster. Back in 2006 he noticed a change in his long-standing response when asked "Where are you from?" - Toronto was out, and Hamilton has been home since. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @4Pettit.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 12:41:37

"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."

This statement is so disgusting to me. He is transparently doing exactly what he is accusing city staff of doing. Its madness. He should abstain from voting, since he's as much as said that he has a closed mind towards the issue.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 14:18:10 in reply to Comment 107691

Though i don't agree with Whitehead's position on the bus lanes or the report, I think you're off base. His constituents don't vote for him to be "objective", per se. He's there to represent them at council, and his vote is tied to what they see as their interests in the matter.

Beyond that i wouldn't hang my hat on the mantle of objectivity ... its often defiled and is an ideal that's seldom if ever realized in actual research and decision-making. How do you think we got urban expressways and one-way streets in the first place? (Yes, I'm aware there were critics at the time, but the "experts" and their studies favoured them and council approved them).

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted January 09, 2015 at 10:59:23 in reply to Comment 107698

His constituents don't vote for him to be "objective", per se. He's there to represent them at council, and his vote is tied to what they see as their interests in the matter.

I think this is a narrow, parochial interpretation of what it is to be a city counselor. These people are in council to be leaders, and sometimes that means telling your constituents that what they want is not right for them or for the city. You have to be willing, as a leader, to say "No, you don't understand the issue and what you want is not right."

Furthermore, its actually not his job to transmute the interests of his constituents to council. Being voted on to council means that for at least the rest of the term, you have the trust of your constituents to vote on any issue in the way that you think is best. If this isn't true, how did Bob Bratina stay mayor for a whole term after running on a pro-LRT platform?

I'm not saying he shouldn't vote because I don't agree with him; what I'm saying is that he should recognize that his position on the issue is not valid, and he should vouluntarily abstain from voting. Don't you think that's what his constituents would want if he held an unreasonable position that was contrary to their wishes?

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 09, 2015 at 23:45:31 in reply to Comment 107717

I think this is a narrow, parochial interpretation of what it is to be a city counselor. These people are in council to be leaders, and sometimes that means telling your constituents that what they want is not right for them or for the city. You have to be willing, as a leader, to say "No, you don't understand the issue and what you want is not right."

It's my interpretation of how it works, not my view of how it should be. Ideally, we'd get rid of counselors and have direct democracy. But then again that wouldn't address the second part of your comment. I have very mixed feelings about your notion of leadership ... technocrats have used that exact line to inflict enormous damage on urban neighbourhoods in the past. We need to think beyond just what is convenient and fits our current issue ... i don't see much evidence that Whitehead isn't representing the wishes of his constituents, and to say that leadership is over-ruling them when we (elsewhere) think they are wrong or being parochial is a dangerous view of democracy.

In Bratina's case if you voted for him because he was pro-LRT you were free to lambast him all term for his switch and vote against him in the next election (if he ran for re-election, which he didn't). He evidently felt that the electorate city-wide wasn't going to punish him electorally for his flip-flop on LRT ... we'll see if helps or hurts him when he runs for the federal Liberals in Hamilton East-Stoneycreek, though admittedly the dynamic and issues will be quite different.

Comment edited by RobF on 2015-01-09 23:57:31

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 08, 2015 at 14:29:17 in reply to Comment 107698

Imho, the biggest problem has been the failure of the public to appreciate how many people are in the buses. They see 1 bus every 5 minutes (so 4 minutes of dead time) and are enraged at the wasted space. They don't run the numbers and realize that this lane is carrying as many passengers as multiple other lanes put together and so it deserves that priority.

Or they don't care because it's nothing but poor people and students on that bus.

But in politics, perception is reality. The bus lane looks empty, and that looks like a frustrating waste when you're stuck in traffic. So yes, Whitehead is reflecting the needs of his constituents, because realistically the advocates for the bus lane (including staff) have a spectacularly hard job battling this intuitive perception.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2015-01-08 14:31:37

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By math (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 17:23:33 in reply to Comment 107699

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 19:15:12 in reply to Comment 107706

Well at least you don't mask your disdain for transit and transit riders ... I suppose you think driving is great for the city.

Ponder this, at my NA when development projects are discussed no one worries about the additional pedestrians that will come with it, the increased transit service, or the extra bicycles on our streets. What do people worry about? ... more cars/traffic in the neighbourhood.

Comment edited by RobF on 2015-01-08 19:17:27

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By math (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2015 at 10:10:20 in reply to Comment 107711

Disdain? not at all.
reality. the overwhelming number of hamiltonians get around with a car or carlike vehicle. Transit, subsidized transit is used by a very small minority. Transit is pandering to the minority and paid for by the majority. Put the standard fare at what it actually costs to operate the transit system and then do what you want because there won't be anybody on it ever.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted January 10, 2015 at 10:43:04 in reply to Comment 107758

We don't make drivers pay 100% of the cost of roads - why should transit be different?

And as for King Street, the numbers bear it out: on King, the overwhelming number of Hamiltonians are not in a car or carlike vehicle. It's pretty much an even split. My point about "5 minutes" is that it looks like the lane is underused when it's not.

edit: Further, if you'd read the report in question (which it's becoming increasingly apparent that you have no interest in doing) it shows that the King route does pay for itself. It's the suburban routes that are money-pits.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2015-01-10 10:44:56

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 10, 2015 at 10:52:10 in reply to Comment 107760

anyone who looks through the city budget documents will notice a gross budget of around 107million for transit, but an actual net budget of 53million once user fees are accounted for.

The roads budget is identical gross and net due to no user fees.

So folks without a car who use transit in Hamilton are paying 100% of their roads expansion taxes, AND 100% of the transit budget, taxes+user fees. Folks who don't use transit only chip in towards 50% of the transit budget.

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 18:40:10 in reply to Comment 107706

at 9pm there are more people on buses than cars on King St entirely. It's a ghost town, wide-open freeway.

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By math (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2015 at 10:15:26 in reply to Comment 107710

nonsense. go to king street at 9 and take a look. sure there are buses but they are practically empty. in fact I have seen totally empty buses driving on King and Main let alone some of the lesser travelled routes. Haven't seen an empty car yet. every car driving on any street always has at least one person in it

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 11, 2015 at 00:27:15 in reply to Comment 107759

Most cars sit parked ... i.e. empty for most of the day. That is a better analogy. Think of all the space we allocate in our cities for cars. I recall RTH running a piece showing what happens when surface parking is developed into a more productive use ... considerably higher assessed value and far greater tax contribution to the city. When you consider the full cost of mass automobility and all the hidden subsidies required to make it viable your argument falls apart and mass transit seems more fiscally responsible. But fine continue to cherry pick ... all kinds of things would change if we priced mobility one-to-one based on true cost.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 18:09:21 in reply to Comment 107706

In the peak hour of the morning rush, traffic analysts recorded 1,190 non-bus vehicles, which they compared to the 1,104 transit users riding in buses in the transit-only lane. If you prefer five-minute increments, those numbers average out to 92 bus riders and 100 vehicles. Those numbers are pretty close to start off with, but the non-bus vehicles occupy three lanes while the buses occupy one.

Not sure about 9 at night but the City data does shows that average hourly bus lane ridership for any hour between 7am and 6pm was 689 passengers. Even before factoring in passengers on Burlington Transit or GO buses whose numbers were not recorded as part of this study, that works out to be equal to a little over a lane and a half of peak-period vehicular traffic.

You'll find the math in Appendix D.

thepublicrecord.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/Jan_14_Bus_Lane_Report.pdf

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 17:58:04 in reply to Comment 107706

We don't have to invent numbers or math.

The report did the math by actually counting people and found that during morning rush hour at King and Bay the bus lane (counting only HSR vehicles) carries as many people as the three other lanes of cars. If they had included GO buses, Greyhound and Burlington Transit the transit count would have been higher. The number of people using transit far more than justifies dedicating one lane to it!

Rush hour is the only time that matters since at other times of the day there is absolutely no lack of space on the roads for car drivers: the bus lane makes no difference at all to travel times. And the report also found that even at the peak morning rush hour the total delay for drivers was only 5 minutes over the entire length of the bus lane, but the bus lane improved on time performance of the buses (which, again, carried as many people as three lanes of cars!).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-01-08 17:59:24

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By RobF (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 14:56:58 in reply to Comment 107699

I'm not saying Whitehead or his constituents are right.

I should also say that my comments about objectivity are not a suggestion to let relativism reign. Some arguments are stronger than others, and they deserve to be treated as such. And, as you say the vantage point from which you see the problem impacts your perspective on it. We seldom view city-building or spatial planning problems objectively for this reason ... we live in the city. We don't debate or examine problems from a detached or neutral vantage point. I want complete streets, because I want to be able to walk or cycle safely around the lower-city without fear of being maimed or killed. At present, my household is reliant on a car for economic sustenance ... I still need roads to get in and out of the core. I just don't need 4 and 5 lane one-way streets to do that.

Truthfully, I tend to be more concerned about GO service or the #4 or #2 buses, than the bus lanes or B-Line LRT, though I support both. That's self-interest. I use the former, but seldom the latter (King and Main corridor).

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 21:18:59

Four councillors (Johnson, Farr, Green and Merulla) + the mayor make only five votes for keeping the bus lane. It would be a nice surprise if any other councillors voted for it (or against Collins' motion). Possibly Johnson would, maybe Pasuta.

Does anyone have a more optimistic outlook?

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By jason (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 22:37:44 in reply to Comment 107713

I would think Ferguson will vote for staffs recommendation. He's a smart guy, level-headed, and has consistently said we'd be foolish to turn down the provincial LRT funding.

Pasuta I could see also making the right choice now that there is a good set of data and facts along with some quick fixes to the legitimate concerns in a couple sections of the lane.

Johnson and Pearson also strike me as level-headed and fact-based. Ditto for Duvall.
Plus you have to keep in mind, many councillors will want to start off the term with good working relationship with staff and the new mayor. I hope it's only these two who want to play games, politics and could care less about the city.

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 23:08:17 in reply to Comment 107715

Johnson is definitely level-headed and you may be right about Ferguson and Duvall. But Pearson -- doubtful especially given her remarks to CBC re: inconvenience of driving to work on King with bus lane.

Optimism is good though. Trying to remain hopeful this early in the four-year term.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 08, 2015 at 22:10:02 in reply to Comment 107713

1,370 days until a potential ranked-ballot municipal election.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted January 14, 2015 at 17:32:37 in reply to Comment 107714

Wishful thinking. 1,378 days.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted January 09, 2015 at 14:20:39 in reply to Comment 107714

But why would this matter? All 11 councillors running for reelection won well over 50% of the vote. There is no chance that a ranked municipal ballot will change anything at all.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2015 at 14:41:51 in reply to Comment 107727

No councillor earned the support of over 30% of registered voters, so there's that.

Then again, it's an option that council would have to endorse, so there is a good chance that a ranked municipal ballot won't even be an option.

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