It's time for the City of Hamilton to be at least as progressive about cycling infrastructure as the editor of a magazine for driving enthusiasts.
By Ryan McGreal
Published July 10, 2015
We have been arguing for some time that the City should be accommodating cycling as a matter of course every time we build or rebuild a street. The many overall net benefits of increased active transportation are just too important to leave out of our road construction policy:
and so on. A recent economic analysis using data from Copenhagen found that the total cost per kilometre of driving - including externalized costs borne by society as a whole - is €0.50 ($0.70 Cdn) for a kilometre of driving, compared to €0.08 ($0.11 Cdn) for a kilometre of cycling.
Looking at the social cost-benefit analysis, each kilometre driven costs society €0.15 ($0.21 Cdn), whereas each kilometre cycled actually represents a net gain to society of €0.16 ($0.22 Cdn).
So it only makes sense that we would apply the principle of routine accommodation for cycling to our road network. Still, we were a bit surprised to see that Norris McDonald, the editor of driving enthusiast Wheels Magazine, agrees with us:
Many municipalities, including the city of Toronto, are building marked bicycle lanes on some roadways. It's a good start - but it's not enough.
It's time to stop the talking, the debating and the arguing and to do something daring. It's time for every municipality in the GTA, within reason, to create bike lanes on every street and road.
McDonald goes so far as to argue that where possible, those bike lanes should be physically protected from automobile lanes:
[A]s well as painting lines on the road, the bike lanes I'm talking about should be segregated, either by built-in pylons or a concrete curb like the lanes recently opened on Queen's Quay in downtown Toronto.
Taking knee-jerk opposition to change head-on, he writes:
Although anything that involves change is difficult in the beginning, repetition breeds success. Witness the never-ending traffic jams when the reconstruction of the Gardiner Expressway was taking place. Unbelievable in the beginning, drivers eventually learned how to cope.
Again, this is the editor of a magazine for drivers about cars. But he clearly understands that the benefits of bike lanes are not limited to cyclists:
[D]esignated bike lanes work both ways. They would make things safer for motorists as well as cyclists. I say this as someone whose heart is in my throat every time I have to pass one. When there is a designated bike lane, I'm comfortable that they'll be in it; if there's no lane, I never know where they might be.
Bike lanes make cycling far safer and more comfortable for cyclists, and they reduce conflicts with motorists.
They also go a long way toward normalizing bicycles on the streets. They remind motorists that cyclists have a right to be there - which many motorists accept only grudgingly, and a few still don't accept at all.
By giving cyclists respect and space, cycling infrastructure also encourages cyclists to behave more predictably and follow the rules of the road, rather than doing whatever is necessary to survive in a hostile environment.
When even the editor of a driving magazine is making the case for bike lanes everywhere and a special focus on protected lanes, how can a city like Hamilton remain stuck in the legacy mindset of treating cycling as an annoying afterthought?
Our Cycling Master Plan is overdue for a rethink to address the most glaring faults of the city's fragmentary, low-quality cycling network: it does not incorporate routine accommodation, it defaults to minimal painted lines, it does not emphasize connectivity, and it fails to engage the cycling community.
And that is not even to mention its very long, slow construction timeline, which is already years behind schedule!
As a snapshot, look at the current list of projects 'in the works' on the City's Cycling web page. Here they are, grouped by infrastructure type:
Only one of these projects can reasonably be regarded as physically protected from automobile lanes, and it is a measly 330 metre stretch that only connects to existing infrastructure on one side (Trinity Church). The Trinity Church lanes, in turn, only extend 500 south to just past Pinehill. A plan to extend them another 1.6 km south to Golf Club Road was canceled because there was no budget to pave the shoulders.
We can basically ignore the two sharrows projects. Sharrows are not bike lanes; they are merely bicycle stencils painted onto regular automobile lanes to remind drivers that cyclists are allowed to use them. To the extent that a trip is only as bikeable as its least bikeable section, sharrows are a significant point of failure in the quest to get more people cycling.
Sharrow on Cannon west of Melrose: the 'Don't bother - oh, you didn't' of cycling infrastructure (RTH file photo)
For some reason the bike lane on Winterberry is only going to be one-way southbound, even though Winterberry is a two-way street.
The bike lanes on Herkimer and Charlton are also going to be one-way lanes (eastbound and westbound, respectively). Even worse, they are postponed indefinitely because durand Residents had the temerity to demand better than the City's design, which was to put painted lanes right in the door zones of parked cars.
The lanes were supposed to be installed last fall with no public engagement. When the community came back with a request for safer parking-protected lanes, the City's only real response, after months of radio silence, has been to de-prioritize the lanes indefinitely.
Ironically, the project that has pre-empted the Herkimer and Charlton lanes is Queensdale Avenue between Upper Wellington and Upper Sherman, which the City's page says will merely be sharrows painted on mixed traffic lanes. (The proposal to add actual bike lanes on Queensdale was vetoed by the ward councillor.)
This is an engaged, active neighbourhood whose residents were excited to work with staff to develop a better solution, but their desire for engagement has not been reciprocated. Aside from one meeting in which no new plans were presented, staff have been silent on the status of the lanes, offering no feedback on what changes, if any, have been made to the design.
It really feels like the Durand community is being punished for daring to advocate for protected lanes instead of settling for the kind of dangerous door-zone painted lanes that cities which are serious about cycling stopped building many years ago.
Meanwhile, we have an amazingly successful new bike share program and the City has shown no interest in improving cycling connections through the bike share service area.
The only really high quality cycling infrastructure built in the past few years was the Cannon Cycle Track, a two-way physically protected bike lane running between Sherman and Hess. It's not an accident that it was approved by Council only after a huge citizen engagement campaign and was designed by an outside company,
We can't even get bike lanes on Cannon east of Sherman that connects the Cannon Street Cycle Track to the bare-bones painted lanes that start east of Lottridge and run just four blocks to Gage.
Meanwhile, the entire block of Cannon west of Lottridge has a right-turn lane - on a street with a total traffic volume of around 9,000 cars a day. What a waste of space and an unfortunate display of the City's priorities!
Right turn lane on Cannon eastbound west of Lottridge (RTH file photo)
The new bike lanes on York west of Hess are a bit better, but the City still adamantly refuses to add physical protection - despite the fact that they're buffered lanes and there's plenty of room to add bollards.
There is also effectively no way to go south from the Cannon Cycle Track through Central or Strathcona neighbourhoods. The bike lanes on York do not connect with the bike lanes on Dundurn, and there are no decent southbound routes west of Dundurn.
There is an excellent opportunity to use all the wasted space on Hess to add a southbound bike lane that connects to Peter Street. But in a move that defies all comprehension, the City prefers to literally strike out the excess asphalt with diagonal hash marks than to add a bike lane.
Hashed-out area of Hess Street between York and Cannon (RTH file photo)
You can't even make this stuff up!
Enough is enough. It's time for the City of Hamilton to be at least as progressive about cycling as the editor of Wheels Magazine.
with files from Nicholas Kevlahan
You must be logged in to comment.