Aberdeen can easily accommodate that traffic volume with one lane in each direction and a centre turn lane. That gives us some room to play.
By Ryan McGreal
Published October 30, 2015
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the potential to put Aberdeen Avenue on a road diet and the arguments against doing this that were raised by Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead, whose residents use Aberdeen as a cut-through route to Highway 403 and West Hamilton.
Aberdeen is a designated minor arterial street that connects the Beckett Drive escarpment access at Queen Street South to Longwood Road South and Highway 403, passing Locke Street South and Dundurn Street South along the way.
It is four lanes wide but carries only 18,000 vehicles a day. With two lanes in each direction, drivers are able to pass each other at dangerously high speeds just inches away from the narrow sidewalks.
The street can easily accommodate that traffic volume with one lane in each direction and a centre turn lane. (For comparison, the Beckett Drive escarpment access currently carries over 20,000 vehicles a day on just two lanes.)
That means we can free up a lane to make Aberdeen a more complete street while still allowing it to function as a minor arterial for cut-through traffic, albeit at safer speeds.
Another way to reduce dangerous speeding and free up space is to narrow the lanes, which are currently 3.2 - 3.3 metres wide. A growing body of evidence concludes that narrower lanes are actually safer than wide lanes, mainly because they reduce dangerous speeding.
According to City Traffic staff, Aberdeen is 13 metres wide, curb to curb. If we add in the narrow 1.5 metre sidewalks, that gives us a total right-of-way of 16 metres.
At last night's Kirkendall Neighbourhood Assocation Annual General Meeting, Ward 1 Councillor Aidan Johnson said it is unlikely we will be able to achieve wider sidewalks, so we will have to have to look at other options for making the street safer.
Using the Streetmix street design tool, we can play around with that space to come up with some alternate designs that are safer and more inclusive than the current arrangement.
Streetmix: Aberdeen Avenue, current arrangement
Right off the bat, we can look to other similar streets in Hamilton for ideas. One street that comes to mind is Lawrence Road, which is also a minor arterial and also connects to a highway - the Red Hill Valley Parkway.
Lawrence Road is one lane in each direction with a centre turn lane and painted bike lanes.
Here's how that design could fit on Aberdeen:
Streetmix: Aberdeen Avenue with bike lanes
This has the added advantage of using the bike lanes as a buffer to protect people on the sidewalks from vehicles. A bicycle passing close by is a lot less dangerous and intimidating than a passing vehicle.
This arrangement is definitely an improvement on the status quo, but if we're going to redesign the street we should aim for the best design possible, not simply settle with "better enough".
We know the most effective design for attracting more people to choose a bike for some trips is to provide physically protected cycling routes. That should be the goal for every new piece of cycling infrastructure, especially on a thoroughfare.
We have room on Aberdeen for a wide, high-quality protected cycle track while still allowing a vehicle lane in each direction with a centre turn lane.
Streetmix: Aberdeen Avenue with protected cycle track
Now we're talking!
But some residents and local stakeholders will also want curbside parking, especially around Dundurn where there are local businesses. So that becomes another demand on the street's right-of-way. Let's start with the most basic design that accommodates curbside parking:
Streetmix: Aberdeen Avenue with curbside parking on north side
Again, that's an improvement on the status quo but misses the chance to be excellent. We can make better use of some of that road space by rejigging those lane widths to add in a bike lane on the south side and a wide sharrow lane on the north side:
Streetmix: Aberdeen Avenue with curbside parking, bike lane and sharrow lane
This is pretty low-quality cycling infrastructure. The sharrow lane, in particular, will not be able to entice many people to hop on a bike and ride in mixed cut-through traffic.
If we squeeze the lanes some more we can get dedicated painted bike lanes in both directions:
Streetmix: Aberdeen Avenue with curb parking and bike lanes
The problem now is that the bike lane on the north side is running right in the "door zone" of those parked cars. That's actually quite a dangerous design: if a person in one of those parked cars throws open their door without checking for an approaching person on a bike, that cyclist will have to either crash into the door or veer out into the vehicle lane. Yikes!
But we have some more options to make this safer. One thing we can do is put the bike lane on the other side of the parallel parked cars:
Streetmix: Aberdeen Avenue with bike lane and curb parking protected bike lane
New York City has had great success with parking-protected bike lanes. They have proven to be safer and better at attracting new cyclists than unprotected painted lanes. The bike lane is still in the "door zone", but it's the passenger side so there will be a lot fewer doors opening.
But if we're putting bike lanes behind parked cars, why not protect both bike lanes?
Streetmix: Aberdeen Avenue with curb parking protected cycle track
Now we're really talking. This improves further on the "door zone" issue, because the bicycles in the passenger door zone are approaching from the front, which means a passenger will naturally be looking in the direction of any approaching bicycle traffic. Also, if a person on a bicycle does hit a door, the door will swing closed instead of being locked open.
Finally, the cyclist will be able to see if there is any approaching bicycle traffic in the oncoming bike lane instead of having to veer out blindly into a driving lane where approaching traffic is coming from behind.
I'm sure the Public Works Department will object to the narrow lane widths, but we have clear evidence that narrow lanes are actually safer than wide lanes.
We will also hear about how challenging it will be to clear snow in the parking-protected cycle track, but other cities seem to have no problem doing it. And in any case, most of Hamilton's bike lanes aren't cleared of snow anyway.
I'm not saying this has to be the final design we use on Aberdeen. My point is that we have lots of options to make the street safer, more inclusive and more humane for people living on and around it, while still accommodating the street's role as a minor arterial for cut-through traffic.
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