Transportation

Off the Chain: City Bike Garage Needs to be More Convenient

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 05, 2008

this blog entry has been updated

The city just unveiled a new secure bicycle parking facility on the first floor of the York Boulevard Parkade, and plan to open a second facility in the Convention Centre parking lot in late summer.

Funded by Metrolinx and implemented by the public works department, the new facility is 12 by 20 feet and can house 40 bicycles.

It's great to see the city taking more initiative in supporting cycling. The work of alternative transit advocates in the public works department is starting to bear fruit.

I'd love simply to celebrate this as a great initiative, but its present incarnation poses some drawbacks that could undermine its uptake and use.

First, most cyclists place a big premium on dor-to-door convenience, the ability to lock up right in front of - or even inside - their destinations. This is especially true downtown, where there's no shortage of light standards, signposts and parking meters in front of every building.

To put it bluntly, the marginal cost in effort to park one's bike a block or two away from a destination may be higher than the marginal return of increased security compared to a bike lock around a pole.

Parking Fees

To make up for this, the city would have to go out of its way to make the facility as accessible, convenient and easy to use as possible. Instead, they've piled on an additional burden: you need to buy a permit to use it.

Yes, the city is charging $40 for a permit that will last the rest of 2008. (You can purchase a permit by calling the city at 905-546-2424 x1437.)

How many cyclists will be willing to pay for parking when they can already park for free just about anywhere downtown?

I could see this appealing to a few city employees working at the City Centre with really expensive bikes. However, the fee eats into one of the biggest benefits of cycling - its sheer affordability compared to driving.

I ride a "beater" to work specifically to make it less valuable to potential thieves, and from talking to other bicycle commuters, I know I'm not alone.

Doomed to Fail?

I fear that the city may be implementing a good idea (investing in cycling infrastructure) such that it ends up counterproductive. I'm afraid of the day that council throws up their hands and says, 'Well, we tried, but people just aren't interested in cycling,' the way Councillor Lloyd Ferguson has already done with regards to the scarcely-usable bike lanes on Golf Links Rd.

It's the same with the bike lanes that the city has timidly added in a few places - most recently along York Boulevard west of Dundurn St.

Granted, the York Blvd bike lanes are a dramatic improvement. they're wide enough to provide a space buffer from vehicular traffic, and the slower speed limit (plus single lane in each direction) has made the stretch much less intimidating.

However, much as the York Blvd bike lanes improve on the previous arrangement, a line painted on the street does not a bike lane make.

Real, working bike lanes that get lots of people out of their cars are grade-separated behind a curb or other barrier, painted in bright colours, and above all continuous. Again, I applaud steps in the right dirction but isolated bits of bicycle infrastructure are useless until they connect across the city.

If the city wants this to work, it needs to:

Update: the subheading originally read, "Designed to fail", and an alert reader pointed out that this isn't a fair characterization. Jump to the change.

Update 2: It's not just the subheading. I wrote this piece from a negative point of view, as several commenters have correctly observed, and it really needed some rewriting to reflect more accurately the positive work that has been done by cycling advocates inside and outside the city government.

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 lorne (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2008 at 16:14:21

While I agree that charging to park one’s bike works against encouraging people to be less reliant on their cars, I am not as willing to share your view that this is a program designed to fail. When one considers the retrograde thinking that has characterized city planning for so long, any steps taken, however timid and tenuous, deserve some encouragement.

Similarly, although there are no barriers to separate the new bike lane on York Boulevard from car traffic, I tried it out for the first time the other day and found it a much more pleasant experience than trips of the past. In fact, none of the bike lanes in the area, with the exception of King Street West, have barriers, but my trips on them have been positive.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2008 at 16:36:56

You're right, my wording is unfairly harsh.

I don't think it's deliberately designed to fail; I know some of the people involved and they're genuinely trying to get people out of their cars.

Unfortunately, the political will to commit fully and do it right is lacking from the city's leadership. Instead, we get half-measures that aren't enough to bring about real change - painted-on bike lanes, bike facilities that charge fees, and so on.

Now we can look forward to more letters to the editor of the Spec complaining about tax money going to bike facilities that no one uses.

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2008 at 16:41:50

this article just seems like complaining, i have to say i am dispointed. i think it may just be time to celebrate a good thing, or even a good effort.

the city deleted a lane of traffic for the york blvd bike lanes. a bold move. and it does make cycling that route much easier and safer. sure, a completely separate lane would be nice, but we have to start somewhere. an entire cycling system cannot be built overnight.

while i dont think a parking garage like this one really fits hamilton very well (this type of infrastructure works much better in larger cities with centralized cores and limited parking such as chicago -- talk to me again when hamiltons surface parking is covered with occupied office space), if you state that these initiatives were designed to fail, i think you have given up completely on any effort the city makes.

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2008 at 16:52:55

wow, i should refresh before i post!

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2008 at 17:38:06

Hi, I think I'm leaning towards Ryan on this one, particularly in light of the fee that is being charged. The issue of non-continuous bike lanes is also important. While it is easy enough to navigate Hamilton's roads in a car, things get a little confusing on a bicycle, particularly if, like myself, the gear ratios on your bike don't allow you to go very fast, and make it very uncomfortable to navigate the quasi-freeways which are Main and King streets. I applaud anything Hamilton does to improve cycling and transit infrastructure, but can't help wondering if cycling would be taken more seriously if the city were not able to boast so many kilometers of bake lanes (many of which are close to useless). Having said that, Hamilton seems to be a city in an accelerated state of transition, and can expect a few growing pains along the way. Furthermore, it's not as if other large cities (Vancouver and Toronto come to mind) have solved the problem of cycling in the city core.

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By kwijibo (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2008 at 19:07:20

I really feel that the negative tone in this blog post. I praise the city's efforts to implement the new bike parking area, although it might not be directly at the door, it will be secure, something that could sway someone from the outer rings of the city to bike to the market on the weekends.

My only point of contention with this project is that the bike facilities are not available on a daily, or hourly rate, something that might appeal to shoppers who dont intend to use the facility on a frequent basis.

A final point about the bike lanes, a physical barrier is not always the safest solution! cars have to pull further out from intersections to see past the bike lane barriers and in doing so create obstacles for cyclists using the route. Also, they are more expensive to put in place, and not to mention they are usually not cleared in the winter (unlike on street lanes which can still be cleared with routine snow removal). I suggest you do some a quick search through the academic literature on the advantages/disadvatages of certain bike facilities before you post your opinion.

I just dont agree with what you have posted here. I am a strong supporter of the city's recent cycling initiatives, and unless you can propose real solutions to public works regarding these issues then dont bother complaining about it on this blog.

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By adam (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2008 at 19:24:51

Because of the recent cycling lane additions I can now safely bike to work. Before I wouldn't have dared try cycling on York Blvd. I won't ever use the bike garage, but will continue chaining my bike around the city directly in front of my destination. I agree with Ryan, the bike garage is a stupid idea.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2008 at 19:35:13

Ask yourself: if you were an office worker commuting in from the mountain, Ancaster or Aldershot, and working all day, would you be satisfied locking your bike to a post? If you had a "really expensive bike" (a nice racing bike makes a lot of sense if your commute is over 10km and make $70K/year). This kind of facility does make a lot of sense in that case. Or even if you're coming in from the east end and want somewhere safe to leave your bike for a few hours while you meander around the shops, instead of bringing your bike from place to place.

This kind of facility makes a big difference for workplaces in cities like Vancouver.

The only drawback I can see is that most office buildings are south of King St., other than the City Centre, and thus all would be closer to the bike garage which already exists in the Jackson Square parking lot.

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By Mitch (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2008 at 20:04:03

From someone who worked very closely on this project and conducted a significant amount of research on these types of facilities in the early days of this initiative I must disagree with such negative opinions on the current bicycle infrastructure improvements. As with any new initiative there are many issues that arise from such projects that were addressed in today's opening speeches. This is only the first of hopefully many secure bicycle parking facilities in Hamilton and as more continue to be added and through trail and error these "qwerks" will be worked out of the system.

I am very impressed with the City's initiative on cycling initiatives and feel they need some recognition on the efficient uptake of sustainable transportation infrastructure in Hamilton versus complains on how they've "missed the target... again" These facilities do work however they involve a positive change in mind set regarding bicycle infrastructure and one must realize it is not always feasible or even possible to locate such an advanced secure facility on the doorstep of every Hamiltonian's destination.

I do agree that a hourly or day access to the facility would definitely increase the market usage. Such suggestions will be addressed as the City furthers the implementation of the Metrolinx funded secure bicycle parking facilities. I would recommend contacting the City (905-546-2424 x1437) to discuss these suggestions constructively.

It could be worse, they could have chosen do to nothing...

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By geoff's two cents (anonymous) | Posted June 05, 2008 at 20:48:11

In light of fresh criticism, I should reiterate my applause for the fact that the city is taking action to encourage cycling, however perfect/imperfect that action may be. Main/King streets are still vexing but, given that these things take time, I suppose it's worth putting up with the present frustration at seeing everyday woefully underutilized cycling routes across the 403 (and hearing people continually cite this lack of use as a reason to protest having their tax-dollars "wasted" on environmentally-friendly initiatives); one can assume that, with such apparent enthusiasm in city hall for cycling (as manifested in the bike garage), the infrastructure will be vastly improved in the relatively near future. This is encouraging.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 05, 2008 at 22:18:07

Hi All,

I just want to point out that I agree with the comments above: this blog post was too negative, even unfairly so. Re-reading it a few hours later, I found myself thinking, 'Holy crap, I'm a squelcher!'

I was feeling very negative in general when I wrote this, and it came out much more than the issues themselves warranted. I've tried to revise the piece to make it fairer, balancing the problems with the very positive facts of these initatives.

I'm truly sorry for disparaging the very hard work of dedicated citizens and staff who have tried to make it easier and more pleasant to cycle in Hamilton.

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By Bee (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2008 at 00:22:07

I'd heard of this through the commuter challenge, and would have liked to have been there, but didn't know where it was. It's easy to be skeptical of the location, it does seem a little out there, but don't forget that plenty of motorists pay plenty of money to park in that same lot every day, and make the same walk to their workplace. I'm glad that we're now able to share the luxury of a roof over our vehicle of choice.

As for the York St. lanes, I had begun to think they'd forgotten to make them. Now that they're in place, and looking great, I might just have to find a reason to go to Burlington.

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By Tha Apprentice (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2008 at 01:58:42

It's to your credit that you can admit when you made a mistake and fix it without covering it up. That's why I like this blog, your honest and you try to be fair.

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By xxyy (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2008 at 10:08:43

Does anyone know what happened to the bike lockers that used to be at the Eastgate Square transit terminal?

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By Lurkalicious (anonymous) | Posted June 06, 2008 at 11:10:19

Well, THIS is more like the RTH we've come to know and love, positive but constructively critical. For a minute there I thought the evil alternate-dimension Kirk had taken over the Star Trek convention!

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