Special Report: Cycling

Hamilton Bike Box Needs Higher Profile

A year on, it's time for Hamilton to beef up the design of its invisible bike box at Studholme and Aberdeen.

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 23, 2012

Cities across North America are installing advanced stop lines, or "bike boxes", which allow cyclists to pull ahead of automobiles at red lights so they can turn left or right ahead of traffic when the light turns green.

The standards for how a bike box should be marked are still evolving and you will see various different designs in the wild, but a consensus seems to be emerging around the following: the lane is bordered in white and painted solid green heading into the box, which is also bordered and painted and has a large bicycle stencil in the middle.

Bike box in Portland (Image Credit: The Record)
Bike box in Portland (Image Credit: The Record)

When Montreal introduced their first bike box at Milton and University Street, they decided to design it this way: big and painted green, with a large bike stencil painted in the middle.

Montreal bike box (Image Credit: CBC)
Montreal bike box (Image Credit: CBC)

Similarly, the bike box Ottawa installed on Bay Street at Wellington is big and green with a large bike stencil in the middle.

Ottawa bike box (Image Credit: OpenFile)
Ottawa bike box (Image Credit: OpenFile)

The City of Edmonton even has a stop motion Lego video to introduce their bike box at 116 Street and 87 Avenue.

And yes, it's big and green with large bike stencils.

Edmonton bike box (Image Credit: CTV)
Edmonton bike box (Image Credit: CTV)

Invisible Hamilton Bike Box

Even the Longwood Road Streetscape Plan document shows a painted bike box (albeit painted blue, not green) with a large bicycle stencil.

Bike box from Longwood Road Streetscape Plan
Bike box from Longwood Road Streetscape Plan [PDF]

In comparison, our inaugural bike box is nigh invisible. Installed a year ago, the bike box at Studholme Road and Aberdeen Avenue is about as underwhelming as it gets, with no painted background and two tiny bike stencils with lines running through them.

Bike box on Studholme at Aberdeen. No, seriously, it's there. Look closely.
Bike box on Studholme at Aberdeen. No, seriously, it's there. Look closely.

You will be forgiven for not knowing this bike box existed, even if you walk or drive past this intersection on a daily basis. You can't actually see it unless you're standing right next to it.

City transportation planners argue that a visible bike box at Studholme and Aberdeen would somehow put cyclists elsewhere in the city in greater danger.

Taken to its logical conclusion, that line of reasoning would preclude the city from introducing any new street design anywhere unless it was being simultaneously introduced across the entire city. Yet Hamilton is actually pushing for the province to accept this bare-bones design as the provincial standard!

There is no reason for Hamilton not to be more of a leader in designing high quality bike infrastructure, especially given the evidence that cycling infrastructure strongly influences the risk of injury.

We don't even have to invent the stuff: it would be a huge step forward simply to copy the successful designs already in use in more bike-friendly cities. We could start by repainting the Studholme bike box so that you can actually see it.

Instead of trying to drag the provincial standards down, we should be pushing to have the standards raised to the point at which they start to make a difference in the city's balance of transportation modes.

As long as we design alternative transportation to minimize the disruption to automobiles, we will continue to suffer an automobile-centric and automobile-dependent transportation system.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 07:27:26

I'd seriously like to talk to the people who looked at various bike box designs and decided "this is what we should do in Hamilton".

This seems like another miss from city staff, or more likely shows interference from some "old guard" managers.

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By me, me and me! (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 07:30:05

Our City tends to take small steps when implementing concepts, this included. I travel in the said area often and have sadly never noticed the bike box. Being a car driver and bicyclist I haven't known my obligation to the bike box until now! ...thanks for the information!

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 07:36:44

I cant belive the city is thingking that cyclyse not paying there TAXES and not taking them seriousely and protect them as well

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted October 23, 2012 at 08:20:12

I cycle that road often and while I have noticed the bike signal sensors, I had no idea this was supposed to be a 'bike box' (something I am familiar with having used them in other cities around North America).

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By meat popsicle (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 09:43:13 in reply to Comment 82077

Because it isn't a bike box in that regard. It's simply paint on the asphalt instructing you to place your bike over the sensor. Nowhere does it imply the ability to pass on the right. The argument is moot since the area has nowhere near enough traffic to justify a true bike box, and the design does what it's supposed to do, allow a cyclist to trigger the sensor under the road when no other vehicles are present.

Good luck getting a bike box in this city with its low cycling uptake and the local custom of rolling right-on-reds. It'd be a carnage box - the city knows this and just doesn't care.

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By Conrad66 (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:31:17 in reply to Comment 82085

Monday morning i saw 2 bike caps juste going true a STOP on Cumberland and Prospect they were 2 of them a policeman and policewoman ... like i have said before IT DOSE NOT MATTER WHO YOU ARE they all break the rules

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 11:06:49 in reply to Comment 82089

did the General Hospital send the air ambulance to clean up the carnage?? Sounds reeeaallly dangerous.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 23, 2012 at 08:31:58

What's more bizarre here is the location of the box. First of all, it's at an intersection that barely has any cars. So even when it's busy it would not be a big deal to just wait behind the cars. Second of all, when would a cyclist ever turn left there? Cyclists arriving at aberdeen via studholme are coming from 3 possible places: Either from the neighbourhood by the golf course, or from the escarpment rail trail or from the new path coming across the 403. Why would any of these users want to turn left? The only people who might use this are the fringe cases of people who work at MIP. Everyone else in the city would be turning right.

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By reuben (registered) - website | Posted October 23, 2012 at 08:59:02 in reply to Comment 82079

Good point. Bike boxes are best implemented at intersections where traffic is actually an issue. Even the bike signal sensors here are unnecessary for right hand turns (with the exception that it is a bit of a blind turn so some cyclists may wait for the light).

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 08:59:31

  1. While the design is awful, I used it about a month ago, and it worked very well. As soon as I stopped, the light started changing both times. There's signs indicating there's the signal-changey stuff under Augusta at John, but it doesn't actually seem to do anything.

  2. I thought Bike Boxes worked best in areas where there are bike lanes (so the bikes can sneak up beside the cars into the box). However... there's no bike lane there, so this is kinda pointless...

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By Core-b (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 09:11:58

I'm a casual cyclist and admit that I was not aware of a bike box existence until now. Having seen the photos here, I am speechless as to how ANYONE could consider the Studholme a good design, let alone try to make it a provincial standard. WOW!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 23, 2012 at 09:56:48

I don't think that even counts as a bike box, just an information of "be here to activate the sensor".

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 10:23:06

This the worrisome part about Hamilton. It's one thing to have a bunch of old-timers who don't get the 21st Century, but when we now see our 'alternative' transportation staff (dumb name by the way...in Portland it's the 'Bureau of Transportation - shocking, walking and cycling are actual modes of transportation) doing stuff like this it makes you wonder if we'll ever leave the 70's?

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By logonfire (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 12:30:39

I am new to this blog on cycling so if this has been presented before, please excuse. However, I found it interesting in that it demonstrates what it takes for a society to recognise its need and to think longer term. The video is at the following location: www.wimp.com/cyclepaths

Comment edited by logonfire on 2012-10-23 12:31:40

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By Embarassing (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 13:21:00

It seems to be a rule in Hamilton not to do anything that distracts from drivers continuously travelling 60km/h+ on major thoroughfares --- the antiquated marking systems for pedestrian crosswalks highlight this also (and now we've painted scolding warnings in them to put the onus on those walking to LOOK RIGHT or LEFT as though any accident that would happen would be solely the fault of the inattentive pedestrian!). It must be embarrassing to watch Hamilton staff explain their methods to their colleagues from elsewhere.

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By brundlefly (registered) - website | Posted October 24, 2012 at 23:47:54 in reply to Comment 82093


The most selfish drivers I have ever experienced in my life...

Lived in ( Montreal, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto )

edited to add "The"

Comment edited by brundlefly on 2012-10-24 23:49:00

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 14:32:27 in reply to Comment 82093

trust me, no planning colleagues from 'elsewhere' are coming here. Ever. There's a reason everyone flocks to learn from Portland, and not us. Was on Main West today and had to shake my head at the bike lane over the 403 abruptly ending at Frid. Yea, because with only 5 roaring lanes of traffic ahead there's certainly no room for a bike lane.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 23, 2012 at 14:08:21 in reply to Comment 82093

"elsewhere" is an urbanist myth. There are no other cities on Earth to learn from. Hamilton isn't Paris. Everything is fine, Hamilton is perfect. Ignorance is strength. Freedom is slavery.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 14:40:02 in reply to Comment 82094

plus, we have hills here. And it snows sometimes. And rains other times. And is hot half the year. And cold half the year.....


Up Mt Royal, Montreal: http://0.tqn.com/d/montreal/1/0/F/4/-/-/...

Winter Cycling: http://urbancommuter.files.wordpress.com...

Mid-summer Cycling: http://www.ibiketo.ca/sites/default/file...

Even in the rain: http://www.flickr.com/photos/t-13/504041...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 18:38:05 in reply to Comment 82096

Plus it's inhabited by a race of aliens who don't respond to incentives the way humans do.

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By lance armstrong (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 19:10:25

My understanding is that those paintings are to indicate that a cyclist must position the bike there to be detected by a sensor which activates the traffic signal. In other words it isn't a bike box as far as I can tell.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 23, 2012 at 21:08:41 in reply to Comment 82101

I agree that this is not a bike box. But it was certainly described as a bike box in The Spec and on the City of Hamilton Cycling Education page.

From the former ...

New ‘bike box’ at Aberdeen and Studholme The new traffic signal at the Aberdeen/Studholme intersection is now operational and has a new “bike box” feature for cyclists.

... and from the latter ...

The first bike-box in Hamilton has been installed on Studholme Road at Aberdeen Avenue. A bike box is used at intersections to designate a space for cyclists to wait in front of cars at a red traffic signal so cyclists are more visible to auto drivers. A bike box minimizes confusion between left-turning cyclists and right-turning cars. The City of Guelph has created an informative video to explain how both bicycles and automobiles are to operate at bike boxes

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-10-23 21:09:20

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By adrian (registered) | Posted October 24, 2012 at 16:30:15 in reply to Comment 82105

Nice find. The piece from the City of Hamilton site destroys the argument of all the people who insisted this wasn't intended as a bike box.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 24, 2012 at 16:47:09 in reply to Comment 82133

I'm capable of believing that it's a failure of communication and somebody at the City was expecting to write a description and post content explaining the new Bike Box from the Longwood plan, and some wires got crossed somewhere.

Because the Cycling Education page describes a real bike box.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 21:07:56

It's a fairly common in Ontario to not paint the bike box in. None of the bike boxes in Toronto, Waterloo or Guelph are, so that only leaves the one in Ottawa as green'ed.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 23, 2012 at 22:09:17 in reply to Comment 82104

but at least the bike boxes in other cities are huge and painted properly.


I still prefer the green paint. Really makes the point clearly. Thankfully Ottawa isn't trying to turn Ontario into the worst bike place in the developed world. I suspect they are pressing the province to use their version as the Ontario standard...as they should.
The province never listens to Hamilton, let's hope they don't start now. This bike in Hamilton is probably the worst one on planet earth...ambitious city....

Comment edited by jason on 2012-10-23 22:09:27

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By rednic (registered) | Posted October 24, 2012 at 15:50:06

I heard green paint was on order but then the cycling department was told to cut 25$ from it's budget. After several high level committee meetings with ultra powerful bureaucrats( making 40$ per hour) eating free sandwiches (which cost 100$+ per meeting) it was unanimously decided the green paint had to go. The cost of this decision $2500$

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted October 24, 2012 at 22:27:30

I am not a fan of bike boxes. The ones I have seen in Toronto and Montreal are uniformly ignored by car drivers and not enforced by police. So they might as well not exist. On the other hand, concrete protective barriers are difficult for car drivers to ignore.

Here is a video of how to do intersections properly. Notice that there are no bike boxes in sight. See:


And for some practical examples in operation, see:


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By Sjones (anonymous) | Posted November 03, 2012 at 08:17:35 in reply to Comment 82140

Intend to agree. Bike boxes are the right idea but not the best solution.
Additionally, if you have experienced a painted bike box before you know that in wet conditions they are slippery - tricky at best and dangerous at worst. They can be like cycling over glare ice. So although this sad, little excuse of a bike box is wildly inappropriate, I might submit that a large painted box also misses the mark. The concept needs to evolve further before I can get behind it (or safely on it).

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By Fastback (anonymous) | Posted December 26, 2012 at 17:36:31

Portland's green bike boxes are a part of a years-long safety experiment, and their rollout has been watched by cities around the country trying to rework streets to make them safer. After two Portland cyclists died in right-hook crashes in 2007, the city received federal approval to try painting some of its most troubling intersections with the innovative boxes—which tell drivers to wait several feet from the intersection at red lights and always yield to cyclists when turning right.

This week, the city released a letter to the Federal Highway Administration that shows the impact of the boxes has been depressingly mixed. Although a study by Portland State University researcher Jennifer Dill shows that the boxes have increased the "perception of safety" among both cyclists and drivers, the data shows that crashes at the 11 intersections doubled from 16 over the four years before the boxes were painted, to 32 in the four years that followed.

Crashes decreased only at two of the 11 intersections, while staying the same at one intersection, and increasing at five intersections. Three intersections had no crashes before or after.

Even still, crashes are extremely rare—the worst intersection, SW 3rd and Madison, averages only 2.25 crashes a year.

It's not entirely clear what's led to the surprising spike. But the four intersections responsible for 81 percent of the post-bike box crashes (SW 3rd and Madison, SE 7th and Hawthorne, SE 11th and Hawthorne, and NW 16th and Everett) have a couple things in common. They're all on a downhill and cyclists ride through them relatively fast, at about 18 MPH.

The bike boxes seem to have fixed, at least, the problem they set out to solve: drivers right-hooking cyclists when they're both starting from a dead stop at a red light. The uptick of crashes comes mostly from situations like the one that killed Rickson—drivers turning into a cyclist attempting to pass them while biking through a "stale green."

It appears that by increasing the "perception of safety," the bike boxes could be causing cyclists to ride through the intersections more quickly, thinking they'll be safe from right-turning cars. The vast majority of the time, they will be: One bright spot in the city's data is that drivers yield to right-lane-overtaking cyclists a whopping 98 percent of the time....

"We have a tool; it doesn't work everywhere," says Portland Planning Commissioner Chris Smith, who happened to have a near-miss crash recently on SW Barbur just like the ones bedeviling the bike boxes. "I was happily bombing downhill because I could, but those cars didn't know I was there. I learned that lesson the hard way. But how do we engineer for that situation?"

The city is looking into several changes to improve the problem intersections: installing bike-only green lights (like on the west side of the Broadway Bridge), banning cars from turning right, or moving the bike lane to the left of the right turn lane (like on the east side of the Burnside Bridge). In the short term, the city will repaint the green of the bike boxes in a "broken" pattern, install yield signs, and paint a right-hook warning in the bike lanes approaching the four worst intersections.

Bike boxes aren't entirely to blame. As more people bike in Portland, the number of crashes involving bikes has increased (though, it's important to note, the rate of crashes-per-cyclist has decreased significantly). From 2004-2007, there were 188 crashes annually across Portland. In the next four years, as 6,000 more people began biking daily, the overall number of crashes increased an average of 50 percent.

Bicycle Transportation Alliance advocate Gerik Kransky points out that bike boxes have several more subtle safety benefits, like improving pedestrians' line of sight and giving bike riders a space to queue up.

"Lives are at risk, so it's easy to get passions inflamed," says Kransky. "The fact of the matter is we've designed roads where bikes have the right of way, but there are cars turning across their lane. That's a fundamental challenge."


Familiar tenor to the comment reel as well.

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