Special Report: Cycling

Boost Bike Share Success With Complete Street on Cannon

With Council's approval of the Hamilton Bike Share proposal, Cannon Street represents both a severe accessibility challenge and an exciting opportunity for improvement.

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 20, 2013

At today's General Issues Committee meeting, City Councillors approved the bike share proposal [PDF] they first saw at the February 25 GIC.

Council referred the plan back to staff at the end of an all-day meeting that mainly focused on the city's B-Line LRT plan.

The bike share proposal makes a business case for a network of 300 bikes at 35 stations between west Hamilton and downtown, a catchment area reaching over 53,000 residents, plus 30,000 students and various businesses.

The $1.6 million capital costs would be fully funded by earmarked Metrolinx money. The operation would then be run by a private company and would be self-funding with 3,000 annual subscriptions plus 0.5 non-subscribed trips per station. Those numbers are realistic, given comparisons to other similar cities with successful bike shares.

Hamilton's model would be a "4th generation" bike share system, like the Bixi model used in Montreal and Toronto, which incorporates lessons learned from cities that already operate bike shares. Those lessons include minimizing losses due to theft and vandalism by requiring credit card access and tracking location of bikes with GPS.

Council pushed back on February 25 due to fears about liability (and likely sheer exhaustion), but approved it unanimously today, despite some misgivings raised by Councillors Terry Whitehead and Tom Jackson. Jackson said he would take a "leap of faith" and support the plan.

Bike Share and Bike Lanes

The potential service area and suggested station locations spans an area from McMaster University through downtown to the Stadium and Ottawa Street.

Bike share potential service area map
Bike share potential service area map

A major cycling challenge Hamilton still has to overcome is to ensure that its streets - particularly streets within the bike share service area - are safe and accommodating to cyclists.

In particular, Cannon Street represents both a severe accessibility challenge and an exciting opportunity for improvement. To put it bluntly, Cannon is crying out for some love after decades of neglect and abuse.

The Stadium district an important redevelopment node, the proposed placement of a bike share station there, and the Pan Am Games are happening in 2015. As cycling advocates have been pointing out, it would look very good on Hamilton to have a continuous bike lane network between the James North GO Train station and the rebuilt stadium in time for the Games. We may even be eligible for some capital funding from Metrolinx.

Jason Leach has written about turning Cannon into a complete, cycling-friendly street, and I'd like to post some thoughts on this based on the traffic volume data we managed to obtain from the City last December.

Cannon Traffic Volumes

Cannon goes from four lanes of two-way traffic east of Sherman to four lanes of one-way traffic west of Sherman. Looking at traffic volume counts from 2009-10, Cannon carries 10,800 vehicles east of Sherman (2,700 per lane) and 9,100 vehicles west of Sherman (2,275 per lane).

West of Mary, where it is still four lanes of one-way traffic, Cannon carries 16,700 vehicles (4,175 per lane).

For comparison, here are the per-lane volumes of some other streets, all two-way:

So what can we do to tame Cannon and make it a safer, more welcoming and more complete street for cyclists and pedestrians as well as for drivers?

Separated Bike Lanes, Two-Way Traffic

We can remove one lane of Cannon to build separated bike lanes - the safest and most effective type of cycling infrastructure.

If automobile traffic volumes stay the same, the street would have to carry 3,600 cars per lane (east of Sherman) and 3,033 cars per lane (west of Sherman) - a very low per-lane traffic volume for an arterial city street.

Even west of Mary, where current volumes are higher, removing a lane would mean the remaining lanes have to carry 5,567 vehicles per lane (again, assuming traffic volumes don't go down) - still lower than the city's high per-lane volume streets.

In addition, there is absolutely no reason not to convert the full length of Cannon to two-way automobile traffic at the same time. It's already two-way east of Sherman, and somehow the world does not end.

Meanwhile, the one-way stretch that runs west from Sherman really is a cannon - a violent device that hurtles cars and transport trucks at dangerously high speeds through both residential neighbourhoods and the James North business district.

We know for a fact that the volume of traffic simply does not warrant four one-way lanes. A more humane design would provide more flexibility for motorists, a safer environment for pedestrians, real accessibility for cyclists and safe, traffic speeds for local residents and businesses.

Add Curbside Parking

Let's round out the street improvement and dedicate the other curb lane for curbside parking. Now Cannon is down to two traffic lanes, though the curbside parking can be pushed back from intersections to allow a left turn lane.

East of Sherman, current volumes would mean 5,400 daily cars per lane - basically in the middle of the pack for Hamilton arterial streets. West of Sherman, curent volumes would mean just 4,550 cars per lane.

If you want to know what that looks like, look at Concession east of Upper Gage, which is one lane in each direction and carries 4,700 cars per lane.

West of Mary, current volumes would mean 8,350 cars per lane, which is closer to the high end of per-lane volumes on city streets. The city could mitigate this by prohibiting curbside parking during rush hour.

Complete Street on the Cheap

Essentially, we have turned Cannon into a complete street.

It wouldn't have to be expensive, either. You can block the bike lanes with planters, which simultaneously makes the street more attractive and signals drivers to slow down.

This is absolutely achievable between now and 2015, and it would make an enormous difference to the quality of life of people living, working and travelling on the street.

Speed, Volume and Induced Demand

Finally, the numbers above assume traffic volumes won't change if we change the number of lanes, but that is very unlikely. The evidence strongly demonstrates that traffic volumes are subject to the law of induced demand, or the tendency for additional lane capacity to generate additional traffic.

The reverse is also true: when you reduce lane capacity, some of the traffic simply disappears. This effect has been observed in dozens of cities across North America and Europe. As one engineering study summarized:

Many cities, either not provided with dissuasive modelling forecasts, or disbelieving them, have introduced measures to reallocate road space away from cars.

In general, they reported that there has often (but not always) been a fairly short period of traffic disruption, but that 'gridlock' or 'traffic chaos' are rare, and never last longer than a few days, as traffic adjusts relatively quickly to new conditions. Sometimes there has not even been a short-term problem.

Unfortunately, while induced demand is well established among engineering researchers, it does not yet factor into the traffic studies of most municipal traffic engineers. As a result, they default to "self-fulfilling predict and provide planning", as transport planner Todd Litman puts it.

In addition, the carrying capacity of additional traffic lanes is subject to the law of diminishing returns. That means the average carrying capacity per lane goes down with each additional lane.

All in all, the evidence strongly indicates that transforming Cannon Street into a complete street will not only make the street safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike - because adding bike lanes to a street makes it safer for all users - but will actually result in an overall reduction in automobile traffic.

Of course, with dedicated bike lanes and safer sidewalks, some trips currently taken by automobile will shift to those other modes, providing net social, economic and environmental benefits on both sides of the equation.

Really, what on earth are we waiting for?

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 jason (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 03:19:50

Great piece.

Kind of a small image, but this is what you are proposing:


I'm familiar with the lane widths of Cannon and at the very minimum we have a total of 40 feet to work with. It may be closer to 42-44, but for arguments sake, let's use 40 to be safe.

With the above image as a template, we could transform Cannon with an 8-foot 24-7 parking lane on the north curb, a 10-foot westbound travel lane, a 10-foot eastbound travel lane, a 3 foot buffer with bollards, curbs and planters and a 9-foot, 2-way bikeway. The lanes would be 4.5 feet each direction.

As I wrote about in the previous Cannon St piece, despite the blandness of Cannon, we actually have ample sidewalk space to add planters with native grasses, flowers and street trees along it's entire length.

Like this:

Suddenly Cannon becomes a safe, vibrant street suitable for all modes of transportation.

I like your idea to have some turning lanes at busy intersections by eliminating the curb parking near corners. However, I don't see any reason to remove curbside parking during rush hour. The simplest solution to balance the traffic through this area is to finish the conversion of Wilson Street all the way to Sherman. Wilson should simply have 1-lane each way, with curb parking on both sides. If necessary we could remove the curb parking during rush hour only.

Let's do it!

Comment edited by jason on 2013-03-21 03:23:45

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By shmee (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 04:45:39

It doesn't even have to cost money. Sell the naming rights

"Canadian Tire Bikeway"

in exchange for funding it.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 13:20:31

The entire bike master plan should be revisited now. There are no-brainer projects that don't even appear on it. We have so much space downtown and maintenance of bike infrastructure is so much cheaper than maintaining driving lanes, it's just economically and socially insane to not get on with the conversions. Everyone complains about taxes but many have no concept for the cost of providing the extra wide lanes that our drive-thru city is built around.

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 13:22:10

By the way, we are supposedly getting two way bike lanes on Hunter soon, which is great. But it really makes one wonder - why not just make the street two way for everyone? If you are going to invest in the intersection changes, just move the yellow line from inside the bike lanes to the middle of the street. There is nowhere near enough traffic on Hunter to justify it's configuration.

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By shmee (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 14:04:03 in reply to Comment 87421

A contra-flow bike lane is safer than a with-flow bike lane for cyclists.

No cars sneaking up on you from behind, eye contact with all vehicles.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 14:02:53 in reply to Comment 87421

I'm curious to see the final cross section plans for Hunter. I've looked at the data, and Hunter only needs 1 car lane. If the rationale for leaving it one-way is to provide the 2-way bike lanes on the south curb, 1 traffic lane and 24-7 curb parking on the north curb, then I'm fine with that. If they remove ALL street parking, I will have a big problem with that. We need complete streets, and if we want people to stop building parking lots and front lawn driveways we need to provide street parking everywhere possible. Not to mention, curb parking enhances the safety for pedestrians. This recently happened in Buffalo on a street with similar traffic volumes as Hunter, and they went with this configuration:


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By mikeyj (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 16:05:21 in reply to Comment 87427



Not as continuous as hoped for, but it's progress.

*The data gets updated nightly, so the project could possibly have more specific details tomorrow, or be removed if cancelled/delayed beyond this year.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 23:46:49 in reply to Comment 87436

I notice it still shows no lanes between James and John. A city rep told me they will mix bikes with cars through here because in their minds, they can't lose a lane of traffic, despite the crazy low traffic volumes. sigh...

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 17:00:48 in reply to Comment 87436

Don`t forget Laurence road is marked and Stintson

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 17:02:57 in reply to Comment 87438

Oh and Cumberland Ave is a bike route but no lane marked

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By rednic (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 13:44:38

The map is really great. Not a single bike share station in ward 3 until you get to the 'stadium node'. Kind of the same as the GO busses tearing thru Ward 3 but not a single stop. I guess every one in that area owns cars.

You won't fix Cannon till you fix ward 3.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted March 22, 2013 at 18:08:46 in reply to Comment 87425

I know how ward 3 not an uption for city hall i guesse you should stop paying Taxs nothing is getting done in ward 3

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 13:57:52 in reply to Comment 87425

"You won't fix ward 3 till you fix Cannon."


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By TreyS (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 18:54:21 in reply to Comment 87426

and Sherman and Wilson. Wilson halfway two-way is a disaster.

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 14:50:23

The Grand Lady is comming back to life The Royal Connaught

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By Conrad664 (registered) | Posted March 21, 2013 at 15:29:13

Hey Ryan ... lets hope its done by 2015 if its note done by then it whould be nice to get some fedback from POEPLES FROM AROUND THE WORLD OF THE PAN AM GAMES what they think about are ONEWAY streets

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By Myrcurial_notloggedin (anonymous) | Posted March 23, 2013 at 00:34:28

Ryan, to make truly complete streets, have a look at Cannon immediately to the east of Ottawa. I dare you to walk along either sidewalk. Go on, I'll wait till you notice the abject errors of the city's planning department there.

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By jason (registered) | Posted March 23, 2013 at 02:22:26 in reply to Comment 87468

Cannon is just begging for a 'Better Block' experiment like this:


Take the stretch of Cannon west of Ottawa where there are still somehow some retail shops - variety store, Ranko's Deli, Crash Landing, and an Italian grocery market whose name escapes me at the moment. Take the above example and create the bumpouts, trees, patio area and curb parking on both sides of Cannon, not just one side. Viola. Just like that, the street becomes a safe, complete street and these businesses suddenly gain a bunch of easy parking, space for patios out front, shade trees, flower gardens, safer traffic flow and all of this adds up to a recipe for success instead of having businesses hang on for dear life along a freeway until they owners finally retire.

Here's some real life examples of such streets:





This should be our redesign all the way down Cannon, Main, King etc....

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