Special Report: Cycling

Reasons to Build the Cannon Street Protected Bike Lanes

On Thursday, City Councillors have an exciting opportunity to approve two-way protected bike lanes on Cannon Street.

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 04, 2013

Cannon Street is a notorious four-lane, one-way thoroughfare blasting through some of the city's most vulnerable communities, bringing high speed automobile and truck traffic right past people's homes and businesses. For decades it has been a poster child for what is wrong with Hamilton's practice of prioritizing fast through traffic over neighbourhood vitality.

Transport trucks barrel down Cannon Street (RTH file photo)
Transport trucks barrel down Cannon Street (RTH file photo)

Back in May, a new campaign launched called Yes We Cannon calling on the City to install protected two-way bike lanes on Cannon Street to connect north-east Hamilton with north-central Hamilton - specifically, to connect the new Stadium with the James North GO Station in time for the 2015 Pan Am Games.

Interest and momentum grew steadily, with thousands of people signing the petition and hundreds of letters to Council.

In August, Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr introduced a notice of motion to build a two-way protected bike lane between Sherman and Bay Street. The General Issues Committee (GIC, formerly Committee of the Whole) will receive Farr's motion [PDF] when it meets this Thursday at 9:30 AM.

The GIC agenda also includes several delegation requests in support of the bike lanes and complete streets: Justin Jones on behalf of Yes We Cannon, Matt Patricelli on behalf of Young Entrepreneurs and Professionals, Joe Accardi of Green Smoothie bar and accessibility advocate Denis O'Connor.

For several reasons, City Council needs to approve this motion.

Make Cannon a Complete Street

Cannon Street is a dismal, frightening experience today, but it could easily be converted into a complete street with dedicated separated bike lanes in both directions, curbside parking to protect the other sidewalk and safer, slower-moving automobile traffic.

The empirical case for a complete streets approach is strong. The Ontario Coroner recommends it as the best way to prevent pedestrian injuries and deaths, especially among the most vulnerable road users (children and senior citizens).

In addition, complete streets are more equitable than automobile-centric streets, a fact reflected in the City's draft complete streets policy.

Protected Bike Lanes are the Best

Some people still believe that bicycles are only for recreation, but city after city has proven that when you build a continuous network of bicycle infrastructure, people use it to get around. However, the evidence clearly indicates that physically protected bike lanes are both the safest and most effective infrastructure for getting more people to choose cycling.

More people cycling means cleaner air, better public health and even improved retail business. A recent report from Seattle found that replacing curbside parking with bike lanes actually boosted local retail business, a result similar to several cases in New York City.

Plenty of Lane Capacity to Spare

Last year, the City shared some daily traffic volume counts from 2009-2010 at selected locations, including a few on Cannon Street.

Spare lane capacity on Cannon (Image Credit: Mike Goodwin)
Spare lane capacity on Cannon (Image Credit: Mike Goodwin)

On the east side of Sherman Street, where Cannon is two-way, it carries just 10,800 vehicles a day on four lanes. West of Sherman, Cannon switches to four one-way lanes westbound and carries just 9,100 vehicles per day.

That's around 2,500 cars per lane per day - when a single urban vehicle lane can carry up to 2,000 cars per hour.

Traffic volumes gradually increase as you proceed west, but even at Mary Street has only increased to 16,700 vehicles per day, a total volume for which two travel lanes is plenty.

More Effective Use of Public Space

Cannon Street is currently very wasteful in its use of scarce public space, with four lanes being used to carry relatively little automobile traffic.

Wasteful use of valuable public space (Image Credit: Mike Goodwin)
Wasteful use of valuable public space (Image Credit: Mike Goodwin)

Not only does this encourage speeding, but also it's a missed opportunity to make more effective use of the space to fill a big gap in Hamilton's transportation mix.

Dedicated bike lanes will also help reduce the city's road maintenance deficit. Cars and trucks impose orders of magnitude more wear and tear on streets than bicycles, and every time someone chooses to cycle instead of drive on a trip, the lifespan of the city's streets is extended fractionally.

Waterloo Region estimates that each 1 percent modal shift from automobile to bicycle will save the municipality $30 million in road maintenance costs over ten years.

Safer for Everyone

Automobile traffic would move more slowly with just two lanes, but that's a good thing, as fast automobile traffic is the biggest injury risk factor in the city. Protected bike lanes would make everyone safer:

Again, this is proven in city after city that invests in bike lanes: collisions and injuries go down for everyone - including drivers.

Only Continuous East-West Route

Cannon Street is the only continuous east-west route between King Street and Barton Street. There are literally no other ways to travel between James Street North and Gage Avenue North.

In its current configuration, Cannon Street is terrifying to ride on. I've been cycling regularly in mixed traffic for well over a decade and I avoid Cannon like the plague. Protected bike lanes would not only make Cannon a viable cycling route, but more broadly would make cycling a viable way to move through northeast Hamilton.

Supports Bike Share

Earlier this year, Council unanimously voted to approve a bike share in Hamilton. The success of that program will depend in significant part on the extent to which people can ride safely and comfortably between stations.

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

Hamilton's proposed bike share will provide 300 bikes in 35 stations accessible to 53,000 residents plus 30,000 students and various businesses.

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, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 10:09:23

Hopefully council is more receptive than the PB voters.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2013 at 10:31:47 in reply to Comment 91669

It seems to me that the PB choices were biased by the presence of the preselected 'compromise package', which included very little in pedestrian/cycling investments.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2013 at 13:34:24 in reply to Comment 91672

Relevant to the psychology of the "compromise"


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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2013 at 13:47:31 in reply to Comment 91690

In that vein, I recommend Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational as a fun introduction to behavioural economics. For a much deeper, more mind-blowing treatment of the subject I highly recommend Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 11:59:50 in reply to Comment 91672

I should clarify the PB process. The compromise package was agreed by the representatives from all assemblies throughout the ward. It does include the following pedestrian and cycling investments:

  1. Safe Rail Trail Access at Victoria Ave S ($100k)
  2. Pilot Project for a Network of "Urban Trail" Alleys ($230k)
  3. Crosswalk at Hunter St W & MacNab St S ($125k)

So, almost half of the total budget ($455k out of $1 million) went on pedestrian/cycling projects. It is not really fair to say that half of the total budget is "very little in pedestrian/cycling investments". This is a resident-driven process and I hope that more residents will participate in the future, both in coming up with the proposals and voting.

In any case, this will be an annual process which gives lots of opportunity to balance different needs.

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By BIKE KILLA (anonymous) | Posted September 28, 2014 at 11:48:13 in reply to Comment 91681

itll be best if the city just demolished everything and set up a whole new biking route system that allows one to travel around the whole city

OR you can always give the $800,000 right here to ME!!!

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 16:39:22 in reply to Comment 91681

I'm not a fan of the Hunter/MacNab price tag. Paint a wide zebra crossing and plop one of these in the middle of the 2 traffic lanes: http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-lQbeVDX2TXM/UD...

Viola. Safe crossing without spending $125,000

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 17:29:34 in reply to Comment 91700

I'm not either, but this is the only solution Hamilton's Traffic Department will accept for a full crosswalk, and this is the price they quoted.

The "stop for pedestrians sign" would be great except that Hamilton does not yet have any of these crossings and I don't think piloting this idea on a crossing used by seniors and small children to get to programmes at the YWCA on a fast low visibility street near Central Public School is the right way to start. And that new crosswalk solution would need be accompanied by a big publicity and police enforcement (e.g. pedestrian decoy) campaign to remind motorists that they must yield to crossing pedestrians. Not to mention the fact that the City still refuses to put signage associated with the zebra crossing where there is no stop sign or traffic light.

As with the Aberdeen at Kent pedestrian traffic light (which also cost $125k), we need to provide safe crossings at some priority intersections now, even if the longer term goal is to have a much cheaper solution. The existing signs-and-painted lines crosswalk was removed on Hunter at McNab over ten years ago and we shouldn't have to wait any longer for a safe crossing (especially as there is a pedestrian underpass there).

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2013 at 17:27:18 in reply to Comment 91700

Unfortunately, the Ontario Highway Traffic Act doesn't really provide for that level of legal protection at uncontrolled intersections. It would apply at a Pedestrian Crossover (PX), which is specifically defined under the HTA, but Hamilton traffic engineers don't like to install PXOs because of concerns about their safety record.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 13:18:58 in reply to Comment 91681

"Complete Alleys" is a pragmatic response to the slow-dawning progressive mindset at City Hall.

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By Borrelli (registered) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 12:44:41 in reply to Comment 91681

Excellent points, Nicholas. Surprisingly Cannon was barely on the agenda in the Beasley assembly (and the damn street cuts a swath right through our 'hood). The one project that was proposed was an expensive one that would only have applied to Cannon west of James, so I can see why the compromise committee didn't include it in the compromise budget.

As much as the compromise budget may rankle some, it was pretty radically democratic to allow community members sit down and weigh the pros/cons/costs of various projects. It may not have yielded the results that some folks hoped for, but I think it made the greatest number of people happy--and there's always next year.

And a word of advice for transit activists and Cannon Reformists: the projects that fared best at PB were ones that the community supporters shepherded from beginning to end. If Council won't move to do anything, then next year come out to a few PB meetings and pitch something for Cannon and get the community to support it.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2013 at 12:02:12 in reply to Comment 91681

Good point - I did not add up the value of the pedestrian and cycling improvements. My more general concern about the compromise approach is that it is inevitably going to attract more votes simply because it's a lot easier to check a single package than to cherry-pick through a long list of projects.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 11:15:33 in reply to Comment 91672

Agreed that a preselected "compromise" was problematic.

Dedicated lanes are worthy of due consideration, and I'm encouraged by the fact that GIC will be able to debate the matter, and maybe even consider following through on Putting People First's two-way conversion plans (10-15 years old), as well as the aims of Shifting Gears.

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By banned user (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 11:35:14 in reply to Comment 91675

comment from banned user deleted

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 11:51:32 in reply to Comment 91676

as well as timed lights. I remember Portland being full of one-ways. Far more than Hamilton. Lights are timed to turn RED every intersection or two.

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By matthewsweet (registered) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 16:22:29 in reply to Comment 91680

Jason, having been in Portland just last week, I can add to your comment the following:

Lights are timed on some downtown one-way streets to create a green wave FOR CYCLISTS, thereby encouraging through cycling movement and slow vehicular speeds.

In addition, as a pedestrian walking counter flow along those same streets, the timing pattern creates a walking green wave!

It's the little things that make all the difference.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 16:42:37 in reply to Comment 91698

Yes, exactly. They seem to do all these little things right. I understand why so many people are fed up with our one-way streets. Because they are highways. Yet the 3 cities that are probably the poster-children for livability, cycling and pedestrian safety in North America are: Portland, Montreal and Vancouver. And all 3 have way more one-way streets than us. But they are complete streets, not freeways. Portland and Montreal are both on record as having cycling advocates push for more one-way streets in order to allow for the removal of more car lanes and create wider and safer 2-way cycle paths. Hamilton needs to be careful before we go and turn one-way freeways into 2-way freeways. Once that happens, wave bye-bye to any hope for complete streets.

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By Core-b (registered) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 10:11:21

Excellent post Ryan. I am looking forward to the GIC meeting tomorrow morning at 9:30 at City Hall. Keeping my fingers crossed that council approves this much needed cycling infrastructure. To everyone else, if you can, attend the meeting to show your support.

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By HRT (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 11:08:25

I'm sure this project will be approved and ignored like the HSR dedicated bus lanes.
This city is all talk and no follow-through.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 04, 2013 at 11:43:57 in reply to Comment 91674

Just got an update from the City on the transit-only lane.

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By Sean Marshall (anonymous) | Posted September 04, 2013 at 12:20:30

I like to bike to Hamilton from my home in Toronto on occasion - my route is a mix of the Waterfront Trail and Lakeshore Road through Toronto, Mississauga, Oakville, Burlington and across Hamilton Beach. The bridge connecting Burlington Beach/Centennial Park over the QEW and Red Hill Creek to Brampton Street and the Red Hill Creek trail is a great piece of infrastructure.

Then I head in town as I like to go to one of the pubs on Augusta Street before putting my bike on the GO bus at the Hunter Street Station and head home. My route is Brampton to Woodward (it's annoying having to get over the curb to press the button and then get back in the left lane to turn, though), then through the park to Britannia (with the jog at Parkdale) which takes me to Cannon Street.

By the time I reach Cannon Street, it's the late afternoon on a Saturday or Sunday, and traffic isn't bad at all; four lanes one-way is definitely overkill, especially with King Street so close. Still, it's a bit scary, and I'm used to cycling all over Toronto. I'm most concerned when I'm trying to swing over to the left to turn onto Ferguson to head south towards Augusta Street and the GO Centre.

Cannon Street is simply a no-brainer for a two-way separated bike track, especially with the new stadium directly on the route. And it logically hooks up with Britannia, a logical low-traffic two-way road that provides a route to Centennial Park (maybe improve the connection with Woodward and Brampton while at it).

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By duggin (anonymous) | Posted September 05, 2013 at 13:47:58

The bike lanes are a great idea, lets not kill the project with installing two-way car lanes.

Two-way car lanes only increases motorists frustration, increases collisions, and congests things further especially at intersections or when turning into or out of a driveway, not considering the additional costs to install traffic signals of $60,00 to $100,000 at the busier intersection caused by new congestion.

We need one-way east/west streets in the lower parts of the city to get from one end to the other without all the frustration.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted September 05, 2013 at 13:59:45 in reply to Comment 91753

Two-way car lanes only increases motorists frustration

And yet somehow they work all across the Mountain and in nearly every city on earth.

increases collisions

Citation needed. The evidence is that two-way streets are safer than one-way streets, mainly due to reduced vehicle speeds.

and congests things further especially at intersections

Left turn lanes solve congestion at intersections. In any case, we're talking about 16,000 cars a day, when a single vehicle lane can carry 2,000 vehicles an hour.

We need one-way east/west streets in the lower parts of the city to get from one end to the other without all the frustration.

If you want to get from one end of the city to the other, use the city's ring highway system. City streets in residential neighbourhoods should serve everyone's needs, not prioritize the needs of fast through traffic over everyone else.

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By mikebmuller (registered) | Posted September 19, 2013 at 20:18:31

I absolutely love this. Zig-zagging my way through streets in order to travel east really deters me from ever wanting to bike east of John. Also, although the bike share plans are primarily focused on Downtown, It would be great to have one at the Mohawk College Fennel campus as well.

Comment edited by mikebmuller on 2013-09-19 20:22:43

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By rymunni (registered) - website | Posted December 17, 2013 at 01:50:08

Happy to know the reasons to build the Cannon Street. Thanks.

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