The report recommends keeping the lane and making changes to improve overall traffic flow, provide transit signal priority and restore curbside parking on the north curb west of Bay Street.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 07, 2015
this article has been updated
The agenda for the January 14, 2015 General Issues Committee is up, and as expected it includes the staff report on the King Street bus-only lane pilot project.
King Street bus-only lane (RTH file photo)
The bus-only lane runs for two kilometres westbound on King, starting at Mary Street and stopping just before Dundurn. The capital cost was covered by the Province of Ontario out of the Metrolinx Quick Wins capital fund.
The City received $300,000 in Quick Wins money to install the pilot, and has spent roughly $184,000 of that money. There is enough money left over either to implement staff recommendations to improve the bus lane or to cover the $100,000 cost to remove the bus lane altogether.
The report recommends either making the bus lane permanent or extending the pilot. It also recommends modifying the lane to improve overall traffic flow, provide transit signal priority and restore curbside parking on the north curb of King west of Bay Street.
The pilot started on October 23, 2013, meaning the one-year mark took place just days before the recent municipal election.
The bus lane proved controversial with drivers, who have complained about traffic delays through the downtown core, and with some King Street retail vendors, who have complained about the loss of curbside parking on the north side of King.
In December, Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins proposed killing the bus lane and giving drivers "an early Christmas present)", while Mayor Fred Eisenberger proposed asking staff to come back with some recommendations on how to fix the identified problems.
Council decided to hold off on both motions. Interestingly, Mayor Eisenberger's motion is on the agenda for January 14 but Councillor Collins's motion is not.
But for all the identified issues with the bus lane, the staff report makes it clear that it got some things right:
Even though the bus lane is only two kilometres long, it had a significant positive impact on bus schedule adherence. "If the [bus lane] were expanded along the Main-King-Queenston corridor these positive effects would be expected to increase, resulting in greater overall reliability."
Ridership along the B-Line corridor has increased by an amazing 20 percent over the past five years, compared to just 4 percent ridership growth over the entire system. The Main-King-Queenston corridor now accounts for 42 percent of total ridership on the HSR. "There is evidence that, from a transit ridership perspective, greater investment in this corridor is warranted."
The City counted the number of vehicles and bus passengers at King and Bay during morning rush hour, and found that the bus was carrying as many people as the three vehicle lanes combined (1,104 passengers and 1,190 vehicles).
72 percent of surveyed bus operators said the bus lane made their transit operations easier, and only 17 percent said the bus lane made it more difficult.
61 percent of bus operators reported that their passengers liked the bus lane, while 13 percent reported that their passengers disliked it and 26 percent reported that the feedback they received from passengers was mixed.
Of course, there was also some negative feedback:
The city received 26 comments from cyclists about not being allowed to ride in the bus lane. The staff report argues that the volume of buses is too high, and the bus lane too narrow, to allow cyclists to share it.
The business owners weren't just imagining that moving curbside parking to the south curb hurt them. "Data available for the area on King Street from Caroline to Queen does suggest that parking usage is down significantly (69%) as compared to the previous year." This is despite the fact that there are actually more parking spots now. The report suggests it is not clear whether the reduction in usage is due to moving the parking spots or replacing meters with pay-and-display kiosks.
The recommended changes, which can be funded entirely out of the unspent Quick Wins fund, should alleviate most of these concerns - especially the concerns of retail business owners.
The report includes one of the iconic overhead photos of the amount of road space used by a group of people on a bus compared to the same number of people in personal vehicles:
Road space for a group of people by mode (Image Credit: Planetizen)
Unfortunately, the city has mostly failed to achieve its goal of improving the HSR and growing ridership as a share of total trips in the city. (Jason Leach explores this in more detail in this article.)
According to the Council-approved 2001 Transportation Master Plan, the City set the goal of increasing the number of annual transit rides per capita from 40 in 2001 to 60 in 2011, and 80-100 by 2021.
The transit mode split (the share of total trips by transit) was supposed to increase from 6 percent in 2001 to 10 percent in 2011 and 15 percent by 2021.
In fact, the number of annual rides per capita only nudged from 40 up to 45, while the transit mode split increased form 6 percent to 7 percent.
As the bus lane report notes drily, "This suggests the City is lagging behind significantly in meeting its goals."
It further notes that if the City fails to drive a significant growth in transit mode split, we will be forced to spend vastly more money on increasing vehicle lane capacity.
[I]f current auto mode share trends continue, most of the escarpment crossings in Hamilton will be well over capacity by 2031. In addition, many downtown streets including King Street would operate at a poor level of service with volume exceeding capacity.
Unfortunately, our Council seems to be mostly blind to huge outlays on road infrastructure, while simultaneously boiling the ocean over comparatively tiny investments in active transportation and transit.
Council's decision on the bus lane is an important opportunity to demonstrate whether they're actually willing to put the City's impressive plans into action.
with files from Jason Leach
Update: this article originally stated that the bus lanes adds five minutes to the peak AM drive time through the corridor. It actually adds five minutes to the peak PM drive time, which is the busiest time of day. RTH regrets the error. You can jump to the changed paragraph.
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