A Narrow Focus Leads to Wide Streets

If we are to move forward in Hamilton and make real change, we must be willing to address our specific concerns in the broader context of a liveable city.

By George Sweetman
Published July 27, 2015

Today's cities are challenged with addressing a wide range of complicated and interconnected issues. The scope and complexity of issues such as infrastructure renewal, affordable housing, traffic congestion, and air quality can seem overwhelming.

Main Street West, five lanes wide
Main Street West, five lanes wide

Traditionally, the response has been for each city department (planning, public works, transit, parks, heritage, health, community services, etc.) to develop its own standards and policies to address these challenges. While at a departmental level these policies and standards make sense, cumulatively they can lead to unintended consequences.

By way of example, Jeff Speck, in his book Walkable City, designs a main street on the basis of the demands from each stakeholder:

First, we would need at least four travel lanes and a centre turn lane, to keep the transportation engineers happy. These would need to be eleven feet wide - no, wait, make that twelve feet, because the fire chief might want to pass a bus without slowing down. To satisfy the business owners, we would need angle parking on both sides (another forty feet), and eight-foot separated bike paths against each curb for you-know-who. Then we would add two ten-foot continuous tree trenches to satisfy the urban forester, and two twenty-foot-minimum sidewalks for the pedestrian advocates. ... We now have a main street over 175 feet wide, this is more than twice the normal width and about as efficacious an urban environment as a large-jet runway - and just as conducive to shopping. (Jeff Speck, Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America, One Step At A Time, p. 207)

From the perspective of each department, the input is appropriate but the cumulative result is not. Simply aggregating each demand results in a design that completely misses the goal, which in this case was to establish a vibrant main street. A more appropriate response might be to move away from merely aggregating standards and demands from special interest groups.

Here in Hamilton, we cannot address our current challenges through strict adherence to a narrow area of concern. A narrow focus can cause divisions and draw lines between people, such as those who live on the mountain and those who live downtown, between motorists and cyclists, between long-time residents and new residents.

If we are to move forward in Hamilton and make real change, we can no longer ignore criteria beyond our area of concern. We must be willing to address our specific concerns in the context of a liveable city and that may mean widening our field of view and focusing on outcomes, not inputs.

George Sweetman has been a civil engineer for 30 years working in land development and renewable energy, as well as teaching university students. He volunteers at various organizations focused on food security and affordable housing.


View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 27, 2015 at 12:13:34

Wide streets and narrow sidewalks. Very pedestrian unfriendly.

And very bike unfriendly -- biking on Main/King is downright scary, whether done on the speedy road or on the narrow sidewalk.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-27 12:15:38

Permalink | Context

By CyclingHamilton (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 11:23:48 in reply to Comment 113096

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 12:43:47 in reply to Comment 113116

Cycle on Main/King? With narrow lanes, no cycle margin, and 80kph cars where I am? No thanks.

(BTW, where did you get this fiction that Main/King are good cycle paths for everyone?? Remember, this is the section where Main/King has beautiful synchronized green lights allowing you to speed many kilometers from Gage Park to 403 non-stop without a red light.)

Even the SoBi GPS route heatmap (see 5th chart image, east edge, 750 GPS trackers on bikes for 3 months) east of downtown, shows cyclists clearly obviously avoiding the fatal sections of Main/King and instead taking either Cannon (to the north) or Stinson/Delaware (to the south). So you see, GPS proof proves you wrong, Main/King are terrible bike routes as the population does not feel safe enough to take these routes.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-28 12:55:17

Permalink | Context

By CarolineLC (registered) | Posted July 28, 2015 at 13:06:18 in reply to Comment 113119

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 13:11:00 in reply to Comment 113123


Traffic lights are synchronized for flow at 60 kilometers per hour.

The average Hamiltonian cannot cycle that fast. Maybe you can. Not many of us.

Try again, bud...

Also, cars often speed a little, so we see 70kph and 80kph cars 'catching up' from the tail end of the synchronization to catch up to the lead-end of the synchronization.

Yes, I cycled on Main/King -- but rarely and only if absolutely necessary. But I so much prefer the Cannon route, or the Stinson/Delaware route (which allows me to go safely underneath some Victoria & Claremont mountain access).

I am a car owner, home owner, property taxpayer, SoBi user, bike owner, and thus am fully familiar with the multimodal issues of Main/King. I am not a "bikenazi" nor I am a "carzealot" and recognize the issues.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-28 13:27:36

Permalink | Context

By roadrash (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 15:01:31 in reply to Comment 113124

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 31, 2015 at 10:00:07 in reply to Comment 113135


Correct: Average may be a hair under 50kph

BUT: Eastwards 7:15pm Main St heading James-towards-Wentworth, there is definitely a speedup sequence over a kilometer covering 4-5 intersections (roughly east of James street), when you're driving eastwards, that synchronization speeds up temporarily to approx ~60kph. Even GPS speedometers on iPhones (more accurate than physical speedometers affected by tire diameter differences, air pressure, and still remains highly accurate in Hamilton urban canyon effect due to new iPhones simultaneous aggregated GPS+GLONASS ability), show sustained speedups of the synchronization for a roughly kilometer-long subsegment stretch.

Then try driving eastwards after the peak, such as at 7:15pm where you're not blocked by peak period traffic -- you'll notice the traffic light synchronization speedup pattern in a Main Street segment somewhere between James to Wentworth. Start waiting at a red light at James Street, facing east wards and you'll see the green lights eventually start to race ahead a little bit faster than 50kph (Beginning roughly after the next intersection after James, forgot if it's that one, or the one before/after). At least during some portions of the day, the speedup occurs in this very precise segment, during the evening homewards.

At some point, somebody needs to dashcam it and line-it-up with Google Map distances, and math-calculate average synchronization speeds for different 1-kilometer segments. I guarantee you that not each kilometer of Main Street has exactly identical synchronization speed, often because of minor tweaks to improve flows on the north-south streets.

I notice they tweak timings all the itme, so this does not always happen, but it has consistently happened for eastward drives somewhere between 6:30pm and 8:30pm, the whole platoon is averaging 60kph even with a police car amongst it. (car speedometer 62.5kph, iPhone GPS speedometer 59-61kph). Everyone assumes 60 is the limit when the sync'd lights are encouraging 60 for a full kilometer in one subsegment of eastwards Main -- there are no speed limit signs in this segment.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-31 10:10:24

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 19:35:50 in reply to Comment 113135

"On the other foot, Stinson/Delaware is still a rather nice ride if you have a non-pressing timetable, especially if you have the skills to stand at every stop sign and not have to unclip"

Just fine, too, if you don't try to ride a racing bike to work and or the grocery store or out to dinner - then you can just put your foot down.

A number of trollish posts on this thread appear to be deliberately mixing up the sort of utility cycling which is generally discussed here with hard-and-fast sport cycling: different activities with different rider expectations in terms of roadways, and - almost certainly - different bikes.

Comment edited by moylek on 2015-07-28 19:37:03

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 17:31:29 in reply to Comment 113135

I call McHattie on this one

I see what you did there and it's not terribly classy.

Drive it and see - if your speedo doesnt confirm this, then you should get it checked because it is wrong.

Much of this complaint is coming from first-hand experience. Countless times I'll go through a yellow light at 50 and the next one is red well before I arrive. It may simply be caused by the fact that the green wave has a few bumps and tweaks along the way and isn't perfectly consistent, but it definitely encourages drivers to floor it. You'll see that behavior many times.

Permalink | Context

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted July 28, 2015 at 12:04:04 in reply to Comment 113116

Apart from the fact that it is dangerous and illegal to ride on the sidewalk in Hamilton (but it is legal in Burlington), the rest of your comment must be tongue in cheek (or deliberately provocative)!

These roads are extremely unpleasant to cycle on for anyone except a dedicated bike courier-type road warrior. Maybe that's why you don't see many cyclists on them.

How often have you tried cycling from Westdale to downtown on Main, for example? Or in the other direction on King? I used to do this quite regularly in the mornings and evenings because it was the most direct route, but it was not a pleasant ride, more of an adrenaline rush, with cars honking, overtaking dangerously and with dangerous lane changes to avoid the curb lane that turns into a right turn only lane lane at various points. Not to mention the need to change lanes to avoid stopped delivery vehicles and the dangerous curve to get onto the 403 bridge on King (where fast moving motorists don't signal their intention to change lanes to the freeway on-ramp).

You don't mention the need to get across three lanes of fast moving traffic just to turn left (or stop at the light and walk your bike like a pedestrian)! This is convenient and comfortable cycling?

Why do you think Cannon was basically unused as a cycle route until the bike lane was installed, despite having all the features you claim make it perfect for cycling?

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-07-28 12:05:07

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 12:57:24 in reply to Comment 113117

Cannon's bike lanes not nearly as unused as much anymore.

Yes, sometimes it is quiet. But so is car traffic on Cannon in the late evening too. A more useful is the bike:car ratio, and target ratio of 1:3 for the bike:car lanes ratio (1 lane vs 3 lanes), is a more useful metric, and the time-of-day.

Riding from James North to Sherman Ave, for the first-ever time I saw MORE TOTAL BIKES THAN CARS ON CANNON at 10:48pm on Tuesday July 14th for the whole length. I even passed 5 SoBi bikes! So the bike lanes carried more bike traffic then the entire width of Cannon in car traffic -- during that late evening ride! This was the first time I saw this happened.

Cannon's slowly getting more popular (east of downtown, at least). When you drive offpeak on Cannon east of downtown during a beautiful day, the bike:car ratio now fully justifies the Cannon bike lanes. The tumbleweeds don't roll on those lanes nearly as much! It may be quiet at some parts of the day, especially during peak, as many of us ride after work, or are students who don't ride with peak traffic flows, and others are early-morning or late-evening commuters to/from the GO stations (like me). Or evening riders.

Lately the Cannon bike:car ratio is starting to look generous after-sunset-but-not-too-late in the post-peak period when almost no cars drive on Cannon. Consider McMaster/Restaurant/Bar/Pub/Jackson Square/James Street/Downtown store employee timings, rather than typical Hamilton car commute timings, and Cannon bike usage correspond more towards that.

That said, I agree York Blvd bike lanes are very, very quiet in comparision to the improvement we see now on Cannon, let's see SoBi expand coverage to Burlington and Royal Botanical Gardens, and see how bike traffic improves, along with other fixes/optimizations we can do.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-28 13:10:21

Permalink | Context

By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted July 30, 2015 at 02:18:21 in reply to Comment 113121

I have my doubts about your counts of bikes and cars on Cannon. I drive on Cannon all the time and have never seen anything close to as many bikes as cars let alone more bikes. There simply aren't enough cyclists out there to get more bikes than cars.

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 30, 2015 at 08:45:30 in reply to Comment 113179

I hereby prove you wrong.

YouTube Video proof, from my iPhone:

It's a very car-quiet moment and bike-quiet moment.

As I was riding a bike, I couldn't run longer than that, but I hereby rest my case. The platoons of cars were only 4-5 cars each during every green light cycle but there was 7-8+ bikes per platoon passing cycle (Approx 1 minute or so green light cycles). Granted it was a stadium event night -- and you had to be driving towards the stadium during a moment a stadium event was ending, but this is a genuine moment where total bikes passed exceeded cars passed when I was riding James-to-Sherman. But the fact that cars don't exceed bikes nonstop 24/7/365 -- and the ratio is gradually improving during non-car-peaks. In a couple or three years, we will no longer need stadium events to see Cannon bikes exceed cars, but there you go, buddy!

Buddy I own a car. When I drive, in the middle of a dense one-way platoon surge, I totally agree with you, but when you ride a bike the whole James-to-Sherman length in a direction opposing the end of a stadium event, you realize how empty the space between the car platoons are!!! This is where the slow turtle trickle of bikes sometime. exceeds as seen in this video proof!!! !!! !!! Full Stop.

Your turn!!!

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-30 08:57:09

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 30, 2015 at 10:22:34 in reply to Comment 113181

...and I'm not just talking about a single 30 second moment. But the WHOLE westwards bike ride from James St North to Sherman Ave == (total bikes passed exceeded total cars passed) == first time in history for me, Tuesday July 14th at 10:48pm

Yes it is still a RARE moment at this time.

Yes it was biased by a stadium-finish moment during stronger-than-usual PanAm stadium parking restrictions.

But YES it happened. From James-to-Sherman!

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-30 10:29:56

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 30, 2015 at 10:38:54 in reply to Comment 113186

And, I've now seen major ratio shifts (car:bike, even if cars still outnumber) during specific massive Gage Park events, and some other event-assisted surges.

And, sir, as a fellow driver, I want to point out the obvious, you cannot drive a car westwards on Cannon, and when driving eastwards, you're usually stuck inside a platoon cycle of cars so it looks denser than it really is (when offpeak, 80-90% of the space between platoons can become empty) -- the platoons are often more than 5-7 blocks apart in some sections -- and the low-density bikes on a 5-to-7-block-span can sometimes outnumber a dense half-block-long offpeak car platoon. A single bike in one block, zero bikes for one block, four clustered bikes next block, one bike next block, then a cluster of two bikes, then zero bikes for a block, then a surge of 5 bikes next block. It's sporadic and low density. But car platoons are often 10cars-0cars-0cars-0cars-0cars-0cars-0cars for a multi-block span during the rare really low-car-traffic quiet moments. Massive emptiness between Cannon car platoons when locomoting yourself westwards (foot or bike) on Cannon. Especially offpeak. See? It looks crowded when you're boxed in the middle of a 10-car offpeak Cannon car platoon, three cars ahead in all lanes, a car to your left/right, and four cars behind you in all lanes. And, sir, as it stands now, I drive Cannon versus bike Cannon 50%:50% ratio, and while I agree cars on a daily basis outnumber bikes as a Grand Daily Total, this isn't true for select half-hour periods on specific days on select exact moments of specific months. If you drive Cannon once a day, you have a 95% chance of missing these special event-surge-assisted occasional Cannon bike moments where for a full solid moment like 15-minutes to 30-minutes, total bike can traffic (and just did 22h48/2015-07-14) outnumber car traffic.

Slowly, these moments will increase, and maybe happen twice a month. Or even once a week. Who knows? Next year? Within five years? However, there is no doubt that these moments will slowly increase in likelihood over time.

(...Hmmm, at some point, I'll have to get a GoPro to slap onto handlebars, and record continuously like a dashcam to collect additional video evidence safely -- though that may be hard when I'm spontaneously deciding to do a SoBi+GO commute, or riding light to James Street without a bag, and don't have the camera to slap onto the handlebar...)

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-30 10:59:49

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Dalaine (registered) | Posted July 27, 2015 at 12:56:51

This article makes an excellent point. Specialization seems to be a symptom of capitalism and the drive for 'efficiency'. Not only is city planning and design ruled by narrow specialization now, our health care system is ruled by specialists to the extent that they forget about the whole body and just focus on an organ. Our industrial agriculture system also focuses on maximizing 'efficiency' with huge fields of mono-crops to the detriment of the soil. These are just a couple of examples of narrow thinking that result from a lack of holistic vision and leadership.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted July 27, 2015 at 13:30:04

Another unintended consequence of generalized very wide streets (for emergency services) is that resulting the lower density means that emergency vehicles need to travel further on average negating the advantages of higher speed.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 27, 2015 at 15:12:49

Let's observe that car speeds on Lower City's Cannon street hasn't slowed down despite surrendering one lane to bikes. Even if tumbleweeds sometimes roll down the bike lane soemtimes before (albiet not as much now, with more bikes).

With the SoBi surprise success, the Cannon bike lanes definitely look more busy this year than last, with both SoBi and non-SoBi bikes. Not as busy as a Toronto bike lane, and may have been installed somewhat half-heartedly, but suffice to say -- the Cannon bike has proven itself and is now here to stay.

Now if we can inch a little more progress, we might even -- heaven forbid -- put bike lanes on Main/King within our lifetimes. Maybe. Maybe not. Perish the thought.

Car owner in me: Blasphemy! Ridiculolus thought! I love the sync'd green lights!!

People-friendly street in me: Go for it! Protected bike lanes on Main/King by 2035 on one side, bumpout parking on the other side, complete with lovely brick-patterned sidewalks!

Okay, I stop dreaming. Let's revisit this when we begin installing LRT lanes and we're dong Main/King detours (e.g. temporary 2-way Main experiment during LRT construction).

For now, small realistic steps -- let's extend Cannon bike lanes contiguously to Gage Park, and put bike lane stripes on Delaware/Stinson (there's some already, but let's extend full bike lane protection from Downtown GO all the way to Sherman, connecting to SHerman bike lanes that connects to Cannon. And extend Cannon bike lane to Gage. And put bike lanes on Gage going southwards from Cannon to Gage Park. Finally we'd have a safe protected commute from Gage Park to Downtown GO. We're already 80% of the way there with Cannon/Stinson/Hunter, we need to fill the gaps, with Sherman/Gage/Delaware. Just look at the SoBi heat map, Delaware is well used by SoBi bikes according to GPS records.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-27 15:28:29

Permalink | Context

By CarolineLC (registered) | Posted July 28, 2015 at 12:59:46 in reply to Comment 113100

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Permalink | Context

By kevlahan (registered) | Posted July 28, 2015 at 13:17:06 in reply to Comment 113122

Your comment that you are riding at almost 50km/h on Hamilton's downtown streets immediately shows that you are in a tiny minority of bike riders.

What you're really saying, is that you are an aggressive racer who likes the thrill of riding extremely fast and doesn't mind the dangers and discomfort of riding with fast moving platoons of one-way traffic.

Almost no other cyclists are like you, especially not the recreational and commuting cyclists we're talking about here. And the evidence from everywhere is that most people will not ride bikes in mixed traffic, especially mixed traffic of the type on Hamilton's wide multi-lane one way streets.

The fact there are a few outliers who like riding at tour de France time trial speeds on these streets is irrelevant. Are you really claiming that reaching professional time trial speeds (around 50 km/h) on major arterials is some sort of attraction for most cyclists? You do realize that the average speed for a tour de france pro is about 43 km/h on flat terrain. The average speed for a commuting cyclist is around 20-25km/h.

All the serious road cyclists I know ride in the country, not on Main and King!

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2015-07-28 13:23:50

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 13:30:41 in reply to Comment 113125

There are certain sections where the synchronization has a an apparent speedup to 60kph instead of 50kph. Whether or not this is an accidental or intentional timing issue (if 50kph is the official city sync speed), but flowing equal speed with a platoon of ten adjacent car drivers, while green light occuring two blocks in front, and it keeping the same speed flow at 60kph instead of 50kph (neither dangerously racing the light nor falling far behind the light to begin passing yellows).

Either way, I'd sooner my kids ride on Cannon or on Delaware/Stinson (With strictly trained left/right turn awareness) than ride Main/King.

Yes, Main/King is bikeable by a few. But not by the masses.

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-28 13:40:46

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Frank Bee (anonymous) | Posted July 27, 2015 at 16:44:39

The city does have standard cross sections that were generated using input from all departments. The issue is that they haven't been changed in forever.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By TnT (registered) | Posted July 28, 2015 at 00:34:02

I hope this comes to pass.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By j.servus (registered) | Posted July 28, 2015 at 13:51:24

I was under the impression that Hamilton's solution to this dilemma was to hear only the traffic engineers. Maybe there is a different template in Lloyd Ferguson's neighborhood, but here in the central east side the urban forester, the pedestrian advocate, the cyclists, and even the shopkeepers don't seem to have been heard.

Permalink | Context

By mdrejhon (registered) - website | Posted July 28, 2015 at 14:51:49 in reply to Comment 113129

Does anyone have a chalk-drawing cart (Athletic Field Marker) -- the type used for drawing lines on grass for soccer fields?

A temporary test chalk bike lane -- needs to be chalked in and videoed for youtube. Chalk imprints of bike logos, with stencils and chalk dust powder. Same for a few other locations where a block or two "breaks up" a bike lane with not even a single sharrow. In some places it is just a residential area without traffic markers so cars wouldn't hug the lane, and these would be near kid-filled areas, so would be safe places to test a clandestine bike lane.

Chalk drawing laws vary a bit, but as far as I know, it's legal on a Hamilton residential street (correct me if I am wrong). There appears to be no current municipal bylaw that prevents chalk artwork that happens to look like a bike lane, especially since it would actually temporarily enhance safety. Citizen-built crowdsourced temporary bike lane!

Comment edited by mdrejhon on 2015-07-28 15:04:55

Permalink | Context

By KevinLove (registered) | Posted August 03, 2015 at 16:26:45 in reply to Comment 113134

Or just use pavement tape. Easy to put down and take up. Here is a source.

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

There are no upcoming events right now.
Why not post one?

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools