We need streets that work for everyone

I read an article by Samantha Craggs of CBC Hamilton. She reported on a design report that was being presented by Hamilton city staff to the Public Works Committee (made up of some City Councillors).

After reading the news article I decided to sit down and watch the committee meeting. I was dumbfounded by some of the ignorant and absurd comments made by some of the members of the committee. In the end, the motion to receive the report was defeated 6-4, sending Staff back to the drawing table. Meanwhile: “The (bike lane) project is still alive, but the vote showed weak support for it on the committee,” Craggs reported.

Some of the concerns brought up by some members of the committee need to be addressed.

I have a car. I use it to get to my job which is not on a public transit route. I also have a bike. And a Sobi account. I also have a Presto card, so I take public transit too. And I walk. All of these modes of transportation must work together to ensure a safe commute for everyone.

The order of priority in terms of safety is: Pedestrians, cyclists and then motor vehicles. This is because pedestrians are the most vulnerable and the most likely to suffer the consequences of poor street design and driver inattention.

Cyclists have the middle ground. They need to be aware of pedestrians but also have to be wary of car traffic. A collision with a pedestrian is far less catastrophic than with a car. This is why both pedestrians and cyclists should have protection from motor vehicles. Cars come in last, not because their drivers are any less important or don’t need to get places, but because a collision with a cyclist or pedestrian is going to be far less damaging to that vehicle than it will be to the pedestrian and the cyclist.

Remember, everyone deserves to get to their destination as safely as possible.

The top concern brought up by the committee was pedestrian safety and how that will be maintained if bike lanes are added between Catherine and James Streets. The specific concerns were in regard to those with mobility issues if the parking/drop-off and taxi lay-by is moved to the north side of the street and the existing short-term parking is removed (around 33 spots).

Note, in the video they keep referring to the parking as moving to the south side of Hunter Street but the short-term parking from what I understand is being eliminated and the taxi lay-by/passenger drop off is moving from its current location on the south side to the north side of Hunter Street, across from the GO Station.

As it stands right now, Hunter Street does not have any pedestrian controlled crossing at McNab or Hughson. Even an able-bodied person such as myself has had to do the mad dash across Hunter Street to access the front entrance of the Go Station.

There are several benefits to redesigning Hunter Street between Catharine Street South and McNab Street South.

  • Pedestrians will finally have controlled access to cross the street. They will be able to stop traffic and cross much more safely than currently is possible.
  • Cyclists will have a complete cycle lane, so they do not have to dodge into Hunter Street car traffic, dodge people stepping into or out of vehicles as they arrive and leave the Go Station. Nor will they have to zig-zag through side streets to pick up the bike trail on the west side of James Street providing a more continuous biking experience, just like the car traffic.
  • With the drop off location on the north side of Hunter Street, passengers can exit the vehicles, in most cases, on the sidewalk side and cross at the new pedestrian-controlled intersection.
  • Additional parking and drop off options already exist on the south side of the station, via Haymarket Street. And with the newly designed Go Station bus area, pedestrian traffic is more tightly controlled and safer to avoid negative interactions with buses. There is even a ramp for those who have mobility issues but are comfortable travelling greater distances but perhaps have trouble with stairs.

A committee member commented that hardly anyone cycles in Hamilton, suggesting perhaps 100 people do and that Hunter Street sees very little bicycle traffic.

Hamilton has thousands of cyclists and while it is true that the number drops during the winter months, people still do cycle. They deserve to get to where they need to go too despite the weather, safely.

With regards to limited cycling on Hunter Street, the reason is because it’s too dangerous. I ride out of my way to Cannon Street or up to Charlton (which is also not segregated until west of James) to go west, even though Hunter would be much more convenient when travelling to mid-town. Just like induced car demand happens when you expand highways, it would seem reasonable that the same process would occur with safer bike lanes.

Another point brought up was the concern with a “pinch point” where Hunter approaches McNab Street just west of James Street South. I have ridden that section and that pinch point exists now with parking on both sides of Hunter Street. There is actually a blind spot as you crest the hill which is dangerous for everyone. The removal of parking and the addition of bike lanes won’t change that. One suggestion could be to reduce the speed there to 40km/h or even 35km/h if not already done so. The slower the traffic, the less risk of death for pedestrians and cyclists alike. The addition of the pedestrian controlled intersection at McNab will increase safety for pedestrians which currently doesn’t exist.

One comment that really irked me was the question of how anyone goes shopping on a bike and how do they carry the heavy bags. My answer is that you make it happen. I didn’t have a car for five years because I couldn’t afford one. I went shopping with my bike as the bus route was not a convenient option. At the time, I bought a used bike from New Hope Bikes because I couldn’t afford a new one. I managed by purchasing a used rack and a set of panniers for the back of the bike. I carried a backpack as well. I also purchased fewer items but went more frequently. I even balanced full grocery bags on my handle bars! You simply make it work!

Another issue brought up was with the removal of parking stalls and how it would affect those who drive down to the visit the market or to catch a train/bus to get to work. Those parking spots are short term parking and would not be feasible for someone who has to be away for a day. So that is a moot point. Secondly, the City has a very large five storey parking garage on York Boulevard across the street from the market. There is also underground parking at Jackson Square. Perhaps it has changed but last I checked, you could get one hour of free parking at the parkade just by getting your ticket validated by a vendor. There is street parking everywhere downtown and several very large surface parking lots that still exist.

Just because one does not see a cyclist every time they step out the door does not mean that they’re not there. Just like car lanes have peak times, so do bike lanes. I agree that our cycling infrastructure is haphazard right now. Introducing a new cycling lane, or rather the completion of one, between Catherine and McNab streets does not create a competing interest that isn’t already there.

The choice to underfund HSR transit and the cycling master plan over the decades (and the recent cancellation of the LRT project by the Province) has increased the reliance on the car and has made it more difficult for people to get around our city without one. That is the existing competing interest.

It isn’t a war on cars, it’s a war on anyone that dares to not own a car. The roads are dangerous because Hamilton has so many one-way highways and insufficient infrastructure for any other forms of transit. If the City wishes to fix that and protect our most vulnerable citizens, we need streets that work for everyone, including cyclists.

To summarize, the current situation on Hunter Street is as follows:

  • Broken bike lanes that end before John Street which requires cyclists to jump back in to fast moving traffic on Hunter
  • 1 lane of car parking on north side
  • 1 lane of cab lay-by and passenger drop off with a left turn lane on the south side of Hunter Street
  • 2 lanes of car traffic
  • Zero pedestrian crossing signals at Hunter and Hughson
  • Zero pedestrian crossing signals at Hunter and McNab
  • Difficult to cross Hunter to the Go Station for anyone during rush hour
  • Sidewalks
  • Fast traffic which prioritizes car traffic over pedestrians and cyclists

Summary of proposed changes:

  • Bi-directional bike lanes to close the missing gap between Catherine Street and McNab Street
  • Sidewalks for Pedestrians will still exist
  • Addition of pedestrian controlled crossing signals at Hughson
  • Addition of pedestrian controlled crossing signals at McNab
  • Remove 33 short term parking spots on the north side of Hunter Street
  • Move taxi and drop off area from the south side to the north side of Hunter Street
  • Reduction of through traffic down to what appears to be 1 lane with a left turn lane for James Street. This which will slow traffic and create a safer area for both pedestrians of all abilities and cyclists.

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