Special Report: Cycling

Recall Our Streets by Reclaiming Unused Lanes for Active Transportation

Some of our most grossly overbuilt streets are perfect candidates for a road diet, with a green boulevard separating the roadway from a new biking/walking path.

By Jason Leach
Published April 08, 2014

In light of the successful motion at yesterday's Public Works Committee meeting to explore areas where we have excess road capacity, I thought I'd share the following observations/ideas.

Some of our most grossly overbuilt streets are perfect candidates for a road diet, with a green boulevard separating the roadway from a new biking/walking path.

Cootes Drive

Consider Cootes Drive between McMaster University and Dundas, a street that's hard not to speed on because it's designed to work like a freeway.

Let's slide the road lanes beside each other and add turning lanes at Olympic Drive and reduce the lane capacity from four lanes to two.

Now take all the leftover space and great a green buffer with native-growing greenery and trees suited to that marshy area, and build a wide, beautiful bike/pedestrian corridor right to Dundas.

For an idea of how it could look, here is the site of the old elevated West Side Highway in New York City:

West Side bike path (Image Credit: Blogger)
West Side bike path (Image Credit: Blogger)

Woodward Avenue, Eastport Drive

South of Barton, make Woodward is one lane in each direction with a centre turning lane and curbside bike lanes. Narrow the lanes a little and create wider bike lanes right to Eastport Drive.

Eastport might be one of the most overbuilt streets I've ever seen in my life. It can easily come down to one lane each way with centre turn lane - and normal-width lanes at that.

We would free up a ton of space from the two extra huge lanes we wouldn't need anymore. Run a bike/pedestrian corridor complete with the green buffer of eventually tall trees and greenery between it and the roadway.

On the water side of Eastport, sitting areas, bird-watching areas and parkettes could be added in a couple of spots.

Parkette on the East River in New York City (Image Credit: The New Yorker)
Parkette on the East River in New York City (Image Credit: The New Yorker)

Burlington Street

This street might give Eastport a run for its money in the over-built department. Tear down the elevated portion and replace it with a boulevard-type drive with the new separated bike/walking path between Gage/Ottawa extended back to Eastwood Park and up to Woodward/Eastport Drive.

Octavia Boulevard in San Francisco used to be an elevated freeway. This could be the new Burlington Street: trees on both sides and down the middle, along with the bike/pedestrian route along its entire length.

Octavia Boulevard, San Francisco (Image Credit: Better Cities)
Octavia Boulevard, San Francisco (Image Credit: Better Cities)

Birch Avenue

Another formerly truck-heavy route that is three lanes across and seems to be completely empty every time I'm there. My sister used to live on Birch, and there was barely any traffic other than some trucks.

One full lane could become a Cannon-style two-way bike path connecting the inner city to the new Burlington Street route.

Great Opportunities

I just wanted to share some images and concepts. I realize City staff will study various streets, but with our legacy of huge streets built in our industrial heydey, we can start adding in some of the above type of infrastructure that will completely change the quality of life and image of Hamilton - without having to make painful decisions to remove lanes from traffic.

Look at the transformation in New York City over just six years - and that's a city with no excess lane capacity to spare. But they did it anyhow.

Scroll through all the slides. That's what leadership looks like.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

25 Comments

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By movedtohamilton (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 13:29:22

Great ideas!

What leadership in Hamilton looks like: "I'm exhausted by the mammoth amount of changes to transportation in the lower city"

Time to change the leadership.

Comment edited by movedtohamilton on 2014-04-08 13:29:41

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By slodrive (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 13:30:34

Awesome shot of the NYC example. Personally, I find the argument for these lanes gets stronger when cities with winter are included.

My only question would be Burlington Street. Certainly agree that there is excess roadway there -- some of which could certainly be closed. But, given the industrial facilities on both sides of this street (...at least for the eastern portion) is it worth much attention? I know cleanup and renewal has to start somewhere (and, of course, its still a good example of how a reconfiguration could work), but I think enhancing areas where there's residential/ commercial benefit would be the best places to make improvements.

Very cool...thanks for sharing this!

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 13:49:28 in reply to Comment 100036

The inclusion of Burlington Street is for a few reasons. I'd be curious to hear what others think.

  1. It was one of the streets mentioned in this new staff report that will be prepared. The elevated sections are going to need a complete overhaul, or come down in the next 3-5 years. So, while we're doing major work there, let's rebuild it in the way we want/need.

  2. It provides the only complete east/west link from the West Harbour to Lake Ontario with such ample space to create a separated, tree-lined bike/pedestrian route. You may have noticed the new multi-use path on the south side of Burlington St from Ottawa to Gage. Imagine landscaping it better and adding rows of trees, and continuing it from Ferguson Ave to Eastport.

  3. Image. Even though there are a fraction of the workers in this part of the city compared with 50 years ago, it is still a QEW exit ramp that thousands of people from Niagara and Toronto take to come to Central/East Hamilton, Pan-Am Stadium, West Harbour etc.... what a great sight for folks to see a once-drab industrial freeway replaced with a 4-lane, tree-lined street with a superb bike/pedestrian route across it's entirety.

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By KevinofDundas (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 13:48:38

I agree! In principle. But Cootes Drive kind of already has one of the nicest, widest, completely partitioned bike lanes in the city.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 13:52:35 in reply to Comment 100038

Yes....but not as wide as you think. I was on there last week, and some of the narrow sections we had to be careful with only 3 or 4 cyclists passing each other at once. It's certainly nothing like the NYC example above.
And, the road is horribly overbuilt. It could lose a lane each way, and have the median shrunk a little and create a great green buffer between the live lanes and new, wider bike/ped path on the south side.
Keep in mind, one of the most important aspects of this new motion that was passed is to look where we can take lanes out of circulation that will save the city tons of money. Cootes is a great candidate for that.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 08, 2014 at 13:53:02

The thing is that Cootes Drive already has a pleasant separated bike/pedestrian path. To me the big thing Cootes Drive needs is that overpass/ramp structure deprecated and converted into a vanilla intersection with some calming next time bridge maintenance rolls around. Honestly, an overpass for a parking lot?

I used to commute to Steelcare Plant 19 along Eastport, and the lack of sidewalks or bike lane or anything stinks. It used to be better when the Port Authority was open, but now they've closed and secured the pier gate. That said, Eastport does carry a lot of traffic when the Skyway is inhospitable due to extreme weather, but bypasses that see only occasional use don't need to be fast.

To me the biggest opportunity is the Clairmont Access. Humongous beast that carries about the same amount of traffic as the 2-lane Beckett Drive. The downward side is already reduced down to 2 lanes because of retaining wall issues and it hasn't affected it a bit. You wouldn't even need to change how it's ploughed, unlike the Cannon bike-lanes debate.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 14:02:55 in reply to Comment 100041

Totally agree about Claremont. Thankfully it was also mentioned in the motion yesterday. A concept was published here:

http://www.raisethehammer.org/article/20...

And I should mention, I agree with the couple comments here so far that Cootes is already decent-enough. In order of priority, I'd have Eastport/Burlington/Claremont way ahead of Cootes.

But I wanted to include it because I'd be shocked if it isn't flagged as one of these way overbuilt streets for the traffic it carries. If we're going to reduce it and do construction on it, let's improve it while we're at it.

Comment edited by jason on 2014-04-08 14:04:41

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 14:08:20

Love the NYC slideshow. Love the exponential growth chart for protected lanes (second last slide).

Many of those designs do allow use of existing snow removal services. That definitely helps here. We'd need to expand the fleet of equipment if many separated lanes started getting built, wouldn't we? I think it'd be great, but I shudder at the cost and revenue debates that would ensue. Those debates get frustrating even for low hanging fruit. But we do need something better than the current "enhanced snow removal" on three or four bike lanes, with largely useless results.

But re-purposing surplus lanes ... such low hanging fruit. Do it. Now.

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By FED UP!! (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 14:29:50

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By Fed Up with Fed Up (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 20:02:32 in reply to Comment 100044

Is this the official City of Hamilton Traffic Engineering position statement or your own personal opinion?

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 21:18:05 in reply to Comment 100056

So if we live in a democracy, which means to me, the people are in charge, than your statement is moot. Do you work in the City's traffic department? Are you a cog afraid to step forward, in fear of losing your job? I applaud all those who are fighting this battle, you claim that those who do not speak, agree with you, with no proof, however, if we are to believe in an education process, I know you would be in the minority.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 09, 2014 at 09:00:44 in reply to Comment 100059

perhaps he/she should look up every single Code Red neighbourhood plan that has been developed in the past year in conjunction with Paul Johnson and the neighbourhood team. Residents led the discussions and got to have their ideas included in the plan. (not that they will ultimately be listened to based on past experience)

Every single neighbourhood has traffic calming, safe streets, safer walking/cycling development and slower traffic at or near the top of their wish list to improve life in their neighbourhoods. Apparently most of the lower/inner city should move to the Netherlands.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 09, 2014 at 10:20:51 in reply to Comment 100076

You clearly missed his/her point. The 'silent majority' don't want traffic calming and safer streets in other people's neighbourhoods.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 21:56:29 in reply to Comment 100059

you claim that those who do not speak, agree with you, with no proof, however, if we are to believe in an education process, I know you would be in the minority.

http://www.thespec.com/opinion-story/443...

http://www.flamboroughreview.com/news/re...

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/433294...

http://www.hamiltonnews.com/news/speed-h...

http://www.thespec.com/news-story/212974...

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-04-08 21:59:02

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 20:45:43 in reply to Comment 100056

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 08, 2014 at 17:04:07 in reply to Comment 100044

Maybe this fabled majority should speak up

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 17:02:58 in reply to Comment 100044

The silent majority: please provide proof that the so called silent majority agrees with your stance.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 14, 2014 at 17:41:09 in reply to Comment 100053

It would be in the re-election of councillors. Those that do as the will of their constituents ask.

I live in Ward 2. I think that the 2-way conversions in my ward have done nothing to help with traffic calming, ease of access, or the "complete street" myth. The vocal minority on this site are just that, vocal (to each other, and in wasting councillor's time) and in the minority.

I drive through all parts of the lower city on a consistent basis, and I appreciate the free flowing traffic, especially when it helps me get to where I need to go. I follow all posted speed limits and signs, and have yet to have a problem with it.

Don't like it? Go out and run for council, or mayor! See if you are in the majority or not!

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 16:22:25 in reply to Comment 100044

Ah yes the silent majority argument, because people only get around ONE way and are properly categorized as absolutely in only one transportation category. Nobody who drives is ever a pedestrian or cyclist.

Anyone who doesn't drive ALL THE TIME is a minority and therefore ceases to exist.

We should euthanize anyone without a driver's license and the elderly. We should close our colleges and universities since clearly those hippies are irrelevant since they're a "minority". Any children that cannot get a drive to school from their parents should be placed in orphanages.

That about sum up your worldview?

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By LOL_all_over_again (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 20:47:20 in reply to Comment 100050

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 21:32:27 in reply to Comment 100058

So you guys' sociopathy is just fine, but a parody of it means issues. Understood.

My fault for indulging a troll. Apologies everyone.

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By fled up (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 14:35:54 in reply to Comment 100044

Transportation advocate says give pedestrians and cyclists their own dedicated space on the street. Driving troll is so annoyed at pedestrians and cyclists being in his way he doesn't notice that advocate's ideas are exactly what he is looking for. Hilarity ensues.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 14:35:13 in reply to Comment 100044

as long as they can get from point A to B without some dumbass Ped or bike in the way!!!

You're in luck. These proposals take cyclists right out of your lanes altogether (even though legally they are always allowed) and give them their own safe lanes to ride in. You win by:

  • not having slow moving cyclists in your way
  • having clear and safe separation between you and cyclists
  • paying less taxes by removing several km of lanes from service which means no annual potholes or resurfacing every 5 years.

If you don't like these ideas, prepare to have cyclists doing 15km in front of you and prepare for your taxes to skyrocket as Hamilton tries to figure out how to pay for a $1 billion infrastructure deficit.

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By johnny (anonymous) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 16:41:11

You ignorante eschrooge, somonombastiche.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted April 08, 2014 at 23:40:57

Woodward Avenue is already one lane in each direction with a center turning lane and curbside bike lanes. Unfortunately Barton and Woodward is a VERY busy intersection because almost all of the traffic going South on Woodward makes a left turn here to hook up to Barton and the RHVP. It has an advance green for this reason but it's still fairly hard for a pedestrian to cross, let alone a cyclist. Almost every time I cross at this intersection, I'm being aggressively pursued by motorists who didn't make it through the advance green.

Also disappointing is the fact that the bike lanes terminate at Melvin, a street which would look wonderful with curbside bike lanes and enlarged sidewalks and curbside trees. If Parkdale between Melvin and King Street were given the same treatment, it could eventually link up with the existing lanes on Lawrence Road to Gage Avenue.

Comment edited by MattM on 2014-04-08 23:42:03

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