Special Report: Bus Lane

Bus Lane Set Up to Fail?

The city refuses to incorporate changes that would help ensure success while mitigating the issues with parking and automobile traffic flow.

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 08, 2014

Normally, when a city undertakes a pilot project, it does so in order to iterate and adapt the project in response to real-world feedback. With the City of Hamilton's transit-only lane pilot, not so much. Instead, the city's first bus lane seems to have been set up to fail.

King Street West with transit-only lane (RTH file photo)
King Street West with transit-only lane (RTH file photo)

The bus lane project cost $300,000 to install, money that was funded by Metrolinx under its "Quick Wins" capital fund. It runs westbound on King Street for two kilometres from Mary Street to just before Dundurn Street.

The lane runs mostly in the north curb lane of King Street. Curbside metered parking on King was moved from the north side to the south side to accommodate the bus lane.

Despite this being a pilot project, the only significant design tweak the City made over the past year-and-a-bit was to eliminate rush-hour parking on the south side of King between Locke and Strathcona, almost immediately after it was installed.

Cycling Excluded

After learning that cyclists would not be allowed to use the transit lane, the Hamilton cycling community advocated for that change to bring the project in line with transit lanes in many other cities.

The City explained that they chose to design it as a "reserved vehicle lane" rather than a "high-occupancy vehicle lane" (which would allow cyclists) because the Cycling Master Plan does not include a bike lane on King, therefore it can't have one. (This is just one of the ways the cycling plan has acted to limit cycling, rather than promote it.)

The bus lane pavement markings disappeared completely over the course of last winter, but the city again decided not to tweak the design to address some easy fixes to include cycling.

Real Problem is King Street

The bus lane has been controversial from the start. Motorists began complaining about the bus lane before it came into effect, and a few property owners on King insisted that their retail tenants post "NO BUS LANE" signs in their store windows.

A story appeared in the Spectator in the end of this past September, quoting retail business owners who claim the bus lane has hurt their business. However, a careful reading of their comments indicates that the real issue they struggle with continues to be the fact that King Street is a pedestrian-unfriendly multi-lane expressway.

Now that the curbside parking is on the south side of King, customers don't want to cross King to visit retail stores on the north side.

According to Diego Almonte, quoted in the story: "I have customers who tried parking across the street and then risked their lives to cross the road and just said, 'we aren't coming back.'"

A downtown street that pedestrians are afraid to cross is not a good street. The bus lane did not cause that state of affairs, and removing it will not fix what's wrong with King.

West of Bay Street, it would be much better to move the bus lane out one lane from the curb and re-instate curbside parking on the north side of King. This would address the legitimate concerns of the business owners on the north side that pedestrians are afraid to cross King to get to their stores.

Evidence-Free Policy

Now Ward 5 Councillor Chad Collins has announced that he wants to give Hamilton drivers "an early Christmas present" by cancelling the bus lane - despite the fact that City staff have not yet produced a report on the pilot.

Many drivers are outraged that they are not allowed to use the lane, but the city's original justification for a dedicated transit lane was that it would improve the speed, capacity and reliability of the city's transit system. The reason for the pilot project was to measure and assess whether that actually happened.

The City's Transit-Only Lane page notes: "During the AM peak period there are as many people riding the HSR along this segment of King St as there are cars and trucks driving this same route."

Buses and bikes are an extremely space-efficient use of the road, compared to cars (Image Credit: Cycling Promotion Fund)
Buses and bikes are an extremely space-efficient use of the road, compared to cars (Image Credit: Cycling Promotion Fund of Australia)

It would be irresponsible to eliminate the bus lane without even bothering to find out whether it succeeded in its goals. Likewise, King Street has become slower for automobile traffic - especially between Mary and James - but policy decisions should be based on data, not anecdote.

I can't help but note that right where King Street gets congested through International Village, Main Street, just 110 metres away, consists of five mostly empty eastbound lanes.

Traffic on King Street west of Mary Street (RTH file photo)
Traffic on King Street west of Mary Street (RTH file photo)

One-way Main Street can't handle the overflow on King (RTH file photo)
One-way Main Street can't handle the overflow on King (RTH file photo)

If Main Street was a normal two-way street, westbound automobile traffic wouldn't be stuck in the bottleneck on King.

Refusal to Adjust Design

The city's overall unwillingness to tweak the design means a slew of missed opportunities to maintain the lane and address legitimate concerns.

Jason Leach proposed a balanced cross-section for King Street that would retain the bus lane, allow cycling, maintain parking on the north curb and calm automobile traffic - back in July 2013, months before the bus lane was installed.

The city refuses to incorporate any of these relatively simple changes, which would help ensure success while mitigating the issues with parking and automobile traffic flow.

Again, it almost feels like this project has been set up to fail.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He 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 jason (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 14:43:17

one extra issue that has repeatedly been brought to the city's attention with crickets as a response is the timing of the lights on King St.

Two issues here that are VERY easy to fix:

  1. the lights are currently timed to be a freeway...changing to green block by block from east to west. Any normal city has lights changing green ahead of the traffic. Stand at Mary and look ahead to James. When all lights are red with cars waiting on each block, the light turns green first at Mary, allowing cars to head into the next block - and thus encounter another red light. This is repeated all the way to James.
    If the lights turned green first at James, it would allow traffic to clear providing ample space for the next group of cars progressing westbound when the lights go green at Hughson, then John, then Catharine etc...... This one fix would probably solve the entire issue, but city hall would prefer to ignore resident feedback and have councillors keep their heads in the sand.

  2. Buses trying to turn left on James or into the MacNab terminal need to cross the live lanes of King. Again, there should be transit signals at both of those intersections giving buses their own left-green to make that left turn from the transit lane.

Amazing that a city like Chicago figured all this out almost 100 years ago with America's first transit lanes.
'Ambitious City' is nothing more than an empty slogan. Completely not applicable here anymore.

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By PiersixBrawler (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 15:31:00 in reply to Comment 106696

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Comment edited by PiersixBrawler on 2014-12-09 15:35:21

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 15:15:18

Right on Jason. The biggest problem in the very fraught block between Hughson and James is your item #2... the need for buses to cross through the live traffic in order to turn left. This causes significant problems (I get to watch this live every evening as I walk along King and then wait at King and James for my bus home).

Other than that, though, the bus lane works brilliantly except in the narrow window between about 4:15, and ending at 5:30 (maybe as late as 6 when the weather is poor).

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 17:23:18 in reply to Comment 106697

Oh, and on the cycling issue: I must admit that I just cycled in it anyway, and cleared the lane once I heard a bus. Never once caused a problem. I will admit that that sort of ad-hoc solution isn't really good policy.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 16:03:04

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By RTHS (registered) - website | Posted December 08, 2014 at 16:46:03 in reply to Comment 106700

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By Spectator (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 17:04:19 in reply to Comment 106705

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 00:49:17 in reply to Comment 106706

Or you could start your own internet publication, "Lower the Hammer."

Devoted to articles explaining why the 1960's were perfect and we should never change. Here's a quick 60 second video showing so many wonderful things about that era to start you out with:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GrlEQ15m...

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By RTHS (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 10:54:47 in reply to Comment 106740

Solid straw man, amigo.

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By faster faster (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 11:38:10 in reply to Comment 106758

it's not a straw man. it's a comment on your actual beliefs which are indicated by your own writing.

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 16:06:45 in reply to Comment 106700

You've been answered, repeatedly. Get a hobby or see a doctor about your Alzheimer's.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 16:31:03 in reply to Comment 106701

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 00:54:52 in reply to Comment 106704

So why didn't you send an email to editor@raisethehammer.org?

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By Politicians (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 16:27:41

Too bad Chad Collins was re-elected ward 5 councillor. His website is out-dated and so are his views on LRT. He seems to just want to pander to people to stay in power, rather than do what is right for Hamilton's future.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 18:02:38 in reply to Comment 106703

I was going to post something very similar.

Chad's constituents should only be see a very minor impact from the bus lane. If they want to travel through downtown they should take a real highway, not an urban one.

But, if Chad is trying to curry favour with resident's who aren't his constituents then someone should tell him he missed the start of the mayoral race by about a year.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 17:49:31 in reply to Comment 106703

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 10:21:15 in reply to Comment 106710

It is all really a matter of fairness and equity. Wards 1 - 3 are forced to bear an unfair burden of "undesirable" facilities from subsidised housing to second level lodging homes etc. and on top of that a hostile environment for anyone who is not travelling in a car.

No one would accept this where they live but they all adore the present set up of Hamilton. This is not how you build a healthy vibrant city.

You do realize that Hamilton is in competition for jobs with other communities like Mississauga and Waterloo don't you. Making our downtown a drive thru racetrack is ONE element that makes us less attractive than either of those communities.

By caring about complete streets and healthy neighbourhoods everywhere but in our core will ensure that we grow only as a place to live to drive to somewhere else to work which will validate everyone like you who only cares how fast you can get through or in and out of this town.

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By yo (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 18:22:36 in reply to Comment 106710

Seniors in his ward don't know what's best. He should provide leadership on LRT, not pander to folks that are afraid of it.

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By yoyo (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 06:13:13 in reply to Comment 106719

Are you kidding? Now you're going to lecture that the people who vote don't know what's best, or that they do not deserve to be represented?

If you think that he was re-elected by seniors, don't be mad at them. Be mad at the younger people who didn't vote and "allowed" him to be re-elected. Your anger is misplaced.

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By huh (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 22:50:10 in reply to Comment 106719

You mean to say those old farts in ward 5 are senile?!

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 18:17:54

I'm not impressed with Chad, but let's be fair - ward 5 really did get the worst deal out of the bus lane. Traffic through Ward 1 was fine, Ward 2/3 got the best *use* of the bus-lane... but ward 5? That's far-enough that the HSR sucks out there and if you're actually driving King you probably have a reason to go downtown instead of taking the Linc or 403. Those folks really did see the worst effects from the Bus Lane for the least benefit.

The "kill it instead of fix it" view championed by Chad is myopic, but after a cock-up this bad we shouldn't expect anything better.

I'm more peeved at him for pandering to the LRT haters, when LRT would be a massive boost to transit in his Ward.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 18:52:40 in reply to Comment 106718

and again, those 'worst effects' were easily fixable if anyone cared.

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By side effects (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 06:14:57 in reply to Comment 106722

Oh, people care, but they are too few to make anything actually occur. Maybe the 5 amigos could have a sit-down with Chad, hosted by Farr? That way you could "open the lines of communication" to let him know the error of his ways?

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By DiIanni (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 18:55:24

I have watched this Bus Only Lane experiment with great interest and marvel at the strategy of getting buy-in from Hamiltonians by upsetting Hamiltonians. Believe me, it just doesn't work. As for Chad Collins, he should be heeded. He is always good at mirroring what people generally are saying. However, I don't think Council should knee-jerk this decision. Before scuttling bus-only lanes, consider expanding their use to include HOV drivers, taxis, bicyclists and even motorcyclists. Buses, of course, will still use them.

I bet this increased use will assist in making a rationale for them more palatable.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 22:05:55 in reply to Comment 106723

you're right Larry. This thing was flawed from the start and many folks let the city know that before they ever laid the paint down. I agree with the concept of transit lanes, and would love to see more on Main from Mac to the Delta and some of the Mountain streets.

But we need to learn the basics of designing these things properly. This is where I wish Chad was more of an elected leader and not just mimicking the uninformed feedback from his constituents. He should be working towards a solution, not just saying "no", which Hamilton is great at.

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By HSR (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 20:30:25

Simple solution(s):
-Start the Bus Lane at Wellington/Victoria.
-Advance Bus Green Light at King and James so the buses don't have to try and merge with the vehicular traffic between Hughson and James in order to access McNab terminal.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 22:06:47 in reply to Comment 106730

Great idea. Also add a bus lane on Main from McMaster to Wellington and up the Claremont. Tons of extra ideas and simple fixes with the stoplights could have avoided this entire discussion.

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By Bobbi (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 22:53:39

They are just setting it up to kill LRT based on 'evidence' that it won't work here.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 23:00:54

parking preserved on both curbs with transit lane in NYC:

http://cdn.brownstoner.com/wp-content/up...

Heck, our stretch from John to Bay preserves the curb lane for parking/loading with the bus lane in the 2nd lane. It's not like we're asking for the world here. Simply extend that all the way to Dundurn....yes Dundurn, NOT New St. In fact, let's extend this lane right over the 403.

Comment edited by jason on 2014-12-08 23:01:29

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By villager (anonymous) | Posted December 08, 2014 at 23:59:12

Get rid of that pointless Downtown Hamilton sign, convert a parking lane to a Transit Lane between Wellington and Mary and voila.
This will help keep vehicular traffic flowing once lrt is in place, because the current plan of blocking traffic from Spring to Mary is a disaster of an idea (until they convert Main two-way).

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 02:12:26

Meanwhile, in cities that have moved beyond the 1960's...

I see that Paris is fixing its downtown to not be a traffic sewer for cut-through car drivers.

And so is Hamburg

In Japan, take a look at Tokyo and Osaka

Not to mention pretty well every city in The Netherlands.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-12-09 02:26:09

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By RTHS (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 07:56:21

Don't forget to check out @RTHS on Twitter, and mediumDOTcom/@RTHStinks for some grounded views from the other side.

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By RTHS (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 08:01:42

Over at @RTHS (Twitter, obviously) we'll be writing the other side of the argument where it's warranted.

On the bus lane issue, something Ryan doesn't make mention of - that we do - is that the bus lane essentially takes two lanes of traffic away from morning commuters.

One for the bus lane, one for the metered parking. Don't try to convince me that the metered parking doesn't remove a lane of traffic - it does. Cars have to switch lanes, slow down, stop completely in heavy traffic, all in order to avoid that lane (Near Tim Horton's/Hess) if even one car is parked there.

The city needs to look at demand (IE - the number of people using the bus lane ALL DAY, not only during rush hour) before they look at accommodating it. The city continues to try and manufacture demand (Bike lanes, anyone?) for services or options for which no (or minimal) demand currently exists.

Anyways, go look at @RTHS and the blog on Medium - links in the profile.

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By nice try (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 10:25:24 in reply to Comment 106747

I saw your anonymous blog - the one based in fantasy land. It would be funny except that you obviously believe the drivel you're spewing, which makes it kinda sad. If you're so confident in your positions why don't you put your name behind your words? That's what I thought, coward. I'm sure your 7 twitter followers are truly impressed by your progressive vision for Hamilton.

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By RTHS (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 10:46:58 in reply to Comment 106754

I'm guessing your drivers license...sorry, health card, doesn't have Nice Try on it.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 15:49:53 in reply to Comment 106756

I'm one of the seven, but purely for entertainment value!

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By nice try (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 11:43:36 in reply to Comment 106756

I'm not the one starting my own website hoping to be taken seriously.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 10:24:11 in reply to Comment 106747

No thanks. the Spec and Bay Observer fill that role quite nicely

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 09:55:29 in reply to Comment 106747

Dude, you're double-counting. There was already metered parking on King before the bud lane.

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By RTHS (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 10:45:56 in reply to Comment 106751

I don't know if I'm double counting. I mean, the street normally has parking on the right hand side - like you said - I'm saying that the bus lane decreases the number of total lanes (including the parking, regardless of what side) by two lanes.

Maybe a bit unclear, so I appreciate that.

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 16:03:02 in reply to Comment 106755

I appreciate your response, but you are indeed double-counting. Before, there were 3 general lanes and one parking lane. Now there is one bus lane, 2 general lanes and one parking lane.

RTH folks are sometimes guilty of the same sorry of thing when we talk about "5-lane one-way streets", many of which aren't actually 5 lanes.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 19:05:28 in reply to Comment 106800

this is correct.

Mind you, King through my hood and Main through my hood are actually 5 lane streets. Lol

It's funny. Back when it was the previous lay-out, drivers would complain about getting stuck behind all the buses on King, slowing them down. So we give the buses their own lane and all the drivers complain about not being allowed to get stuck behind all the buses.

Entitled much?

Comment edited by jason on 2014-12-09 19:07:38

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By DissenterOfThings (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 08:48:39 in reply to Comment 106747

Your concept of reality is substantially different from mine.

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By RTHS (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 10:48:40 in reply to Comment 106748

Concept of reality is a contradiction in terms.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 09:04:18

By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted December 09, 2014 at 09:01:47

The bus lane from Bay to Dundurn poses no problems. Traffic flow in the morning is good and so long as no one parks on King in the evening it is also good. The problems occur in the downtown, largely between the Fairclough Building and the international village. But that is more a problem with the buses looping through the core because of all the connections, and the need for buses to cross over King. It worked a lot better when all the connections were made on the South side of Gore Park as opposed to where it all happens now. That has just created traffic problems. The reduction of Traffic from John to James has created a log jam. From my perspective, if you could figure that out I wouldn't complain about the bus lane at all.

The stats were posted here before and the ridership justifies the bus lane on its own. I think putting bikes in there would gum stuff up as buses would have to swerve around them out into traffic.

I like the idea of HOV but enforcement would became a big issue.

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