Downtown Bureau

Roads: Worst Bang for the Biggest Buck

$6 million can barely build anything in the world of roads, but it could outfit most of Hamilton's main roads with bike lanes.

By Jason Leach
Published February 14, 2008

Our cities, and society in general, seem to do things so backwards it boggles the mind.

When it comes to our infrastructure to move people around, I'm amazed at how we will spend the bulk of our money on the most expensive and least efficient methods – roads and highways.

We spend paltry amounts on the more efficient, cheaper to operate form of transit, and essentially nothing (in Hamilton) on the cheapest, simplest and most efficient at easing gridlock – cycling.

One particular phenomenon is consistent across all three methods: build it and they will come.

Toronto has just announced a $6 million plan to increase service on over 70 bus routes this year. Initial estimates suggest that this investment will result in an additional 15-20 million TTC rides this year.

$6 million can barely build anything in the world of roads, but it could outfit most of Hamilton's main roads with bike lanes.

It's incredible to see how foolish and wasteful our political leaders can be.

Imagine for a moment that Hamilton could increase transit ridership by 15 percent and cycling/walking numbers by 15 percent. It may not sound like a lot, but would significantly reduce road congestion.

For the measly amount of money it would take to make such great gains it seems crazy not to. Yet we don't.

While running around town recently, I noticed how much extra room there is for bike lanes on every main street I was on – Cannon, York, Charlton, Wellington, Victoria, King, Dundurn, the Jolley Cut, James Mountain Road, and virtually all of the 'Uppers' on the Mountain: Fennell, Concession, Stonechurch and so on.

Yet we constantly rip up these streets and repave them with absolutely no thought or vision to improving the quality of life in our city.

Most car lanes are wider than the required minimum. Bike lanes have been proven to be the most effective method at solving traffic problems in terms of the number of dollars invested per person. Auto infrastructure, of course, is the most expensive.

I understand the equal need for all three. Why doesn't city hall?

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

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By transiteer (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2008 at 14:58:28

Hamilton is not Stockholm, Amsterdam or Copenhagen where bike culture prevails. At a guess I would say that one in a thousand of Hamilton's citizens would take to peddling with the advent of more bicycle paths. I know that I am dumping on Jason's obsessive pet project but the few bikers who presently ride on city streets often cause more threats to the safety of pedestrians than motorists. When bikers start to obey traffic signs like red lights, and not switch over to pedestrian walkways I may,just may, support his cause. By the way, I and two other family members occasionally ride bikes to work and obey all of the rules, like Jason will claim, but we find it an inconvenience in a city for many, many other reasons which a bicycle path would not alleviate. Sorry Jason!

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 15, 2008 at 17:33:30

transiteer...no need to apologize. You're helping make my point.

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By transiteer (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2008 at 05:05:03

To Ryan: Thank you for this infrmation which has come at an appropriate time. I will be accompanying a group on Cascadian Studies for three weeks in April with eight of those days being spent in Portland.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 16, 2008 at 09:29:24

transiteer, you're a lucky person. Wherever your study takes place in Portland, be sure to spend lots of time downtown. Some suggestions - ride the Portland Streetcar. Check out the aerial tram from South Waterfront to OHSU...yes, the streetcar goes to South Waterfront. Ride the MAX (Light Rail) to the airport. and be sure to bike/walk both sides of the downtown riverfront. NW 23rd is a great street to unwind along with 21st and others in the NW/Pearl District area. Make your way up the West Hills to the public gardens and Pittock Mansion. Finally, an old favourite of mine - Hawthorne Blvd on the east side of the river. While you're there, ask someone for directions to Mt Tabor...it's a beautiful place with amazing views of the city. Cheers

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By transiteer (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2008 at 22:54:53

Thanks to you jason, hope to see some of the places you have mentioned but I wont be there to holiday. There are four groups travelling and each group is divided into four sub groups covering the diversity of Cascadia, agro- economics, geography, density and transportation. Our group converges in Bellingham, WA, and travels to Seattle, Spokane and over almost to the Idaho border before travelling back across southern Washington to Portland, OR, for the Sympossium. I think by then I may just be looking for a Pub. You didn't mention any.

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By Tim (anonymous) | Posted February 16, 2008 at 23:31:52

Well maybe the city of hamilton should focus on simply clearing bike lanes of snow at this time of year. It is ridiculous and a MAJOR deterrent to those who want to bike. Almost every street in this city was so 'brilliantly' designed that they placed the sidewalk right next to the curb. Guess where the snow ends up? yes, that's right, on the road, either narrowing the roadway to a ridiculously narrow width for driving, or making it unsafe for bicycles to bike on.

You'd think building a 5 foot grass strip between the sidewalk and the curb would just be common sense to help with snow removal.

But what a backwards city this place is.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 16, 2008 at 23:40:19

Tim, if they put 5-foot grass strips between the road the sidewalk that would mean removing a lane of the 5-lanes on streets like Main, King, Cannon and York. What in the world would we do if these streets were to become 4-lane highways instead of 5??

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By Tim (anonymous) | Posted February 17, 2008 at 23:49:44

I'm just talking about design, that you'd think they would consider that when they designed the roads/subdivisions.

And I'm talking more about newer subdivisions like built in the 1950s onwards. My road is ridiculously narrow with a) parked cars buried in the snow, and b) snow piled for several feet over the gutters to allow access on the sidewalk.

I know that is difficult to do, but I think narrowing those roads would be alright, or at least make a lane a dedicated transit/bus lane.

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By A_Real_Cyclist (anonymous) | Posted February 22, 2008 at 11:57:41

@transiteer:

The lower city is one dominated by bikes -- however, there are astonishingly few cyclists. There are a lot of "pedestrians on bikes", people who careen down the sidewalk on a serious beater bike, brakeless and just trying to get somewhere faster than their feet can take them with complete disregard for everyone but themselves.

As far as I'm concerned, building out the infrastructure to make safe cycling possible would amount to one of the cheapest changes that the Hammer could make -- buy some black paint and use it to wipe out the existing road stripes, then re-stripe with an assumption of giving cyclists a 6' wide lane -- it would be better for everyone and honestly wouldn't increase congestion one whit (see Wilson for an example of a street wider than it ever needs to be based on the fact that one whole lane is used for heaps of snow).

Spend some money on a bulk purchase of 50,000 cheap as sh*t single speed coaster brake bikes and leave them all over the city -- they're practically indestructible and easily repairable. That'll get the worst of the beaters off the road.

Then spend the rest of the money on enforcement. I hate to say it, but if you've got wheels larger than 14" and you're taller than 4' and riding a bike on a sidewalk, you've just bought yourself a $500 fine. It's just that simple. Once the infrastructure is there to support riding on the blacktop, and bikes are available everywhere there's no longer an excuse for a ped-on-bike to side swipe anyone.

What a disorganized rant. I really need to drink more coffee and approach this one with my whole brain.

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By here (anonymous) | Posted February 25, 2008 at 22:04:24

By ridding the streets of the beater bikes, you may be destroying some of the lasting images of this city. Outside of Hamilton, I've never witnessed a middle aged man with long hair and parachute pants perilously balancing 20 odd hubcaps on the sides of a rusting old bike swerving its way down the middle of Barton St.

More seriously, if you can't change the one way culture of the city -- adapt. Campaign for a bike lane on King, Main, Canon, and Wilson. separate the bike lane from the car lanes with a rumble strip or other minor barrier-- plant some trees even. The lane will barely be missed - it just may force people to drive the speed limit.

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2008 at 14:00:52

"Outside of Hamilton, I've never witnessed a middle aged man with long hair and parachute pants perilously balancing 20 odd hubcaps on the sides of a rusting old bike swerving its way down the middle of Barton St"

I think I've seen that guy!

Only in Hamilton :)

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By Frank (registered) | Posted March 04, 2008 at 11:03:35

The dealership I used to work for had that guy visit occasionally. I don't know if anyone knows the lanewidths here in Hamilton are actually erring on the side of too wide. Of course, in order to change road lanewidths we'd have to limit the flow of larger trucks and maybe even one or two of those gigantic misnamed SUVs which would be a benefit anyway. Drop the lanewidths to 2.75m MAX and that'd do two big things - allow design cross sections so accomodate a bike lane and force drivers to drive better (or crash more often). I'm sick of drivers careening left through red lights playing follow the leader expecting me not to hit them on MY green! In Hamilton we have two problems...backwards design and idiots on wheels, whether it's 2 or 4. Unfortunately the 4 usually is bigger than the 2 and causes more damage but the idiots on 2 mixing with the idiots on 4 is a recipe for disaster. I've long been a proponent of bike lanes (continuous ones not like the occasional bike lane on Barton East!) and I refuse to cycle in traffic because I don't trust the 4 wheeled numbskulls rushing to get to wherever the heck they're going. I used to bike...til I almost got flattened by a "gentleman" in a truck turning right but not wanting to stop and check the side of the road. Once driver education reaches an acceptable level (not passing people just for the heck of it) and enforcement is at the level it should be will I bike on a roadway unless it's nearly deserted. I'd like to get to where I'm going alive...

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By Cityjoe (anonymous) | Posted March 15, 2008 at 02:28:07

A good point made:
By transiteer
Posted 2/15/2008 2:58:28 PM

"Hamilton is not Stockholm, Amsterdam or Copenhagen where bike culture prevails."

I think it also goes beyond 'a bike culture'. We cannot even compare the climate of these cities mentioned, or most in Western Europe, & the U.K. to Southern Ontario in terms of snow fall, duration of Winter,& extremes of temperature in Summer & Winter. Stockholm, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Dublin, etc. are much more moderate in all climatic criteria. The actual size of most of these cities is smaller than the sprawled out versions that occur in N. American cities. It just isn't the same & it's not correct to say that it is.

I have no idea if Portland Oregon has a more moderate Pacific Coastal climate, like Vancouver or Seattle but if it does, then the same argument applies.

Even if the bike lanes are cleared for the ride to work at 7 a.m., who's to say that they won't be impassable with snow by 5 p.m.? It's one thing to ride into a storm on a fairly level area, but riding up the Escarpment with 60 km. winds & a minus 25' C. windchill factor is another. Riding up the hill on James St, when it's plus 25'C & over 30'C with the humidex isn't something I'd be inclined to try either, even without a pollution factor thrown in.

The bike lanes are great & we need more of them, but I don't think most people of average physical condition, & average mental capabilities will be riding to work & home again in extreme conditions. (I sincerely hope that a shower facility is available for you road warriors once you get to work. I know of very few people who have that available.)

With a little help, N. America may buy in to the European idea of efficient affordable mass public transit soon, but IMHO the vast majority of commuters are light years away from biking from the 'burbs to downtown or vise versa, for a whole lot of reasons. (& yeah, aging population again is a factor)

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By MarkState (registered) - website | Posted April 07, 2008 at 07:31:36

Like Jason Leach's blog, mine is a personal comment.

Bicyclists (and I am one as well), if they have any political agenda at all, whish as a group for bicycle lanes to promote a safer, protected use of that green form of transportation.

NO. The cities can’t afford it. Haven’t you been paying attention to budget restrictions due to civic income shortfalls? Well…perhaps they could, if…

Because they are usually slower than 10k below the speed limit, bicycles do not use regular traffic lanes although they are vehicles according to the highway traffic act, and have every right to do so. Unfortunately, vehicles going slower than 10k below the limit would be subject to charges under the Highway Traffic Act of impeding traffic or going too slowly, so they are generally relegated to the curb lane. The Act protects them as a vulnerable form of transportation, such as pedestrian transport or horses, and thus they deserve in normal circumstances and when conditions require, the right of way against motorized vehicular traffic.

Bicycles are not as visible as other types of traffic because they are smaller, less audible, more maneuverable, and move at a different speed. So bicycle operators and car/truck operators often interface with road rage and occasional unfortunate accidents due to carelessness by either motorists or cyclists. Routes reserved for cyclists are a good idea.

Because of the ever-present danger to cyclists, one would conclude that the prudent cyclist would have a good head and tail light and a loud horn. But most don't. Until legislation was introduced to require safety helmets for drivers, most cyclists drove bare-headed. Now, cyclists who regularly commute to work or school wear helmets, but the rest are divided as to whether to wear them or not. Cyclists don't as a rule stop for Stop signs, yield for yield signs, care whether they go the correct way on minor one-way streets, or even stop for red lights if the operator sees no cross traffic.

Cyclists no longer pay for licencing their vehicles and are not required to purchase liability or comprehensive damage insurance for them.

Cyclists are tunnel-visioned about their desire to have bicycle lanes and either have no idea of what those lanes cost to produce or have no idea of city budget and monetary resource-gathering restrictions. They have not volunteered the money to build the bike lanes, or even volunteered to build the lanes themselves to help lower the costs of producing them...just expected that their clamour will result in the various cities being clamoured magically coming up with the cash to grant their otherwise perfectly reasonable request.

Here's how they can get the lanes they require.

First, design a complete bicycle lane traffic plan and submit it to the city along with a proper proposal that includes raising the funds for such lanes.

Second, insist on the city producing and selling bicycle licence plates and operating permits to drivers over the age of 12 who have passed a written and practical safety examination. The examination should also have a cost applied to it. Children under the age of 12 years should be required to ride bicycles only in bicycle lanes and on the sidewalk, and walk their bikes across roads. Bicycle parking meters (obviously less expensive than the automobile kind) and reserved spaces in city-owned parking lots and garages will become a fact of life. Cyclists will be required to wear a helmet or get fined, have a warning signal device, a rear-view mirror, proper lighting front and back and side reflection equipment, or face a fine. Bikes in bad shape will be taken off the road. The bicycle will take its place among not only responsible vehicular traffic, but revenue producing traffic.

Funds earned from the licencing (which will also be utilized along with modern detection techniques to reduce bicycle theft) process, and parking income and fines, traffic violation fines, etc., can be used to pay for the bike routes' establishment and maintenance and the regulatory costs.

Bicyclists will then be able to move through the city on their own bike routes, and more importantly, the city will be able to provide and maintain them.

MarkInToronto

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted April 07, 2008 at 16:03:38

Hi Mark,

Interesting post...

To pick up on some of your points:

“First, design a complete bicycle lane traffic plan and submit it to the city along with a proper proposal that includes raising the funds for such lanes” Why should cyclists design this plan? Isn’t this what we pay our Municipal traffic planners to do? Should we create the TTC schedule as well…and set out the municipal budget? And what’s with the obsession about ‘raising the funds’? Has cycling suddenly become a charitable endeavour? We pay our taxes to support all modes of transit. There is a lot of money in the budget, it’s just a question of how to allocate it. In fact, overall, the cost of adding bike lane infrastructure compared to new road infrastructure is minimal. If the municipal budget woes really are as dire as politicians would have you believe (and they have certainly done a great job convincing you!) then politicians should make a case for increasing our taxes to cover the improvements. Otherwise it’s just a question of cash allocation. The budget is no excuse for not promoting a healthy activity such as this.

“Second, insist on the city producing and selling bicycle licence plates and operating permits to drivers over the age of 12 who have passed a written and practical safety examination.” Is this how we encourage cycling? By charging for it? No-one is denying that cyclists use existing road infrastructure but cyclists already pay for this in their regular taxes, and many cyclists own cars. So we should pay to use the road twice? The cost of any new bike lane infrastructure should come from general taxes as the bike grid will benefit us all. If you want to encourage a behaviour you should avoid charging for it. As for the license scheme I have no objection to that but I don’t believe it should be mandatory. I would rather see cities making cycling safer. Testing could be provided with incentives such as special bike deals provided.

“Children under the age of 12 years should be required to ride bicycles only in bicycle lanes and on the sidewalk” Riding on the sidewalk is dangerous. Many cyclists have died from suddenly veering onto the road and I, as a pedestrian, don’t want to have to share the sidewalk with cyclists. The roads should be made safe for everyone.

“Bicycle parking meters (obviously less expensive than the automobile kind) and reserved spaces in city-owned parking lots and garages will become a fact of life.” Where’s your crystal ball…? Again, you should not discourage (i.e. charge) an activity you are trying to encourage. All of your solutions are adding to the complexity and administration required to facilitate a relatively straightforward activity. Bike meters will only discourage cycling – this is NOT WHAT WE WANT!

“Cyclists will be required to wear a helmet or get fined, have a warning signal device, a rear-view mirror, proper lighting front and back and side reflection equipment, or face a fine. Bikes in bad shape will be taken off the road. The bicycle will take its place among not only responsible vehicular traffic, but revenue producing traffic.”

OK I give up… ‘revenue producing traffic’? Is this your solution to everything…? Make people pay for it? ‘Bikes in bad shape will be taken off the road’ – why?!! One of the great things about bikes is their simplicity. What kind of broken bikes are you talking about? And what damage can they do? I agree that faulty brakes would be a problem but how are you going to enforce this? Have an annual bike test? Way Hay – more complexity!

Yes let’s legislate, charge, and otherwise discourage this very healthy activity…

What Toronto – and all cities – need is a bike grid. Dedicated, segregated bike lanes that enable easy and safe access to all points of the city.

I am getting my knee fixed by a chiropractor from Switzerland. He tells me he won’t bike in Toronto because a. the road conditions are too bad (‘the roads will break my bike’) and b. the roads aren’t safe. He told me that in Switzerland you can get around the city in dedicated bike lanes that are not only effiicient and safe – but beautiful too! Lots of greenery and dedicated routes along rivers and wooded areas. And here we are installing bike meters...

I need to move to another planet (or Switzerland…)

Ben

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted April 07, 2008 at 22:44:12

Excellent response Ben!

For all his cleverness and sophistication this MarkState sounds like an old-fashioned troll.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2008 at 16:21:57

Anyone who honestly thinks that cars are "revenue producing" does not deserve any of their arguments to be taken seriously.

Mark you need to do some research and come back here when you fully understand just how heavily subsidized the car culture is, from manufacturing to maintenance to usage. Car use is subsidized by everyone in the country whether they drive or not. Cars absolutely do not produce revenue for anyone except the manufacturig and construction companies. If you think that the government (and therefore the citizens) are making money off of cars, you must be from another world.

Do you really think that your $60/year plate fee, $75-per-4-years license renewal, and fuel taxes all completely cover the entire road infrastructure? AMAZING!

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