Special Report: Cycling

City to Spend Tens of Millions on Road Reconstruction

Before freaking out about the next cycling investment, we need to put our our very modest investments in walking and cycling infrastructure into perspective.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 23, 2014

Yesterday, the City of Hamilton issued a news release capitalizing on the CAA's Worst Roads campaign to note that the City's Public Works Department maintains its own list of municipal infrastructure that is due for reconstruction.

The release includes of a list of priority road work projects and their associated costs. For each project, I've measured the distance and calculated the reconstruction cost per kilometre:

Hamilton Priority Road Reconstruction Costs
Street From To Distance (km) Cost Cost/km
Centennial Parkway King Arrowsmith 2.40 $3,500,000 $1,458,333
West 5th Stone Church Linc 0.85 $2,900,000 $3,411,765
West 5th Mohawk College (south entrance) Gateview 0.85 $3,300,000 $3,882,353
Rymal Road Fletcher Dartnall 2.40 $11,000,000 $4,583,333
Burlington St/Industrial Dr Birch QEW 5.00 $14,570,000 $2,914,000
Parkdale Avenue Barton Burlington 1.40 $3,400,000 $2,428,571
Garth Street Stone Church Rymal 1.00 $4,500,000 $4,500,000
King Street Battlefield Applewood 1.00 $4,350,000 $4,350,000
Mountain Brow Blvd Mohawk Rd Oakcrest Dr 2.20 $4,900,000 $2,227,273
Overall 17.10 $52,420,000 $3,065,497

These nine segments of road reconstruction and water main work span 17.1 kilometres at a total cost of $52.4 million, with an average cost of $3 million per kilometre to complete.

Let us wait for the city's self-appointed fiscal watchdogs to go over these projects with a fine-toothed comb: scrutinizing every dollar, making us-vs-them pronouncements about the locations, agonizing over ongoing maintenance obligations, suggesting ways to save money - like closing lanes during the winter - and so on.

Don't hold your breath, however, because the people who were ¡outraged! over the modest cost of the three-kilometre, two-way Cannon Street cycle track will be curiously blase about the vastly higher costs of maintaining our automobile network.

Road lanes used by automobiles need to be reconstructed every 25 years at a cost of around $750,000 per lane-kilometre. That's $30,000 per lane-kilometre per year over the lifespan of the road, and it's on top of around $6,000 per lane-kilometre per year for regular maintenance and snow clearing.

Using a two-lane street that runs three kilometres as an example, we're looking at $216,000 per year in lifecycle costs, every year for the 25-year life of the street for a grand total of $5.4 million - at the end of which we need to start over again.

Perspective

To be clear, I'm not suggesting we should stop maintaining our roads. I'm suggesting we need to put our very modest investments in walking and cycling infrastructure into perspective. Over 99% of public spending on roads goes into accommodating automobiles, yet we reserve the lion's share of scrutiny and hyperbole for the leftover slivers of investment in active transportation.

I'm also suggesting that we need to get better at making decisions on how best to design and maintain our roads based on net costs and benefits, rather than just phoning in the status quo.

Wear-and-tear on the road is a function of the number and mass of vehicles running on it, and everything we do to reduce wear-and-tear will extend the life of the street.

It takes around 1,000 bicycles on a lane to produce the same wear-and-tear as one subcompact car and 8,000 bicycles to produce the same wear-and-tear as one SUV. To produce the wear-and-tear of a single transport truck, you would need millions of bicycles.

It's a no-brainer that some of our excess lane capacity should be repurposed to encourage a lot more walking and cycling, especially in the lower city where automobile traffic volumes have been falling. Doing so will actually save the city money in lower lifecycle obligations, not to mention improved public health and increased economic vitality.

Of course, a few diehards will wade in and try to confuse the issue by claiming falsely that car drivers pay for roads or that making it safer and easier to walk and cycle will somehow not encourage more people to walk or cycle. However, the case is already clear for anyone willing to base a decision on the evidence rather than their own untested assumptions.

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. Several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal.

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By Nicer (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 09:21:18

Another nicer. Thank you Ryan, for that great analysis.

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By Yvonne (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 09:22:09

What.. main west from Osler to Mac isn't on that list? It's been pothole and bump-ridden for years now. Terrible for cars, terrible for bikes.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 09:51:41

Looks like a great plan! Don't fix any inner city roads, making them impassable for trucks, hence the trucks take newly fixed Burlington to get out of the city. Cunning!

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:42:47 in reply to Comment 100572

Nobody is saying we shouldn't maintain our roads, it's that we need to keep in mind how much we're spending on cars when we're obsessing about how much we spend on other forms of transportation.

Also, that we should be looking at places we could save money by reducing this maintenance burden... not by abandoning maintenance altogether, but by identifying roads that are overbuilt and thus can be reduced in some way. The Burlington Street overpasses are a good example - bridges represent a terribly high maintenance expense and this city loves building them willy-nilly even when they're completely unnecessary. Sometimes I think there's some bridge-building contractor who has the ear of somebody important at City Hall, because Hamilton has never seen a gap it didn't want to spend millions building a bridge over (and further millions maintaining it). Many cases where a level crossing would be perfectly fine, we still build a bridge.

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 17:46:59 in reply to Comment 100574

Like the pearl st bridge?

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By WHamilton (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 19:40:42 in reply to Comment 100582

Would a level crossing be perfectly fine in place of the Pearl Street Bridge?

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 17:17:34 in reply to Comment 100583

"Hamilton has never seen a gap it didn't want to spend millions building a bridge over"

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By WHamilton (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 18:01:15 in reply to Comment 100612

The municipal government did not construct this bridge, the rail owners did. They were the ones who dug the gap that had previously been traversable at Pearl, Poulette, so on.

Do you think the Pearl Street bridge cost millions to construct? Do you think a pedestrian bridge costs as much to maintain as one carrying heavy traffic?

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 20:41:24 in reply to Comment 100613

Good bridge being built. Overthink stuff much?

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By WHamilton (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2014 at 08:08:16 in reply to Comment 100614

I don't think I brought it up.

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By MattM (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 13:10:32 in reply to Comment 100583

The train tracks run in an embankment under the level of the streets in the area. To create a level crossing you'd have to expropriate many century old homes and drop the street down to meet the train tracks. The train tracks were built in that fashion so that they wouldn't interfere with the roads in the area.

edit: think I just committed a captain obvious... oh well.

Comment edited by MattM on 2014-04-24 13:11:03

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 10:50:15

Is there any way of determining what the Priority Road Reconstruction costs on a square meter basis, discounting water main work?

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 11:56:10

To be fair, of those projects listed, the City's cycling website plans to include new cycling facilities along both West 5th projects, Garth, King and Burlington. From my understanding, those costs would be included in the rebuild costs (though I may be wrong on that)

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 15:33:04 in reply to Comment 100576

Sad that the easiest way to get cycling infrastructure is to slip it in the design of exponentially more expensive road projects.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 20:49:14 in reply to Comment 100579

What's more sad is that when they redo roads they don't include cycling infrastructure!

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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 23:01:51 in reply to Comment 100584

sorry but putting a bike lane on the raised section of burlington would really remove all the fun out of it. ( and yes you CAN ride your bike up there legally).

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By adrian (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:29:28 in reply to Comment 100589

Wow, I never even considered the possibility of cycling on that road, perhaps because I don't have a death wish. But if you could find a time to do it when it is relatively safe (early Sunday morning?) it would probably be a rush.

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By IF (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:20:28 in reply to Comment 100589

Yeah - if you have a death wish.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 22:30:40

There's also the fact that Hamilton is the ONLY city in Ontario to spend 90% of its federal gas tax revenue on roads, instead of public transit as it should, due to a dodgy computer programme used by the Association of the Municipalities of Ontario. These monies should be invested in public transit, in the purchasing of new buses, in the maintenance and installation of new shelters.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 22:06:32 in reply to Comment 100585

And this only hurts us in the long run, because our share of the provincial gas tax is based on our public transit ridership. So where Mississauga and Brampton have been investing in public transit and their ridership has seen double digit increases, our ridership has basically been flat, and every year we are getting less and less gas tax money as a result.

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By So the answer is (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2014 at 10:09:06 in reply to Comment 100615

Maybe the answer is that Provincial revenue share should not be tied to mass transit ridership?

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:24:02 in reply to Comment 100621

I can think of no reason why the provincial portion of the gas tax, which the province has earmarked for efforts to reduce traffic congestion, should not be tied to public transit ridership.

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By screencarp (registered) | Posted April 23, 2014 at 22:47:22

As I understand it, they don't really consider cars when planning road lifespans. A city bus is ~800 cars, and trucks ~200-1000 cars worth of road wear depending on the weight per axle. That's why Burlington Street is so bad. This year weather killed the cement/asphalt with rapid freezing and thawing which is why many side streets are in such bad shape. We should probably expect this to be normal in coming years.

So, it doesn't matter very much if there are many, or few cars on the road when it comes maintaining the roads. Bicycle lanes won't really change the cost unless we plan on tearing lanes up and planting grass. I'm all for bike lanes for many other reasons, but I don't think we should expect it to reduce road maintenance very much. Perhaps we need to ensure industrial taxation will pay for the increased road wear along focused and efficient truck routes. We should use good materials to fix our current roads to reduce costs long term (a lot of cheap asphalt is cut with "recycled" motor oil). And yes, we should build better pedestrian and bicycle access into any appropriate major road repairs.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 11:17:25 in reply to Comment 100588

A city bus is ~800 cars, and trucks ~200-1000 cars worth of road wear depending on the weight per axle.

Bicycle lanes won't really change the cost unless we plan on tearing lanes up and planting grass.

These statements are incongruous, unless you are suggesting that trucks and buses would be allowed in bike lanes?

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2014 at 07:24:46 in reply to Comment 100588

This year weather killed the cement/asphalt with rapid freezing and thawing which is why many side streets are in such bad shape. We should probably expect this to be normal in coming years.

So, it doesn't matter very much if there are many, or few cars on the road when it comes maintaining the roads. Bicycle lanes won't really change the cost unless we plan on tearing lanes up and planting grass.

We don't have much asphalt in this city which is free of vehicle traffic - but we do have some, and I think that they are illustrative. The waterfront trail between Cootes and Pier 4 and the path from McMaster to Dundas have pavement which is several winters old and see only bike and foot traffic - and both are in great condition.

Comment edited by moylek on 2014-04-24 07:26:18

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2014 at 08:04:58 in reply to Comment 100596

Exactly this. People are blaming the cold winter for our rough roads, but potholes are caused specifically by the intersection cold weather and heavy vehicles. Heavy traffic compacts the roadbed and stresses the asphalt, which allows water to seep under it and erode the roadbed. Cold weather causes the water to freeze and expand, cracking and heaving up the asphalt, which has become brittle from the cold. When the ice thaws, the asphalt collapses into the hole.

According to the Pothole Primer. A Public Administrator's Guide to Understanding and Managing the Pothole Problem by the US Army Corps of Engineers:

A pothole develops when two factors are present at the same time - water and traffic. This could almost be called the cardinal rule of pothole development, because without water and traffic present at the same time, potholing simply won't develop. Exceptions to this rule do not exist!

Since water and traffic must be present together, it can easily be seen that the most common location for pothole development is in the wheel paths of traffic.

Kindly note also that the impact of a vehicle on the road increases exponentially with the vehicle's axle weight. A vehicle that is twice as heavy causes four times as much damage, and a vehicle that is four times as heavy causes 16 times as much damage.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 09:28:57 in reply to Comment 100597

The less wear a vehicle causes, the more vulnerable it is to those that do.

The family sedan gets beat up much more badly than the trucks that created the largest holes in the road. Thus could it be said that unnecessary truck routes add costs for folks driving their sedan or coupe.

And the lowest footprint, bicycles, take the brunt; many streets are bone jarring. The only wear a bike adds to the roads is flinging the occasional pebble. In return we get flats, broken spokes, even broken bones. Imagine how lovely it is to hear comments about how cyclists are freeloading and should pay extra!

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 00:21:12 in reply to Comment 100588

Industrial taxation, where is that coming from? While those entities are deemed under that category are far and few between, I ask where is your so called knowledge. It is so apparent that most people comment with no knowledge of what the terminology actually means, tax wise

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 00:46:09 in reply to Comment 100590

Not sure what you mean. IT, IU, IX, LT, LU, JT, JU, JX, KT, KU, PT and perhaps ST, SU, XT, XU. They're the ones who cause truck traffic.

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By scrap (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 01:17:04 in reply to Comment 100592

So screencarp, I ask what do you mean? You did not answer my query
Can you not write in long form all your acroynms?
No gasp of our language?

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By ScreenCarp (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 01:23:51 in reply to Comment 100593

I see you don't know what those acronyms are. They're Hamilton's industrial and commercial tax designations. The one's who cause truck traffic on our streets and are mostly responsible for increased road wear.

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By transporter (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 10:11:13

"It takes about 1000 bicycles to produce the same wear-and-tear as one subcompact car, and 8000 bicycles to produce the same wear-and-tear as one suv. To produce the same wear-and-tear as a single transport truck, you would need millions of bicycles!" - Ryan

A truck weighing forty tons does as much damage to a road, as do 100,000 cars. Doing the math:
1,000 x 100,000 = 100,000,000 8,000 x 100,000 = 800,000,000

So there y'go, Ryan, you would need hundreds of millions!

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By adrian (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 12:33:34

I look forward to hearing about all the public consultations that are conducted about this scheduled roadwork. I expect that everyone who lives along or near those roads will be notified and invited to numerous public hearings where they can voice their opposition to the plans; and if there is enough community opposition, I'm sure that these plans will be cancelled or scaled down. After all, that's democracy at work.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 13:22:52

How long until we get the right five councillors elected to the Public Works Committee?

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 13:36:21

As has been correctly pointed out, heavy trucks do damage to our roads out of all proportion to their numbers. It is not necessary to be a professional Accountant (which I am) to realize that if shippers were required to pay their true costs suddenly a lot more freight would be moving by railway.

Railways, of course, have exactly the same mathematics of maintenance that dictate heavy loads cause the most damage. But they charge accordingly. Which is why shippers are irresponsible and freeload off the hard-working taxpayer by using heavy trucks instead being responsible and paying their own way with railways.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 22:13:24 in reply to Comment 100607

We have dismantled and neglected much of the railway infrastructure we had, and what we had is nowhere near sufficient to move the amount of goods we ship today. For example, right now out in Western Canada we have insufficient capacity to move both wheat and oil in large volumes. No way we have the capacity to ship everything else by rail as well. We can't just convert to rail overnight, it would literally take decades (and likely significant new developments in containerized shipping and computerized trains).

Even our freight loading/unloading areas are too far and few between, and we would still need significant trucks to carry the goods "the last mile" to the point of delivery. There is simply insufficient available space for new tracks and loading/unloading stations in and around our urban areas.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 24, 2014 at 23:01:53 in reply to Comment 100617

Not putting resources into rail infrastructure is simply a matter of choice. We choose instead to focus our feats of engineering towards funnelling more single occupancy vehicles into and out of big box plazas (e.g. the upcoming clappisons cloverleaf)

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2014 at 12:25:09 in reply to Comment 100618

Agreed, but it is a choice with long term impact that, unfortunately cannot be changed overnight.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 14:04:45 in reply to Comment 100607

But if we transported more goods by rail, then the existing constrained corridors we already have in the GTHA would not be as accessible to GO Transit. Fortunately, GO has been able to buy a significant portion of rail they use, but most of that is on lines that see/saw little freight traffic (Richmond Hill, Stouffville). If we start pushing more freight onto rail, then the number of trains operating on the major lines (Milton, Georgetown, Aldershot-Hamilton) will increase and limit GO's expansion into cities along these corridors.

While it's true that shifting to rail would decrease the taxpayer subsidy, we will start to limit our mobility expansion options in the future.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 22:10:14 in reply to Comment 100608

There are very few rail bottlenecks where:

1) Freight competes with passenger rail to the extent that it congests the line over capacity, AND,

2) It is not possible to increase the rail capacity by track improvements (including laying more track), signal improvements or technology improvements.

Furthermore, it is not an "all or nothing" situation. Where such bottlenecks exist, there may still be some freight moving by truck through those bottlenecks. I just want trucking companies to pay their true costs instead of dumping them on hard-working taxpayers like me.

The great thing about free market capitalism is that if trucking companies are required to pay their true costs then that provides the proper incentives for rail and all other alternatives.

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By Stinson (registered) | Posted April 24, 2014 at 17:16:32

So lots of road work is slated to be done and council decided that all road projects will address pedestrian interests. Good thing, right?

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2014 at 12:13:57

Meanwhile, on the LRT file, "It is believed that construction costs could be reduced by value engineering the B-Line."

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By Surprised (anonymous) | Posted April 27, 2014 at 20:53:14

Well duh!!! If roads need fixing they should be fixed. Sounds reasonable to me.

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By crtsvg (registered) | Posted May 03, 2014 at 18:39:04

Roads should be redone in cement, like Parkdale was from Queenston to Barton 20+ years ago, still almost pristine. Cement costs twice as much but lasts ten times as long. Ever been to Paris France? They did their roads in cement after world war II and they are still in great shape almost 60 years later.

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