The west mountain councillor wants to wind these streets back to a time when cut-through traffic tore through these urban neighbourhoods at 80-80 km/h at all hours of the day.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 09, 2016
This article has been updated.
A child rides in the protected bike lanes on Herkimer while a transport truck drives past (Image Credit: Tom Flood)
Everyone, in every part of the city, deserves to live in a safe, inclusive community with streets that balance the needs of local residents with city-wide transportation.
Unfortunately, some politicians continue to act as though certain neighbourhoods - mostly in the lower city - are expendable sacrifice zones whose residents must put up with dangerous speeding cut-through traffic so that people who matter can get to work and back a minute or two faster.
We saw this happen at yesterday's Public Works Committee meeting, which degenerated into a tedious and unnecessary rant about the new protected bike lanes on Herkimer Street and Charlton Avenue West.
It will surprise absolutely no one to learn that a certain west mountain councillor was particularly egregious, ladling a number of ludicrously false claims over his absurd criticisms.
Sadly, an article on the meeting in today's Spectator simply repeats Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead's ridiculous and made-up claims without checking whether they are factually correct.
Gridlock on Herkimer this morning (Image Credit: Kyle Slote)
Let's start with the claim that there is some kind of major congestion on Herkimer and/or Charlton since the bike lanes went in.
The west mountain councillor even claims - presumably with a straight face - that the bike lanes on Herkimer are causing traffic slowdowns on the Mountain.
Here's how the Google Maps Live Traffic layer looked at 8:00 AM this morning:
Google Maps Live Traffic for September 9, 2016 at 8:00 AM
Traffic is backed up on the downbound lanes of the Beckett drive escarpment access but free-flowing on Queen north of Aberdeen and on Herkimer Street between Queen and MacNab. The only place traffic had to slow down on Herkimer was at the intersection of Herkimer and James, where traffic has to turn left or right.
And here's how the Live Traffic layer looked just before 9:00 AM this morning:
Google Maps Live Traffic for September 9, 2016 at 8:58 AM
By this point, traffic was free-flowing on Beckett Drive (aside from a slowdown right at the intersection of Queen and Aberdeen), and only slightly slowed down on Herkimer between Queen and MacNab.
Last night on Twitter, doing what he does best and digging himself in ever-deeper, the councillor claimed that the new bike lanes are "adding the equivalency of ten days more a year in your car" due to traffic congestion.
Let's think about this for a moment.
Ten extra days a year of traffic works out to 14,400 extra minutes (ten days times 24 hours in a day, times 60 minutes in an hour).
Meanwhile, a typical full-time employee works around 250 days a year (50 weeks times five days a week, assuming two weeks of vacation and no other days off).
If we divide that supposed 14,400 extra minutes by 250 days of commuting, that works out to 57.6 extra minutes a day.
So the councillor is claiming - presumably with a straight face - that the new bike lanes on Charlton and Herkimer are adding an average of 57.6 minutes to the daily commute of people who use these streets to get to and from work.
I guess there's not too much else to say about that, except that the councillor's willingness to make this claim without giving any thought to its implications tells us a lot about how committed he is to being correct in his assertions.
The councillor also keeps referring to Charlton and Herkimer as if they were major thoroughfares rather than local, residential streets.
Under the City's Urban Hamilton Official Plan, Charlton and Herkimer are designed as residential collector streets [PDF].
Map detail with superimposed legend from Appendix 11 of the Urban Hamilton Official Plan
According to the City's Classification of City Streets [PDF], a collector should be designed to enable "traffic movement and land access of equal importance". That is, the design should balance local access needs with automobile traffic flow.
As for cycling infrastructure, the Classification recommends "wider lanes or separate facilities where required".
Before the bike lanes were installed, according to the City's traffic volume counts, Charlton carried around 6,000 cars a day westbound, while Herkimer carried around 9,000 cars a day eastbound.
Realistically, that kind of traffic volume warrants one vehicle lane, not two. With those traffic volumes on two lanes, drivers can pass each other and attain extremely high speeds.
In March 2014, the City installed a mobile speed radar on Herkimer beside Dundurn Park and recorded dangerously high speeds on every day of the radar's operation.
Top speeds of 80-90 km/h were recorded at such times as 8:00 AM and 3:00 PM - right when children are trying to walk to and from school, and when commuter traffic is highest.
Let's be completely clear: the councillor wants to wind these streets back to a time when cut-through traffic tore through these urban neighbourhoods at dangerously high speeds at all hours of the day.
It is breathtakingly self-absorbed for anyone to want to go back to that, let alone an elected public official whose job is to oversee and determine the well-being of the city.
Gridlock on Herkimer this morning (Image Credit: Adrian Duyzer)
The councillor is also making a lot of noise about how there should be "balance" between modes on these streets. Yesterday afternoon, I measured the width of Charlton and Herkimer at Bay Street.
Charlton at Bay is around 28 feet (or 8.5 metres) wide from curb to curb. Of that width, five feet (1.5 metres) is allocated to the bike lane and the other 23 feet (or 7 metres) is allocated to cars. In other words, 18 percent of the right-of-way is for bikes and the other 82 percent is for cars.
Herkimer at Bay is 35 feet (10.6 metres) wide from curb to curb. Of that width, five feet (1.5 metres) is allocated to the bike lane, and another 3 feet (1 metre) is allocated to a buffer between the bike lane and the parked cars.
Since the buffer is for both bikes and cars, let's split it down the middle and allocate half to biking and half to driving. That means 6.5 feet (2 metres) is for bikes and the other 28.5 feet (8.6 metres) is for cars. In other words, 18.5 percent of the right-of-way is for bikes and the other 81.5 percent is for cars.
The councillor believes this is not balanced - and that more of the street should be allocated to cars!
Perhaps the councillor's most outrageous howler is the claim, quoted in today's Spec article, that staff told him there are only 15 cyclists a day on Herkimer.
This number is so absurdly low that any reasonable observer should be immediately and deeply skeptical. (Anecdotally, I saw four or five cyclists on Herkimer in just a few minutes yesterday evening while riding downtown for a meeting.)
But the Councillor said it, and the de facto stenographer who wrote the Spec article reproduced it without question.
RTH contacted the City to ask whether there are any bike traffic counts and received an email reply from David Ferguson, Superintendent of Traffic Engineering in the Public Works Department. He wrote, "Staff are preparing to undertake [traffic] volume (which will include bikes) and speed studies at the end of September, so at this point we have no data with the opening of the new lanes."
On a follow-up email, Ferguson further clarified, "it wasn't any of Traffic staff" who supplied the councillor with the cited number.
So how many people are riding bikes on the new bike lanes on Herkimer and Charlton? The short answer is we don't know, but it is certainly more than 15 a day.
One way to get a sense of how many bike trips travel on these streets is to review Hamilton Bike Share data, which includes the GPS coordinates of every trip.
This subject deserves a more thorough analysis, but for the purpose of this article, I reviewed a week of bike share data from around a month after the bike lanes were installed. I restricted the analysis to weekdays in order to hone in on how many people are riding on these streets during work commuting times.
For the week of Monday, August 15 to Friday, August 19, there were 756 bike share trips that included a stretch along Charlton (between Dundurn and James), and 564 bike share trips that included a stretch along Herkimer.
Here's a summary of trips per day:
Remember: this is only counting bike share trips, and does not include bike trips made using all other bikes. The actual number of total bike trips is at least several times higher than the bike share data counts, but the City does not currently have any counters on these streets so we have no way to know the full total.
When looking at the distribution of trips by hour, it is clear that a large proportion of these bike share trips are commuting trips. The following chart shows bike share trips by hour on Charlton:
Chart: Charlton Bike Share Trips by Hour, August 15-19, 2016
And here is the same chart but for bike share trips on Herkimer:
Chart: Herkimer Bike Share Trips by Hour, August 15-19, 2016
The councillor also claims that key stakeholders were not consulted when the bike lanes were being designed. This is just false. In fact, there were two years of broad consultations on the designs - including meaningful engagement with the community and reviews by every affected municipal department, like transit, snow removal and waste collection.
Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr said it best in an email he sent to CHML radio host Bill Kelly this morning:
Terry is welcome to join us at future public meetings in the lower city wards in advance of planning for council-approved sustainable projects like Herkimer and Charlton bike lanes.
This may assist him in better understanding how we are meeting goals and objectives that he himself voted in support of. For exmple, the cycling master plan.
There were lots of opportunities in this case. A town hall, several public meetings, and several meetings of two neighbourhood associations sub-committee on this project.
He was never part of those discussions offering his hapless stats and monkey matrixes that staff didn't say anything bad about so they must be true.
There is no war on the car down here, Bill. Just a collective effort to build better, stronger, well-rounded economically viable and successful and sustainable and safe communities.
While Terry is stuck in traffic for half of his life, he should look around. He will see that it is working.
Update: The west mountain councillor is now saying the 15 bikes a day number is a ratio of bikes to cars, i.e. there are 15 bikes for every 1,000 cars. Apparently he made this claim and staff did not bother to correct him, so he is going ahead and attributing the claim to staff.
Given that there are around 9,000 cars a day on Herkimer, that ratio would mean a total of 135 bikes a day. However, as we see with the bike share data, there are approximately that many bike share trips a day on Herkimer - and bike share trips make up only a small fraction of the total number of bikes on Herkimer.
If we conservatively assume that bike share trips make up 20 percent of total bike trips (anecdotally, I would say bike share trips are a much smaller percentage than that), there are between 500 and 600 bike trips a day on Herkimer.
Unfortunately, we don't have any data, as staff confirmed. The councillor's ratio is entirely made-up, and he merely took staff's silence as affirmation when he asserted the number at the Public Works Committee meeting.
Update 2: There will be more to come on this ridiculous story. The west mountain councillor went on the Bill Kelly Show on AM 900 CHML today and doubled down on his absurd rhetorical war against the lower city.
Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr sent the following email to staff seeking their clarification on some more of the west mountain councillor's ludicrous claims, and will be providing their responses in a follow-up. Meanwhile, here is the text of Councillor Farr's letter to staff, reproduced here with permission:
Councillor Terry Whitehead just told Bill Kelly that the Waste dept. does not support Herkimer/Charlton bike lanes. Please confirm, in preparing for this council approved sustainable infrastructure, waste would have been a commenting body and my recollection, having been closely involved, is counter to this public/media comment this morning. Please advise so that there is no public confusion or unnecessary upheaval resulting from mixed messaging.
Councillor Terry Whitehead just told Bill Kelly that because he bounced a cyclists/car ratio off staff and staff didn't say anything, he can therefore use these stats as it relates to acceptable ratios. Please confirm that you find these ratios acceptable (or not) so that there is no public confusion or unnecessary upheaval resulting from mixed messaging.
Councillor Whitehead just said to Bill Kelly that a car door was smashed off as a result of this project. I have investigated this and can find no evidence. Please advise so that there is no public confusion or uneccessary upheval resulting from mixed messaging.
Councillor Terry just told Bill Kelly that we are "exceeding our Cycling Master Plan objective" but then acknowledges these lanes were part of our cycling master plan (a plan the good councillor supported in a council-ratified vote). Are we exceeding our CMP objective? It is important that you provide clarity here so that there is no public confusion or uneccessary upheval resulting from mixed messages in our city.
Councillor Terry told Bill Kelly he thinks we "failed" in understanding the function of the road(s). Please advise if you, as the experts in this feild, feel that you have failed as it relates to this public comment to the media. It is important so that there is no public confusion or uneccessary upheval resulting from mixed messaging.
Councillor Terry said to Mr. Kelly just now that he feels some actions are "premature and punitive," taking "the anti-car sentiment." Can someone please share with Councillor Whitehead the good prep work that goes into making these Councillor Terry Whitehead-approved cycling infrastructure projects a reality. How we dialogue with all appropriate staff and do traffic counts and get feedback (ems/garbage/traffic/etc) and how we enage the community giving everyone many oppertunites and ways to share their incites before these projects begin. Also note attendence to the good councillor and the overwhelming support from the many whom particpated.
Councillor Terry talks to Bill Kelly about an "experiment" (referring to the Herkimer/Charlton bike lanes) and that this provides he and others the opportunity for feedback. Can you please clarify and ensure the good councillor is aware that this is not a pilot project and exactly what was meant when the "experiment" comment was made in PW Committee so that there is no public confusion or uneccessary upheval resulting from mixed messaging.
Many thanks. I always welcome input and I have certainly heard much (on both sides) since the installation of our Councillor Terry Whitehead approved Herkimer/Charlton bike lanes. We have even made some tweaks that were a directly result of public comment and concern.
Also, just yesterday, I had a very healthy conversation with one colleague (who has been around a while and knows that any change is hard for some, but in time people adjust) about peek period parking removal on these streets as a means to address what Councillor Terry Whitehead says is an additonal half of a life-time stuck on Herkimer and Charlton from Queen to James as a result of implimenting this Councillor Terry Whitehead approved infrastructure.
After hearing the Bill Kelly Show this morning, I am now very much standing down from this consideration so that there is no public confusion or uneccessary upheval resulting from mixed messaging. We had a very good plan as a result of well over a year of public consultation, so I will stay put and not cave in fear before the paint even drys. I prefer to demonstrate strong, non-divisive and decisive leadership. It is infact expected of me in this ward.
Staff - I am very well aware of your demands city-wide in bringing our council-approved mandates of safer more complete streetsto reality. So please take your time responding.
Councillor Whitehead, I will be holding a press conference on Wednesday before Council about an incredibly successful resident driven campaign in ward 2 called Plan Local. You and I talked about this before it got started. The theme was safe streets. We have well over one million in safe streets projects set for your approvalcoming soon.
So that you may communicate on these projects before (rather than after) implementation (if approved by you and my council colleagues), I would welcome your attendance. You will learn how there was much dialogue with our traffic experts on city staff, the community and their elected representative. 4:45 PM, Wednesday at City Hall.
Finally, it would really be helpful to me as your colleague to dialogue on these ward 2 things in advance. Very unfortunately, as a result of many of your comments at PW (in my absence) and today on the Bill Kelly radio show, I find myself spending much unplanned-for time, having to set the record straight with my constituents who are confused by mixed messaging.
So, if you wish to go beyond making these comments on the radio and actually move a motion that changes the Herkimer/Charlton "experiment" in any way, may I humbly ask that you as a friend and a colleague please share this motion with me at your earliest convenience so that I can have facilities staff arrange for additional public seating when the meeting takes place.
RTH will follow up when we receive the detailed response from staff.
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