Herkimer and Charlton are so much more than just a traffic sewer or a shortcut to someone else's home.
By Kyle Slote
Published September 12, 2016
I live on Herkimer. My children's school is on Herkimer, as is the park they play at. Like those that surround it, it is a street filled with homes where actual human beings live and carry out their daily lives. To use the recently-coined hashtag, #welivehere.
Couple riding Hamilton Bike Share bikes on Herkimer
So when Ward 8 councillor Terry Whitehead (West Mountain) recently described Herkimer Street and Charlton Avenue as "essentially main thoroughfares for residents living on the mountain," it stung more than a little.
The comment was made in the broader context of criticisms of the recently installed bike lanes on these streets. Whitehead claims these lanes are causing traffic tie-ups in his ward as drivers traverse the mountain accesses to and from downtown.
Setting aside the made-up "data" and sweeping generalizations that accompanied this description, Whitehead's comment is at best flippant, and at worst intentionally divisive. Herkimer and Charlton are so much more than just a traffic sewer or a shortcut to someone else's home.
A young family walks along Herkimer
These lanes are meant to be about more than cycling. The Southwest Ad-hoc Bike Committee, formed by the Durand and Kirkendall neighbourhood associations to advocate for their successful implementation, had a much broader mandate that included:
And, of course, goals related directly to cycling such as providing physical protection of the bike lanes, facilitating simple turns at intersections, and providing continuity to existing cycling infrastructure.
In short, balance was sought between all road users - including those who are most vulnerable
Many of these goals have been realized since the lanes have been implemented, resulting in a significant improvement in quality of life for those who live here.
Walking (especially with children) does feel safer. Cycling absolutely is safer. And with slower traffic speeds and not having to compete with cyclists for road space, driving, too, feels safer.
Slower traffic is also safer for motorists. Several locations on the route, including Charlton at Hess, are identified as "high crash" locations that have been seen dozens of crashes (some very serious) in recent years.
Herkimer in motion
These lanes are not perfect. Thankfully, the downtown councillor and City staff have been open to feedback. This has already resulted in adjustments to the intersection of Park and Herkimer, with additional improvements planned to facilitate pedestrian access to the entrance of Durand Park and to improve sight lines for vehicles travelling South on Park across Herkimer.
Other improvements such as better demarcation of the lanes with green paint, adding bike boxes at intersections for safer turning and adjusting the bumpout at the north east corner of Charlton and Caroline to allow the street configuration to remain more regular are all on the table and with time and persistence, may be implemented.
The bumpout at Charlton and Caroline forces the configuration to switch from parking protected bike lanes to curbside parking with bike lanes alongside traffic lanes - albeit with a painted buffer
The changing street widths and alignment has also meant the design changes from block to block, which can be puzzling to drivers and cyclists at first.
Some residents with driveways directly on Herkimer and Charlton have noticed it is more challenging to back out since the reconfiguration. The narrower travel lane leaves less maneuvering space and the parked cars that remain unmoved during business hours (many of whom are employees of St. Joseph's Hospital seeking free parking) reduce visibility.
Hopefully, ongoing efforts to reduce speeding and the possibility of limiting parking periods (as is consistent with other neighbourhoods in close proximity to a hospital) will mitigate this challenge.
Although there is room for improvement, these lanes are already a real improvement in the lives of the thousands of people who live here (11,000 people live in Durand alone).
Bike Share station at Durand Park
This is a difficult topic to discuss without descending into us vs. them, suburban vs. urban rhetoric (as modelled by the West Mountain councillor.
Personally, I hope we as citizens can rise above such divisiveness. While it has already been resoundingly demonstrated elsewhere that the Herkimer and Charlton bike lanes are not actually impacting suburban commutes, what if they were?
What would be a reasonable amount of time to add to someone's commute if it meant the citizens within the neighbourhood being commuted through had a better quality of life 24 hours a day, 365 days a year?
In the end, answers will vary for every individual. However, to move forward as a City on multiple fronts, we must become more collaborative, supportive, and cooperative to ensure that when we do move forward, it is with a shared interest that respects the understanding that one neighbourhood's benefit does not necessitate the detriment (perceived or actual) of another.
One thing is clear: a paradigm shift is required - not only from the top down, but from the bottom up.
All that being said, Herkimer and Charlton play a broader role in the City's transportation infrastructure. I do not have the expectation that they suddenly become streets where traffic is so infrequent that kids play ball hockey on them.
I do expect that in upholding the City's vision - to be the best place to raise a child and age successfully - these streets can be safely navigated by all road users including children walking to school and seniors running errands. While they are not there yet, they are much closer since the bike lanes were installed.
Bike parking and bike wayfinding sign at Durand Coffee, Charlton and Caroline
These bike lanes have been a long time coming. They originally appeared in the 2009 Cycling Master Plan (approved by Council). In the fall of 2014, implementation signs appeared with no community consultation. It turned out, the design was significantly flawed - read more here.
This discovery initiated a two-year process that halted the initial implementation so a new design could be made through careful work as a collaborative effort between city staff, the ward 1 and 2 councillors and citizen representatives nominated by the Kirkendall and Durand neighbourhood associations. You can read more about that process here, here and here.
It was a long and, at times, complicated process that involved widespread consultation with the relevant city departments (waste, snow removal, emergency services).
There were several public meetings that were open to anyone (including residents from other parts of the city who might only commute through the neighbourhood). Finally, installation began at the end of June, 2016 and wrapped up about a month later.
'Children At Play' sign at Durand Park
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