Given the constraints presented, I want to illustrate to engineers and staff, as a starting point for further discussion, that a replacement for lost cycling infrastructure is feasible using the southernmost lane along York.
By Thomas Bernacki
Published February 07, 2017
Following a review of the material presented at the Public Information Centre #2 for the Hamilton Light Rail Transit (LRT) project, I had an opportunity to chat at length with some of the assembled engineering consultants and city staff.
As a daily user of the York Boulevard bike lanes, and as a parent who walks his kids to school down Dundurn Street, but also as a supporter of the LRT project, I wanted to be sure I understood the motivation behind the proposed removal of the bike lanes on York and Dundurn.
By the end of the discussion, traffic engineers more-or-less said that one extra westbound lane on York, and one extra southbound lane on Dundurn were going to be pretty firm constraints. When I asked about keeping bike lanes in the eastbound lanes of York, it was suggested that right-turn "stacking" from York onto Queen would also be problematic.
To be clear, I don't agree with the base assumption behind the modeling that overall traffic volumes will rise throughout the period of LRT operation. RTH has documented well the notion that we are past the point of "peak car".
So the idea that we need to fully accommodate all traffic displaced by LRT - and then some - while we build the means to reduce car trips, is in my mind planning for failure.
That being said, as an engineer, I can appreciate what we're up against when the opposition comes armed with models and numbers.
So, given the constraints presented, I wanted to be able to illustrate to engineers and staff, as a starting point for further discussion, that a replacement for lost cycling infrastructure was feasible using the southernmost lane along York.
Illustrations depicting a possible configuration for a two-way protected cycle track along York are shown below.
York and Dundurn
The proposed contra-flow lanes start with a connection to the proposed Woodbine-Breadalbane greenway, which Ryan McGreal detailed in a previous RTH article.
Here the lane coming from the direction of the RBG can continue onto either the greenway or the cycle track. Bike traffic westbound from downtown is either guided onto the greenway, or a bike box facilitates connection to the westbound lane to the RBG. Right-hand turn car lanes cross the bike lanes in a similar fashion to present.
With increased car traffic at the intersection, improved pedestrian spaces are critical, and I propose adding zebra crossings, and what I feel should be standard at all off-ramp-style slip-lanes, speed-tables, or raised crosswalks.
The existing road widths support two turning lanes from York to Dundurn, and two southbound lanes and one northbound lane on Dundurn. I vehemently oppose the widening of Dundurn suggested by the posters at the public meeting, as the additional traffic will already reduce safety.
York and Locke
The contra-flow protected bike-lanes continue along the south leg of York. Three lanes of westbound traffic is accommodated on the north leg of York.
Bus stops are accommodated in the same manner as the bus stop at Macklin and King, where the two-way cycle track crosses the bus loading area, and a concrete platform is located on the far side of the cycle track from the sidewalk.
This eliminates buses stopping in the bike lanes, as is currently the case on the York bike lanes.
York and Queen
The pattern presented in the previous figure continues. However, starting around Ray Street, the median is narrowed to permit an additional lane at the intersection of Queen. This permits a dedicated right-hand car turning lane that does not directly interfere with the cycle track, with two lanes straight through.
The bus stop at Queen (as with all bus stops along the route) is accommodated with a loading platform on the other side of the cycle track, as is currently done at Macklin and King.
York and Hess
Between Queen and Hess, there is currently room allocated for one eastbound bike lane. Turning this into a two-way track while retaining the other car traffic lanes would require reducing the medians by half a lane's width.
A bike box at Hess accommodates the northward connection (along the massive unused portion of Hess) to connect with the existing Cannon Street cycle track. Eastbound from here along York would remain unchanged.
LRT staff indicate that further consultation will be scheduled with the cycling community and neighbourhood associations in respect of replacing cycling infrastructure impacted by the LRT project. They have stated that they are looking for "creative solutions" to provide a one-for-one replacement for lost cycling infrastructure.
I present the above proposal as a starting point for discussion for replacing cycling infrastructure on York, while meeting constraints that I believe traffic engineers will ultimately insist on.
While a Woodbine-Breadalbane greenway is not exactly a one-for-one replacement for the Dundurn bike lanes (should they be removed), in total I believe the combination of a greenway with improved lanes on York is a net improvement.
One location unaddressed in this proposal is the most direct Westdale-Downtown cycling route, following Hunt-Head-Napier through the Strathcona neighbourhood. If the Dundurn lanes are removed, that connection is effectively broken, especially with additional traffic lanes potentially being added to Dundurn.
I inquired with planning staff about facilitating an improved cycling connection via the proposed suburban-style Shopper's and Tim Hortons drive-through development at King and Dundurn, but I was informed that the site plan had been recently approved.
Here's hoping the adjacent LRT stop gives the developers reason to consider a design more suitable for its urban context, perhaps in line with the Strathcona Secondary Plan.
Failing a re-opening of the design, I cannot see a way to replace that connection should the Dundurn bike lanes be removed. I hope further creative thinking can help find a solution.
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