Special Report: Cycling

Cannon Cycle Track: Growing Year-Round Ridership and Smoother Traffic

The Cannon cycle track proves that with high-quality infrastructure design and routine maintenance, it is possible to dramatically increase the number of bicycle trips without any downside for other road users.

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 10, 2017

This article has been updated.

Overlooked in all the light rail transit (LRT) hoopla over the last couple of weeks, the April 3, 2017 Public Works Committee meeting received an update on the Cannon Street Cycle Track, and it's a good-news story. (It's item 5.3 in the agenda, but we can't link directly to it for the usual reason.)

Significant Ridership Growth

Peak daily summer ridership on the cycle track has increased from 580 cyclists in 2016 to 700 cyclists in 2017, and peak daily winter ridership has increased from 75 cyclists a day in 2016 to 200 cyclists a day in 207.

Peak Daily Ridership Year-Over-Year, Summer and Winter
2015 2016 % Increase
Summer 580 700 20.7%
Winter 75 200 166.7%

This is based on a counter that was installed on Cannon west of Bay Street North on December 11, 2015 and west of Victoria Avenue North on January 19, 2016. The Bay Street counter recorded 52,231 trips for the year of 2016 and the Victoria counter recorded an impressive 158,170 trips.

One important note on these counts: based on an analysis of Hamilton Bike Share data for Cannon and York Streets that I conducted last August, most bike share trips that use Cannon are short and local. The average total trip distance was 2.92 km, with an average distance of 0.65 km along a segment of Cannon.

As a result of this observed cycling behaviour, the two counters the city uses actually miss most of the bike trips that use the cycle track, so the reported numbers significantly under-report total ridership.

Pehaps most impressive is the large year-over-year increase in peak winter cycling along the Cannon Cycle Track. Of course, some of this is due to the relatively mild winter we've just had, but last winter was also relatively mild - especially compared to the brutal previous winter.

Cyclists on Cannon Cycle Track in winter (RTH file photo)
Cyclists on Cannon Cycle Track in winter (RTH file photo)

Surely some of the credit for the sustained number of winter cyclists must go to the City's commitment to ensuring the Cannon Cycle Track is cleared of snow in a timely fashion.

Improved Automobile Traffic Flow

Meanwhile, the staff report also reviews the cycle track's impact on driving. In a counterintuitive but common result, automobile traffic flow has actually improved with the introduction of the cycle track.

AM peak travel time along the corridor improved from 7.6 minutes before the cycle track was installed to 5.0 minutes after. PM peak travel time declined only very slightly from 6.4 minutes before the cycle track was installed to 6.6 minutes after.

Another interesting observation is that the peak automobile volumes declined in both AM and PM peak hours after the cycle track was installed. East of Bay Street, AM peak volume deceased from 1,576 vehicles/hour to 1,254, and PM peak volume decreased from 2,169 vehicles/hour to 1,720.

Changes to Peak Travel Time with Cycle Track
Before After Change
AM Peak Travel Time (min) 7.6 5.0 -2.6
PM Peak Travel Time (min) 6.4 6.6 0.2
AM Peak Volume (veh/hr) 1,576 1,254 -322
PM Peak Volume (veh/hr) 2,169 1,720 -449

It is interesting to note that total automobile traffic volumes have decreased since the cycle track was installed. There are a few possible interpretations:

The important thing to note is that vehicle traffic volumes are not rigid and fixed, as many people assume. They are fluid and respond dynamically to the environment via the law of induced demand.

At bottom, the law of induced demand is quite simple and obvious: when you make it safer, easier and more comfortable to do something, people do more of it.

Traffic Collisions

It should come as no surprise that the absolute number of vehicle-bicycle collisions has gone up since the cycle track was installed, since the number of cyclists along each segment of Cannon increased from roughly zero to several hundred a day.

The number of vehicle-cyclist collisions on Cannon increased from an average of 6.2 per year in the five years before the cycle track was installed to 16 in the first year and 10 in the second year.

The reduction from year one to year two is likely due to a combination of factors. For one, during 2015 city staff implemented some improvements to the cycle track to add pavement markings through intersections. This increased the visibility of the cycle track at the main conflict points - where left-turning drivers have to cross the path of cyclists riding through the intersection.

Intersection pavement markings on Cannon Cycle Track at John (RTH file photo)
Intersection pavement markings on Cannon Cycle Track at John (RTH file photo)

Another important factor is increased driver awareness of the cycle track and the presence of cyclists as people have gotten used to the new cycling facilities. An important aspect of this is the well-demonstrated safety in numbers effect: as the number of cyclists goes up, the risk of injury goes down.

Given the huge increase in the number of people riding bikes on Cannon, the risk of a vehicle-bike collision on Cannon has actually plummetted.

Meanwhile, the number of vehicle-pedestrian collisions has remained roughly the same, from an average of 4.6 per year in the five years before the cycle track was installed to 7 in the first year and 2 in the second year.

Similarly, the number of vehicle-vehicle collisions has also remained the same - from an average of 46.6 per year in the five years before the cycle track was installed to 44 in each of the first two years after.

Change in Collisions with Cycle Track
Prev 5 Yrs Yr 1 Change Yr 2 Change Yr 1 Change from Prev 5
Vehicle/Pedestrian 4.6 7 2.4 2 -5 -2.6
Vehicle/Cyclist 6.2 16 9.8 10 -6 3.8
Vehicle/ebike 0.6 12 11.4 15 3 14.4
Vehicle/Vehicle 46.6 44 -2.6 44 0 -2.6
Total 58 79 21 71 -8 13

Under Budget

When the Cannon Cycle Track was presented to Council with a budget of $867,200, some Councillors objected to such a high cost for something that is to be used by cyclists.

The good news is that staff have been able to contain costs so effectively that the project is currently $343,100 under budget. To date, staff have spent only $524,100 on the cycle track. That's an impressive 39.6 percent savings below the budgeted cost.

The report explains that staff were able to realize these savings by reducing the cost of traffic modifications (pavement markings, signs and traffic signals), reducing the use of consultants for design work, and eliminating the contingency and administration costs.

Given the recent auditor's report on consultant cost overruns, this is very welcome news.

Summary

All in all, the Cannon cycle track has been a real success, proving all the naysayers and concern trolls wrong about its cost, usage, and impact on driving.

With high-quality infrastructure design and routine maintenance, it is possible to dramatically increase the number of bicycle trips without any downside for other road users - and at minimal cost.

This is true even in Hamilton, whose squelchers insist against all evidence that Hamilton is somehow so different from every other city on earth that universal principles of good urban design somehow won't work here.


Update: updated to add a section on the project cost coming in 39.6 percent under budget. Thanks to KevinLove for pointing this out in the comments.

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. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and 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. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted April 10, 2017 at 15:25:31

All in all, the Cannon cycle track has been a real success, proving all the naysayers and concern trolls wrong.

Completely agree. Hopefully the lessons learned from it are extended to other arterials, which some seem to feel must bear the burden of traffic "diverted" from the King and Main corridor due to LRT. Induced demand also should apply here, and we shouldn't allow slight reductions in capacity for automobility in one place to simply be added back nearby.

Glad to see the Cannon cycle track is working. Imagine if it was one of several that formed a network for convenient and safe cycling around the City ... kind of like the Blast network: one line is a start, but the real transformation comes from networked connectivity and the exponential growth in usage that comes with it.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 10, 2017 at 19:23:10 in reply to Comment 121190

Fortunately, no imagination is necessary. All one has to do is to read the City of Hamilton's official Cycling Master Plan.

After finishing reading it, you may be thinking: "Hey, this plan dates from 2009. Why have we fallen so far behind in implementing it?"

Yes, the real problem is not in planning, but in implementing what has been planned.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2017-04-10 19:23:28

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By GlenDoe (registered) | Posted April 11, 2017 at 08:46:10

Thanks for this well written report.

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By owen (registered) | Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:14:34

Absolutely terrible design! I almost hit a cyclist this past weekend coming up from behind me while I was turning left.

"It should come as no surprise that the absolute number of vehicle-bicycle collisions has gone up since the cycle track was installed,"

The bicycle lane that's going west bound with car traffic should be on the RIGHT side of the road, not the LEFT. It's the equivalent of having a left hand turning lane for a car on the right side of the road, so you have to cross same-direction traffic.

No wonder traffic accidents have increased!! It's not intuitive to look what's coming BEHIND/BESIDE you when turning left in a car.

On-coming bike direction on the left side of the road and same direction bike traffic on the right.

Great that people are using it but it's a shitty unsafe design.

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By rednic (registered) | Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:26:14 in reply to Comment 121208

Saturday Afternoon ? Cannon and Wentworth? Yeah I saw that you passed the cyclist less than 1/4 block before the intersection and then forgot about him.

And some how it's the cyclists or the designers fault.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:38:06 in reply to Comment 121208

It's not intuitive to look what's coming BEHIND/BESIDE you when turning left in a car.

Can you tell me what intersections you normally make left turns at? I'll make sure to avoid crossing the street there since you're not in the habit of looking beside you when you turn left.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:41:09

Great report...not sure how I missed this info in Terry Whiteheads twitter feed. Strange....

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted April 11, 2017 at 11:44:06 in reply to Comment 121208

There is a sign at each intersection that indicates ( or seems to indicate ) that drivers should yield to bikes when turning left. However, I find the sign to be small and a bit confusing. Some may interpret it as the bikes that should be yielding. Maybe that's just me. I would prefer a larger text sign like "Yield to bikes when turning left".

I often drive that area and a few times when turning left onto Wellington I've had bikes stop even though I was also stopped and waiting for them to pass. Each time the cyclist waved me through.

It will take some time for Hamiltonians to get accustomed to the idea that bikes are part of traffic and that road signs also incorporate bike traffic situations. I have also been guilty of the 'forgetting about' a cyclist as rednic mentioned below. I'm over it now. If I pass a bike on the same block I assume he his coming up behind me when I turn left. And, I always take a look in my mirror as someone could pop out of a driveway just after I pass by.

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By RobF (registered) | Posted April 11, 2017 at 12:22:50 in reply to Comment 121200

Kevin, I never said the real problem was the need to plan a network.

Perhaps, i was being too rhetoric ... my point was just like the LRT naysayers who tend to focus on how the B-line won't serve all parts of the City or magically turn us into a transit-oriented place, an over-emphasis on user counts for a cycle-track that only covers a few kilometers is misleading until more of the planned network is built.

I'm pretty familiar with the cycling master plan. But no I'm not surprised that we've fallen so far behind in implementing it ... that's pretty much the case with most infrastructure needs in this town.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 12, 2017 at 16:55:46 in reply to Comment 121213

Alas, all too true.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 12, 2017 at 16:57:48 in reply to Comment 121211

This comment caused me to laugh out loud!

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 12, 2017 at 17:02:11

From page 2 of the linked report:

The original cost estimate to complete the Cannon St. Cycle Track was $867,200. To date, the total expenditures on this project, including minor modification in 2016 is $524,100.

Kevin's question: How many other City of Hamilton projects came in under budget by that kind of percentage?

Answer: Approximately zero.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2017-04-12 17:02:25

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted April 12, 2017 at 20:55:52 in reply to Comment 121229

Over $300k under budget, thousand of active cyclists, less car traffic, faster traffic speed. This calls for a 15 hour marathon meeting with lots of fist-pounding, and demands about how we can possibly be wasting so much money when there are neighbourhoods in Ward 8 without SIDEWALKS

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 13, 2017 at 08:25:13 in reply to Comment 121230

Ah yes, there is the unfortunate reality that we can't do both at the same time.

Too bad that the Cannon Street cycle track prevented the installation of sidewalks in Ward 8.

Or that Ward 7 councillor Donna Skelly is against sidewalks on the Mountain that impede the flow of motor vehicles.

... Kevin rolls eyes...

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By owen (registered) | Posted April 18, 2017 at 20:30:28 in reply to Comment 121209

Nope, but thanks for reinforcing this is a common issue that needs to be addressed.

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By owen (registered) | Posted April 18, 2017 at 20:36:53 in reply to Comment 121210

I look at pedestrian crosswalks, curbs and places that are expected for people to come from. I don't look above me or at sewer holes for the same reason most people don't look deep left for a bike sneaking up behind them. It's not common.

It's really not that difficult to see the issue with the design. It takes up zero extra space to put the flow-of-traffic bike lane on the right side of the road and makes far more sense.

If you're riding and turning left at a normal intersection, do you sneak up beside cars in the left hand turning lane? Probably not.

I've ridden bikes for many years and all for bike priority lanes. Just here to point out the problems with this one so it can be improved.

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By owen (registered) | Posted April 18, 2017 at 20:45:04 in reply to Comment 121212

Agreed that signage is a bit confusing and will take time for people to get accustom to but it should be as easy as possible and instantly understandable. Also, what if someone doesn't speak english?

Oncoming bike lane should be divided by 2 solid yellow lines on the left side of the road (every driver knows that signifies do not cross - oncoming traffic). The with flow of traffic bike lane should be on the right side with a solid white line dividing it from car traffic. Put giant bike symbols painted on the road. Super easy and already conforms to most traffic set-ups instead of making shit confusing for everyone.

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By owen (registered) | Posted April 18, 2017 at 21:03:55 in reply to Comment 121233

I'm going to point out the obvious. There are sidewalks on Upper James from the escarpment all the way to south of Rymal until the residential area ends (basically the entire western boarder of her ward). Do all the people walking to Kia of Hamilton require sidewalks? How is this woman on city council?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2017 at 13:56:32 in reply to Comment 121282

How is this woman on city council?

I understand you're asking rhetorically, but the reason is that she won by less than 100 votes in a by-election with very low turnout in which the progressive vote was split three ways.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2017 at 18:30:56

I read this today:

n 2015, the city of Oslo, Norway gave itself an ambitious goal: create a car-free city center by within four years. Set to equally inspirational music, a new video video from the excellent StreetFilms production team shows us just how the city is working to make this goal a reality.

Interviews with the mayor, city planners, and enthusiastic citizens give insight into how the city is working to reach its impressive goal. We also get a cool glimpse into how city-wide construction is ripping up roads to make way for wider bike lanes and pedestrian walkways in this future-minded city.

Getting Oslo car-free necessitates a multi-pronged approach. By the end of 2017, Oslo intends to remove all on-street parking in its downtown to facilitate more room for cyclists and pedestrians.

“We decided that we’re going to make it difficult to drive here,” says Liv Jorun Andenes of the Oslo Agency of Cycling, about one of the city’s main shopping areas, filled with stores that need to receive deliveries, requiring at least some need for cars. “There’s not going to be [a lot of space] to park, but it’s going to be accessible for cars.”

Oslo hasn’t had a reputation as a cyclist’s city, which it’s trying to change.

“Oslo is not known as a bike-friendly city, but to go out and do a statement on this, like ‘We’re going to do this.’ — it’s really great,” says Mari Oshaug, the editor of Bikevibe, in the video. Even though winters are long and cold in Norway, the city reports an uptick in “winter biking” and of course, cleaner air. story continues below

Public transport is also getting a facelift to encourage ridership. City center buses are being outfitted with four doors, to make entering and exiting as efficient as possible. “If it takes too long at each stop, the journey for me and you is going to take too long, and then we’re not going take the bus, we’re going to take a car,” says Frode Hvattum, head of the public transit authority Ruter.

There’s also a very simple-looking app for purchasing metro passes that can be quickly flashed at drivers; another way Oslo is intending to speed up the public transportation experience. “20 people getting on board a bus takes maybe a minute,” says Oslo resident Michael Gudmason.

The city’s bike-share system has also been made as ubiquitous as possible. A recent revamp — which includes lighter bikes and more racks throughout Oslo — saw over one million uses of the bike-share system in the first four months alone.

You can watch the video below:

No war on the car. Just make it impossible for cars to operate. That's why Skelly won.

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