The Jolley is about to be re-paved. Let's make it accessible to everyone in the city, no matter what mode of transport they prefer.
By Sean Burak
Published September 14, 2009
As work is completed on the bottom end of the Jolley Cut, questions come to mind about the destiny of the middle and upper sections. Will we simply pave over the crumbling asphalt, or will we reconfigure the access so that it better serves a greater number of citizens?
Since its inception, Hamilton has made many attempts to bridge the physical and mental division caused by the escarpment. From footpath to road to rail, highway to stairs to trail, we've built and rebuilt dozens of 'mountain accesses'.
The Jolley Cut is one of the most important ones, if not due to traffic volume, then due to symbolic value. It is the central cut. It links the core of the lower city with the heart of the upper.
It is one of the few which allows a direct route up and down - its switchback curve reduces the amount of east-west 'skew' experienced when using our other road accesses.
It also hugs Sam Lawrence Park and offers the easiest access to the park for those living below. It delivers mountain dwellers directly downtown.
Jolley Cut in 1954 (Image Credit: thekingshighway.ca)
But the Cut has a darker side. Because it was originally built as a motorway (part of Highway 6 until the 1970s), it continues to serve motor vehicle traffic above all else. In this sense, it only acts to bridge the two halves of the city from the perspective of motorists.
To those who do not drive, either by choice or otherwise, the Cut acts as a barrier.
The lower section of the Jolley (below the pedestrian crossing near Kingsway Drive) offers acceptable amenities to pedestrians - standard width sidewalks and a dedicated light. It has no dedicated cycling lanes.
The middle section (from Kingsway to the hairpin curve) has a single sidewalk with a severely reduced width, and no accommodation for cyclists.
The upper section (above the curve) does not allow for any non-motorized traffic. There is, however, a beautiful walking path that bypasses the upper portion of the roadway. Unfortunately, the path has several staircases with no bike-friendly bypass.
The lower section has standard sidewalks
In its current state, Jolley is nothing short of a nightmare for everyone outside of a car.
The sidewalk along the middle section is too narrow for two people to comfortably pass. Pedestrians are sandwiched between a guardrail that protects them from a sheer drop, and a crumbling curb that protects them from fast-moving, downhill-bound traffic.
Cyclists along this stretch are in even worse shape, with no dedicated space at all. Descending cyclists share a narrow lane with vehicles, while ascending bikes must navigate on-again/off-again gravel shoulders.
The sidewalk narrows above the pedestrian crossing
Not enough room for two people to walk
On foot, the dedicated path above the bend offers much appreciated separation from traffic. Cyclists, however, must choose to use the road (sharing lanes with no shoulder on a blind curve) or the path (carrying bikes on the staircase).
Some riders choose to climb the cut by using the traffic lane through the middle section, and crossing near the bend to finish their ascent via the off-street path. These law-abiding bikers are forced to cross at a blind corner with no pedestrian signal.
Avoiding the cut altogether is difficult since the James stairs have no bike-friendly wheel troughs. It's no wonder many cyclists choose to use the sidewalk instead of the street, putting themselves and pedestrians at risk through the very narrow middle section.
Pedestrians who require mobility assistance have no option at all - the sidewalk is too narrow and the stairs near the hairpin are impassable.
Any brave souls who attempt this climb are in for more challenges once they reach the top. By taking the dedicated path, one arrives at Concession near East 13th St. This is convenient if one is travelling east toward the shops on concession.
Anyone using this path to access Sam Lawrence Park, however, is greeted with a 300-metre walk back in the direction they came, just to reach the park entrance.
To make matters worse, the Jolley is officially part of the Bruce Trail. Hikers using the path through Hamilton are spit from a forested trail out into a clearing where rushing traffic challenges them for space along a narrow sidewalk. We should be putting on a much better face for these visitors to demonstrate the natural beauty Hamilton has to offer.
Surely we can do better than this. The Concession shops and Sam Lawrence Park are jewels that could be within easy reach of walking or cycling downtowners. Conversely, the downtown offers endless amenities to Upper Hamiltonians. We should do our best to make those accessible by all modes of transportation. Revamping this access would benefit all citizens who are within cycling/walking distance of the cut.
One simple solution to this problem is to give cyclists and pedestrians a little more space, along with a comfortable separation from vehicular traffic.
Since the 1970's, we have been steadily building lanes up and down the escarpment. Claremont is ultra-wide. The 403 has taken all of the highway 6 traffic off of our streets. The Red Hill Expressway has eased congestion in the East.
We have so many lanes breaching the escarpment that we could easily lose one single vehicular lane without causing any trouble to motorists.
By dedicating one of the downbound Jolley lanes to people rather than cars, we can open up this access to a huge percentage of the population that is currently shut out.
In this scenario, we would retain both upbound lanes, ensuring that nobody gets stuck behind a slow-climbing truck. We would retain both downbound lanes above the hairpin, and both downbound lanes below the pedestrian crossing. Only in the straight middle section would we reduce vehicular traffic to one lane travelling downhill.
From the hairpin to the pedestrian crossing, we could dedicate a full lane's width to two-way bike lanes and a much wider sidewalk. This could be accomplished immediately with a minimal amount of concrete, some paint and signage.
Ideally we would take this idea even further by physically separating the bike lanes from the street. This could be accomplished inexpensively with pylons or concrete barriers, or we could spruce it up with a small planted median.
Taking one more step, we could add accessibility ramps to the staircases along the upper dedicated trail, along with bike-friendly stair bypasses.
By building the cut this way, pedestrians and cyclists can use standard sidewalks and shared traffic lanes below the crossing near Kingsway. At Kingsway, they would cross to use the new sidewalk and bike lanes on the south side of the access up to the curve. At the curve, they would have direct access to the dedicated pathway without having to cross any lanes.
By opening up the Jolley to pedestrians and cyclists, we could open up one more bonus opportunity: easy access to Sam Lawrence Park from below. This would be accomplished by adding an on-demand pedestrian crossing halfway up the Jolley Cut, where a short staircase would be built to link the crossing directly to the lower pathways of the park.
The Jolley is about to be re-paved. Let's take it just a little bit further and make it accessible to everyone in the city, no matter what mode of transport they prefer.
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