Special Report: Cycling

A Network of Bicycle Superhighways

Balance in our transportation system isn't tough to achieve, but we need to be willing to make these investments and slight changes to the way our city functions.

By Jason Leach
Published October 03, 2011

Excitement surrounded the opening last week of the newly-developed West Hamilton bike path from the Main West Fortinos to Chedoke Golf Course. It is a central route that will see many users, especially considering it is lit-up and will be maintained in winter.

Much has been written over the years on the Shifting Gears bike plan and the need for Hamilton to get serious about providing safe cycling routes for our citizens. Any city with great cycling networks is a better place to live, work, play and always ends up resulting in stronger neighbourhoods that are more inviting to investors and young families.

Here is a simple, affordable plan that requires no road reconstruction, no two-way conversions and minimal investment largely in the form of some neighbourhood speed humps and re-adjusting stop signs. I believe something simple like this could result in cycling participation taking off in Hamilton.

I suggest we develop some cycling 'superhighways' like they did in London. Due to our massively underused lane capacity, we can do this without impacting traffic flow or parking in the slightest. Here's a video of a two-way bike lane on Brooklyn's Prospect Park:

Here are the routes:

Along all of these routes I would suggest we plant lots of street trees, and I believe just this simple plan alone would lead to a massive increase in cycling in Hamilton for work, school, errands and so on. These lanes connect people to where they live, work and play. Right now, virtually no bike lanes connect to the downtown core.

Yes, we need to continue the slow, incremental work on the Shifting Gears plan to connect these superhighways to regular bike lanes, but you would see a huge jump in safe cycling in Hamilton and new desirability come back to many of these urban neighbourhoods simply by enacting a plan like this.

The next step is a simple plan to continue lanes down King St east of the Delta as well as some quieter 'mid-neighbourhood' streets like Central Ave, Dunsmere etc.... that can get the Greenway treatment:

Take this greenway concept with speed humps, sharrows, yield signs for bikes, and stop signs for cars on the cross-streets, and use it on Central Avenue from London-Reid, Dunsmure from Holton to Reid, Head/Napier from Dundurn-Bay, MacDonald/Herkimer from Aberdeen to James, Queensdale/Brantdale from West 5th to Upper Ottawa, and East 24th/South Bend/Bendamere from Concession (Juravinski) to West 35th (Chedoke Hospital).

Bicycle-only speed hump in Vancouver (RTH file photo)
Bicycle-only speed hump in Vancouver (RTH file photo)

Now we're connecting entire districts of the city safely and efficiently, and barely putting a dent into vehicle capacity. Notice that all of the streets on which I suggested taking away a lane are one-way streets that operate at a very uncongested, high rate of speed.

For those concerned with losing these few lanes on these wide streets, now factor in the huge increase in cyclists using the new superhighways to get to work or school.

It is 3 km to Upper James and Fennell and 2 km to James and Burlington Street. How many of our 40,000 downtown workers live within this area? How many Mohawk Students would love to cycle up to the college, but can't safely?

Balance isn't tough to achieve, but we need to be willing to make these investments and slight changes to the way our city functions.

The status quo should not be an option. It's embarrassing to travel down to Toronto and see speed humps and 40 and 30 km/h speed limits all through their family neighbourhoods, only to return home to wide freeways, narrow sidewalks and no connected cycling routes.

30 km/h sign on a residential street in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood (RTH file photo)
30 km/h sign on a residential street in Toronto's Beaches neighbourhood (RTH file photo)

A few well-placed bike superhighways, along with some neighbourhood greenways would bring amazing changes to the livability and image of our city. A lot of discussion has surrounded the need for improved transit before the Pan Am Games in 2015.

I'm hopeful that by 2015, we will have a top notch bike sharing program like Montreal's Bixi and a plan similar to this proposal implemented so visitors are given yet one more safe, enjoyable way to experience our city and way of life.

Bixi station in downtown Toronto (RTH file photo)
Bixi station in downtown Toronto (RTH file photo)

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2011 at 15:51:53

Nearly all of these involve contra-flow bike-lanes on one-way streets. While that might be doable on, say, the Claremont access (as long as it went to W5 instead of Upper James) since there are no intersections there, it wouldn't be safe on the major 1-way streets. Drivers aren't expecting to see an oncoming cyclist on a 1-way street. The safest thing for a cyclist is to be expected.

Put a 1-way bike-lane on Main, Cannon, Wellington, Victoria, Queen North, and King west of Queen - the roads that the city is most die-hard about keeping 1-way. The city's main high-speed corridors. It would put some space between pedestrians and traffic and would provide a bicycle corridor across the city. These are also the streets with the kind of hellishly fast traffic where a cyclist absolutely does not want to be sharing lanes with motor vehicles. I mean, Bond St (for example) doesn't have a bike lane because it doesn't need one to be safe for cyclists.

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted October 04, 2011 at 08:08:51 in reply to Comment 70292

I agree, unless the City is planning on abandoning their one-way corridor mentality, bike lanes will have to "go with the flow."

Would the City contemplate using alleys as bike lanes? They are in the core, underutilized and in need of City maintenance.

That is a whole other can of worms and costs when it comes to the City taking responsibility for all these alleys but, given how the City is evolving, this might be a good long-term move for the City to think about.

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By lukev (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2011 at 23:54:15 in reply to Comment 70307

Montreal has plenty of 2-way bike paths on one-way streets. Works well, for the most part.

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By mrgrande (registered) | Posted October 04, 2011 at 07:28:23 in reply to Comment 70292

I think I read that it costs the city about $1 mil for every new traffic signal. We'd need to add some sort of signal to every single intersection along Main, Cannon, etc. under this plan. That'd hardly be cheap.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 04, 2011 at 22:09:35 in reply to Comment 70306

why would we need new signals? Every intersection already has a walk signal facing both directions. Perhaps we could add a 'bike' symbol beside the 'walk' symbol? Ditto for the red stop signal. The car traffic would still be one-way so no extra signals would be needed. I would probably suggest some signs reminding motorists to look both ways before pulling out onto a street, but they should be doing that anyhow in case pedestrians are coming. I know some don't, but some good enforcement would train people to stop and look both ways (amazing that we teach our kids this, but many drivers don't do it themselves) My 'greenway' idea doesn't really have much cost other than for speed humps and bike symbols painted on the roads. I guess the occasion sign too. Overall, I think this is a very cheap plan which would have a dramatic impact.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted October 03, 2011 at 17:11:29 in reply to Comment 70292

Don't forget that with the new lanes there would be plenty of signage telling drivers that something unusual is happening.

That, along with bike boxes, should make it obvious even to the most oblivious of drivers.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2011 at 16:47:33 in reply to Comment 70292

I understand the problem of two-way bike lanes on a one-way street perfectly well, but I'm not sure how big a problem it is in real life. I've used lanes like this on Montreal - on Maisonneuve, for example - and it didn't feel too bad.

The key for a two-lane bike route on a one-way street is a curb, I should think.

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By I'm a bike advocate (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2011 at 16:08:28

banned user deleted

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By TnT (registered) | Posted October 03, 2011 at 17:07:02

Better yet how about a conversion if Cannon into a two way street with bike lanes on each side.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 03, 2011 at 19:46:42 in reply to Comment 70295

I thought about this, but look at what they just did on Wilson. Shifting Gears shows bike lanes coming to Wilson 'along with two-way conversion'. Despite the fact that virtually every main street in Toronto functions with 1 live lane, 1 curb-parking lane and the leftover space being safe for bikes, we always think we need 4 full-live lanes here. I don't get it. York at Copps and the library is where it's busiest. Once it gets east of James it should function like a true neighbourhood street. Heck, maybe someone would even open a cafe/patio someday in Beasley. I'd love to see this treatment used on Cannon, Wilson, Wellington and Victoria: http://78mangos.files.wordpress.com/2010...

Most of our two-way streets could achieve bike lanes like this simply by adding street parking. But Hamilton is addicted to fast-flowing 4 lane streets whether one-way or two-way.
We just missed a great opportunity to really enhance the Beasley neighbourhood with the conversion of Wilson.

As for the two-way on a one-way street, it is pretty common and I think could work: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_h-w1TRDXVZU/TS...

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2011 at 20:32:39 in reply to Comment 70298

Most of our two-way streets could achieve bike lanes like this simply by adding street parking.

This. This would be the simplest way to encourage biking in the city without making it about cyclists. Consistently provide curbside parking throughout the day including rush-hour on all right-hand lanes and slightly widen these right-hand lanes. Then there would be no traffic in the right lane and bikes could do what we always do - use the space between the door-zone and the rightmost actual traffic lane. It's small but somehow it seems to work in many contexts.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 03, 2011 at 22:34:37 in reply to Comment 70301

Dundurn South near Zarkys is a good local example. The space leftover from the parking lane is used for a bike lane. Many cities paint the bike lane instead of just having cyclists use the leftover space...makes it more legit and keeps people more aware. Also, many cities paint small lines perpendicular to the curb so cars park properly.

I'm big on the green paint treatment of as many bike lanes as possible. This bike box at Studholme will be a complete bust if its not painted green or have a bike lane connected to it....small details make a big difference.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 03, 2011 at 19:48:50

by the way, does anyone know the status of Bixi bike?? I attended the promo event at city hall last year and at the subsequent council meetings we were told that the city was about to sign an agreement with one of the providers (I was told privately that it was Bixi) and we'd see plans develop quickly. Is ANYTHING happening at city hall anymore?? Other than giving Bob Young a whack of money, it seems like the city has grinded to a halt in the past year.



Comment edited by jason on 2011-10-03 19:50:13

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2011 at 20:22:30

I would add to this list:

King street from Westdale to James - We have lost a lane here already to construction and this has proven that there is no impact to traffic. WHat better way to try to bridge the gap between McMaster and the core than by putting a proper bikeway link.

Regarding two way bike lanes on one way streets: 1. This is the easiest way to make cycling directly to a destination easier. Detours that are inconvenient for cars becomes doubly so for cyclists when your destination is not favourably located in terms of the one-ways. We need more contra flow bike lanes (king william comes immediately to mind) 2. WIth proper signals, the danger could be greatly reduced if not eliminated. As Kenneth said above, just take a quick boot around Montreal to see how it could work. On a major one-way artery, the bikeway would be physically separated, and at intersections, the cyclists would have their own signal. Turns on red could be prohibited when entering or leaving a bikeway street.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 05, 2011 at 08:51:35 in reply to Comment 70300

I should also add to the list, Charlton Ave between Wentworth and its' western terminus. A bike lane could be painted there overnight without disrupting traffic flow. The only live lane I can see being eliminated is the narrow one that nobody uses between James and Bay. Otherwise, bike lanes fit perfectly on both the two-way and one-way stretches.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2011 at 22:57:39

The biggest concern I have about bike lanes is the potential to segregate road use. We have to be careful not to make bikes less common and accepted on normal roadways. I'm not particularly fearful of riding in traffic, and I suspect most 12kph bike lane user don't want to deal with me whizzing by at 40kph. I'm not against bikeways in any sense (Vancouver's are amazing, as are Montreal's), but there's a bigger issue, and that's the ability to ride on actual roads.

One winter I had a bus driver start honking madly and screaming at me for riding in a lane of traffic on the King Street bridge, despite the fact the bike lanes were snowed in, un-plowed and pretty much impassable. That, and the other thousand or so stories I could tell of abusive, aggressive and dangerous behaviour by drivers suggests we have a long way to go.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2011 at 15:16:09

I admire the courage of people who cycle on bad snow and icy roads. I certainly don't have the gumption to do so and probably never will, hopefully that is.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 04, 2011 at 18:10:38 in reply to Comment 70312

I admire the courage of people who cycle on bad snow and icy roads.

The thing is, snowy, icy roads are pretty rare: the main arteries go from snowy to wet to dry within a day of a big snowfall, for the most part. Last winter, there were only three days when the roads were not clear enough to ride on wet or dry pavement - and that was a snow winter.

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By Loco Coco (anonymous) | Posted October 04, 2011 at 22:34:57 in reply to Comment 70315

Okay, I admire the courage of people who cycle in bone-chilling cold wind...

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 07:29:05 in reply to Comment 70323

Okay, I admire the courage of people who cycle in bone-chilling cold wind.

Ok - well, that's harder to disagree with.

But, seriously, it's not a big deal. I wear the same things when I ride my bike in winter as when I walk, with the qualification that I put on a toque or fur hat more readily - on account of the wind.

A 50km ride at full tilt in Winter while wearing spandex? That's a feat for the hardy. A 2km ride to the grocery store? That just means a extra button or two done up and an extra wrap of the scarf.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 10:51:07 in reply to Comment 70329

Cycling these short trips in winter also means less time spent in the cold than if you walk - and less shoveling and scraping of the car :-)

I actually prefer cycling in the cold than in cool-weather rain

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By Mark Harrington (anonymous) | Posted October 05, 2011 at 00:33:20

I ride a fair bit -- 90 to 210 km per week. THis plan has a lot of flaws.

I'm concerned that this type of plan will become a secondary motorized vehicle system, taken over by Vespa style electric bicycles, and 49cc gasoline powered scooters, both of which I believe should be treated as motorcycles.

While the e-bike might sound good, the realities of battery manufacture, disposal and charging completely negate any perceived benefits.

There is a great deal of overly positive speculation here too, such as "How many Mohawk Students would love to cycle up to the college, but can't safely?", that's laughable.

The status quo is very acceptable, in that all lanes are bike lanes. Cyclists need to learn and obey the rules of the road and get into traffic when required. If you can't make a left turn from one multi-lane street to another, you shouldn't be on that street on you bike, any more than someone driving a car should be there without that skill.

Can I jump onto the road paralell to the bike lane when it's clogged with slow-moving skateboarders and kids with training wheels, roller bladers, etc.? I think This plan will have drivers believing that bikes belong in bike lanes, and that will eventually become the law based on the ifrastucture investment Mr. Leach describes, which will screw those who really do use their bikes substantially.

I ride myself and have 6 young children and this is not something I would support my tax dollars going to.
IMHO It's way overboard.
All Lanes are bike lanes. Just obey traffic laws and ride your bike.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 10:56:33 in reply to Comment 70324

Mark, I urge you to head to Montreal for a few days and grab a bixi. Once you see what separated bike lanes can do for you as a cyclist on the major arteries, you'll wonder why we don't have them everywhere.

While legally, cyclists have full right to an entire lane, the reality is that on busy arteries, motorists do take every opportunity to squeeze as much lane space as they can. This means that a high level of confidence is required on the cyclist's part.

Separated lanes will get more people on bikes and as their confidence builds they will become more comfortable on streets without lanes. In this way, the "superhighways" can be seen as stepping stools to greater cyclist skill as well as acceptance by motorists as bikes become more prominent.

I fully agree with your commentary about motorized "bicycles". The current definition is far too loose (specifically the too-high weight limit for e-bikes). Fundamentally, these are not bicycles and should be treated as mopeds (low power motorcycles requiring licensing)

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 07:23:32 in reply to Comment 70324

Mark Harrington writes ...

The status quo is very acceptable, in that all lanes are bike lanes.

Montreal, Paris and New York are among the bike-unfriendly cities which have in recent years become bike-friendly and more bike-intensive after installing dedicated bike lanes. What Mr. Harrington says sounds reasonable, but it flies in the face of all evidence.

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By Hammersmith (anonymous) | Posted October 05, 2011 at 01:01:26

I like the idea of dedicated bike lanes on underused arterial roads, but I'm strongly opposed to the author's suggestion to have two-way bike traffic on one-way streets. Bikes should be subject to all of the same conventions and restriction as cars -- it's safer for everyone.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 10:58:44 in reply to Comment 70325

We already have two way bike lanes on one way streets and they do not present additional safety concerns. Creating two-way bike lanes on one-way streets is NOT the same thing as allowing cyclists to ride the wrong way down a one-way, but that is how your comment makes it sound...

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 11:01:22 in reply to Comment 70336

Where? And the King St. 403 bridge doesn't count since the contraflow lane doesn't take you to an intersection... it just ends with a whimper at Breadalbane. The problem with the contraflow lanes happens at intersections.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 11:38:57 in reply to Comment 70337

"show me an example but the example we have doesn't count"?

The 403 bridge is a two way bike lane on a one way street (which also has highway ramps which SHOULD be intersections but that's another discussion), so it does count. Markland has a contraflow lane for much of its length. The Main street 403 bridge is supposed to be getting a multi use path (presumably two-way) when it is complete. And in other major Canadian cities, two way bike lanes exist on one-way streets. It is not a new concept. Interactions at intersections are no more dangerous and can actually be improved over same-direction bike lanes with proper signalling.

It all comes down to designing the intersections properly. Eliminating turns on reds and adding cycle-specific red lights will give cars the opportunity to turn across the lane safely and would eliminate people turning onto the street from failing to check in the "wrong" direction for bikes.

A separated lane is a very clear part of the road and it is less likely to be overlooked by motorists than the standard painted bike lane.

I will restate - this is not the same thing as having cyclists simply riding the wrong way down the street behind a painted line (though this works fine on Markland already)

Comment edited by seancb on 2011-10-05 11:39:48

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 11:19:29 in reply to Comment 70337

The problem with the contraflow lanes happens at intersections.

And in fact the problem with any bike lane happens at intersections: ambiguity sets in for both cyclists and motorists, and there is the additional problem of unexpected traffic to the right when one is going to turn (one's car) right.

That said - distinct and especially separated bike lanes lead to more cyclists on the roads: it's not a matter of reasonable or unreasonable, it's a matter of experiential fact.

We can - and we do - argue about which kinds of bike lanes if any are best or safest or fastest, but I'll take almost any kind of bike lanes since they get more people out on bikes. And more people on bikes makes for a better city.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2011 at 12:53:37

Markland's contra-flow bike lane has been in operation for years. It sees a surprising amount of traffic these days. There have been some problems, but mostly with cars who don't realise the stop signs are bicycle-specific and end up driving the wrong way up the street.

I also have to (again) echo the concerns of Mr Harrington - bike lanes can be a very effective means of getting more bikes on the road, but they aren't the only one and it can be risky to focus too much on one measure in isolation. The new lanes on York are a good example - they're very narrow and have no physical separation, so they end up feeling much less safe than before. Many times, especially in suburban areas, I can't tell if there's a bike lane or just a white line marking the gutters/shoulder.

People aren't afraid to cycle because of a lack of bike lanes, it's because of the Mad-Max-esque state of our roads. This isn't just about perception, as one commenter noted on here at the time, even the Bixi representatives got screamed at while giving a presentation in front of our City Hall. Why, as mentioned in a recent thread, might a mother not want to commute across town on a bike? A sad state of affairs, but not hard to understand. A well-designed network of bike lanes helps a lot - the King Street Bridge lanes, for all their flaws, have done a lot of good. Still, the city needs to firmly establish that cyclists have a right to be on all roads.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 05, 2011 at 21:49:17

I found this today....let's hope to see some action soon:


Comment edited by jason on 2011-10-05 21:50:07

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By Bobby1 (anonymous) | Posted October 06, 2011 at 10:22:09

Wow,what a great concept! This is a project most can see as a valued added service for our City! The Future Fund could be used to expand bike lanes rather than a Veldrome that serves so few!

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted October 06, 2011 at 19:08:29

I was driving along Barton Street in the area between James and Wentworth today and had this thread in mind. For the East-West bike lane, why not just add a bike lane to Barton in the curb lane in each direction. Most of the right lane seems to be wide enough for onstreet parking and a bike lane. This option would be cost effective, there would be a minimal impact on traffic and parking and would offer a safe (safer than some of the other suggestions) route. The only cost would be removing several "bumpouts" that occur in one of the stretches. The lane even looks wide enough to have the bike lane closest to the curb, and the street parking between the bike lane and the car traffic/lane. This would improve the cycler safety by lessening the chances of car/bike collision and reduce the chances of a biker getting hit by the opening of a car door.

Comment edited by SpaceMonkey on 2011-10-06 19:08:59

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted October 06, 2011 at 22:59:20 in reply to Comment 70376

If only I had a concrete saw...

In general, I love biking on Barton. It's quieter and much more interesting than any other major east/west artery in the lower city. I have to agree with SpaceMonkey about those bump-outs though, they add a lot of unnecessary complication to riding in the curb lane. There has to be a happy medium between their traffic-calming abilities and being able to ride a bike in that lane - even 10-12 inches would do a lot.

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By Shawn Selway (anonymous) | Posted October 14, 2011 at 12:33:44

If you want a bike superhighway, I'd suggest putting the east west section in the CN rail allowance, which is just north of Barton. A track or two was taken out some years ago, and a fibre optic cable put down. This would get you a clear shot from Queen and Stuart at least to Ottawa, and probably further. I've ridden and run from Wellington to Ottawa, all in the rail corridor. CN would want an arm and a leg for a lease, but for rapid bike transit, surely that's the way to go.

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