Special Report: Cycling

Cheaper, More Effective Bidirectional Bike Lanes for Longwood Road

With one lane in each direction and a centre turn lane, Longwood could easily accommodate well over 20,000 vehicles a day, albeit at safer speeds.

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 17, 2013

For the past few years, the City of Hamilton has been working on a Longwood Road redevelopment plan, ostensibly to support the McMaster Innovation Park economic cluster through a more urban land use and balanced transportation system.

Unfortunately, in typical Hamilton form, the plan continues to prioritize fast, high volume automobile traffic over the other objectives. There are some major problems with the plan, including a proposed roundabout at Aberdeen and Longwood (!) and long distances between pedestrian crossings.

Longwood Road itself is envisioned as a five-lane thoroughfare: two 3.5 metre (11.5 feet) lanes in each direction with a centre turning lane, for a pedestrian-daunting total width of 17.5 metres (57.4 feet).

Bike Lanes

There is some good news in the plan, but it is also undermined by the city's priorities. The plan calls for an off-street two-way bike path, which is arguably the best kind of cycling infrastructure, but the problem is that it has to get over Highway 403.

Eventually, the city proposes building a second bridge over Highway 403 adjacent to the Longwood Road bridge and using that for the bike path. In the meantime, according to Alternative Transportation Manager Daryl Bender, the bike lane will end at Frid Street and cyclists will be directed to ride in mixed traffic north of Frid.

The plan for Longwood Rd is to construct a 3 metre wide bike path in 2013 behind the existing sidewalk on the east side of Longwood Road. Due to the existing constricted street design of the bridge over Highway 403, the bikes will be directed to merge with autos in the curb lane through this section north of Frid Street.

The new traffic signals at Frid Street will provide a well-defined transition point for cyclists to switch between the bike path south of Frid Street and the shared on-street design north of Frid Street until the bridge is replaced.

This is a non-solution. For that tiny share of outlier cyclists who are already willing to ride in mixed traffic in Hamilton, a segment of bike lane is better than nothing. But for the vast majority of would-be cyclists who are not comfortable riding in mixed traffic, we may as well be asking them to catwalk across a river of lava.

Protected Bike Lane

There is no reason, other than lack of vision and political will, why Longwood can't be redeveloped into a sane, human scaled street with one lane in each direction and a centre turning lane. That would free up enough room to put a continuous, protected, bidirectional bike lane across the existing bridge, eliminating the need to construct an expensive new bicycle bridge.

This would make the full length of bike lanes available within the year, not at some unspecified time in the future, and it would save the city millions of dollars in the cost of a second bridge.

With the protected two-way bike lanes on the King Street bridge over Highway 403 and the recent decision by city councillors to approve new protected two-way bike lanes on Cannon Street, we lately seem to be getting good at adopting this highly effective form of cycling infrastructure.

This seems like an obvious choice for Longwood, and it could easily connect to the off-street path south of Frid if it's on the east curb lane over the bridge.

A protected bike lane would also protect the sidewalk for students walking to Westdale and other pedestrians, who are currently stuck on a narrow sidewalk immediately adjacent to fast traffic. (There is no sidewalk on the west side of Longwood over the bridge.)

Induced Demand

Another thing we need keep in mind is the matter of induced demand, which most municipal traffic engineers continue to ignore as a matter of practice and tooling (i.e. their modeling software does not take it into account).

Traffic volume follows the economic law of demand: when you increase the supply of lane capacity, the volume of traffic increases as well. That is, the presence of surplus lane capacity actually generates traffic by making it cheapier and easier to drive compared to alternatives.

It also works both ways: when you remove lane capacity, some of the generated traffic simply disappears - literally. A major 1998 study commissioned by London Transport and the British Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions concluded:

Many cities, either not provided with dissuasive modelling forecasts, or disbelieving them, have introduced measures to reallocate road space away from cars.

In general, they reported that there has often (but not always) been a fairly short period of traffic disruption, but that 'gridlock' or 'traffic chaos' are rare, and never last longer than a few days, as traffic adjusts relatively quickly to new conditions. Sometimes there has not even been a short-term problem.

Two characteristic comments from local transport planners are: 'it'll be all right by Friday', and the ubiquitous 'the traffic has disappeared and we simply don't know where it has gone to'.

The body of transport research clearly indicates that when a city follows a 'predict-and-provide' approach to lane capacity, it produces the additional traffic it anticipates. Cities that make different transport planning choices are able to reduce overall traffic.

A Safer Longwood Design

With one lane in each direction and a centre turn lane, Longwood could easily accommodate well over 20,000 vehicles a day, albeit at safer speeds. Turning the extra lane into protected bi-directional bike lanes would make it viable for a lot more people to cycle or walk to and from MIP, which in turn would further reduce the number of vehicle trips.

In contrast, the current plan to make Longwood two lanes in each direction with a centre turn lane is the very definition of insanity. The millions of dollars we will have to spend to build a second bridge to accommodate cyclists is completely unnecessary, and I suspect will serve mainly as an excuse not to extend the bike lanes across the bridge to connect with Westdale and West Hamilton.

We know what works. Protected bike lanes get people to choose cycling. Telling people to ride in mixed traffic on a fast five-lane street does nothing but get people to continue driving.

We get the city we design and plan for. It's that simple.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Henry and Joe (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2013 at 10:52:29

Thanks for the update on this Ryan. Anything less than a continuous bike path from Main to Longwood is unacceptable in my opinion. I do not like riding across this bridge at all. I think it might be instructive to take our planners on a bike ride from Westdale to Locke S. It shouldn't be that difficult, but their are two choke points that are inhospitable to anyone but the most risk taking riders. Main St. between the 403 on ramp and Dundurn S. is way too hostile. If you survive that ridiculous stretch of road, you can wander happily south on the Dundurn bike path and make it through via side streets. Riding with cars on Longwood is not an acceptable alternative. Riding over a 400 series highway with cars passing you in the same lane is highly risky, and I cringe every time I have to do it. I don't know the traffic volumes on this road, but a bike lane on both sides, and elimination of one lane of traffic seems like a no-brainer. It solve two other problems. 1) Failure to stop on red when turning south from Main St. onto Longwood (since the turning radius would be larger with a bike lane) 2) The need for speed traps near the careport centre directed at morning traffic headed out of the city.

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By Myrcurial_notloggedin (anonymous) | Posted September 17, 2013 at 14:31:31

Interesting that "complete streets" are somehow not ok in the lower city, but seem standard in the upper city... disconnect?

Have a look at Trinity Church Road (at Rymal)


Looks like a fairly complete street (no sidewalks on land slated for development)


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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted September 17, 2013 at 17:11:12 in reply to Comment 92250

If it makes you feel any better, there is no way the city would have designed it like that if they expected it to ever have any destinations besides homes on it.


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By anon (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 00:36:08

It'd be good to see the same template on Fennell Avenue and Mohawk Road. Why not surrender one lane to a bicycle and the other to the automobile? Maybe THEN we'd actually be Sharing The Road.

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By Anon (anonymous) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 00:37:58

Also, to re-iterate, cyclists, please get on the road and off the side-walk. You're making it into a sad-walk. Yes. That's right. A sad-walk. It's awful.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 12:05:28

When are we going to get to the stage, in this city, of actually aligning our infrastructure decisions with our (long range?) goals of increasing walking and cycling? It is easy to imagine what this would look like:

  1. Engineering study shows there is not enough space for four lanes of motor vehicle traffic, wide sidewalks and and cycle lanes.

  2. Obvious conclusion is that although it would be nice to have four lanes of motor vehicle traffic there just isn't the space available.

  3. Build the bike lanes and wide sidewalks.

Unless we start making these sort of decisions we will never achieve our stated goals. Interestingly, as far as I know, the city does not actually have an explicit goal of increasing motor vehicle traffic flow ... it is just seems to be the default setting for the traffic engineers.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2013-09-18 12:07:23

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By Joshua (registered) | Posted September 18, 2013 at 19:42:15 in reply to Comment 92277

Also, it seems that Traffic Operations has an implicit goal of not decreasing--or impeding (pardon the etymological pun), for that matter--motor vehicle traffic flow. It'd be interesting to see statistical data for the ages of motor vehicle drivers in Hamilton; does anyone know where that'd be available?

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By kenny5 (anonymous) | Posted September 20, 2013 at 00:14:51

Prefabricated foot-bridges are actually quite cheap.

But I still find it hard to take the city's plan seriously. If they really intend to do it this way, they better expropriate the parking lot from the CHML office. Like now. Because without it, the bridge will never reach land.

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