Special Report: Cycling

Traffic Volumes on Longwood Do Not Warrant Multi-Lane Thoroughfare

Five dedicated vehicle lanes for 18,000 cars a day is a 1970s solution applied inappropriately to a 21st century economic development engine the City desperately needs to ensure its future vitality.

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 30, 2013

The City of Hamilton has been planning a redevelopment of Longwood Road between Aberdeen Avenue and Main Street West, through McMaster Innovation Park (MIP) and the economic development cluster the city is trying to cultivate around it.

The goal of the redevelopment is to support the economic cluster through a more urban land use and a more balanced transportation network.

Unfortunately, Hamilton's inspiring policy goals around walkability remain shackled to the overriding goal of maximizing automobile speed and volume, and Longwood Road is no different.

Big Problems with Current Plan

The plan calls for an off-street, two-way bicycle track to connect MIP with its surrounding neighbourhoods of Kirkendall and Ainslie Wood-Westdale, but the devil is in the details.

Longwood necks down to just four lanes and one narrow sidewalk on the bridge crossing Hwy 403, and the plan calls for the construction of a second bridge to make room for pedestrians and cyclists.

That sounds like a great idea on the surface, but there are two glaring problems:

Until such time as the second bridge is built, the two-way bike path will start at Aberdeen and run along Longwood until the CanMet Materials lab, where it will stop and cyclists will be dumped into mixed traffic.

Cheaper, More Effective Solution

A couple of weeks ago, I proposed taking a vehicle lane from Longwood to continue the two-way bike track as a dedicated protected bike lane, similar to what Council recently approved on Cannon Street.

This will save the city millions of dollars on a new bridge and can be put in place right away, rather than several years from now.

Even better, by physically separating the sidewalk on Longwood over Hwy 403 from the lanes of automobile traffic, the bike lane would improve walkability as well as bikeability.

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 is 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.

Traffic Volumes Support Repurposed Lane

The City's argument has been that Longwood needs to be a five-lane thoroughfare - two lanes in each direction and a centre turning lane - because the traffic volumes demand it.

However, according to a September 26 email by Daryl Bender, the city's project manager for alternative transportation in the public works department, Longwood Road has daily traffic volumes of just 18,000 vehicles.

Bender notes that some of the traffic on Longwood is going to and from the Hwy 403 interchange on Aberdeen Avenue. "The 2009 volumes on Longwood Rd exceed 1,200 vehicles/hour in the AM (northbound) and 1,000 vehicles/hour in the PM (southbound)."

Contrast Beckett Drive, the mountain access between Queen Street and Garth Street, currently closed for major renovations. It is just one lane in each direction and carries 21,000 vehicles a day with free-flowing traffic at all hours, including during rush hour.

Excessive Level of Service

With its commitment to two lanes in each direction and a centre turning lane, the City has decided that the only acceptable traffic flow on Longwood is free-flowing traffic at or above the speed limit at all hours of the day, including during rush hour.

With that kind of lane capacity for just 18,000 vehicles per day, Longwood will be free-flowing at rush-hour and grossly overbuilt for the other 22 hours. The result will be fast, dangerous traffic flows that deter would-be pedestrians and cyclists.

Of course, most drivers want to be able to drive anywhere at or above the speed limit at all hours of the day, but running a city is about making the most effective use of scarce resources, not about maximizing one narrow use and sacrificing all others.

Five lanes on Longwood is an inefficient and irresponsible use of scarce public right-of-way that will actually undermine the city's goal of remaking MIP as a more urban, walkable centre for innovation and economic development.

The plan requires the city to spend millions of extra dollars it does not have on an unnecessary new bridge that Council may rightly decide it cannot afford.

1970s Solution to 21st Century Problem

Five dedicated vehicle lanes for 18,000 cars a day is a 1970s solution applied inappropriately to a 21st century economic development engine the City desperately needs to ensure its future vitality.

It also suggests that the City doesn't really believe in transportation demand management - the practice of bringing traffic in line with lane capacity by reducing traffic instead of increasing lane capacity.

The general assumption is that "background traffic" volumes will continue to rise, but in lower city Hamilton, traffic volumes actually fell significantly between 2000 and 2010. With effective TDM, we can drive continued reductions in automobile traffic, freeing up more roadway for better uses.

Dedicated, continuous bike lanes and a protected sidewalk would actually encourage some people to choose walking or cycling instead of driving to get to MIP. Each time a person decides to ride a bike or walk instead of driving, that is one less car the street needs to accommodate.

We get the city we design for. A street designed to encourage more people to walk and cycle will attract more pedestrians and cyclists, whereas a street designed to encourage more people to drive will merely attract more drivers.

Real Growth, Real Savings

There is no good reason not to make Longwood Road one lane in each direction with a dedicated turning lane. The extra lane capacity this would free up can be used to provide immediate and affordable high quality cycling infrastructure that also improves the walking path across the highway.

Over the medium to long term, this street design will actually reduce overall wear and tear on the road, extending its life and reducing its lifecycle costs. It is a net savings multiplied over decades of shifting travel patterns.

Finally, a more sane, safe, comfortable street design will help to ensure the success of MIP at growing into a diverse, economically dynamic innovation district that generates new businesses and creates more jobs for Hamiltonians.

What on earth are we waiting for?

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 jason (registered) | Posted September 30, 2013 at 11:04:53

What a surprise. Hamilton planning a 5-lane road, and all of it's inherent maintenance and repairs costs, for 2 lanes worth of traffic.
What we really need in this town is more parking lots downtown.

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By Warren (registered) | Posted September 30, 2013 at 12:03:20

Ensuring smooth traffic flow through that area is important, too. What would work best is to turn the bridge into a three-lane road, with two lanes flowing in the direction that gets the most traffic in the AM or PM, like we already do with the mountain access routes.

Then we'd have space for bi-directional bicycle lanes.

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2013 at 12:26:29

While there's only 18,000 cars a day on Longwood, suspect that most are all arriving around the same time weekday mornings.

I've driven down Longwood for the past 8 years during my morning commute up the Mountain. Always grateful I'm not going the other way on Longwood.

Huge traffic volume in the morning (8-9 am), with folks coming off the Linc / Ancaster / Brantford and heading to McMaster and the McMaster University Medical Centre (2 of Hamilton's biggest employers). Traffic with 2 lanes can back up on the ramp and spill onto the 403.

Not sure what other route these folks could take to get to work and class.

When Longwood gets to the Chedoke Express overpass, could there be 2 lanes heading to Mac / MUMC, one lane heading to the 403, with the remaining 4th lane next to the sidewalk dedicated for bikes? Don't need a turning lane in the middle of the bridge.

Millions for a 2nd bike / pedestrian bridge would likely be a nonstarter with taxpayers.

And a 2-lane Longwood would likely get a rough ride from morning commuters.

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By un jay robb (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2013 at 16:01:08 in reply to Comment 92788

Morning commute up the mountain to where, Jay? Why are you so shy about your publicity job at Mohawk? You are a quasi public servant of medium profile. No publicity job at Mohawk, no commute up the mountain. You're the public voice of Mohawk management, with McIsaac.

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 08:09:58 in reply to Comment 92797

I knew that showing my mom how to log on to Internet was a bad idea. And she's forever introducing me to her friends and neighbours as my son, the quasi public servant of medium profile.

Seriously, if I was shy then I too would be hiding behind an anonymous screen name (un jay robb?).

Since you seem to have an unusually keen interest in what I do for a living, feel free to check out my LinkedIn profile for my entire work history. Shoot me an invite and I'll add you to my network.


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By awesome (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 09:10:34 in reply to Comment 92823

troll crush!

"I knew that showing my mom how to log on to Internet was a bad idea."


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 30, 2013 at 14:47:37

The problem is the Main/Longwood intersection and its proximity to the bridge. While the vast majority of Longwood doesn't need those lanes, the intersection might. Losing a lane on the bridge functionally means losing a lane through the intersection. I'd want to see a study of the usage of each lane. I'd wager you could lose one of the Southbound lanes - North of Main there are two Southbound lanes, and the eastern one is always blocked by left-turning traffic anyways... it's a de-facto turning lane already. Make it into an official turning-only lane and suddenly you've only got one Southbound lane feeding into the intersection. Then the bridge can be 2-lanes North, one lane South. After the bridge? Do whatever you want. Obviously those four lanes of live traffic go too fast so it's worth talking about killing a lane anyways and saving the money on eating up MIP's sidewalk for widening and a bike-path, but either way - the sister-bridge is the big crazy project for our cash-strapped city.

Heck, run a study. Still cheaper than building a bridge. Close the lane, re-paint some turning arrows, take some measurements, see what happens. Don't even bother building the bike-lane, just close the westernmost-lane of Longwood through the bridge and re-do the paint to make sense..

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2013-09-30 14:50:14

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By hshields (registered) - website | Posted September 30, 2013 at 15:19:33

Has the city said anything about their roundabout proposal for Longwood/Aberdeen and how that new proposed infrastructure will impact traffic volume, traffic speed and it's impact to other road users like bikes and pedestrians?

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 30, 2013 at 18:05:09

Simple solution here - 1 lane each way with turning lane down the middle. At the bridge, the left turn lane can become a 2nd northbound lane. Protected two-way bike lane can remain through the entire design.

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By DM (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 15:35:31 in reply to Comment 92803

or ride your bike to dundurn and go that way 8 months of the year.

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By DM (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 15:56:02

how about a walk your bike across the bridge as a compromise? anyone? anyone?

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 22:48:44 in reply to Comment 92831

Compromise?? Your idea of a compromise is building 5 car lanes to handle 2 lanes worth of volume, and having cyclists walk their bikes??

Wow, that's a whole new definition of meeting in the middle.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2013 at 20:00:24 in reply to Comment 92831

com·pro·mise [kom-pruh-mahyz] Show IPA noun, verb, com·pro·mised, com·pro·mis·ing.


1. a settlement of differences by mutual concessions; an agreement reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims, principles, etc., by reciprocal modification of demands.

2. the result of such a settlement.

3. something intermediate between different things: The split-level is a compromise between a ranch house and a multistoried house.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2013-10-01 20:00:46

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 18:13:55 in reply to Comment 92831

How about car drivers get out and push their cars across the bridge as a compromise.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 16:20:11 in reply to Comment 92831

The compromise is providing space on the road for BOTH cyclists and motorists.

Asking cyclists to push their bikes for over 200m along a narrow sidewalk shared with pedestrians (and cross the road twice for those travelling southbound because there is no sidewalk in the west side of the bridge) is not a compromise.

In terms of time, this would add between two and four minutes (depending on the wait time for the lights) to the cyclists time to just to cross the bridge, at all times of day. And remember that Hamilton's official policy is supposed to be to encourage cycling (and walking), not to discourage it.

"Transportation Master Plan (2007) reflects the nodes and corridors framework and relies on aggressive transit improvements and an urban fabric with a high degree of connectivity. The Transportation Master Plan shifted the transportation hierarchy to focus on pedestrians first, followed by cyclists, transit, goods movement and general purpose traffic"


In other words, it is official Hamilton policy to put the convenience of cyclists ahead of general purpose traffic, which is in fact supposed to be lowest in the transportation hierarchy.

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 17:14:00 in reply to Comment 92832

Tongue in cheek comment anyways. Good to hear that cyclists don't want to have another 5 minutes added to their travel time either. We have something in common.

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By where's your tongue? (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2013 at 08:28:09 in reply to Comment 92833

I see what you did there - cute jab. However the difference between muscle powered commuters and drivers is that drivers have lots of alternates that cost them close to zero energy to take. For instance, one could exit main East and loop around dundurn and get to mac in the same amount of time.

Oh wait, our dumbass one way system makes that seem ludicrous. Simple solution: main and king should be two way with traffic lights at the 403 ramps. Then there would be LOTS of alternate routes and no manufactured bottlenecks.

Oh wait, we just wasted millions of dollars redoing those bridges and nobody had the common sense to fix the 1-way ramp-merge lunacy.

Our leadurz: hard at work!

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By NortheastWind (registered) | Posted October 01, 2013 at 22:21:59

I propose there be three lanes, two in opposite directions and one that switches directions during the rush hours. The rest of the area would be for bikes and streetscaping.

But however it is done, the whole stretch needs to be transformed. As a 40+ year Hamiltonian, there has always been a cold vibe as I passed through this stretch of road. With proximity to the MIP and the 403, a warmer welcome is needed for both visitors and locals alike, and for Hamilton's pride. On a side but related issue, small fancy but simple Welcome To Hamilton signs should be at all entrances to the city. That would do way more than one big high cost sign on the 403.

Ryan, thank you for bringing attention to these important issues.

Comment edited by NortheastWind on 2013-10-01 22:24:51

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2013 at 11:42:35

Oh wait, our dumbass one way system makes that seem ludicrous. Simple solution: main and king should be two way with traffic lights at the 403 ramps. Then there would be LOTS of alternate routes and no manufactured bottlenecks.

A-effing-men. It's not as if highway on-and-off ramps with right-angles and lights seem to have hurt Burlington in any way.

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By pompous? him? (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2013 at 16:21:38

to RTH:"Jay Robb... has not tried to make a secret of his employment." Actually, RTH, he NEVER mentions it in his 'public' writing. He IS embarassed about it, as if mentioning it would 'uncredit' the value of his citizen sermons.

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