Special Report: Cycling

Make Hunter Street Bike Lanes Continuous and Protected Right Now

A bike route is only as safe as its most dangerous section, and we have a great opportunity here to make a safe, protected east-west route that could serve a lot of people.

By Jason Leach
Published October 16, 2013

Any network, to be successful, needs to be connected and continuous, and bicycle networks are no different. We were excited to learn that the City is going ahead with two-way bike lanes on Hunter Street between Liberty Street and Queen Street, but the plan is to install the lanes in three stages: between Liberty and Catharine Street first, then between MacNab Street and Queen, and finally, some time in the future, between Catharine and MacNab.

View Hunter Street Bike Lanes in a larger map

The City hasn't yet decided how to run the bike lanes past the GO Station on the south side of Hunter between John and James, which currently has two one-way traffic lanes, drop-off parking on the south side and parallel parking on the north side.

As long as the Hunter bike lanes are not continuous, they will be of limited value in attracting new riders - especially since the section without bike lanes is the section that most needs them to make people feel more comfortable choosing to ride a bike.

The good news is that there are designs from other cities that we can use as inspiration. For example, the cycle track on 3rd Street in Long Beach, California:

3rd Street Cycle Track (protected bike lane) in Long Beach (Image Credit: Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association)
3rd Street Cycle Track (protected bike lane) in Long Beach (Image Credit: Downtown Pasadena Neighborhood Association)

With this design, we could keep the parking on both sides of Hunter and a through automobile traffic lane, which is plenty for the 7,500 cars a day that Hunter carries.

Here's another example from the other side of the continent: Kent Avenue in Brooklyn, which also uses a line of curbside parking to physically protect its two-way bike lane:

Protected two-way bike lane on Kent Avenue, Brooklyn (Image Credit: SFBike)
Protected two-way bike lane on Kent Avenue, Brooklyn (Image Credit: San Francisco Bicycle Coalition)

This is the cross-section being usede over and over in New York City these days. It's perfect because parking protects the bike lanes. Talk about easy security for cyclists.

This is exactly the scenario we need to address on Hunter Street. The design leaves parking to protect the bike lanes with one general-purpose travel lane.

Whenever a left turn lane is absolutely needed, for example at James, the parking can end a few car-lengths shy of the intersection to make room for it. At other crossings, a painted sidewalk extension creates a shorter travel distance for pedestrians crossing the street.

Another bike network innovation they applied on Kent Avenue is a bike box - painted solid green - to provide more security and accessibility for cyclists.

Kent Avenue bike box, Brooklyn (Image Credit: Streetsblog)
Kent Avenue bike box, Brooklyn (Image Credit: Streetsblog)

Put up some plastic bollards or knockdown sticks to outline this painted bumpout and voila - a complete street with insanely safe bike lanes running right along the southern edge of the downtown core.

The section in front of the GO Station could maintain its parking on both sides by sliding the south curb parking out into the current south lane, with the bike lanes using the current south curb parking lane.

The north lane and north curb parking could remain exactly as is.

I'd love to walk the street sometime with city staff and explain how this concept fits perfectly on Hunter. I've done it already, and it's a great street for our first lanes protected by parking.

It would be much better than the current plan, which is merely to have a buffer zone between the bike lanes and car lane but no physical protection. Why not repurpose what's already on the street - parallel parking - to separate bikes from cars and make the street better for everyone?

Most importantly, this approach would allow for the lane to be built in its entirety. As we all know, one of the most frustrating aspects to our bike network is the lack of downtown connections.

A bike route is only as safe as its most dangerous section, and we have a great opportunity here to make a safe, protected east-west route that could serve a lot of people.

with files from Ryan McGreal

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 Sara (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 21:00:38

I look forward to the Hunter bike lanes too, but I would much rather them be protected by planters or concrete blocks than parked cars.

Having used the Rachel Street bike lane in Montreal for many years, I got to see first hand how it is can be very dangerous for bikes to be on the other side of parked cards from the car traffic lanes. In that configuration, bikes are much less visible, and this leads to more collisions at the intersections, when cars turn right or left and forget about the bike lane. Even if they remember to check for bikes, their views are obscured by the parked cars.

Here's a good article from Montreal with collision data from Rachel before they removed the parking lane next to the bike lane, and a picture of the new bike lane, separate by planters and landscaping - so much better visibility! http://www.montrealgazette.com/travel/Ra...

For comparison here's a picture of the bike lane with parked cars next to it before the changes: http://pistescyclables.ca/Montreal/Photo...

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 21:52:05

I love that design better than all designs. Our urban core desperately needs more trees. This is what I'd love to see on Cannon and Main too. Unfortunately we aren't in a city willing to spend on things other than cars. Permanent tree medians aren't an option. We have paint and knockdown sticks to work with. Given this reality I'll take the NYC design which affords much safer separation then paint and bollards.

Cities all over the continent are enjoying great success with bike lanes protected by parking. It may not as ideal as Montreals solution but it's still a great option and dirt cheap.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 15, 2013 at 22:55:28 in reply to Comment 93314

Heck, give me Main Street and I don't care what the city does with Hunter. It would make sense anyways if the Cannon lane is a success - Cannon and Main are a pair, if it works on one it would work on the other, and they're spaced far enough apart that they woudln't be redundant.

But yeah, if we get knockdown sticks on Cannon I will be seriously cheesed-off. That was not what council voted for.

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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:04:48 in reply to Comment 93317

Councillor Farr's motion reads as if all options are open to consideration:

"Therefore be it resolved, that:

A) A bi-directional bike lane be installed as a pilot project on the south side of Cannon Street from Sherman Avenue to Bay Street, and;

B) That through the design phase, staff contemplate various methods that include, but is not limited to bollards, paint, knock down sticks, along with a preference toward planters erected to delineate a contra-flow bike lane from the auto traffic lanes.

C) That the implementation of a bi-directional bike lane pilot project on Cannon Street be funded from the following funding source, area rating capital reserves along with appropriate sources to be identified by Public Works."


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:08:06 in reply to Comment 93332

Well, crap. I thought the language suggesting concrete solutions like bollards/barriers/curbs/planters was stronger.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2013 at 12:21:31 in reply to Comment 93333

Council (and staff) preference is for planters - even councillors that aren't exactly pro-bike lane (ie - Jackson) liked the street beautification element of the planters.

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By Sara (registered) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 22:04:18

There is another option, one used widely in Montreal and now Ottawa, which is simple concrete medians.

Here are photos of Montreal's downtown bike path with concrete medians: http://www.urbanphoto.net/blog/2008/01/1...

And here is Laurier Street through downtown Ottawa: http://www.mrc.ca/mrc_projects/segregate...

Both protect cyclists from cars veering into the bike lane and both do a much better job at keeping cyclists visible to cars at all times, unlike separating with parked cars.

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By Dm (anonymous) | Posted October 15, 2013 at 22:36:42

I love the designs. Each picture and example is a complete bi-directional cyclist and one way motorist street.

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By Victoria? (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 01:25:32

What about, Victoria Ave? It needs help too :(

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:43:43 in reply to Comment 93320

This. I'm totally confused why they put those nice wide bike lanes and bump-outs on Victoria north of Barton, but then left the rest of Victoria and Wellington as-is.

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By Victoria? (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 11:22:42 in reply to Comment 93339

It is a truck routed freeway past a park with playground! Many may not notice this as you would only wisk through, but pay attention next time. The speeds are ludacris through there. Caulming and bike lanes would be amazing.

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 01:26:08

Perhaps the USA may not be the best place in the world to look for bicycle infrastructure design. Here is a video of a typical major arterial road in The Netherlands. Note the protected roundabout intersection.

The author takes pains to repeat that this is nothing unusual, but a perfectly normal, ordinary arterial street for through traffic.


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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2013 at 01:56:09 in reply to Comment 93321

Kevin - I agree that the examples from Europe are much better for cyclists, but we have to live with the political reality here, and that reality sometimes dictates us settling for infrastructure that is good, rather than great. The examples from the US give our city staff clear examples of where safe cycling infrastructure has been successfully installed in a North American, car-centric context to good effect, and avoids the arguments of "well this is Hamilton, not (insert dutch city here)" or the omnipresent concern about infrastructure costs (ie - the "you're going to spend HOW MUCH on cyclists?!?" set).

Small steps forward reduce the likelihood we'll see a massive backlash. Amsterdam wasn't made bike friendly in a day, and neither will Hamilton - so let's present solutions that are context-sensitive and continue winning incremental gains, then maybe in 5-10 years we can start talking about the protected roundabout intersections on King and Main :)

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 19:39:01 in reply to Comment 93323

The cost of the excellent Dutch cycle infrastructure is a not-so-whopping 30 euros per person annually. This more than pays for itself in reduction in health care costs and it also more than pays for itself by not spending money on car infrastructure. One of the very few government expenditures that returns a profit to the government.

My concern with settling for inferior infrastructure is that inferior is what we will get. The CROW traffic engineering design manual provides an engineering standard that can be applied anywhere.

It cannot be fully implemented overnight. But in my opinion, it is best to build each small step to the proper CROW design engineering standard that leads people to say "This is great! My 75-year-old mother is comfortable cycling here! Let's build more of this!"

The alternative is to build inferior infrastructure that leads people to say "This is crappy and dangerous. I'm not going to cycle on it. What a waste of money. We don't need any more of this."

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 17, 2013 at 09:22:27 in reply to Comment 93352

I love the Dutch infrastructure shown above, but I don't think the bike lanes protected by parking are really inferior or crappy. Cycling has increased by 275% in NYC the past decade since they started building these lanes. And for the context of Hunter St, and in particular the GO Station, I really think it's the best option - it allows parking to remain on both sides of the street, and it eliminates any car movements through the bike lanes. It would be a slower cycling zone with pedestrians and bikes needing to yield to one another in front of the station, but that's hardly a problem, and is much safer than putting the bike lanes on the street side of the parking.

Other than some road smoothing, so the current parking bumpouts are made flat like the rest of the roadway, this plan can be implemented immediately and only cost us the price of paint, signs and bollards.

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By Kevin Love (anonymous) | Posted October 19, 2013 at 09:37:59 in reply to Comment 93361

I agree that car parking protected cycle lanes can be done well. They are acceptable by the CROW standard.

By inferior and crappy I was thinking about things like the door zone bike lane on Dundurn. Because it is in the door zone of adjacent parked cars, the most dangerous place on the entire road to ride a bicycle is in the bike lane!

Or the lethal trap on the west side of the new Red Bridge over the QEW where we have a railway crossing that is:

1. Unsigned. Not even a buckboard "Railway Crossing" sign. Much less a gated, signalled level crossing.

2. The rails are at an angle to the road. Dangerous!

3. It is at the bottom of a hill. High speeds. Dangerous!

4. It is at a hairpin turn. Dangerous!

5. There are no lights at night. Dangerous!

6. There is inadequate winter maintenance with no salting so the rails will be covered in ice. Insanely dangerous!

And in about 10 years time we will also have the roadway heaved up, since trees were planted within one meter of it so that their roots will heave up the road surface.

All of these are, of course, violations of the Dutch CROW bicycle traffic design engineering standard.

The point being that if we do not have any design engineering standards so that "anything goes," what we are likely to get is dangerous and unfit for use.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 19, 2013 at 23:12:42 in reply to Comment 93411

Agree on the need for design standards. Any lane protected by parking must have a 2-3 foot buffer zone in my opinion. Then a bike lane. Even our standard width lanes aren't wide enough. People always drive out of their vehicle lane to pass me when I'm riding in the bike lane on Stinson or Lawrence.

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By TB (registered) - website | Posted October 19, 2013 at 13:50:25 in reply to Comment 93411

Keeping in mind of course that the bridge is an extension of the Bruce Trail, which is a PEDESTRIAN trail, and the bridge was designed as a PEDESTRIAN bridge. Walk your bike over it.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 20:32:22 in reply to Comment 93352

If history is any indication, the City will be content to telescope implementation and let things mellow a while at the fact-finding stage.

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By Pearl Street (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 01:35:00

Would it not make sense to bring it right to Locke Street? Where all the action and reason for going that direction would be...

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 17, 2013 at 09:24:55 in reply to Comment 93322

the plan is for shared lanes on Hunter and Canada all the way to Dundurn. I would hope this includes sharrows and speed humps along the entire corridor from Queen to Dundurn too.


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By Noted (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 10:28:09

The Long Beach project (West 3rd from North Olive to Golden Shore, roughly the distance from Sherman to James) was apparently entirely leveraged off local development fees, which is a novel solution.

"The project cost about $800,000 – entirely paid for by developer impact fees. Approximately 90% of the project’s construction cost went to installing bike signals. You read that right: bike signals! Yes – bike traffic lights! Dozens of them. At intersections, left-turning cars cross the path of the cycletracks. To avoid collisions, bikes and left-turning-cars are given separate signal phases. Bikes go first, at a bike signal green light phase, coinciding with the green phase for proceeding straight. Cars turn left during a second phase – where they receive the left turn green arrow."


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By careful driver (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 12:23:25

If GO [trains] stay on Hunter St., then there'll need to be some discipline or control between lots of people crossing Hunter after a train comes in, and bicyclists. Who will yield to whom? There WILL be mid-block street crossers, esp. south to north. I regularly do not run them down in my car. I actually slow down or stop so not to hit them. Et tu, bicyclists? Police call them, "jay-walkers." I think RTH has demonstrated that there's no such term. Ther may have to be a Stop/Yeild to pedestrns sign in any bike lane. And oh, the LANGUAGE that we'll hear. My My.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2013 at 17:30:31 in reply to Comment 93343

Ther may have to be a Stop/Yeild to pedestrns sign in any bike lane.

I would be totally okay with this if we saw yiled-to-pedestrians signs at frequent pedestrian crossings for cars.

I can't help but notice how people suddenly start hand-wringing about cyclist/pedestrian interactions when they didn't give a rat's ass about pedestrians at pedestrian/driver intersections.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 16:12:12 in reply to Comment 93343

Their should be a signaled pedestrian cross-walk in front of GO Centre. Not having one still boggles my mind, though I understand signaled pedestrian crossings are not accepted in Hamilton.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2013 at 13:25:06

Let's start shifting gears by putting people first!

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2013 at 14:17:25

Waste of taxpayer's hard earned money.

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By Crapitalist (anonymous) | Posted October 18, 2013 at 14:20:17 in reply to Comment 93392

yeah, spending a couple pennies on the roads budget dollar for a lane that will take cars of the street, make the air cleaner, make people healthier, make the street safer, help local business and extend the life of the street is such a waste. you are seriously the worst capitalist ever.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted October 18, 2013 at 16:58:37

Charlton would have been a much better location then Hunter. Hunter cuts off at Queen and Wellington, limiting it's ability to serve thie need as a long throughway.It also is a constant cab, pedestrian and car drop off with parking inlets near GO Station, complete with cars opening doors on wary cyclists. That is unless you want to hamstring the GO's parking and the public transit it provides. It also encounters a steep incline behind city hall that limits westbound bike traffic.

Charlton however links easily with exsisting bike path's on Fergusson and right to the Rail Trail system and the future bike developments at Victoria, and runs all the way to McMaster innovation park. Except for a brief area around the main entrance of the hospital, car traffic is limited for most of the street and what car traffic is funneled into the roundabout for the hospital, away from a right side path. It's also a far more level street then Hunter.

Instead now cyclists are going to be using Corktown tunnel illegally (since it is sidewalk) or going to (admitably low traffic) roads on Liberty, Grove and Wellington that don't accomodate bike traffic quite as well. It's also far smaller in scope then a Charlton path could have been. Oh well, maybe this might make the city resdesign Corktown tunnel, which appears to have begun to decay from the inside.

It's a nitpick though, it's good to see some cycling infrastrucuture going up.

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