Special Report: Bus Lane

A Downtown Merchant Supports the Bus Lane

Our one-way road network diverts hundreds if not thousands of cars every day onto King for no good reason. This is the problem, not the bus lane.

By Sean Burak
Published December 09, 2014

I'm a downtown merchant. What I'd like for Christmas from Council is for them to support the bus lane so that we can keep moving toward being a real city that people want to live in - people who will shop at our stores.

King Street West with bus-only lane (RTH file photo)
King Street West with bus-only lane (RTH file photo)

It is absolutely normal to have slower vehicular movements during rush hour in a city. The last thing we need as downtown merchants is faster cars.

If Council wants to help the merchants, they should ask staff for a transit-only signal to allow buses to turn left onto James and MacNab instead of merging through the other lanes. This one simple change will improve the situation for thousands of people daily.

Two-Way Reversion

Better yet - Support two way reversions so that visitors don't have to round the block over and over to reach a destination (and then swear never to return).

The one-way north/south streets are a major congestion generator during rush hour, and they make wayfinding near impossible.

Example: I'm westbound on King, approaching the downtown arch at Wellington. I can't turn right on Wellington to get to Cannon, which could take me to Highway 403. I'm forced to stay on King.

Example: I want to head from the south end of town to the Food Basics in the north end. I can't take Catharine - it's one way southbound. I have to take Walnut to King, and drive on King to get to Mary, adding to the King traffic.

Example: I'm moving to the new Connaught condos. I can't turn left on Catharine to reach the front door. I have to round the block at Walnut and drive several blocks on King.

Example: I'm at a business on King William and I want to go to James. King William doesn't allow me to continue west, so I have to detour up to King.

We are diverting hundreds if not thousands of cars every day onto King for no good reason. This is the problem. Not the bus lane.

My success is on the line and I need the city to be livable or else I will not have a business. Transit is part of a livable city.

Our downtown will not survive if we keep treating it as nothing more than a through street.

Sean Burak was born in Hamilton but raised elsewhere in Ontario. He returned to his birth town at the turn of the century and has never looked back. Sean is the owner of Downtown Bike Hounds.


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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:38:35

Certain councillors don't care about business downtown. They only value their city's core as a freeway to somewhere else.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 12:39:53

I am a very satisfied customer of Sean and can testify to the excellent service of his business.

Many other cities have revitalized their downtown to the benefit of merchants. Here is one example of where a disgusting car traffic sewer was reclaimed for people.

It should not be a surprise that the "after" is much better for merchants and business than the "before."

They changed. We can too.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-12-09 12:42:08

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By No (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 18:30:40 in reply to Comment 106777

I went in once with someone when I was looking at buying a bike and some accessories and we felt like we were wasting their time, or shouldn't have been there. We left, and haven't gone back. And wouldn't.

I'll stick with other, far friendlier places in our city, in Dundas, in Burlington, where I was greeted upon entering, asked if I needed any help, and assisted in finding some bike accessories.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted December 11, 2014 at 22:50:23 in reply to Comment 106817

I'll stick with other, far friendlier places in our city, in Dundas, in Burlington, where I was greeted upon entering, asked if I needed any help, and assisted in finding some bike accessories.

Hey, if we're trading scurrilous anecdotes - I was more or less sniggered out of a cycling shop if Dundas by the cool-bike-kid staff a few years ago because I was looking for a basket for my wife's bike.

And I've always had great service at Bike Hounds, whose staff have been very patient with my questions, test rides, and requests for tweaks and fiddlings.

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 14:14:14 in reply to Comment 106817

Really, you're comparing him to the the bike shop in Dundas? You mean Freewheel Cycle?

Maybe they've changed, but I gave Freewheel a try a couple of times... and every time I've been disappointed that they were the perfect stereotype of spandex-clad elitists with terrible customer service. They seemed terribly put-upon whenever a customer asked for advice and none of the staff seemed to know anythign about their products outside of his or her own personal interests. Basically, it seemed like a place to buy bib shorts and ogle expensive racing bikes and nothing else.

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By No (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 06:50:41 in reply to Comment 106933

Yes, I was referring to Freewheel. Maybe it's because I went to school with one of the co-founders and his siblings so maybe they laugh behind my back, not sure. But I have had all manner of bikes serviced there and have had nothing negative to say about them (but to be fair I haven't gone in to a racing bike shop looking for cruiser parts).

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 11, 2014 at 13:42:10 in reply to Comment 106817

I'm sorry we gave you a bad experience. Our ultimate goal is to provide the friendliest bike service in the city, to everyone from the hardcore daily rider to the casual recreational cyclist to those who may not have ridden since they were kids. Unfortunately we are a team of human beings who are imperfect and subject to the foibles of human nature, including distraction, illness, exhaustion, depression, and everything in between. Sometimes we simply make mistakes. That being said, we are always looking to improve and we require direct, honest feedback in order to do so. I am hoping you'll take the time to drop me a line and let me know the specific details of your experience so that we can become a better shop.

Thanks! --Sean

Comment edited by seancb on 2014-12-11 13:42:36

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By No (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 06:48:33 in reply to Comment 106931

Hello Sean,

I have just filled out a form on your site. As luck would have it we just bought 2 Raleigh Twenty bikes in an estate sale and they are in need of service. Perhaps you can assist?

Thank you for taking the time to respond, it is appreciated. :)

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2014 at 10:40:52 in reply to Comment 106959

Thanks, I'll check into it today. Raleigh 20s are interesting beasts - very odd parts but nothing we can't handle. It can be a lot of work if you want to do anything much more than basic tuning of existing parts. I'll email you. In the meantime, check this out for some nerdly info on them:


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By No (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 18:06:33 in reply to Comment 106964

Thanks, Sean. We're really just in need of a tune-up. The tires are shot on both (cracked from years of sitting flat, it looks like), and the chains are pretty filthy - these are just cruiser bikes for getting from the house to the store, and some rides down near the waterfront for now. As long as they can be pedaled and stop safely, we'll be happy. Thanks again.

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By redmike (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 22:27:21 in reply to Comment 106817

dont let the door hit you on the ass on the way out dude. good riddance to bad trash i say.

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By No (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 19:56:34 in reply to Comment 106841

Yup, it's the customer's fault for going into a store that had 2 clerks chatting away while 2 customers wandered the shop. That's the spirit!

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By CustymoreService (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 11:23:07 in reply to Comment 106895

Chucks is another example of a lazy Hamilton business wanting someone else to do all the work while they sit back.
Same with Rapscallions and Two Black Sheep owners.
and yet Hamiltonians eat up their business.

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By Huh? (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 11:39:46 in reply to Comment 106973

No idea what you're point is. Chucks, Rapscallion and Two Black Sheep have customers because they have great food and service. We don't know what' going on between Chucks and there landlord so unless you have inside info to share there's no point speculating about why the landlord locked them out.

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By Mr Merch (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 21:46:03 in reply to Comment 106817

This is not a Bike Hounds issue, it's a City-Wide issue. A lot of business owners feel as though they are 'owed' business just for opening up Downtown Hamilton. They don't want to try, or reach out for a Customer Base -- simply put it on Twiiter/Instagram and watch the Customers flock.

This is obviously a flawed vision, and is why many businesses close down in Hamilton.

There is very poor Customer Service downtown Hamilton; I agree there are lots of places I don't feel welcome, or where I feel as though I have annoyed them by walking in.
I find this especially true amongst the 'hipster' businesses downtown.

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By No (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 19:59:42 in reply to Comment 106832

Yes, I would agree fully. For every good business, like Cheapies, it seems like there's 1-2 bad ones where the customer feels uncomfortable going in and probably won't come back.

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By Warren (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:03:04

I find the Main/King two-way conversion belief among Hamiltonians to be a bit of a head-scratcher. Being a one-way street hasn't stopped significant business development on, say, Rue St Catharine in Montreal. Instead of having a four-lane one-way street here, they have a two-lane one-way street with parking on either side and very wide sidewalks:


The main complaint people in Montreal have about St Catharine (apart from being totally intolerable to drive on) is the lack of a bicycle lane, though there is a protected two-way bicycle lane the next block over....

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:50:46 in reply to Comment 106779

You're right, the character of a one way street sometimes gets mixed up with whether or not it is one way.

Main and King could be quite beautiful one way streets and still carry decent volume of cars, just like the photos Jason put in his article. Making it two way is just one of several suggested methods of making it more livable.

The rest of the city however seems overdue for two way reversion, wayfinding is so weird and arbitrarily complicated at times.

But the character of Main and King are pretty abysmal. I remember my first and last "real pedestrian trip" on business along Main, literally without exaggeration, gagging and taking quick short breaths along one segment while walking along the narrow sidewalk, at the filth spewing out of passing cars, buses, and trucks. From then on I made sure I was on bike all the time in order to get through "dirty" spots faster, even though exposure still occurs, it's net less. So just like Jason has written in this article, I too am someone who finds Main and King repulsive to be on where the waves of traffic are fast and close to the sidewalk. But this is not specifically a one-way issue, it is a street character issue.

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 16:19:55 in reply to Comment 106787

King has fine character through the International Village now that the Royal Connaught is revived. It's dense, slow, and comfy to walk on - and that's despite the fact that it's right next to the worst Code Red neighborhoods in the city. Which demonstrates perfectly how a 1-way can be perfectly pleasant.

Cannon's new form is fantastic and should be the model for the whole city.

I'd love to see Main stay 1-way but get the LRT, and then King get 2-way conversion (you could make it asymmetric west of Queen).

But all the side-roads? Those accomplish nothing by being 1-way except for fast traffic and poor wayfinding. Why is Catharine street 1-way? Herkimer? Who does that help?

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:33:25 in reply to Comment 106779

To be clear, I'm not calling for reversion of Main or King or Cannon - at least not right away. But north/south one ways are totally unnecessary for through traffic movement while at the same time being huge barriers to wayfinding - and additionally making traffic WORSE on the east/west arterials by forcing cars to use them as part of the block-rounding necessary to get where one needs to go.

The North/South one ways should be converted immediately, and I've yet to hear a compelling argument for keeping them the way they are...

Main would benefit immediately from a two way bike lane and an all day parking lane but that's a whole different discussion :-)

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:21:31 in reply to Comment 106779

Hamilton is unique (as far as I know) in terms of the sheer number and density of one-way streets in the downtown core. The large multi-lane arterials (Main, King, Cannon, etc.) are dangerous and unpleasant for pedestrians because of the number of high speed lanes, narrow sidewalks and lack of street parking or any buffer. Because of this, they are also bad for street front businesses, and not pleasant places to live.

On the other hand the fact that so many streets are one way, makes way-finding difficult for motorists and cyclists, especially for visitors but also for residents. As Sean points out, this is also bad for business.

Most other cities have a few one-way arterial pairs, and sometimes a few one-way one lane streets when the road is too narrow for more than one lane. But no other city decided to make every street one-way (hundreds of square blocks!) as a matter of principle.

Two way reversion is not the only solution to make a more attractive street that serves as more than a thoroughfare for people wanting to drive through as fast as possible, but it is relatively straightforward and cheap compared with more extensive complete street re-designs (e.g. double sidewalk widths, plant trees, add cycle lanes and transit lanes). And two way conversion actually achieves many of the street calming goals on streets that are reverted to one lane in each direction with street parking.

Two-way really is a conservative compromise: change the streets more or less back to the way they were, don't reduce traffic lanes and make downtown and adjacent neighbourhoods more like similar places everywhere else (including everywhere else in Hamilton!).

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2014-12-09 13:25:33

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:39:36 in reply to Comment 106781

Based on my experience in Portland and Montreal, Hamilton is only unique in that we have these street as full freeways. Those cities have far more one-ways than us. Livable, vibrant, safe one-ways.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 16:43:26 in reply to Comment 106784

But wayfinding can still be very difficult, especially for cyclists, who are looking for a safer route. Even Montreal, which is well known for its cycling infrastructure, can be hard to navigate if you don't know all the roads, which direction they go, and whether or not they are safe to cycle.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:56:18 in reply to Comment 106784

I think Hamilton still comes out on top in the extent of its one-way system (before the conversions), certainly ahead of Montreal.

e.g. compare these two maps at roughly the same scale:



Portland does have a dense area of one way streets around its downtown west of the river, but it is definitely smaller and it ends pretty abruptly.

Montreal has lots of one-ways, but plenty of two-ways as well:


I do agree, however, that one-ways don't have to be as unpleasant to pedestrians, shoppers and businesses as many of Hamilton's are!

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 15:51:52 in reply to Comment 106789

but notice the density of streets in the Portland map compared to Hamilton. There's probably 2 or 3x as many one-ways.
And the major streets east of the river are one-way as well: MLK, Grand, Hawthorne, Broadway, Couch etc.....

Here are the typical one-ways in Portland:


And lights are timed to turn red for cars every few blocks. Not green forever.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 17:58:41 in reply to Comment 106798

One-way streets can be an excellent tool for liveability IF they are done right. Here is a description that shows how to do one-ways right.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 16:47:35 in reply to Comment 106812

You'll see that virtually every one of these small roads is one-way to motor vehicles. Every single one has an exception for bicycles.

To me this is one of the key distinctions. One-way streets are fine if they are small enough that they can accomodate counter-flow bike traffic, or incorporate a contra-flow lane.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:12:04

apparently calm, slow, complete streets with space for pedestrians and cyclists are bad for business. That's why they did this in downtown Ancaster:


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By ItJustIs (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 13:47:47

"Two-Way Reversion"

As I've been using the word 'reversion' instead of 'conversion' for over two years now, it's heartening to see it in print. I thank you, Sean.

(BTW, for those who don't grasp the difference between the two words, it comes down to a) effective messaging and b) taking back control of the narrative: most Hamiltonians who kvetch about 'conversion' haven't a clue that all of these streets used to be two-way. That they were CONVERTED to one-way. This distinction changes the conversation big-time. If you frame it properly.)

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By John Neary (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 10:25:48 in reply to Comment 106786

I think Adrian deserves a lot of credit for having pointed this out. I've changed my own usage.

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By No (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 17:32:58

Your business isn't on King. Can you find a merchant actually on the street that has the bus lane who is all for it?

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By Villager (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 21:52:31 in reply to Comment 106808

PDN - Parlez De Nous.
They opened in in spite of the Bus Lane, right after FlatSpot moved into Jackson Square.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 17:55:32

This comment is somewhat ridiculous. Sean's business is in either the first or second building off of King.

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By No (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 18:23:52 in reply to Comment 106811

It's no more reidiculous than any of your comments about gated communities in Durand or other such things.

The business is half to 2/3 of the way to King William. It goes (corner of King and John): Convenience Store, Alley, Closed Business, Shoe Repair, Bikehounds.

So yes, it's only a couple in, but the massive frontage of the c-store on John pushes everything else farther back. Stop being obtuse.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 19:50:14 in reply to Comment 106815

Coward, why don't you put your real name behind your comments? Looks like you don't want people you know associating you with what you write. The content of what you write provides a good reason why.

I am constantly seeing people who are authors and commentators here. Most recent large numbers of which were at the "Love Your Streets" event. Where we put on nametags that also had our real names on them.

It was great talking with Ryan, Jason, Sean, Joey and Sara. Too bad you won't be having that experience.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2014-12-09 19:50:42

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By Villager (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 21:55:18 in reply to Comment 106824

So you get called out, where you are in fact incorrect, and your response is to call the person a 'Coward'? Isn't that in itself cowardly?

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By No (registered) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 20:12:58 in reply to Comment 106824

Yeah, I guess so. But I accept your apology for being wrong, since you veered WAY off course with your ramblings. But I'm used to seeing that from your comments on this site

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By Jackson S. Quare (anonymous) | Posted December 09, 2014 at 20:49:32

I emailed the Metro guy, but he wasn't decent enough to reply. I guess he takes his customers for granted.

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By Noble cycles (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 06:25:46

I'm on king.

The bus lane causes issues with parking.

It is counter intuitive to park on the left, which makes people pass your shop and not circle the block.

The bus lane is not being utilized properly by sharing it with bikes... Like they do in downtown London.

Rolly rockets does not get the same business it did before the bus lane.

There was always people parking at king and Locke on a Thursday for half price wings... Now not so much.

I just think that we could plan this a bit better. I am all for increasing transit as it grows the city and enables people to explore how beautiful this place can be.

I have been involved in bikes for over 20 years now full time, I have been involved in cycling in Niagara and in Toronto since before they had lanes. I grew up riding here on the escarpment, at Beas and the yellow ramp in the mountain. We could be working together a bit better if people realized what it's like to have safer streets.

As it stands right now, I can't stay open all winter because the city has made it so you can't legally ride down king.

When people make judgement about the small businesses in Hamilton, they should really consider that this really is not an easy city to run a business in. I do not come from money and I work 12-15 hours a day tuning up bikes from the 70s and making zero money doing it... Just so people can get around without a car.

King is a highway... A highway that runs through your downtown core.

The bus lane is causing problems.

I have seen a cycling friendly city, I have lived a breathed cycling for a long time.... This city could be great.

I don't have the answers... But it seems like folks need to be a bit more open to how it is done elsewhere.

Since I am on king and I am a small business I felt it was necessary to give my view, as I have two decades if experience with cycling and helping people run bike shops, run events, and get skate parks built.

Hamilton is deffinitely a hard place to be liked in, it's almost as if when you open a shop and try to do good... You get harshly judged.

I fix and build bikes, I always will. I moved back to this area because it could be amazing if people were a bit more open minded.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 09:33:20 in reply to Comment 106845

so glad you posted here. I live around the corner from you and Rolly's.

What do you think of the idea of having parking back on the north curb, then the bus lane (like it is from John to Bay), then 2 car lanes, then a bike lane on the south curb from Bay to Locke. West of Locke to Dundurn the street widens and there is space to add street parking and the bike lane on the south curb.

I suggested this to the city before the original bus lane was painted as I could foresee this problem coming with north-curb businesses like yours.
I'm glad to hear you offer ideas, thoughts and feedback instead of just sitting in silence with a 'no bus lane' sign on the window.


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By Wrong (anonymous) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 11:19:41 in reply to Comment 106850

'Me' is the name of his new Jackson Square store. He wasn't saying he was the owner of Metro.....

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By Noble cycles (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 12:36:18 in reply to Comment 106850

Jason, I wish I had the answers.

I personally think Downtown would be thriving if we had two way on both king and main.

We deffinitely need to take a new approach, the only people that one way traffic benefits is the folks trying to get through the city and not support the city.

Seems everyone making the judgements does not actually own a business let alone own a business on king.

In terms of road abuse. Some folks may want to take notice of what is happening to the road from the buses. Basically next to the curb the road is getting a deep groove from the frequency of buses. This will surely need resurfacing in the next few years.

For now... It makes great little jumps.

Again, these are just my observations over the past 1 year and 43 days and counting.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted December 10, 2014 at 10:13:40 in reply to Comment 106850

Your plan has merit except for the bike lane and the bus lane being dedicated. Cars turning left, and there are a lot of them, would have to be extremely careful, slow and stop for any significant bike traffic. Also given the volume (nearly 40,000 cars per day) I am guessing that your plan would create significant backups, particularly at rush hour when there are three and four lanes of traffic now. It is very busy at rush hour with three lanes. Not sure what would happen when you increase lane volume by 33% and frequently stop left turning cars in the south lane.

Everyone needs some training for turning left in front of moving traffic. It is counter intuitive. Maybe if there were left turning lanes that allowed cars to move into the bike lane to turn it would work. But then cyclists would get very frustrated with cars stopping in front of them for pedestrians. Also no room for that.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2014-12-10 10:14:54

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By Yes (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 09:07:14

Metro (or Me) hasn't been a relevant business in a long time. He owns his building and will make more revenue renting it out while continuing to run a biz in Jackson Square. Whatever happened to the now dormant King West BIA? Why aren't they promoting their businesses actively on twitter or instagram? I know businesses in worse locations with better presence than the complainers of King West. There is more to this story that we will ever know.

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