Special Report: Bus Lane

My Letter to Council on the Bus Lane, and a Reply from Councillor Whitehead

You're a "whiner" if you acknowledge the problems with the bus lane and advocate fixing them, but not if you advocate scrapping the bus lane altogether.

By Ryan McGreal
Published December 10, 2014

This morning I sent the following letter to Mayor Eisenberger and City Council:

Dear Mayor Eisenberger and Council,

The bus lane was a good idea that was executed in a manner that ignored community feedback and created unneccesary problems. The solution is to start listening and fix the problems, not to scrap the project.

The underlying issue was simply that minimal public consultation was done before the bus lane was implemented. If staff had engaged with stakeholders, they would have learned, for example, that removing curbside parking on the north curb west of Bay was a bad idea.

Even with the bus lane, King Street remains a dangerous, inhospitable thoroughfare. As one business owner put it: "I have customers who tried parking across the street and then risked their lives to cross the road and just said, 'we aren't coming back.'"

That's not the fault of the bus lane, and removing it won't fix the problem. The city needs to restore curbside parking to the north curb west of Bay Street whether or not the bus lane is retained.

We can also mitigate the automobile traffic backups through the International Village with some modest adjustments to improve traffic flow. Here are a couple of suggestions that have been raised multiple times over the past year and a half:

  • Adjust the timing of the green lights on King between Wellington and James.
  • Provide an advance turn signal for buses turning left at James and MacNab.

I would also add that the bus lane should allow cyclists to share the lanes. Many other cities do this and it works well. It astonishes me that our Cycling Master Plan has been used to justify not expanding cycling facilities on an important east-west corridor.

We had a chance to do all of these things when the bus lane was repainted earlier this year, but staff continued to ignore all of the suggestions that engaged residents had put forward and re-implemented the bus lane with no substantial changes.

We need to do better at engagement. Citizens are not the enemy: with meaningful (rather than token) consultation, we end up with better designs that serve a wider set of needs and enjoy broader support.

The bus lane pilot is an important opportunity to learn and improve. Please don't squander that opportunity by throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead quickly sent the following reply:

There are intersection lights that allow people to cross th street safely. What do you mean that it is unsafe to cross. Is it because the lights do not allow adequate time to cross?

Here is my response:

Dear Councillor Whitehead,

Thank you for your reply. That quote was from Diego Almonte, a business owner quoted in this Spectator article:


If customers aren't willing to cross the street to go to a business, there is something wrong with the street.

My suggestion to you is to walk along and across King Street between Bay Street and Queen Street. Pay attention to whether you feel comfortable or nervous. Note whether the street feels safe or dangerous. Observe whether you feel that you are welcome or that you don't belong.

Then do the same thing on some of our other downtown business districts: Concession Street, King Street in Dundas, Wilson Street in Ancaster, James Street North, Locke Street South, Ottawa Street North.

My hunch is that you will experience in a direct, visceral way why people don't like to walk around on King Street in downtown Hamilton, and why street retail businesses struggle to attract and retain customers.

Most businesses are on the north side. At least with curbside parking on that side, the sidewalk was somewhat buffered from automobile traffic and someone driving to a store didn't have to walk across five lanes to get there.

The bus lane is not what's wrong with King Street. Unfortunately, the way it was implemented exacerbated the problems the street already had. The good news is that they won't be that difficult to fix.

As for reducing King to two lanes west of Mary, I'll note that King was already two lanes east of Mary and that did not cause significant backups. Again, this can be fixed with some modest design tweaks.

Later this morning, Councillor Whitehead went on the Bill Kelly Show on AM 900 CHML to complain:

Urbanists believe we've all kinds of money to spend in one area of the city. Tired of these whiners, quite frankly!

So according to Councillor Whitehead, you're a "whiner" if you acknowledge problems with the bus lane and call for them to be fixed so the street meets everyone's needs, but not if you call for it to be scrapped entirely.

It should be an interesting four years.

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 Centerliner (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 14:35:42

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 05:28:32 in reply to Comment 106874

Too much volume for the roads? These roads downtown are empty almost the entire day. We have a 5 lane one-way on Main, parallel to a 3-5 lane one way on King, parallel plus a couple blocks to a 2-4 lane one-way on Cannon, the SAME DIRECTION as the major one-way road it's parallel to.

And jay-walking has nothing to do with it. My Mother's been hit, while using a crosswalk on a green light, by a car rolling through a red light, and I've been hit and injured before by a car in the same situation.

I was also recently hit, much harder, by another vehicle, as I was crossing Charlton, in a crosswalk, with a walk signal, by a car trying to beat myself and another pedestrian through the intersection. The roads are unsafe for a million reasons more than jaywalking.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 15:15:32 in reply to Comment 106874

King St has been 2 lanes from Wellington to Mary for years and traffic flowed just fine. Now it's 2 lanes from Mary to James and all hell breaks loose? Fix the timing, fix the turn signals, stop making excuses.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 16:17:20 in reply to Comment 106879

Exactly. That council isn't willing to call their staff out on this is worrisome. It really is a walled bunker over there.

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By Standard Life (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 15:09:56 in reply to Comment 106874

Forget the red herring named Jaywalking. Pedestrians (most who just parked their cars) crossing King at Bay are menaced by drivers anxious to get on to King to catch up with the green wave.

You are made to feel anything but comfortable while cars turn in front of you and behind you the nanosecond you clear their path. To pretend otherwise is to deny the reality.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 14:44:55

The whiners, unfortunately are the car-driving majority, who have grown used to having their every whim catered to in a transportation system that is overwhemingly tilted towards their needs and away from the needs of everyone else in the community.

Essentially, the goal of having safe and comfortable places to shop, live and do business comes secondary to their ability to speed through on their way to somewhere else.

78% of respondents to the Spec's poll are in favour of doing away with the bus lane. Regardless of your views on the validity of on-line polling methods, that's a pretty staggering response.

And with that response in mind, you can bet that if they don't kill it now, it's just a matter of a short month when the report comes in. It's going to be very hard for staff to spin the positives of the dedicated bus lane sufficiently to offset people's perceptions of the negatives.

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By why (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 15:12:18

Why was it made a bus lane and not HOV? I like the idea but think the utilization rate of that lane is simply way too low. If we want to study feasibility of a dedicated alternate-use lane on King, why shouldn't we allow taxis and carpooling in that lane to bring the utilization up to the point where people aren't glaring at an empty lane while they're sitting snarled in traffic. That is an optics failure. It makes the bus lane concept a sitting duck for all sorts of unrelated criticism.

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By why (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 17:33:50 in reply to Comment 106878

I get that if we're going to study the impact of LRT on King then we have to study the impact of a dedicated transit lane on the street to the exclusion of all other traffic. But even if we adjusted traffic light timing and added advanced turn signalling for buses, the data is still useless if it doesn't account for the increased utilization that LRT vehicles would bring and the effect that option would have on the overall traffic mix. Because we only have buses using that lane, it's sitting practically empty during peak periods and infuriating drivers. Even if there were a real way to accurately test how LRT infrastructure on King would affect throughput and I don't think there is, the study has pissed off so many people that we'd be lucky if we could sell any sort of alternate-use lane on King now. When you have people like Pearson going on record and saying how she's got to sit through three light cycles before even getting to the intersection while the bus lane sits empty, you can't ignore that! Because that's what so many people are feeling. It doesn't matter how good an idea is, you still have to sell it. And the first thing I thought of when I saw those signs going up was "Why only buses?" This study should have never been conducted in the first place. Far better would have been to install an HOV lane (buses, taxis, 3 or more riders) which would have eased the transition to an LRT dedicated lane.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 15:53:33

Isn't it going to cost more money to remove the bus lane than just leave it in place?

This is isn't about money, especially as the cost of the bus lane was not paid by the City. It is about just giving up when and going back to the status quo when the the pilot project is unpopular and has implementation problems, rather than actually seeing if the concerns are justified and can be fixed.

It would be better if Council actually waited for the report before making a decision. Otherwise we've really wasted the Metrolinx money.

And why do councillors listen when some shop owner complain about the bus lane, but not when others complain about the one-way streets and unpleasant conditions for their customers? Did they tell the shop owners that their customers should just suck it up and cross the street, or figure out how to drive next to a bus lane?

Finally, shouldn't the rest of council at least give the benefit of the doubt to the councillor whose ward the bus lane is actually in?

Farr wants to wait for the report, which is a pretty reasonable request.

I don't recall Ward 1-3 councillors trying to micromanage street designs in other parts of the city which have a lot of traffic. Should the rest of Council impose a one way design on King St in Dundas, cancel the re-design of Wilson Street in Ancaster or make Upper James and Upper Wentworth into a paired one-way over the wishes of residents and the local Councillor? There are lots of people from other parts of the city who need to drive on those streets as well.

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By terrymccuaig (registered) - website | Posted December 12, 2014 at 16:17:37 in reply to Comment 106883

"I don't recall Ward 1-3 councillors trying to micromanage street designs in other parts of the city which have a lot of traffic."

Swimming in other people's soup is the M.O. of our Clowncil. Same thing happened during the urban poultry debates of 2012. Councillors Farr and McHattie wanted a trial run in their Wards 1 & 2 ONLY, in response to their constituents' requests, but got ridiculed and shouted down by councillors from the periphery. Peripheral councillors represent comparatively few constituents, and their territories are not directly affected, but big mouths prevail. Only directly involved stakeholders should vote on issues confined to individual wards.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 17:18:33 in reply to Comment 106994

you know what else would work? De-amalgamation.

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 05:32:38 in reply to Comment 106883

Re: councillors not micromanaging - that's a great point.

I'm sure Terry would love us sending our Ward 1-3 councillors up to Whitehead and asking him why so many of his major streets have kids sprinting across them because there aren't any crosswalks for a kilometre at a time.

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 16:18:45 in reply to Comment 106883

every time I'm on Wilson in Ancaster I sit through many red light sequences. Why don't we rip up their 'complete street' project and go back to extra lanes without bike lanes, flowers, benches, wide sidewalks etc.......

Code Red

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By No (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 18:18:32 in reply to Comment 106885


I live in a Code Red neighbourhood on the Mountain (Rolston neighbourhood) and I don't see where we'd be putting in these types of things. Can you clarify please?

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 19:16:12 in reply to Comment 106889

? Not sure if that's directed at me, but I don't follow. putting in what types of things in Rolston?

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By No (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 19:54:35 in reply to Comment 106893

All the things that Ancaster has along the boutique area of Wilson street. You know,

bike lanes, flowers, benches, wide sidewalks etc.......

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By jason (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 20:35:54 in reply to Comment 106894

Rolston has dynamite potential for complete streets that give folks good transpo options regardless of the mode. Limeridge is very empty since the Linc was built. It could easily have protected bike lanes on both sides with new trees/flower beds like this:


The plaza on Limeridge with the CCAS and Big Bear would be a great opportunity for a community 'village' type of development. Add mixed-income housing with needed retailers, a food shop, clothing etc.... Community/plaza space to sit along with an interactive water feature/play area for families. It could have a bike share hub and transit station incorporated at the site:


Lots of opportunity in that neighbourhood due to its already good density and mixed-income.

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By Whitlock (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 20:59:12

Same old song with Whitehead. Folks in Ward 8 are part of this city. When the downtown works, we all benefit. How? Less crime, more people in the core gainfully employed (25,000 employees and growing), less reliance on the downtown as the default position for all manner of social service agencies, rising property values to make it more economical to reuse heritage buildings, etc. etc. Most importantly, a city with a strong heart, makes for a vital and liveable city. So his people benefit both directly and indirectly when money is spent downtown. Whitehead is a classic denier. Don't feed him facts because they don't register with him.
TBF I am sorely tired of Whitehead's whining about spending money downtown.

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By C'mon Now (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 22:09:54

Okay, Whitehead says some iffy things sometimes, but this time may not be one of them. And anyway, if you are trying to convince him Ryan, why post this negative stuff to embarass him? Not working. That's why urbanist agenda may not be advancing.

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 14:22:17 in reply to Comment 106900

Completely agree.

Name calling by an anonymous few does absolutely no favours for complete street advocates.

Not exactly a winning formula for winning friends and influencing others.

Maybe messengers and messaging need a reboot in 2015?

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By You C'mon Now (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 11:50:47 in reply to Comment 106900

If Whitehead is embarrassed by people knowing what he said then maybe he should of thought first before saying it. You'd have to be totally ignorant or deliberately blind to not see why it sucks to be a pedestrian on King. This is the same guy who said downtown is not a neighborhood.

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By C'mon Now (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 22:35:37 in reply to Comment 106900

Do you want support or revenge? If it's revenge, such as it is on a blog, then go ahead and ridicule. If it's support, try a different tactic. Just sayin'

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 10:26:16 in reply to Comment 106905

How is this 'revenge'? What else would you do in response but call for a different outcome?

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By holdup (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 22:16:09 in reply to Comment 106900

Whethead embarrassed himself with those responses. We deserve better from our so called leaders.

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By what (anonymous) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 22:14:36 in reply to Comment 106900

Why? Because the egotistical cry babies on council can't take it when their nonsense is called out for what it is? That's why we don't get to see progress?

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 22:22:34

Feel for Terry, he's never done anything but work in political roles because he has no skills.

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By PiersixBrawler (registered) | Posted December 10, 2014 at 23:18:39

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

Comment edited by PiersixBrawler on 2014-12-10 23:33:30

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 15:16:48 in reply to Comment 106906

I can see you like to contribute, so can you please update page Wikipedia, Transportation in Hamilton, Ontario, as it doesn't reflect that King and Cannon are HIGHWAYS.

Thanks in advance.

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By JustinJones (registered) - website | Posted December 11, 2014 at 13:59:03 in reply to Comment 106906

You're right! We should be adding more car lanes! Let's get rid of the sidewalks on King and Main Street!

Actually, that might not be enough space. Let's get rid of the buildings too! Nobody goes there anyways, right? So let's just turn the whole area into a 400 series highway.

Also, I love how you prescribe that buses should have to deal with traffic just like a motor vehicle as listed under the highway traffic act in one breath, then say that cyclists, which, by the way, ARE VEHICLES UNDER THE HIGHWAY TRAFFIC ACT, should be on the sidewalks.

If this is meant to be satire, you're doing a lovely job. If not, then you are either allergic to fact and logic or you just choose to ignore them. Either way, go away.

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 10:45:28 in reply to Comment 106906

Stop that.

You keep posting this stuff and then ignore the replies. Regardless of your belief in your ideas, your behavior is exceptionally rude and does not deserve the patient engagement it's getting.

Either properly join the conversation or go post this crap on your own blog.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 10:28:35 in reply to Comment 106906

Drivers and cars outnumber buses

This is kind of irrelevant; buses carry many more people than cars do in the same space.

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By brandonj86 (registered) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 09:10:29 in reply to Comment 106906

"its the sticker on drivers' plates that pay for road maintenance."


"Bicyclists and bus riders don't pay for road maintenance."


"the bicycles should get back on the bloody sidewalk where they belong"


Comment edited by brandonj86 on 2014-12-11 09:11:12

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 01:32:53 in reply to Comment 106906

Stats show that driver and vehicle licensing is on the rise- like always.

Do you have a source to share? Genuinely curious because multiple things I'm seeing suggest driving peaked already and the trend is reversing. Here is just one example of what's going on:

A survey by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute this summer found that while 80 per cent of Americans and Canadians between 17 and 19 had a driver’s licence three decades ago, today it’s closer to 60 per cent. In fact, there’s been a steady decline in licensed drivers in every age group over the past 15 years.

If you have something that begs to differ, please share it.

This makes it completely unreasonable and unsafe to add a bus or bike lane without adding the 'real estate'to do so ... the city should be ADDING more CAR lanes

In your world view all space outside of a building should belong to ALL CARS and if by chance you become satisfied, then perhaps your generosity will declare some real estate "surplus" and therefore available for multi-modal use? Do you have a specific and not emotional proposal? Where is extra space coming from? Bulldozed buildings? Eliminate medians, landscaping, sidewalks? Make the Lakeshore Trail a two way street? And when even that gets congested because you can't leave your living room without a car, then what?

Doesn't look like you thought your comment through, honestly it looks like you're mad because there is traffic in a city where by definition other people live. If you join the legislators in a repeat of kindergarden, you can pay attention to the part where sharing and awareness that others exist is taught.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2014-12-11 01:44:07

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By Fake Name (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 12:20:18

Which downtown councillor nixed the bike lanes on Queensdale? I mean, if we're going to argue about how the Mountain needs the same kind of Complete Streets development... well, they probably shouldn't fight against the development.

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By hillbillies (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 15:36:42 in reply to Comment 106927

Their OWN councillor nixed it.
Ancasters OWN councillor nixed improved bus service to Redeemer.
Stoney Creeks OWN councillor allowed residents of Binbrook to vote to have no transit service.

Ward 7 and 9 councillors have been in office more than half my life and still have residents without a SIDEWALK! Again, their own choice, or lack of doing their job for 20 years.

Mountain councillors complained bitterly about the bike share system and didn't want a red cent going towards it.
Then complained when the map was released with no stations on the Mountain.

If you ever wonder why so much of our population is entitled, spoiled brats, look no further than a large chunk of council.

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By loves cars and bikes (anonymous) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 12:30:04

mike on the mountain....well put.
as well to the rest of everyone willing to be open and share space.

Reading this makes me think some of you "people" have not left "the hammer" in a long time.
your mind and scope of vision is so small.
I thought all the rednecks would leave once Tim Hortons sold to burger king.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted December 11, 2014 at 15:08:00 in reply to Comment 106929

Not only have they not left "the hammer", they haven't left 1979 either.

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By IanReynolds (registered) | Posted December 12, 2014 at 05:37:15

Ryan that's a nice write-up. Hits all the important points and it's clear and concise and unfortunately completely wasted on Terry's refusal to be a professional.

Let's hope the others aren't so lazy.

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By Bus Rider (anonymous) | Posted December 14, 2014 at 03:48:23

You wrote to Whitehead whose petty fiefdom is on the mountain of course he is going to neither understand and then scoff because his this DT fiefdom is foreign to him and he has no interest in t whatsoever.Maybe when we have a CITY council rather than simply Wards set like small Fiefs and councilors their Lords interested in only their Fief maybe Hamilton can start making better decisions.

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