What started as a straightforward initiative with wonderful civic engagement, a supportive neighbourhood association, and full endorsement by a city councillor has turned into a murky process with uncertain outcomes.
By Kyle Slote
Published April 30, 2015
Over six months ago, I wrote an article about the flawed design of bike lanes planned for Herkimer and Charlton in Durand / Kirkendall.
After that article and subsequent correspondence by Ward 2 Councillor Jason Farr and the Durand Neighbourhood Association, the installation of the lanes was put on hold so their design could be reviewed - an encouraging first step.
In some ways, a lot has happened since that time. In others, nothing at all has changed. Here is an account of the process that has occurred since last October and an update on where things stand today.
Original bike lane routes (Image Credit: Kyle Slote)
Very quickly, Durand Neighbourhood Association President Janice Brown formed a cycling committee to tackle this issue. Our group met with Councillor Farr on November 11, 2014.
Over the course of an evening, we hashed out a revised design following proven, implemented precedents from other cities with the following primary principles:
We got into a fairly fine grain of detail, which you can read in the meeting minutes.
Charlton and Herkimer cross sections reflecting committee design (Image Credit: Robert Iszkula and Kyle Slote)
The outcomes of our meeting were sent to the appropriate city staff. Following this, our committee hoped to meet with city staff to review their revised designs. Finally, after nearly two months, we met with city staff members Daryl Bender, David Ferguson, and Lorissa Skrypniack on January 26.
To our dismay, the meeting did not consist of reviewing revised plans. Rather, city staff reviewed their original lane design with us. We then reviewed our extensive criticism of that design and our list of recommendations.
One staff member spoke of hearing of a report that placing bike lanes between a curb and parked cars in New York City resulted in an increase in accidents. This was demonstrated to be the complete opposite of the truth when our committee members found reports that, in reality, these NYC lanes have resulted in significant crash reductions, significant injury reductions, and a near tripling of cyclists within two months of installation.
You can read more about New York's parking-protected lanes and their significant benefits in Kevin Love's article.
As disheartening as it was to see that city staff had done no work on the Herkimer and Charlton lanes, it was at least encouraging to hear that Councillor Farr was willing to fully endorse our committee's plan.
Recognizing that even though what is being proposed has been successfully implemented elsewhere, it is 'new' to Hamilton, Farr went as far as to say that he was willing to take responsibility for the design, taking risk away from city staff.
He directed city staff to create a detailed plan reflecting the comments and recommendations of our committee in time for a March 9 Durand Town Hall Meeting. City staff made no objections to this deadline.
At the March 9 Durand Town Hall, the Herkimer and Charlton bike lanes were indeed discussed. However, no detailed plan was prepared by city staff.
Instead, City Staff prepared two presentation boards with a variety of schematic options for each road. Though some options came closer to our committee's recommendations, none were spot on.
Anecdotally, those I know of who spoke to City Staff about these boards were told very negative things about parking protected bike lanes, despite the considerable amount of data provided to the contrary.
City Board: Options for Charlton Bike Lanes (Image Credit: Sara Mayo)
City Board: Options for Herkimer Bike Lanes (Image Credit: Sara Mayo)
While it was disappointing to see very little work had been done after over four months, it was at least encouraging to hear predominantly positive comments from the citizens who voiced opinions.
Not surprisingly, the dangerous intersection of Queen and Herkimer was emphasized as needing redesign. City staff generally nodded and agreed with the comments made. Councillor Farr reiterated his support.
The short answer is, I don't truly know. I have reached out to Councillor Farr in the hopes that his emphatic verbal support will translate into realized actions by the city. Some of our committee's members have heard grumblings of concern from City Hall about our proposed design, though nothing has been confirmed or directly communicated to us.
On April 24, in frustration, I called city Daryl Bender, project manager of alternative transportation for the city. He was gracious enough to give me the following update:
I asked if some of the rumoured concerns about our design were founded. He stated that certain aspects such as intersections and driveways are always a concern, but he does not see them as insurmountable obstacles.
Like I said, I don't truly know where these lanes stand. While positive and supportive things continue to be said, concrete actions remain to be seen.
What started as a seemingly straightforward initiative with wonderful civic engagement, a supportive neighbourhood association, and full endorsement by a city councillor has turned into a murky process with uncertain outcomes.
The eternal optimist in me wants to believe that these lanes will happen - that they will be implemented, encouraging more people to cycle and making Herkimer and Charlton safer for all road users. I still think we will get there, I just don't know when.
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