From east to west, West 5th north of Fennell could have: a northbound vehicle lane, a centre turn lane, two southbound vehicles lanes and a protected two-way cycle track.
By Ryan McGreal
Published March 04, 2016
The City's Cycling Master Plan, Shifting Gears 2009, doesn't start from the premise that every street should be considered for cycling infrastructure. Instead, it defines a specific network of streets that should be considered, with recommendations for what kind of infrastructure should go on a given street.
The streets that are identified in the plan are the only streets that might get bike lanes under the current framework, so we really cannot afford to miss opportunities to add them. Unfortunately, while there is no clear way to add streets to the plan, there are lots of ways for bike lanes to be removed from the plan.
For this reason, I have described Shifting Gears as a "ceiling" on what we might get in terms of cycling infrastructure.
A recent case in point is the reconstruction of West 5th Street between the Escarpment and Mohawk College. The Cycling Plan proposes bike lanes on West 5th Street from the Escarpment all the way to Rymal Road.
Bike lanes planned for West 5th in Cycling Master Plan
To the north, the bike lanes would connect to the proposed multi-use path running up and down the Claremont Access, which staff have said they cannot complete for close to two years despite Council recently voting to make it a priority after a man was killed commuting home up the Claremont on his bike.
To the south, the bike lanes would connect to the existing bike lanes that are already on West 5th between Mohawk Road and Stone Church Road.
The City already reconstructed West 5th between Mohawk and Fennell, and instead of adding bike lanes they decided to paint sharrows on the curb lanes.
Bike sharrows on West 5th between Mohawk and Fennell (Image Credit: Google Street View)
A bike sharrow is not cycling infrastructure. It is simply a paint marking on the street advising that a person riding a bike is allowed to ride in the vehicle lane - a circumstance that is already legal on every non-highway street in Ontario.
Recent traffic research in Denver, the city that invented sharrows in the early 1990s, has found that sharrows may actually be more dangerous than nothing at all. The study authors conclude:
As sharrows do not provide designated space for bicyclists and do not enhance the overall bicycle network, all cities should (as many already have) begin to consider sharrows simply as signage as opposed to actual infrastructure. It is time that sharrows are exposed for what they really are, a cheap alternative that not only fails to solve a pressing safety issue, but actually makes the issue worse through a sense of false security.
More recently, the City finished reconstructing West 5th between Fennell and the escarpment. This section is a bloated five wide lanes and does not even include the tokenism of painted sharrows.
RTH enquired as to why bike lanes were not included in the reconstruction. Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead, whose ward includes West 5th, forwarded an email from Daryl Bender, the City's Project Manager for Cycling:
The Cycling Master Plan (CMP 2009) included a plan for bike lanes on the full length of West 5th Street from the Brow southerly to Rymal Road. From the Brow to the lower city the same plan envisions a multi-use trail.
The design works, a few years ago, for West 5th Street north of Fennell Ave determined that the best that could be accomplished was sharrows because of insufficient roadway width in some segments. Secondly, an on-street facility would not connect very well to the multi-use trail northerly (along the Brow). The decision was therefore made to pursue a multi-use trail along the west side of West 5th Street so the multi-use trail at the Brow would be continuous to Fennell Ave (i.e. Mohawk College). Alternatively this facility could be a bike path beside a sidewalk along the hospital property. It is envisioned that Mohawk College will be a suitable location to transition from the multi-use trail/bike path to on-street cycling infrastructure southerly.
Current updates to both the Recreational Trails Master Plan and the Transportation Master Plan (TMP/CMP) both reflect this plan for future cycling connectivity.
Sharrows exist on West 5th Street south of Mohawk College to Mohawk Road; and south of there, bike lanes now exist all the way to Stone Church Road.
Of course, there is only "insufficient roadway" for bike lanes because the street design has five lanes for vehicle traffic.
We looked up the City's most recent traffic volume counts for West 5th, which were taken in 2010. The following table records the north- and southbound counts at various locations:
|At Brantdale Ave
|At Fennell Ave W
|At Monarch Rd
|At Governors Blvd
|At South Bend Rd W
|At Richwill Rd
|At Mohawk Rd W
|At Marlowe Dr
|At Tyrone Dr
Here is the same information displayed as a bar chart:
Chart: traffic volumes on West 5th at various locations
Look at the asymmetry of traffic volumes north of Mohawk - more traffic is southbound than northbound. This makes sense: the southbound lanes are fed by both the James Mountain Road access and the Claremont Access extension, but for northbound traffic, only James Mountain Road is a through route - and it is only one lane in each direction.
So why is West 5th five lanes wide? It only carries some 17,000 cars a day, and north of Fennell, almost two-thirds of that is southbound. Since James Mountain Road is only one lane northbound, West 5th only needs to be one lane northbound, especially north of Fennell.
That frees up a full lane that could be used as a protected two-way cycle track connecting between the planned Claremont cycle track and the major destinations at West 5th and Fennell: Mohawk College and St. Joseph's Healthcare West 5th campus.
From east to west, the street could have: a northbound vehicle lane, a centre turn lane, two southbound vehicles lanes and a protected two-way cycle track.
Again, those two southbound lanes would be fed from the two southbound escarpment access lanes, one on Claremont and one on James Mountain; and the one northbound lane would feed the one northbound escarpment access lane on James Mountain.
From left: southbound lane from Claremont, southbound lane from James Mountain, northbound lane to James Mountain
We don't even need to engage in guesswork on how well this arrangement would work. Yesterday afternoon, more than a day and a half after this week's snow storm ended, the north curb lane of West 5th was still piled with snow.
Northbound curb lane of West 5th piled with snow on March 3, 2016
Snowfall is a great way to figure out how much roadway a city actually needs. The paths that cars make through the snow on a street function in the same way as a desire path, demonstrating how much of the roadway is superfluous and could be repurposed for other uses.
A couple of years ago, Streetsblog founder Aaron Naparstek coined the term sneckdown to refer to places where undisturbed snow demonstrates that roadway is not needed for automobile traffic and should be converted to other uses.
Sneckdown in New York City (Image Credit: Aaron Naparstek/Wikipedia. Licenced under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported)
So why were the bike lanes not included in the West 5th reconstruction? At its very busiest, it only carries 18,000 cars a day. That volume of traffic warrants a street with one lane in each direction and a centre turn lane.
But this is Hamilton, where we habitually overbuild our streets so that no one ever has to slow down, even during the busiest peak of rush hour.
Councillor Whitehead actually introduced a motion at the February 29, 2016 Public Works Committee meeting (item 9.1, which I can't link directly thanks to the City's unusable-by-design meetings website) requesting that the City set a target for improving the appropriate vehicle traffic Level of Service (LOS) for peak rush hour vehicle traffic on city streets from a Level D or better to a Level C or better. The Public Works committee approved it.
Here are the City's definitions for the various levels of service:
|This Level of Service describes the highest quality of traffic flow and is referred to as free flow. The approach appears open, turning movements are easily made and drivers have freedom of operation. Control delay is less than 10 seconds/vehicle.
|This Level of Service is referred to as a stable flow. Drivers feel somewhat restricted and occasionally may have to wait to complete the minor movement. Control delay is 10-15 seconds/vehicle for unsignalized intersections and 10-20 seconds/vehicle for signalized intersections.
|At this level, the operation is stable. Drivers feel more restricted and may have to wait, with queues developing for short periods. Control delay is 15-25 seconds/vehicle at unsignalized intersections and 20-35 seconds/vehicle at signalized intersections.
|At this level, traffic is approaching unstable flow. The motorist experiences increasing restriction and instability of flow. There are substantial delays to approaching vehicles during short peaks within the peak period, but there are enough gaps to lower demand to permit occasional clearance of developing queues and prevent excessive back-ups. Control delay is 25-35 seconds/vehicle at unsignalized intersections and 35-55 seconds/vehicle at signalized intersections.
|At this level capacity occurs. Long queues of vehicles exist and delays to vehicles may extend. Control delay is 35-50 seconds/vehicle at unsignalized intersections and 55-80 seconds/vehicle at signalized intersections.
|At this Level of Service, the intersection has failed. Capacity of the intersection has been exceeded. Control delay exceeds 50 seconds/vehicle at unsignalized intersections and exceeds 80 seconds/vehicle at signalized intersections.
According to the Wikipedia page on LOS, LOS D "is a common goal for urban streets during peak hours, as attaining LOS C would require prohibitive cost and societal impact in bypass roads and lane additions."
In other words, in a city with a cumulative unfunded infrastructure maintenance deficit of $3.5 billion, Whitehead actually wants the City to aim for a level of service such that streets never experience congestion, even during rush hour.
In this he is ignoring the recommendations of his Public Works managers, who acknowledge that the City could save money by scaling down the excess capacity on our city streets.
Think about the staggering amounts of money we would have to spend on expanded road infrastructure to achieve this goal - not to mention the fact that the law of induced demand means that expanded road infrastructure would attract more people to drive longer distances more frequently - and then remember this the next time Councillor Whitehead claims we can't afford something or that we need to focus on "needs" versus "wants".
The decisions we make about how to allocate scarce, expensive public resources demonstrate our values. This was the same multimillion dollar reconstruction that could not bother to squeeze a few feet of right-of-way on Fennell Avenue to make room for a skinny north curb sidewalk, despite the clear desire path from people trying to walk without getting killed.
No sidewalk on north side of Fennell east of West 5th
Whitehead has claimed that the City couldn't put a sidewalk there due to the sloped grade next to Auchmar, but this is a red herring. Even if we set aside the fact that five lanes is excessive for the 18,000 cars a day that drive on this section of Fennell, it would have been easy to take a bit of space from each of those wide lanes in order to make room for a sidewalk outside the sloped grade.
Whitehead also claims that traffic volumes are increasing, but by designing our streets for cars to the exclusion of other modes, we are preventing people from choosing other ways of getting around.
In a statement he posted yesterday on twitter, Whitehead argued:
@63_King it is an arterial road and also a mnt access. Three major institutions— Terry Whitehead (@terrywhitehead) March 3, 2016
on Fennell. Volume of traffic justifies need.
This blinkered reasoning behind this is astonishing: the major institutions are precisely why the street network needs to be more inclusive! How many students would love the opportunity to walk or ride a bike safely to school?
We get the city we plan and build for. Hamilton has been planning and building for a city of universal driving for decades and it is bankrupting us, even as our car-centric transportation system leaves far too many people behind.
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