Special Report: Cycling

Herkimer, Charlton Bike Lanes Balance Local and City-Wide Needs

A tone-deaf editorial in the Mountain News accuses the lower city of not paying enough attention to how the Herkimer and Charlton bike lanes will impact cut-through traffic.

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 30, 2016

A cringeworthy editorial on the Herkimer and Charlton bike lanes in the Hamilton Mountain News gets its basic facts wrong and draws a mean-spirited, Bizarro-World conclusion about how Hamilton can move forward as a more integrated city.

A child rides in the protected bike lane on Herkimer while a transport truck drives past (Image Credit: Tom Flood)
A child rides in the protected bike lane on Herkimer while a transport truck drives past (Image Credit: Tom Flood)

The opening sentence refers to "the configuration of two main streets in the lower city", and a subsequent sentence describes Herkimer and Charlton as "major transportation corridors for residents from the Mountain travelling to their jobs or other activities into the downtown core."

This is wrong. Herkimer and Charlton are classified [PDF] under the Urban Hamilton Official Plan as local collectors, primarily residential streets where local use and through traffic are balanced.

According to the City's Classification of City Streets [PDF], a collector should be designed to enable "traffic movement and land access [are] of equal importance".

Herkimer and Charlton are not "main streets" or "major transportation corridors". This is even reflected in combined traffic volumes of around 16,000 vehicles a day across both streets.

City-Wide Approval

Next, the editorial accuses "staff, downtown councillors and residents" of implementing these bike lanes without the rest of the city. In fact, these bike lanes are part of the Cycling Master Plan, which was approved by City Council as a whole.

That Council includes a certain west mountain councillor who has been stoking resentment and shamelessly repeating false claims, many of which made it into this editorial.

One of those false claims is that the new design "has created a safety problem for emergency vehicles". In fact, St. Joseph's Healthcare has confirmed that the bike lanes do not create a problem for emergency vehicles.

The editorial also describes "a line up for eager commuters especially during peak hours." In fact, traffic congestion has not increased significantly since the bike lanes were installed.

The main traffic impact has been to reduce dangerous speeding, which the City recorded reaching 80-90 km/h on a daily basis before staff reconfigured the streets to be more safe and inclusive - or as the editorial puts it, "adopt the trendy complete streets transportation plan".

Prioritizing Cut-Through Driving

Perhaps most tone-deaf is the assumption running through the editorial that the main impact of these bike lanes has been to inconvenience mountain residents using these streets as a route to somewhere else.

It is made clear that the convenience of those people should take precedence over making these streets safer - not just for people who live and work on and around them, but for all road users, including the cut-through commuters this editorial claims to speak for.

The editorial accuses "inner city officials" of "myopia" in failing to "take into consideration the impact it will have on the rest of the city" and even takes a potshot at the "pompous digerati" for supporting what the editorial disdainfully calls "funneling money and resources into the core".

Let's be perfectly clear: This project was designed and implemented with paint and signs. It is hardly a case of "funneling money and resources" - especially compared to the exorbitant cost of suburban road-building and road-widening projects that are approved and funded without a whisper of complaint from anyone.

Furthermore: after the redesign, 82 percent of the roadway right-of-way on these streets is allocated to driving and parking automobiles - including additional daytime parking for some of those commuters the editorial claims to speak for - while just 18 percent is allocated to cycling.

That is hardly an excessive or unreasonable rebalancing of the street to accommodate active, healthy, non-polluting transportation - transportation, incidentally, that anyone in the city is allowed to use, including people who currently see their city from an exclusive windshield perspective.

False Alternative

Hamilton is certainly an interconnected city - no one understands this better than the people who have been living with the daily trauma of the lower city's legacy of multi-lane, one-way thoroughfares - but a city cannot thrive if its composite neighbourhoods are not thriving, and a healthy neighbourhood needs safe, inclusive public space.

The editorial frames this as a showdown between inclusive streets and cut-through traffic, but that is a classic false alternative.

It is possible to balance both uses of the street, and the Herkimer/Charlton redesigns were carefully designed over a two-year period to do just that. (Indeed, even after the redesign the streets still overwhelmingly cater to cars and driving.)

A bit less sanctimony, a bit less snark, a bit more empathy and a far more rigorous commitment to fact-checking its convenient assertions would go a long way toward justifying this editorial board's haughy pronouncements about being "diverse" and "interconnected".

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 kdslote (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 10:27:29

Ugh. Thanks for catching this editorial and for providing such a thoughtful response! So sad to see these falsehoods perpetuated by the media.

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 10:45:43

It's amazing how our downtown is 'nowhere' and no one ever comes here and yet all anyone from the mountain ever talks about is the downtown. The only mountain news I've heard recently was a major drug bust up there. Huh. So much for us having all the druggies.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 12:22:53 in reply to Comment 120187

Are you saying even our downtown druggies have to go out to the burbs to get decent drugs, wow!

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By ergopepsi (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 12:43:09 in reply to Comment 120195

Well I'm sure the problem was that the mountain druggies were having trouble getting down the Queen St hill and then of course the gridlock was a nightmare due to all those pesky bike lanes. They obviously found it much easier to get their product locally.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 30, 2016 at 11:07:15

I've mentioned before, when my son was 2 the sitter lived on Garth street. She made it clear she would not be taking the kids anywhere because the sidewalks were not considered safe for a gaggle of kids. Residents on the South Mountain shouldn't be asking why the people of Durand and Kirkendall are getting traffic calming and bike lanes, they should be asking why their own neighbourhoods aren't.

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By SSnowling (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 13:41:44 in reply to Comment 120188

Residents on the South Mountain shouldn't be asking why the people of Durand and Kirkendall are getting traffic calming and bike lanes, they should be asking why their own neighbourhoods aren't.

Fantastic comment.

That is becoming my main go-to comment these days when anyone argues that some part of the city is getting preferential treatment over another.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 13:29:33 in reply to Comment 120188

the same reason a full year can go by with the local councillor in Ward 8 being clueless about the state of the West 5th hospital lands.
A funny thing happens when the local councillors don't do their jobs: it doesn't get done. Residents out there should be petitioning to remove the salary from their tax bill until they start seeing some semblance of work happening to improve the quality of life and safety in their neighbourhoods.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted September 30, 2016 at 16:58:56 in reply to Comment 120200

Exactly. Another fun issue - my violin teacher is moving onto the North end of Upper James. We were looking for a local park on the map to take the other kids to while my eldest was at violin.... and realized that Auchmar was right there. Visiting the area, I hadn't realized how humongous the Auchmar grounds are. How do people who live in that neighbourhood stand Auchmar there? Such a massive property just sucking up half the neighbourhood being a big fenced-off obstacle.

And while the story of Auchmar itself is permanent limbo, the land itself doesn't need to be. The city already owns the land, it could move the fence and turn it into a temporary park while still protecting the actual building. Instead 3-4 city blocks of land stays an unused and unproductive barrier for the neighbors.

But still, what has Whitehead done? He's fussed in council about saving the building a bit, but mostly in the form of grousing about how lower-city properties get saved.

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By mountain66 (registered) | Posted October 01, 2016 at 09:52:44 in reply to Comment 120210

You should really be asking "Friends of Auchmar" the same question. My wife & I have walked around the grounds & in our opinion if the construction areas were fenced off I can see no reason to not let people on the property, after all it is city property. I am not sure what historical value the chain link fence has either. The city also owns St. Mark's and it is not fenced off so I wonder what the difference is. If you would like more information you or anyone else can use the following contacts; Contact for Friends of Auchmar:http://www.friendsofauchmar.ca/ Ward 8 Councillor email: terry.whitehead@hamilton.ca; If you want to contact Councillor Whitehead I have been informed you must also email his Executive Assistant Colleen Wicken, her email is: Colleen.Wicken@hamilton.ca;

I urge any resident of Ward 8 to email Councillor Whitehead and his assistant with their concerns as we are always told we are the only ones in Ward 8 to raise concerns.

Comment edited by mountain66 on 2016-10-01 11:17:48

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2016 at 17:32:02 in reply to Comment 120218

I wouldn't feel like it's my place, not being local.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 19:07:23 in reply to Comment 120210

I've been stunned at the lack of action, or outcry from neighbours for years. Would be an amazing property for picnics, farm markets, cafe with patio, rental space etc.....

I'm sure whatever the city comes up with with will be boring and pave it over with parking.

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By SusanHill (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 11:18:29

Thank you for your thoughtful response. It would seem that some mountain residents believe they have an inalienable right to drive as fast as they wish through our neighborhoods without regard for the safety and quality of life of the people who actually live there, and they are supported by a councillor who couldn't agree more.

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By CareBear (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 11:44:23

This whole situation baffles me. I have regularly used these bike lanes to commute during rush hour between Earl Kitchener school and the downtown core (one of the offices above Jackson Square). I also live in the west downtown and regularly travel along these routes by car. I have never seen any back-log of traffic. Many times during rush hour, I have seen as many bicycles waiting stopped at a light as I have seen cars! I equally find these routes much more friendly to use as a driver. The traffic moves at an appropriate speed for the neighbourhood and feel safer and more user-friendly. Have the people who claim to have issue with the routes even used them since the new lanes were installed? The only backlog I have seen in the neighbourhood as a whole, has been in trying to get down the Queen Street hill which was significantly backed up with traffic trying to cut through to the highway (i.e. going in the opposite direction of the bike lane routes).

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2016 at 07:54:46 in reply to Comment 120193

This is right. This is not coming from the actual experience of anyone using the street. This is simply someone repeating the made-up charges levelled by Councillor Whitehead.

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By SusanHill (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 13:13:26 in reply to Comment 120193

Queen St hill is backed up every morning and afternoon with traffic turning left onto Aberdeen to get to the highway or Longwood. This twice-daily threat to the safety of the residents, children, cyclists, and pedestrians of Queen St S and Aberdeen could be dramatically reduced if Queen St S was converted to a two-way street all the way to King, and parking and bike lanes were installed on both Queen and Aberdeen. No need to pour any concrete or build any more infrastructure--just some paint and a few signs is all it would take. Then the traffic that needs to get to the highway or to Westdale can either use King or better yet, use the Linc and bypass the Durand and Kirkendall neighborhoods altogether.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2016 at 17:35:56 in reply to Comment 120197

To be fair, 2-way converting Queen would be more than signs and paint. Theres the big slip island at Herkimer that would have to come out, and other corners may have rounding that isn't right for hard turns (those are a frustrating property of Hamilton's one-ways, the city often installs sharp corners that make reconfiguring the street expensive). Also, there's a traffic light or two that isn't facing the other way.

Edit: still worth doing, just isn't free.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2016-10-01 17:36:15

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By Suburbanite (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 13:20:08

I'm thinking a certain councillor actually wrote the Editorial in the Mountain News

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2016 at 17:40:48 in reply to Comment 120198

Sadly, Joey Coleman has said the author is Kevin Werner, who is actually an excellent city hall correspondent - a very good journalist in general. Disappointing to see him on that side of this issue.

I assume he dislikes he Herkimer/Caroline thing for the same reason councillor Whitehead does: it's his commute. Herkimer/Caroline connects City Hall to the Queen Street Hill.

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By JasonL (registered) | Posted October 01, 2016 at 20:56:05 in reply to Comment 120223

Are we talking about the same guy?? He's had this angle for years. He does a great job on twitter of relaying council meetings, but his editorials are ridiculous. Basically free PR for Terry and the like

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2016 at 08:05:01 in reply to Comment 120198

The actual author of the piece frequently covers council, and will have had plenty of opportunity to transcribe Councillor Whitehead's ravings on this project. Or to take them from the horse's mouth directly. (I use "mouth" in the non-literal sense of course.)

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 13:38:39 in reply to Comment 120198

Doubt it. Too well written; not enough grammatical and syntax errors.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted September 30, 2016 at 13:42:50

What is most disturbing is where this editorial asserts that the changes, "...failed to take into consideration the impact it will have on the rest of the city."

And yet nowhere in the editorial does it mention that motor vehicle operators poison and kill an average of 94 people in Hamilton each year. That pile of dead bodies is a fairly hefty impact upon the city.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted October 01, 2016 at 07:53:02

As always, Ryan, you are much kinder than I have been to someone attacking the safety of Hamiltonians. Your commitment to respectful engagement is impressive. I want to rain calumny and damn the kindness.

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By notlloyd (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2016 at 11:32:51

How streets are "classified" and re-classified and how people view them are two different things. For people going to the East mountain from Dundurn East to Queen, these are important and significant thoroughfares regardless of classifications or changes in classification. Since James became two way, Herkimer in particular has become more important to people heading to the Jolley Cut.

Comment edited by notlloyd on 2016-10-03 11:33:57

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