Backpedaling on Bike Lanes?

There’s talk of removing bike lanes along York Blvd and Dundurn Street North to make room for cars once Light Rail Transit (LRT) displaces traffic on King Street. Cyclists are of course upset, and some are strategizing about alternative routes to the York and Dundurn pairing.

I hate the idea of conceding lanes so soon after getting them. The continuous, connected route on York was years in the making, a priority for city cycling staff and advocates, and it is a sweet ride. I cruise downtown from my Strathcona shack to grab some grub at the market, and head back up Burlington Heights with a modicum of separation from traffic.

The fact that these hard won lanes are being offered as a sacrifice to cars to make up for the loss of traffic lanes on King Street is bad enough, but isn’t Light Rail supposed to be the cyclist’s friend?

I thought walking, cycling and transit were what we were aiming for: we are supposed to be building alternatives to space-wasting, expensive and dangerous cars. Why then, when we are on the cusp, do we cave?

When our family moved to Strathcona almost a decade ago, there were no bike lanes on Dundurn North, nor York between Dundurn and Bay. Walking to the store, my kids hiking to middle school, everywhere we went we were an arms length away from fast moving cars in the curb lane. The sudden blast of air against my arm as a car sped up Dundurn toward York. One wrong step off the sidewalk would mean disaster.

When our city councillor Brian McHattie made cycling lanes a priority in ward one, we benefited. A protest flier delivered to mailboxes in the area predicting traffic chaos when one of two northbound lanes on Dundurn would be removed was proven false as things have worked out beautifully. The change for cars, negligible (unless racing side by side counts), but the added buffer of the bike lane offered our skin-wrapped skeletons a reprieve from danger.

A possibly unintended, but welcome, improvement for pedestrians is provided by bike lanes at the curb: road design that moves water to the catch basins at the roadway edge always means the potential ignominy of getting soaked by cars passing through puddled ponds. I lost an iPod touch to one such massive soaking. I guess that could be seen as good for the economy, but it sucked to be soaked and made the journey a costly one.

You see, defending the existing bike-lanes is not just a cycling thing, it’s a walking thing. The city does a terrible job of clearing bike lanes of snow in winter, but it is often better than the resident-led strike against shovelling sidewalks. Elderly people sometimes choose the bike lane over the slippery sidewalks with their walkers and canes. It’s a practical improvement that needs to stay if we in fact support active modes of getting around.

My fear is that we do not support active modes. I mean, removing bike lanes and making walking less viable screams cars first, doesn’t it?

So what to do? I’ll suggest the KISS plan: Keep it simple stupid: leave the bike lanes alone.

Accommodating cars to the detriment of people walking and cycling is regressive. Does car traffic slow down? Probably. Will the world be swallowed up by a five-eyed monster as a result? Not likely.

We, the walking, cycling, transit-taking plebeians are already living a shadow-future that the rest of the world needs to wake up to. Me? I’m tired of being pushed around for car driver’s entitlement. Please, note, I am also a driver on occasion, and when my right foot hovers over the gas pedal I have an entirely different set of expectations and desires than when I walk or cycle. As such, I understand and support the trade-off that needs to come if we are to protect more vulnerable road users.

The day when more people can choose to take a safe alternative to the car keeps getting pushed back. Government inaction, or political obstruction, fear, it all adds up to making each step we take on our everyday journey more ugly, dangerous and frustrating.

Back in 1975 Hamilton looked at creating a system of bike lanes on streets to reduce cost and to give cyclists an enjoyable trip. As Vince Agro explains in his book from that time (You Can Fight City Hall) “Unfortunately, little progress has been made towards implementing this plan but the City hopes to be able to begin the project soon.”

I hope that my well-intentioned cycling cum urban traffic-engineers, the already harried LRT planners, the rest of the traffic department, and everyone else in this fine city give the future a try. We’re at least 40 years behind schedule but it’s here if we want it. Backtracking is not an option.

33755086245_6c770abe36_k
Splash zone along curb lane on Dundurn between Main and King no bike lane to protect 

A version of this article titled: “A city for cyclists: Don’t Backtrack on York and Dundurn bike lanes: Avid cyclist ‘tired of being pushed around for car driver’s entitlement'” first appeared in the Hamilton Spectator, Wednesday, April 12, 2017

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