Bus lane reality check: Here's what we know and don't know

On Wednesday evening, Hamilton city council will debate whether to keep a downtown Hamilton transit lane. Here are some key facts about the lane.
City councillors will debate whether to scrap the downtown transit lane on Wednesday. (John Rieti/CBC)

On Wednesday evening, Hamilton city council will debate whether to keep a downtown Hamilton transit lane.

It's only a short stretch along King Street between Mary and Dundurn Streets, but the bus lane has initiated much discussion. Councillors voted four times last week to kill, suspend, defer and improve the lane, and none of the motions passed.

Tonight, Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5 will move to dismantle the lane. In a report last week, city staff recommended the opposite.

Here are key questions about the bus lane and  details from the staff report on it.

Who likes it, who doesn't?

The 2015 Toronto Pan Am committee likes the transit lane because athletes will be shuttled from McMaster University to Tim Hortons Field stadium, where the soccer games will be. About 61 per cent of transit users surveyed like it, compared to 13 per cent who disliked it and 26 per cent who felt mixed about it. Of 30 bus drivers surveyed, the majority (72 per cent) liked it. The majority of businesses along the stretch do not like the lane.

How many bus riders move through the lane during rush hour?

During morning rush hour on an average weekday, the transit lane carries 1,104 bus passengers.

How many vehicles?

During the morning rush hour on an average weekday, the three general purpose lanes carry 1,190 vehicles. One lane of transit, staff conclude in their report, “can be as effective in moving people as two or three general traffic lanes.”

Does it help grow transit?

Transit usage grew over the pilot project, but it’s also been growing in general. It’s increased by about 20 per cent in the last five years, or an average of four per cent per year. Transit riders at King and Caroline increased by 1,270 riders in 2014 compared to 2009. The corridor along Main-King-Queenston accounts for 42 per cent of the city's transit usage. 

What is its impact on vehicle traffic?

It slows down traffic on the route by an average of five minutes during afternoon peak periods, Cole Engineering says. 

Are accidents up?

Not overall. Collisions along the route are up slightly in 2014 from 2013, but there were as many in 2014 as there were in 2011, when there was no transit lane. Overall, there were 96 collisions in 2011, 93 in 2012, 73 in 2013 and 96 in 2014.

Has it hurt business?

It depends on who you ask, but the majority of businesses are against the transit lane. The International Village BIA surveyed 38 of its members and found that 21 didn’t like it, nine liked it and eight were unaffected. Of those who disapproved of it, one reported business being down by 25 per cent, while another said business was cut in half. The ones that were in favour said it wasn’t a problem. “Our customers aren’t drivers,” said one. “It hasn’t affected our business,” said another.

What would it cost to remove the lane?

It would cost $100,000 to remove the transit lane. It may seem like a lot of money, said Gerry Davis, head of public works, but removing and repainting the street is pricier than one might think. The city would also remove the signs. The city budgeted $300,000 of a $29.8-million Metrolinx grant on the transit lane. It has spent about $180,000 so far.

What is the impact of getting rid of it on LRT?

That depends on who you ask. Coun. Sam Merulla of Ward 4, an advocate of the transit lane and LRT, links the two. If council votes to get rid of the transit lane, he says, it’s sending a message that it doesn’t want LRT. Mayor Fred Eisenberger, however, disagrees. “I don’t think it means anything for the future of LRT,” he told CBC Hamilton on Tuesday, calling the bus lane “a project unto itself.”


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