Change, don't kill, Hamilton's transit lane: Eisenberger

Don’t scrap the downtown bus lane just yet, Mayor Fred Eisenberger says. He’s proposing making it a rush-hour only lane and other changes that he thinks would make it better.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger wants council to consider modifying the downtown transit lane instead of scrapping it altogether. (Cory Ruf/CBC)

Mayor Fred Eisenberger is pitching a King Street bus-lane compromise that would turn it into a rush-hour only restriction.

The newly elected mayor is arguing against scrapping the downtown bus lane right now, instead proposing several changes that he thinks could make it work better.

There is merit in waiting for the release of the report, examining the benefits and making adjustments to improve implementation.- Mayor Fred Eisenberger

In addition to the limited weekday morning and afternoon rush hour designation, Eisenberger also wants to let other “high-occupancy vehicles” — cars with more than one person in them — use the lane. On the weekends, anyone would be able to use the lane.

He also wants to change the design to relocate the transit lane to the second lane from the north curb lane to allow parking on the north curb again.

That would help deal with the criticism that arose when the lane forced the shifting of the parking to the south curb lane in the area west of Bay Street, he said.

Eisenberger will make his pitch at a city council meeting on Dec. 17. He wants a staff report on those ideas, as well as the planned Jan. 7 report on the success of the pilot.

Will council wait for report?

“Before any further discussion around eliminating the bus lane, there is merit in waiting for the release of the report, examining the benefits and making adjustments to improve implementation,” he said.

The transit lane was a pilot project meant to run from October 2013 to October 2014. The city delayed examining its success because of the Oct. 27 municipal election.

Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5 plans to introduce a motion at the Dec. 17 council meeting to stop enforcing the transit lane. Some other councillors have said they would be willing to end it without even seeing a staff report. 

Eisenberger doesn't want that.

"I think people are going to be willing to have staff bring back a report on this," he said. "That’s all we’re asking. I’m not telling them to make the changes."

"We’re just so close to the end. Let’s not just throw things away now."

Collins says his motion stands. 

"I fail to understand why we continue to use the downtown core as a transportation guinea pig," he said. 

"The current bus lane has caused immeasurable harm to local businesses and needlessly created traffic congestion in the heart of our central business district."

More pressing needs

The city has more pressing transportation needs, including overcrowding on some of its busiest bus routes and longer wait times on others. 

"The sooner we can resolve (and shelve) the bus lane and LRT issue, the better," he said in an email.

I fail to understand why we continue to use the downtown core as a transportation guinea pig.- Coun. Chad Collins

Coun. Terry Whitehead of Ward 8 plans to vote against Eisenberger's motion too.

Even with the suggestions, he said, he doesn't see a demonstrated need for the bus lane right now. 

Buses are "moving adequately through the downtown core," he said. The information from the pilot can be incorporated into the transportation master plan the city is compiling.

HOV lane a good idea, McGreal says

There is no community appetite for the bus lane, Whitehead said. Most councillors heard it again and again while campaigning.

"It's pretty clear from what we heard at the door. There’s no buy-in," he said. "We have to find a better way to address our transportation needs in this community to get greater buy-in."

Ryan McGreal, a local LRT and complete streets advocate, says he's happy Eisenberger is looking at addressing the problems with the lane rather than killing it.

He likes the idea of making it a lane for high-occupancy vehicles (HOV) and restoring curb parking on the north side. He'd also like to see an adjustment in signal timing to ease traffic flow, and advanced left-turn signals for buses turning onto James and MacNab. 

Making the lane rush-hour only, he said, is "the only proposal that doesn't make sense."

'Just get rid of it'

"That will make it more complicated for road users to understand how to interact with the lane, and it won't do anything to speed traffic flow since slowdowns are only an issue during rush hour," he said. "Outside of rush hour, an extra lane certainly isn't needed to carry the traffic volumes on King."

Troy Thompson and his father Gord run G.W. Thompson Jeweller and Pawnbrokers, a 43-year-old business in the International Village. He doesn't want to see the transit lane modified. He just wants it gone.

"Just get rid of it," he said. "We really don't need it."

The lane has jammed traffic in the International Village, where parts of the street are only two lanes. 

"The biggest frustration we hear is when our customers come in and say, 'What’s going on? Why is the traffic like this?'" he said. "And they won’t come back."


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