Councillors reverse decision on transit-only lane

City councillors voted in favour of a dedicated bus lane along King Street East

Anticipated cost $300,000

Hamilton will get a transit-only lane along one of the city's main arteries in September.

City councillors voted Wednesday night at a council meeting in favour of the one-year pilot project that will make the north lane of King Street East between Mary and Dundurn streets exclusive to bus transit.

"This will give us the opportunity to introduce dedicated transit lanes and give Hamiltonians a sense of what it would look like," said Coun. Brian McHattie, who introduced the motion.

The public works committee previously voted down the $300,000 project last week. McHattie's motion revived the project.

"A dedicated lane is absolutely fundamental for bus transit, [bus rapid transit] and [light rapid transit]," said Don Hull, transit director for the city.

Christine Lee-Morrison, manager of mobility programs, said the project will ultimately improve the perception of transit in Hamilton and get busses moving faster along one of the city's most congested and complex corridors, she said.

The transit-only lane will bump parking on the north side of King Street East to the south side. Businesses will also have to rely on the south lane for loading. But that's a small price to pay for a project that will test Hamilton's readiness for high-order transit, Hull said.

"I think a key part of this exercise is to gain some experience," Hull said. "The reason we're bringing this now is to see if council is ready, if the community is ready, if businesses are ready…The only way to answer that question is to go forward with the pilot."

Lee-Morrison joined Ward 2 councillor Jason Farr on a walk-about along the north King Street East Tuesday afternoon to survey local businesses between Bay and Queen streets. Fifteen businesses supported the transit-only lane, three opposed it and 11 businesses were closed or the manager was not present.

Lee-Morrison also said she contacted the local cab companies, who both supported the dedicated lane with designated taxi pick-up and drop-off spots for passengers on the north side of the street.

Wednesday night's vote was not unanimous. Five councillors — Brad Clark, Chad Collins, Robert Pasuta, Brenda Johnson and Lloyd Ferguson  — didn't think this lane is the right step forward when conversations about rapid transit are happening.  

"If we are moving forward [with rapid transit], we should say this is not a pilot, this is coming and this is phase one," said Clark. "It's a public policy nightmare."

Ferguson said he could find "more interesting" ways of spending the cash.

"I have trouble of spending $300,000 on an experiment if we're not sure if we're going to get BRT or LRT," he said.

But a dedicated transit lane is a move towards making Hamilton's streets a place for pedestrians, drivers, cyclists, as well as public transit users.

"It's not only about a bus lane," Coun. Sam Merulla said. "It's about a cultural shift, about healthy living."

The motion passed Wednesday also includes $1.3 million in upgrades to passenger amenities, like bus shelters that mimic ones for LRTs, said Hull.

City staff will be required to submit an end of project report to the general issues committee on the lane's success following the completion of the pilot.