Hamilton stands to save thousands of dollars a year if it scales back on traffic lanes that aren't needed on roads that no longer get the traffic they were designed for, city hall officials say. And it's already in the process of identifying some of them.

The city is filled with five- and six-lane roads that were once packed with traffic, particularly in the north end where many were designed for an industrial economy that no longer exists. They’ve fallen into disuse over the years, and taking them out of commission would save taxpayers money, said Gerry Davis, general manager of public works.

'Any time we can take a lane of traffic out, it saves us significant maintenance money.' - Gerry Davis, general manager of public works

Maintaining one traffic lane for one kilometre costs as much as $12,000, Davis said. If the city identifies lanes that don’t get used much anymore and either puts in bicycle lanes or narrows the streets, it will save thousands in long-term maintenance costs. 

The city is looking at extra traffic lanes as part of a city-wide transportation master plan staff will present this year, Davis said. While eliminating spare traffic lanes isn't the mandate, it will be included.

“Any time we can take a lane of traffic out, it saves us significant maintenance money.”

Here are some examples of streets that could be narrower:

Burlington Street

This street was built for a time when workers in the thousands clogged the roads to get to work in the industrial area, said Coun. Chad Collins of Ward 5. Now, it has more capacity than traffic.

This is especially true closer to the QEW, where there are multiple bridges and roads on top of roads in “a Gardiner Expressway scenario,” Collins said.

“When those bridges and decks reach the end of their lifespan, is the decision to tear them down and rebuild them, or do we tear them down and live without them?”

Wellington and Wentworth

Both of these streets are four or five lanes wide in some areas, Collins said. He envisions getting rid of some of the lanes and expanding the lawns of homes lining it, or putting in bike lanes.

“It’s not pedestrian friendly. It’s not kid friendly," he said. "It’s just not a friendly environment for most people. It’s hard to encourage people to move into those areas when they see those obstacles in front of them.”

Claremont Access

The Claremont Access has been down a lane for a while because of problems with a retaining wall. Now people hardly miss it, Davis said. “It’s not critical because there’s so much capacity.”

Sherman Cut

One lane on the Sherman Cut is historically reserved for traffic going down the mountain in the morning, and coming back up in the evenings, Davis said. But the traffic signal is broken. He wonders if it’s worth repairing it.

The signal is designed for a time when tens of thousands of people were heading to the industrial area for shifts, he said.

It's already happening

The city is already planning to redo parts of Industrial Drive, which is four or five lanes in some spots, Davis said. It's already looking at installing bicycle lanes.

In the north end in particular, roads can be narrowed, Davis said.

“(That area) is a quick win for us,” he said. “We can do a traffic study, but we know the capacity is not required.”

On Wednesday, city council will ratify a decision to take away one traffic lane on Cannon Street from Sherman to Hess to install a two-way bicycle lane.