City looks at letting cars park in bike lanes

The city is looking at letting cars park on the Bay Street bike lanes for most hours of the day. One cycling advocate says that will lead to a dangerous trend.

Cycling advocates say it would be dangerous move for riders

"Anything that tells drivers they don’t have to respect bike lanes makes bike lanes less safe," says Ryan McGreal. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

A Hamilton cycling advocate says the city is jeopardizing people's safety by looking at whether to allow cars to park in a major bike lane.

A resident complained to city council's public works committee Monday that bike lanes on Bay Street have displaced parking spots.

The committee voted to look at letting vehicles park on the lanes from Barton to Stuart during "off-peak" hours.

That includes possibly removing the physical barriers. Instead, the street could have "sharrows" — pavement arrows indicating that bicycles use the road too.

If the city allows parking in a bike lane, the habit will spread, says Ryan McGreal, editor of Raise the Hammer. Vehicle parking in bicycle lanes is already "endemic."

"If you start telling drivers that some bike lanes are available for parking sometimes, then we're going to see an increase in bike lanes being used for parking all across the city." 

The Bay Street bike lanes opened in 2017. (City of Hamilton)

One study shows sharrows actually make streets less safe, McGreal said. They give cyclists a false sense of safety.

"It's not merely no infrastructure," he said. "It's actually worse than no infrastructure."

The vote to look for a "hybrid" solution came after Giovanni Puzzo presented to councillors.

Puzzo owns a rental property on the stretch. He said people rely on that parking. He mostly sees cyclists on the lanes, he said, from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. 

"Why not dedicate those as bike lanes between those hours and overnight, but any other time, at least allow people to stop and unload their car with groceries, or do drop offs?" he said.

"Those bike lanes are not being used at all."

The city recorded about 28,000 bicycle trips along the stretch in 2018, said Daryl Bender, project manager of active transportation.

Allowing parking in a bike lane is "problematic," he told councillors. Safe passage needs to be constant and predictable. In short, you either have bike lanes or you don't.

"It's not a wise solution to have that kind of transitional space," he said.

The motion to examine parking in the bike lanes passed in a 9-1 vote, with Coun. John-Paul Danko (Ward 8) the only one opposed. Jason Farr (Ward 2) moved looking into it. City council has to ratify it April 10.

Terry Whitehead (Ward 14) is skeptical the lanes are widely used. 

"We need to get the data in regards to how many people are creating those trips," he said. "The numbers are a little bit deceiving."

McGreal said it's another example of the city acting like bike lanes are for "latté-sipping yuppies." People use them to get to work, he said.

"If you look at the people being killed on our streets, they are disproportionately seniors and children," he said. "Those are the people that we're failing."


Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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