Hamilton beefing up some bike lanes to accommodate COVID-era cyclists

Transit and vehicle trips are down, but bicycle ridership is still relatively stable. The city is strengthening some bike lanes, and adding some new ones.

The city's 10-year plan to improve transit has been delayed for a year

The city is spending less than $50,000 to improve bike lanes and create more "quiet streets" because people are choosing bicycles during COVID-19. (Laura Clementson/CBC News)

Hamilton is beefing up bike lanes and creating "quiet streets" across the city to accommodate residents it says are shying away from taxis and public transit because of COVID-19.

The city will spend less than $50,000 to make the improvements, which are happening because of "expected changes in mobility patterns," said a report to city council's public works committee Wednesday. Numbers show people are stepping away from transit, and driving less, because of the pandemic. 

The city plans several changes to make the streets more bicycle-friendly post-lockdown, including adding curbs and bumpers to existing lanes and traffic-calming measures to others. It will even look at a temporary bidirectional bike lane on King Street West between Locke Street and Highway 403.

Lanes on Dundurn, Lawrence, Stone Church, and Parkside Drive in Waterdown will get more physical barriers to divide cyclists from traffic. The city will also add extend existing bike lanes and multi-use paths on Studholme, Longwood, Victoria Avenue and Mount Albion Road to connect to other lanes and trails. 

The city will also add signs and temporary traffic calming measures to create "quiet streets."

The decline in SoBi ridership during the pandemic, the city says, is less than the decline in some other modes of transportation. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

The changes come after Google data shows commuter activity dropped by 62 per cent in April, and travel for retail and recreation by 56 per cent, the report says. HSR, meanwhile, saw a 77 per cent decline in riders in March and April. This is in part because of the service restricting ridership to 10 people per 40-foot bus and 15 per 60-foot articulated bus to allow people to distance themselves from each other.

Cycling ridership, however, has been relatively stable, said Brian Hollingworth, director of transportation planning and parking. Fewer people are cycling to work, but more are cycling for exercise.

Skipping transit improvements

More than 600 people signed up for Hamilton's bike share service, SoBi, in March, April and May, he said, which suggests people anticipate being more reliant on bicycles. SoBi usage dropped by 40 per cent in March and April compared to the same time last year, he said, but that decline is less stark than with other modes of transportation.

Meanwhile, councillors voted Wednesday to skip year five of the city's 10-year plan to improve transit in Hamilton. The strategy was aimed at boosting ridership — which was working until the pandemic hit — and would have included a five-cent fare increase on Sept. 1. It also would have included more 13 more buses and 46,000 more service hours.

"We were on such a wonderful trajectory of increased ridership that was being demonstrated by council's investment," said Coun. Tom Jackson (Ward 6, east Mountain). "Everything was looking really encouraging and positive, and then the worldwide pandemic hit."

This is the second year the city has skipped contributing to the strategy. The move will save $823,030 this year.

City council still has to ratify both decisions next Wednesday.


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