City hall votes to kill the downtown Hamilton bus lane

City councillors voted 9-7 to kill the downtown bus lane.

City staff will spend about $100,000 to get rid of the transit lane

Bus lane advocates wore yellow and crowded the gallery of Wednesday's meeting. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton city council has voted to get rid of its controversial downtown bus lane.

With a Wednesday night council vote, city staff will spend about $100,000 to get rid of the transit lane, which runs from Mary to Dundurn Streets. 

It was a close vote, with councillors voting 9-7 to get rid of the lane. Coun. Chad Collins moved the motion.

City staff said Thursday morning the bus lane will still be in effect until city staff remove the signage above the lane. City staff are expected meet before the week is finished to formulate a plan to remove the signs and markings.

Coun. Matthew Green sets up pro-bus lane signs made by local children. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Coun. Aidan Johnson of Ward 1 tried unsuccessfully to save the lane, reintroducing a motion from last week to modify the lane with better signalling, and shifting part a portion of the lane. Better transit benefits the economy, he said, and Hamilton's growing number of seniors.

"With some reforms, it can be a way to travel that respects the rights of car users on our roads," he said.

Now we’re just doing stuff on the fly to keep whatever we can keep.- Coun. Scott Duvall

A staff information report last week also recommended keeping the lane with modifications. The lane added about five minutes to the stretch during afternoon rush hour, its report showed, and carried nearly as many people as the other two lanes. 

The majority of transit users and drivers liked it, the report said, as well as the 2015 Toronto Pan Am committee. The majority of businesses did not.

About 150 people packed into the council chamber galleries, many of them wearing yellow shirts and armbands to support the transit lane. Some were part of a new, as-yet-unnamed union of transit riders who will make their voices heard during transit votes. The group applauded those who spoke to keep the lane, and shouted lines such as "shame, shame!" Others shouted references to Coun. Lloyd Ferguson leasing four taxicab licence plates. 

I believe the money that was earmarked for Hamilton will end up in Mississauga because we’re imploding here this evening.- Coun. Sam Merulla

The city has used about $180,000 of a Metrolinx grant so far for the lane, which was a pilot project from October 2013 to October 2014. A municipal election on Oct. 27 delayed its scrutiny.

Coun. Scott Duvall of Ward 7 insisted that Hamilton should have transit lanes, but voted to get rid of this one.

"Right now we don’t have the buy in," he said. "Now we’re just doing stuff on the fly to keep whatever we can keep."

Coun. Arlene VanderBeek of Dundas had concerns with the lane too.

"I don’t think it’s in the ideal location," she said. "I think it’s problematic."

"Maybe the place to try bus lane would have been Main Street, but we didn’t do that."

The transit lane was installed as a test project ahead of light rail transit, which would take up more than one dedicated lane along a 13-kilometre stretch between McMaster University and Eastgate Square. The city hopes to get $1 billion from the province for the capital costs of constructing LRT.

Coun. Sam Merulla doubts that will happen now.

It was a first step in the right direction. Now I see it’s taken a step back, and that concerns me.- Eric Tuck, president, Amalgamated Transit Union local 107

"I believe the money that was earmarked for Hamilton will end up in Mississauga because we’re imploding here this evening," he said.

The Amalgamated Transit Union local 107 supported the transit lane. President Eric Tuck said he's disappointed with the decision, but heartened that people cared so much.

"It was a first step in the right direction," he said of the lane. "Now I see it’s taken a step back, and that concerns me."

In order for drivers to drive in the lane again, the city must repeal the bylaw that makes it illegal. Staff will prepare that "as soon as possible," said Gerry Davis, head of public works. 

The city will also spend $100,000 in Metrolinx money to remove signs and repaint the street, Davis said. The repainting will have to wait for warmer weather, but crews will remove the signs soon. 

David Dixon, the city's new head of transit, says the removal of the transit lane isn't great for the city's bid for LRT, but it doesn't completely jeopardize it either.

The new union of transit users will meet soon to hammer out the details of the group, including its name, said Lindsay Godard, one of the organizers.

"The result was obviously disappointing," she said of Wednesday's vote. "But I’m not going to lose sight of the fact that we have a packed gallery today of people who are emotional about transit."

Who voted to dismantle the lane: Chad Collins (Ward 5), Tom Jackson (6), Scott Duvall (7), Terry Whitehead (8), Doug Conley (9), Lloyd Ferguson (12), Arlene VanderBeek (13), Robert Pasuta (14), Judi Partridge (15)

Who voted against: Aidan Johnson (1), Jason Farr (2), Matthew Green (3), Sam Merulla (4), Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11)

Read reporter Samantha Craggs's tweets below for how the debate unfolded.


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