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Cycling system still thin and fragmented, advocates say

Gaps in commuting routes remain even as novice cyclists are expected to take to the road in larger numbers, propelled by the launch of the city’s new bike share system.

As bike share program plans to release bicycles, gaps in cycle lanes remain

The much-anticipated bike share program SoBi set up a demo station on James Street North this summer. The program is expected to formally launch in March 2015. (Sunnie Huang/CBC)

Hamilton cycling advocates are experiencing some forward momentum.

A number of bike lane projects are underway. Cannon Street’s protected bike lanes are newly open between Sherman Avenue and Hess Street. And the city’s SoBi Hamilton bike share program, though delayed from its projected "summer 2014" opening, has installed nearly all of its bike docking stations around the city.

But there are still many places in Hamilton where bike lanes abruptly end, and the network is “extremely thin and fragmentary,” according to Ryan McGreal, whose Raise the Hammer blog regularly pushes for better, safer cycling in the city. It also serves as a place for frustrated cyclists to compare notes on pitfalls in the system.

The gaps in common commuting routes remain even as novice cyclists could take the road in larger numbers, propelled by the launch of the city’s new bike share system. Ward 1 candidate Jason Allen chronicled his own nervousness as he ran his Saturday errands by bicycle between Locke Street and James Street North recently.

But city staff say that they're aware of the gaps, and they're trying to take advantage of current road projects to both extend the cycling network and do it at a lower cost.

"If there is a road that is being reconstructed and we have an opportunity to do a portion of the road, we will do it," said Christine Lee-Morrison, a manager in the city's public works department.

As for the gaps, Lee-Morrison said they're attempting to patch up the cycling grid on a "priority basis." She did not provide details as to what gaps would be fixed first, but said it would be part of an ongoing review, rather than an annual one.

Here are some of the pitfalls Hamilton cyclists from novice to expert warn about.

Hunter Street

One frequently cited problem spot is on one of the city’s newest two-way bike lanes, on Hunter Street. If you ride eastbound on Hunter (going against the flow of one-way traffic), the bike lane suddenly ends on a downhill at MacNab Street and drops you into oncoming traffic. That two-way bike lane drops out from there until it picks up again at Catharine Street.

The city's Hunter St. bike lanes end abruptly near MacNab St. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Joanna Zuk said that gap ranks high on her list of problem spots.

Main Street

Where Main Street West comes north and splits at Osler Drive, the bike lane narrows and just ends before the Rail Trail bridge.

A view of the end of the bike lane on Main Street coming up to Osler Drive. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Also, the bike lanes over the Main Street/403 bridge end abruptly in both directions. Here's the lane heading into downtown on Main Street. It prompts cyclists to dismount and cross traffic coming up from the 403, and then merges into the regular traffic lane (marked by one of those "sharrows" symbols) just before a bus stop. 

Eastbound Main St. W. bike lane. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Dundurn Street

One of the lower city’s key north-south routes, a bike lane on Dundurn Street South, doesn’t connect between Main Street West and King Street West. The northbound bike lane just ends a few feet before the intersection at Main Street.

The bike lane on Dundurn St. ends just before the intersection with Main St. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

Mountain

The entrance to the Chippewa trail near Stone Church Road frustrates cyclist Sara Mayo.

And McGreal would like to see a pilot bike lane on Queensdale Avenue between Upper Wentworth and Upper Wellington extended east and west.

It appeared earlier this week that pilot has been covered over. 

A pilot bike lane appears painted over on the under-construction Queensdale Ave. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

A previous proposed bike lane on Queensdale Avenue east between Upper Gage Avenue and Upper Ottawa Street was vetoed by Councillor Tom Jackson in 2011. 

Will gaps in bike lanes impact bike share? 

McGreal shrugged off a question about what impact these gaps in the cycle routes could have on the SoBi Hamilton bike share, which charges a yearly membership fee to use bicycles stationed around the city. More people biking means more demand for cycling infrastructure, he said.

Chelsea Cox with SoBi Hamilton agreed.

"I think that bike share will increase accessibility to bikes, get more people cycling on Hamilton streets, infuse the current infrastructure with bikes, thereby making the streets safer for everyone on the road," she said.

The bike share program has struggled to launch its service to meet the “summer 2014” target it had announced. In early August, the city said it expected full roll-out of the program in September. But latest word from SoBi Hamilton is that the bikes will be available sometime this fall, with a formal opening of the system expected in the spring.

When it's running, the system will be able to capture data about frequent trip routes, Cox said.

"Of course we are eager for more cycling infrastructure and better infrastructure," she said. "Our bike lanes should connect to transit hubs, be clearly marked for all types of traffic, and have continuity."

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