Reduced vehicle lanes for bike lanes on New St. approved, Guelph Ln to Walkers

New Street, existing lane configuration
New Street, existing lane configuration

New Street is going on a “road diet.” City council voted 6-1 July 18 to reduce traffic lanes from four to two, and add on-road bike lanes on both sides of New Street between Guelph Line and Walkers Line. The bike lanes will be “buffered” with 0.5 m of paint. The space would provide opportunity later on to add planters, curbs or other hard separators between the bike lanes and traffic lanes.

A centre turn lane will be added in the middle of the road.

The road diet will commence as part of the planned reconstruction of this section of New Street. The remarking of the road is expected to be complete in September. The cost of $210,000 is provided from savings achieved through the tender of the road work.

New St proposed "road diet" with bike lanes.
New St proposed “road diet” with bike lanes, centre turn lane.

Staff will report back on the performance of the pilot project prior to the top layer of asphalt being placed on this section of New Street, expected in 2017.

Given current traffic volumes on New Street, staff anticipate this alternative will not significantly impact traffic operations. The introduction of a two-way left-turn lane may serve to reduce conflicts and potentially reduce the risk of rear-end collisions.

Evaluation of the pilot project and determination of its success will be dependent upon a traffic operations review which will examine average travel time for all modes, collision experience and utilization of the cycling facilities. If deemed unsuccessful, the ‘road diet’ alternative can be converted to other identified alternatives without significant costing implications. Transportation staff will monitor the trial road diet and report back in Spring 2017 prior to the planned resurfacing of this section of roadway.

Other options explored by staff to increase cycling infrastructure on New Street included a road widening (cost $1.4 million) and adding a bicycle path in the boulevard on both sides of the street, beside the existing sidewalk (cost: $4.9 million). Staff advised that the boulevard bike path presents funding challenges both in terms of securing the funds and limiting the city’s ability to invest in other cycling infrastructure projects.

Read the Staff Report

My Take: I supported the trial road diet, though none of the alternatives was ideal. We will have an opportunity to assess the impact of the road diet on both cycling and driving, and down the road potentially add infrastructure in the buffered area to separate cyclists and vehicles.

Vancouver bike lane, separated from cars, pedestrians with greenspace.
Vancouver bike lane, separated from cars, pedestrians with greenspace.

The best cycling option is an on-road bike lane that is separated from cars by beautification measures (trees, planters or green landscaping). Separation-through-beautification makes cycling safer for riders of all ages, and makes the cycling experience more pleasant. An on-road lane allows cyclists to go through intersections with the lights, cross side streets without stopping, and avoid collisions with pedestrians. These were all issues identified by cyclists with the existing Centennial Bike Path. These same issues would exist with the boulevard bicycle path alternative. Plus, the $4.9m cost was unjustified, given that cyclists who want to ride off-road in the boulevard already have the option of riding on sidewalks in Burlington (with the exception of the downtown).

Written by Marianne Meed Ward

A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made.

As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington.

The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful.

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  1. Interested parties may wish to read this paper from the Federal Highway Administration in the U.S., which undertook some research on the impact of road diets in the states of California and Washington.

    Some of the key points:

    1) “Under most average daily traffic (ADT) conditions tested, road diets have minimal effects on vehicle capacity, because left-turning vehicles are moved into a common two-way left-turn lane.(1,2) However, for road diets with ADTs above approximately 20,000 vehicles, there is a greater likelihood that traffic congestion will increase to the point of diverting traffic to alternate routes.”

    The City of Burlington’s measurements showed an AADT below 18,000 vehicles per day on the entire length of New Street.

    2) Although road diet advocates enumerate these potential crash-related benefits, the reduction in crashes observed was small, at 6 percent. Still this reflects there is likely some minimal, improvement in safety for motorists.

    3) Road diets were also no better or no worse in terms of crash severity.

    4) The paper referred to another study which showed safety benefits for pedestrians from crossing 3 lanes instead of 4 lanes. “The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report Safety Effects of Marked vs. Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations found that pedestrian crash risk was reduced when pedestrians crossed two- and three-lane roads, compared to roads with four or more lanes.”

    When measures like this are introduced, it’s logical for most people to be opposed. However in most cities where changes have been made they have been embraced once the benefits became clear. New York City once spoke about the introduction of a bike lane in Prospect Park West as “the most controversial slab of cement outside the Gaza Strip.”. Today 2/3 of residents are in favour of that bike lane.

    No, Burlington is not New York. However like other places, having more choices is a good thing. Creating a network of cycling facilities creates another choice to get to and from destinations. Not everyone will bike for every trip, but with the number of schools, shops and recreation facilities on New Street, it is evident that some will. Add to that the number of seniors in the community who when walking would benefit from a narrower street to cross, and also benefit from having cyclists feel safer riding on the street instead of on the sidewalks.

    I believe, like most of our council members do, that making New Street a complete street will make our city better for the majority of people. Now we have a chance to find out if it will.

    • Chris, you continue to frame the debate as a transportation issue–it is not, nor has it ever been, about transportation. The Bicycult wants its east-west street velodrome—anyone with two eyes and at least one IQ point knows this. At least be honest and admit that you and your hobbyist buddies–the true believers just want the streets to pursue your hobby and want the rest of us to pay for it.

      “The needs of the few (less than 3%) continue to outweigh the needs of the many”.

      • Phil…you continue to discuss this issue in bad faith, the fact that you must resort to using insults like ‘bicycult’ and continually attempt to label me personally in this and other online forums indicates to me you are more interested in waging a personal vendetta against people who ride bicycles than in honest discussion.

        If you’re referring to my colleagues in the city’s cycling advisory committee, you clearly don’t have a clue as to the diverse backgrounds and types of cycling experience the volunteers who have dedicated their time and energy to making Burlington a safer place have brought to the table.

        Also, it’s clear you don’t know anything about me. I am not a member of any riding clubs, and cycle primarily as a means of getting around – mostly commuting to and from the GO station, and when I can to shops in the neighbourhood. And not only am I a cyclist, I too am a driver as well as a taxpayer. A very large and increasing proportion of my tax dollars go towards the roads.

        For me, it’s about giving people (all citizens of Burlington, not just the few who are braving the conditions we have for cycling at present) more options.

        It’s about our youth being able to get around on their own safely instead of having to be chauffeured everywhere by their parents.

        It’s about the long term financial sustainability of our city, to be able to get more for the massive amounts of money we spend on roads.

        It’s about reducing the 40% of climate-changing CO2 emissions related to personal transportation and the emissions of other poisonous gases into our atmosphere.

        It’s about helping people live healthier, which ensures we can maintain our overburdened health care system.

        It’s about being the kind of community where millennials want to live, raise their families and start up successful businesses.

        If I wanted a velodrome, I’d ask for a velodrome.

    • This is for both Chris and Phil: While I do appreciate the information and statistics Chris provides, I will continue to remain skeptical as to the benefits for the taxpaying majority of Burlington of supporting this reconfiguration, especially residents in the south Burlington wards.

      In addition to being a Ward 2 resident directly impacted by the capacity reduction, speaking as a professional in a quantitative field, I could continue to rebut each of these study points in terms of appropriateness and applicability to our city and transportation objectives until the cows are sleeping in the barn. Phil has rightly pointed out that this is a special interest group agenda masquerading as a transportation issue. It’s pretty pointless for me to continue to raise issues with Chris’s arguments, including the extraneous toss-in about narrower streets being safer for senior citizens to cross.

      I will point out one obvious thing – citing the fact that only 18,000 vehicles traverse New St. on a daily basis, when studies indicate 20,000 is the tipping point to traffic pattern dysfunction, provides dubious support to proceeding with lane restrictions – even under the assumption that traffic counts were taken on representative days without construction restrictions. With the intensification projects underway, this supposed 10% cushion is going to be pretty evanescent. All these new core residents need to exit from their condos and get on a main road to get somewhere to contribute to the economy.

      In the spirit of transparency, we can all admit that we bring a personal agenda to this discussion thread. On the one hand, many of the commenters are residents in Wards 2 and 4 in the south/core area and directly impacted by this pilot. We are raising our legitimate concerns about wasted taxpayer money and traffic gridlock arising from this pilot and other past and current traffic restriction initiatives.

      On the other hand, other active contributors to this discussion are members of the Burlington Cycling Committee and part of the cyclist lobby and not necessarily residents of south Burlington who will have to live with this pilot/permanent change on a daily basis. Everyone deserves to have his say but it is important to have transparency around respective objectives and agendas.

      I will remain optimistic (naively perhaps) that the residents of south-central Burlington will be granted appropriate opportunity to weigh in at the conclusion of the pilot vs. finding out it has been deemed a rousing success and is thus a done deal, in one of Marianne’s upcoming newsletters.

      • In the interest of transparency, I’m a Ward 4 resident living just southwest of Walkers and New. I’m also a member of the Cycling Advisory Committee, although I’m only speaking on behalf of myself in this forum. My family has two cars (maybe that ought to disqualify me from the Bicycult?). I drive, I bike, I walk, and I occasionally take the bus.

        There were two primary options on the table for New Street: One was to build a cycle track adjacent to the sidewalk, as Marianne describes above. This would have cost $4.9 million. The other was to proceed with this pilot for $210,000. (“Do nothing” was also an option, as was a road widening that had little support from anyone.)

        It’s because of (a) financial considerations and (b) the potential to improve the street for everyone — not just cyclists — that I strongly support the road diet. I personally did not feel that spending $4.9 million here was a financially prudent investment. I also believe, as Chris mentions in greater detail, that there will be positive outcomes for all road users as a result of this pilot, whereas the $4.9 million cycle tracks would have served to only benefit cyclists.

        Shelley (and others), I genuinely look forward to hearing your thoughts throughout the course of the pilot. I understand your scepticism at the outset, and I hope you’ll keep an open mind and give this a fair shake rather than judging it to be a failure before it’s even begun.

      • Certainly, Shelley, the study I shared may not be perfect. But it does provide us with a general indication that the proposed configuration should be able to handle traffic volumes with very minor impact to car commuters. That’s the great thing about the pilot – it will be an excellent opportunity to learn and measure the results here in Burlington.

        I don’t believe that we here in Burlington are all that special or exceptional compared to many other places in North America. We can learn from the experience of other places that have implemented road diets successfully. Here is a fact sheet from AARP citing the experience in Atlanta GA, Athens, GA, and Seattle, WA.

        I do not want to see anyone pre-judge the outcome. If the effect on residents is adverse, by all means the pilot can and should be reversed. But lets make that decision based on data and evidence, not politics. As a quantitative person I’m sure you can appreciate that view.

        For generations up to now, the city’s and the region’s transportation system was based solely around traffic engineering – making the automobiles move faster. We have spent hundreds of millions of dollars – many times more than proposed to be spent on bike lanes – in almost religious pursuit of this goal and it’s not working. Which has enormous costs for our city, especially on a street with average speed of 72 km/h.

        I didn’t just toss that point about senior pedestrians in for the heck of it. All of us are either seniors or hope to be seniors one day, and the ability to safely cross the street is a very important consideration for how our streets function – if they aren’t working for our seniors and our youth, they aren’t working for the community.

  2. Shelly, I agree that it’s counter-intuitive. Surely two lanes are better than one. But the results in other cities have shown that sometimes the road diet does reduce delays and make things flow better. I’m not necessarily saying that will happen here. Maybe it will be a little better, maybe a little worse, maybe not much difference at all. We won’t know until we try.

    Second, nobody is arguing against synchronized traffic lights. I’m just pointing out that Hamilton’s one-way streets aren’t a fair comparison unless you want to convert New Street to four-lanes one-way.

  3. Marianne, thanks for supporting this pilot. To those concerned about congestion, I’d say this: let’s give it some time and see what happens. And not just a day or a week (there will be an adjustment period) but a few months. This sort of lane reconfiguration has worked well in dozens of other cities, sometimes even making traffic flow better – not to mention reducing crashes and making the street safer for everyone. I’m optimistic it will work well here as well. But if it doesn’t, we can put it back the way it was, and at least we can say we’ve given it a shot.

    • James, I’m interested in knowing which ‘dozen of other cities’ you are referring to….i find it hard to believe that chopping away lanes on ‘major’ throughways makes for better traffic flow. Why not visit Hamilton is see how quickly you can get from one end of the city to another, using 4 lanes with synchronized lights…’s been working there sucessfully for years and years, all to avoid gridlock/congestion, keeping drivers happy knowing that traffic is constantly moving, helping to avoid crashes and promoting safe streets. We’ve already reduced our downtown core to ‘one lane’ roads in each direction, adding 40km speed limits with many ‘calming’ areas on roads…why not keep our major throughways as is, with 2 lanes in each direction, to keep cars moving freely throughout our city – that’s what drivers expect in our city, not congestion or any further gridlock.

      • Elaine, your scepticism is well founded. While there MAY be a case for using bicycles as a mode of transportation in a “big-city” environment (although I’m not convinced), there is NO SUCH CASE in Burlington. The cycling agenda–using OUR tax dollars, has fraudulently been presented as a transportation issue. In reality, the agenda is driven by a bunch of hobbyists–primarily on weekends who would like an east-west velodrome.

        When evaluating public policy, economists use the concept of a cost-benefit analysis. Apparently this concept is unknown to the mayor and councillors. The cycling lanes create few benefits except for a tiny minority of the population while imposing significant costs on the large commuter population in this town through inconvenience, congestion, and higher taxes. These lanes on New Street will be a duplication of the Pier to Nowhere—another monument to fiscal irresponsibility and mismanagement at City Hall.

      • It’s actually pretty simple. Right now, a car waiting to make a left turn onto a side street or a driveway has to wait in the through-traffic lane blocking traffic. With this change, we’re gaining a centre left turn lane, so those left turning cars will be out of the way and not blocking through traffic. This may improve flow.

        Hamilton’s one-way streets aren’t a fair comparison to New Street. It’s easy to synchronize traffic lights when traffic is only going one way. But how many thriving businesses do you see along those one-way sections of Main and King? Those streets work well to quickly move cars from one end of the city to the other, but they do nothing to support the neighbourhoods they pass through.

        • James: Two points to make on your clarification about potential improvement to traffic flow by reducing through lanes:
          1)Two through lanes has higher capacity for traffic than one single lane plus centre turn lane. There’s no way around the math. Currently we have flow in two lanes subject to turning traffic some of the time – not all the time, whereas the pilot reduces flow to one lane all the time.
          2)Synchronized traffic lights always make sense for traffic flow, emissions and speed limit compliance, since drivers must obey limits to continue to proceed through greens. Agree that Hamilton’s downtown situation is different by virtue of the one-way streets and business impacts but doesn’t take away from the value of synchronization in Burlington.

          Just as an example, try to drive on Guelph Line between New St. and Mainway any time of the day or evening and see whether you can make it through more than 30% of the 10 traffic signals on that short stretch without sitting at a red light. Waste of time and emissions.

          If council’s objective were preserving traffic flow vs. pandering, synchronized traffic signals and centre turn lanes, where feasible without “diet”, would be on the agenda.

  4. Wow – the war on drivers continues in Burlington. Vocal special interest groups win again. It’s disturbing how all the euphemisms for road restrictions have become so overtly driver-hostile. Traffic “calming” and road “diet” terminology certainly have negative connotations. What’s next in this driver shaming trend?

    Let’s face the facts that the economy and productivity relies on traffic flowing at a reasonable pace and biking to work or non-work (errands, events) is not practical for most residents. City Council needs to get its collective head out of the sand.

    • Actually Shelley, getting “their heads out of the sand” is no longer a viable option. The entire group–councillors and the mayor, need to be replaced. Not a leader among the group, only politicians.

      • True Phil – especially Mr. Goldring. This whole bike lane utopia was resuscitated at the mayor’s behest after being scoped out of the New St. project from what I understand. He’s one of the four, or is it five, bicycle commuters in town. Moreover, he lives with convenient access the fully functional (and safely separated) Centennial bikepath from beside his house at Nelson Park right to City Hall . It’s a pretty straight route. This is an expensive legacy of his leadership that I’ll certainly remember next election.

    • Totally agree!! That council needs to give their heads a shake….Burlington South is becoming harder to get around as it is – one lanes already exit on our major thruways (Walkers/Guelph Line south of New, Lakeshore), as well as lack of traffic light control for ease of braking, more and more calming curbs put up in a pinch in neighborhoods….where does it end?

      There is little regard given to drivers to maintain optimum traffic flow in our city. Instead, let’s promote more car idling with more stop/go….waiting behind buses and plow trucks in winter on major thruways, basically allowing more congestion….all for the comfort and benefit of a few cyclists who feel the need to have their space on the roads.

      Why not make better use of the existing bike paths that stretch for miles in our city for cyclists and plan and maintain our roads accordingly?

      • Not sure if you know this Elaine, but the current New St./Drury Lane reconstruction project includes installing traffic “calming” bumps all along Drury Lane and adding another all-way emission-increasing stop sign. None of this insanity calms me down personally.

        They attempt to push us off of secondary routes with these driver-deterrent measures. Notice how many downtown core secondary streets – not tertiary streets – have recently been reduced to 40km speed limits entirely – not just in school zones anymore (e.g. Caroline, Woodward west of Guelph). At the same time, they are increasing gridlock by reducing vehicle capacity on the few main routes we have through south Burlington. Illogical and hostile to drivers.

  5. It seems there are way more people playing Pokemon Go than there are cycling to work. I say forget the bike lanes on the road, let them use the sidewalks or the actual bike path or ride on the side of the road like the seven people who use it do now, and instead make some Pokemon Go lanes for those folks who are doing that.

    Maybe we could also leave some room for the cars of the people who are actually needing the roads 12 months a year to get through town? Please tell me the city didn’t measure the current traffic for this brilliant idea recently considering New Street is ripped up after Guelph Line and there are considerably fewer people on it right now, all the way down. I can’t imagine how this will work with fewer lanes to drive in at rush hour.

  6. It looks like the four guys who cycle to work have dictated how the majority will have to live. Special interest groups are turning Burlington into Toronto.

  7. Why the fixation on so many bike lanes on so many roads when we have a perfectly good BIKE PATH paralleling New Street which I never see a whole lot of bike riders using either? Why not put the money towards bridging Bronte Creek at Upper Middle, instead? That would solve some traffic issues and save plenty of people a lot of time.

    • Exactly – and what about bridging Harvester/Wyecroft by the Burloak PowerCentre over the creek to Wyecroft at Bronte Rd. I thought this was in the plan several years back. Drivers need help getting from point A to point B, not more ill-conceived plans to pander to the vocal minority and frustrate the tax-paying majority.

  8. It looks like we are bent on killing businesses in Roseland Plaza and across. Well, that’s what is happening now and we are wondering why people can’t get good jobs in town…

    • Good observation, Yuri. I’m already moving my prescriptions out of Roseland. It will be a “no go” zone
      along with downtown. If this City wants to continue its “war on the car” to pander to a shrill lobby of hobbyists who at best represent 3% of the population, the City can accept the collateral damage that goes with it. This City’s motto, “the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many”.

  9. How will the traffic merge from 4 lanes to two if New Street remains four lanes between Walkers and Appleby. Another reconfiguration that will add more road rage as I see it. A good example is the reconfiguration in downtown Burlington. Four lanes to two, back to four. Drivers roaring up the inside lane to cut off the drivers in the middle through traffic lane.

  10. What are the metrics staff and council will be looking at to deem this a success or failure? Such a short stretch and short time frame won’t adequately gauge the usage by bikes but it will give staff an idea of the impact to cars.

    Long term I’d love to see New Street become more of a tertiary/multi-use road with Fairview and Harvester being the primary East – West thoroughfare and Lakeshore the secondary.option.

    • Metrics? What metrics? The September, 2017 report has already been written–this City should release it now and be done with the charade. Earlier this year, the mayor released a study of bicycle and traffic use on New Street–it consisted of two “cherry-picked” days in May, 2015. This was a study?????? When I questioned this dubious statistics(?), the mayor didn’t even reply. To quote Harry Truman (apologies to Benjamin Disraeli), there are three kinds of lies, “lies, damn lies, and statistics”.

  11. I trust that the evaluation of accommodation for bicycle traffic along this cross-town artery will include a report on the cyclists’ observance of the same rules (and courtesies) of the road that motorists are expected to follow.

  12. The idea of doing this as a trial is a good one, as it will give time to show whether concerns about congestion and poor driving behaviour (ie. not respecting the separation lines) are legitimate. One concern I have is the fact that New Street is a bus route, and that an increase in congestion on this corridor will have negative impact on bus reliability and being able to make transfer connections when the 10 is late. Doing this as a trial will give us a chance to see if such things will actually happen.

  13. I was previously in favor of the blvd option from west of Guelph line all the way to Burloak, but at the time was unaware of the $4.9 million cost for this whole strip of road. This road diet trial only goes to Walkers, so there is a difference in the options scope, but still, the cost of $4.9 M for all of it is still too much I agree.

    Anyways, the appeal of a bike highway all the way to Burloak is there for sure, and something to think about.

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