The red lights of course would be the tail lights of cars stuck in gridlock with the advent of the new bus-only lane on the north side of King Street through the downtown core. The installation of the lane— running from Mary Street to Dundurn Street has only been in place two weeks but already there is a raging debate both on the street and in the blogosphere about whether the experiment will work. Former Mayoralty candidate Mahesh Butani has been observing the situation from his suite on King Street east across from Denningers.
To him it as much an ideological experiment as a traffic calming issue—pitting urbanists against evil motorists. He took dozens of pictures of empty sidewalks which he says show that the street gridlock has not translated into increased pedestrian traffic. Writing in the Hamiltonian Blog Butani asks, “ is this about (the) forcible thrusting (of) a change in traffic pattern purely based on the current buzz word “walkabilty” and its ideological war on cars and suburbia?” As well, he criticizes the implementation of the plan, arguing that warning signs should be posted as far east as Sherman Avenue, to allow motorists time to start peeling off to Hunter and Cannon Streets. Butani says fans of the program tend to focus on the more fluid traffic flow on King Street west of the Mary Street pinch point, while ignoring the traffic chaos piling up east of Mary Street.
For the record, the Bay Observer timed a Number 1 King Street bus against a bus schedule on Halloween day and found that, despite numerous passenger stops; the bus made it from East of Sherman to King and Dundurn a minute ahead of schedule, and about five minutes faster than a car travelling the same route that was only stopping for traffic lights. So if you are a bus rider, that’s a good thing; if you are a car rider –maybe not so good.. Butani says he interviewed 50 merchants affected by the change and wrote, “The local businesses have been totally frustrated and are extremely angry about all of this and its impact on their sales. “ At Denningers, Interim President Gord Legault says his customers are expressing frustration.
He agrees that the backup is east of Mary, not west. “I left here one night at 7:30 and traffic was still backed up outside our door.” He also complained that buses turning left onto King from John Street are not going into the bus-only lane but staying in the traffic lanes. “It kind of defeats the purpose” (of the bus-only lane) he said. The Bay Observer talked to Gord Thompson, whose GW Thompson Pawnbroker store was a fixture of King Street long before the first wave of traffic calming over a decade ago and the current bus-only move. “The King Street East merchants have been struggling for years,” he said; “and now just when we were starting to get this glimmer of hope…this.” The owners of Hillbilly Heaven at King and Walnut have placed a sandwich board sign on the street urging people to punish city council for what they see as a “traffic nightmare.”
HSR Manager Don Hull says it will be a few more weeks before any useful data is available on the effectiveness of the trial. Mayor Bob Bratina,(whose recent portrayal as an urban champion by Star reporter Christopher Hume, shocked his critics) took a nuanced view of the matter telling a reporter, “ My preference would be to wait for a while before making any speculative comments. High-functioning transit is generally associated with dedicated rights of way. Whether this application will create a net benefit remains to be seen.”