Last week, a nice little group of about nine people (including a mother and her young child) strapped air monitors and GPS trackers onto bikes and baskets and set off to monitor harmful PM 2.5 levels (fine particulate matter that can lead to health concerns) along commonly used bike routes in the downtown core. We started the air quality audit at 4pm because we wanted to collect air quality data during the PM peak commuting times – when people are walking or biking from work. Taking off at Environment Hamilton office on Wilson Street, we cycled along Wilson street, heading east. The road along the stretch from Hughson St. to Catharine St. N. had been soaked with water, which is actually a good thing. This can help to reduce dust carrying PM. 2.5 and drag out from construction sites. We then swung on to Catharine Street which we all later agreed would benefit from a proper urban canopy of trees (between Rebecca and Hunter). There was very little green space on the street which makes the ride feel hotter because of all the parking lots that radiate heat. Catharine Street also seems like an ideal location for a North/South cycle track, especially as it goes straight to Hunter Street, where it would connect to the Hamilton GO station, a major transit hub, and the Hunter Street bike lanes that stretch from Liberty Street to Queen Street S. There is currently no cycle truck between Catharine and MacNab, but the City plans to fill the gap with protected lanes this year. One participant later described this stretch as being “a little harrowing, a terrible ride,” with drivers riding up right beside us, sneaking in between us; “Frankly, we were an obstacle,” said the participant.
Here’s a quote from another participant:
I wanted to say that the only reason I felt safe riding that route was because I was with numerous riders who knew how to properly ride (especially having Corey behind everyone), I probably would not have done that on my own. I appreciated that the ride leaders were using hand signals, but maybe instructing everyone else to use them would be beneficial, as there were a few occasions were some of us almost ran into each other when stopping suddenly. I felt uncomfortable on the route where there were no bike lanes, but felt safest when we were taking up the whole driving lane (riding in centre), as cars tried to share the lane or became aggressively close when we rode close to the curb. There were times during the route that I found it difficult to breathe (I am sensitive to air quality). My difficulty started in the Catherine and Hunter area, even though the ride itself was not physically strenuous. I think the new asphalt was a major contributor and I still had difficulty breathing even though we had taken refuge in the park. I enjoyed that we stopped to talk and share ideas in the park.
As expected, the monitor readings went up when trucks passed by. On our bike ride, we went by many large trucks along Cannon St., which exposed riders to a lot of harmful air pollution. The monitor readings also increased significantly (usually by 1000ppm) in areas where there was construction.
One person had some questions about the bike lane on Hunter Street - why wasn’t it on the right side of the road? It appears that cycle tracks are typically left-aligned because of the bus lane. “The trick is to have bump outs and bus bulbs in the design, and that would make it safer,” said one person. One good example of this is King at Macklin in Westdale where the bike lanes are aligned with the right curb and are located behind the bus shelter so that cyclists don’t have to mix with traffic and buses. This design makes the intersection of King/Macklin feel safer for cyclists because of the added protection of the bus bulb.
We took a welcome breather under the shade of trees at the HAAA Park Grounds in Kirkendall neighbourhood. One participant pointed out “the crazy differences in temperatures between areas without an urban canopy and those with.” An urban tree canopy is particularly important for cyclists because it provides shade along bike lanes, which makes the ride more enjoyable, and it also improves air quality.
We were fortunate to have a staff from Public Health with us, who works in the Healthy Environments Division on a number of projects related to Air Quality and Climate Change. He told the group that there are 3 provincial air monitor stations located in Hamilton that measure PM 2.5 including a station located downtown at Elgin/Kelly streets in Beasley Park (the province’s website still says that it’s located here so not sure if/when it was moved. We did see it on the audit though).
Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) can be downloaded from Health Canada and also provides information for vulnerable road users. He told us that Clean Air Hamilton has a model that showed PM 2.5 data from 6-8am and 5.30-6.30pm (which are typical commuting times in the city) and that it “lit up.” He talked about the need for more data on personal exposure to PM 2.5 focusing on microspots, which would be more representative of average exposure, and where to avoid these hot spots.
The thing about PM. 2.5 (harmful particulate matter), is that it gets personal and very intimate. You could be walking along a street and if you move over just a few feet then you’d be breathing in less of harmful particulate matter. Or that when you are in a vehicle you could be getting twice as much exposure to it, the reason being that a vehicle travelling in a queue of traffic will get hit with a stream of air pollution from the vehicles directly in front, brought into the vehicle through the ventilation systems and then gets the poor air gets trapped within the vehicle.
Check out this UK study for more interesting information: https://www.healthyair.org.uk/healthiest-transport-option-video/
Some folks suggested a “no car” idea on certain streets, during certain times of day - that is, a temporary shut down or barring vehicles at specific times of the day (or allowing for deliveries between certain hours as they do in some places in the UK). We talked further about design for safer streets including: raised bike lanes for cyclists, green streets, and how we need to continue uplifting the conversation so that more people see themselves as part of the mobility discussion and improvements in our city. It’s really just about moving people in our city in safe and healthy ways, as well as giving everyone enough transportation choices so that they can be multi-modal if they need to be. We talked about the need for connected bike paths; in an urban centre, there should be a grid of connected bike lanes so that everyone feels safe getting from A to B! ”If you want 8-80 infrastructure, then you can’t have those breaks,” someone pointed out.
The laneway discussion about cycling in the laneways came up again. Someone asked if there was any way we could have both laneways as well as bikelanes on arterials? This would provide more options when route planning, especially for cyclists who are less confident and would prefer quieter routes where they don’t have to mix with traffic very much. The issues that the city has concerning alleys as cycle paths include not having the money to maintain them, as well as concerns around sight-lines, classifications, and maintenance.
Other suggestions/ideas that came up:
-Check out the Go Boston 2030 initiative, which is scaling up.
We can make recommendation reports.
-Get support from Academic institutions, for example
-Mobility Lab is looking to pilot pedestrian mobility hub at King William. Hunter Street is going to have a bidirectional bike lane connecting to the Go Station and existing lanes east and west of this station.
-Environment Hamilton did an environmental scorecard, could Friendly Streets do one based on air audits, so a scorecard of streets–rate them A to F?
-Could we highlight the cycling Master Plan for summer story?
-The City will have an online dashboard where we will be able to snap a picture of the disconnected bike lane!
-Cycling education is needed, for example, how to use the Green box.
We then cycled back along the Bay Street bike lanes. At Cannon Street West and Barton, many of us were confused when turning left through the green bike box across stopped traffic on a red light. Going on the red light is not intuitive and it requires to stop well behind the green bike box, which doesn’t always happen. If there is a car driver parked in the bike box waiting to turn left onto Cannon Street then it becomes dangerous to turn right to connect to the Cannon Cycle Track. We felt that for the cyclist, there should be a light telling you to go (green cycling light), that is, whatever is in your visual area, to go in that direction and at the right time. Similar to the bike lights that are located at the intersection of Bay St. and King St. W. whereby cyclists are given the advance green before car drivers turning left onto King St. W. The readings on the air monitors where also very high along Cannon St. – between 1200 and 3000 with an average reading of 1500. This is well above the “very good” range of 0-150 so it’s an indication that cyclists are exposed to a lot of harmful PM 2.5 as they cycle along Cannon. The City should think about more ways to encourage drivers to take transit or walk/bike in order to reduce transportation emissions that contribute to high PM 2.5 levels, especially during the AM and PM commute times.