Tour de Hospital: Promoting Cycling as Viable Commuting Choice for Healthcare Workers and Students

Smart Commute Hamilton and the City of Hamilton sponsored a cycle tour between medical sites in Hamilton on Wednesday, September 19th with support from St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Hamilton Health Sciences, McMaster University, and Mohawk College.  The tour was led by three members of the health sciences community: John Neary (an academic general internist at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton), and Claire Bodkin and Kevin Lam (medical students at McMaster University). All three of the tour guides have to frequently travel between hospital and postsecondary campuses, including McMaster, St. Joe’s Charlton and West 5th, Hamilton General, and the Juravinski..  Dr. Neary has also been supportive of the Friendly Streets project and the work that both Environment Hamilton and Cycle Hamilton are doing to improve active travel in the downtown core. He invited Friendly Streets to attend – so we strapped air monitors onto our bikes to measure PM2.5 along the route and joined 20 other people on the tour!

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The tour began at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton (SJHH) Charlton Campus with a brief explanation of the different bicycle parking options at this site.  There is a Hamilton Bike Share (SoBi) hub conveniently located at the corner of James St. S. and Charlton Ave. E.  (Note: a green bulb on a map denotes a bike share hub). This is a great option for those who want to use a bike for their first/last mile trips after taking transit or for those who need to commute quickly to meetings at other sites throughout the day without working about parking a personal bike.  

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Hamilton Bike Share hub located at Charlton Ave. E. and James St. S.

Leaving SJHH, the group travelled west on Charlton Ave.  These bike lanes, sections of which are parking-protected, were installed in 2016 and provide an east-west corridor alongside the bike lanes on Herkimer St.  This corridor connects the downtown core to the Hamilton Brantford Rail Trail via the bike lanes on Dundurn St. S. After a pleasant ride on Charlton through the Locke St. commercial area, the group had to make an unprotected left turn from Charlton onto Dundurn.  Cyclists turning left often have to wait for a break in traffic on Dundurn, which can be dangerous during the AM/PM commuting rush hour. A traffic light or a crossover with roadside signs and flashing lights at this intersection could be timed to be synchronous with the traffic light at Herkimer.  This would ensure that cyclists can safely turn left as car drivers wait for traffic travelling east on Herkimer.  Air monitor readings ranged from 800-1000 along this stretch. 

After turning on to Dundurn St. S., we travelled past Aberdeen Ave. to Glenside Ave. which connects to the Rail Trail.  This signed route is a popular choice for cyclists who avoid Aberdeen Ave. (because that street is not safe for cycling) and prefer the enjoyable scenery of travelling through the neighbourhood and the Chedoke Golf Course.  For those who haven’t taken the Rail Trail route over Highway 403, this major cycling artery is an alternative to crossing on King St. W. or Longwood and is a more pleasant scenic route. See the route drawn in red below.

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Signed cycle route trough Kirkendall South to Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail.

One source of frustration for cyclists is the repeated and numerous stop signs where the Rail Trail crosses neighbourhood streets in Ainslie Wood.  Cyclists and pedestrians who enjoy commuting via the Rail Trail could be prioritized by putting the stop signs on the streets instead. Roadside signs to alert car drivers of cyclists and pedestrians along this corridor would also enhance awareness and visibility of vulnerable road users.

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Hamilton Bike Share hubs located on campus at McMaster University.

We reached McMaster University Medical Centre (MUMC) via Emerson St. and took a break near the SoBi station on-site.  Due to MUMC’s location on McMaster University’s campus, there are 8 bike share hubs on campus and 4 within less than 1km of the campus.  This creates lots of options for staff and students to use bike share around the university and to connect with other modes of travel, like the HSR 10 B-Line on Main St. W. (there’s a stop right near a SoBi hub).

We took a short break at MUMC and noticed that PM2.5 levels dropped to around 700 as we relaxes behind McMaster Health Sciences Centre.  This was the lowest air monitor reading during the entire trip.  After, the tour proceeded along King St. W. to head towards Hamilton General Hospital (located on Barton St. E.).  There is a bike lane on King St. W. that connects McMaster (from Forsyth Ave S.) to Westdale (ending at Haddon St. N.). There is no bike lane through Westdale, but it is a signed cycling route that is commonly taken by commuters so car drivers are typically more aware of cyclists in this area compared to other parts of the city.  The bike lane on King St W. starts up again near Longwood Rd. S. but quickly turns unsafe as cyclists travel east to the cycle track on King St. W.

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Traffic island at the intersection of King St. W. and Paradise Rd. N. Cyclists have to ride on to the traffic island to access the cycle track.

In order to continue east on the cycle track, cyclists have to ride on to the traffic island in front of Paradise Rd. N. that splits traffic towards Main St. W. or through Westdale. Cyclists often have to wait for a break in traffic to turn into the cycle track, which can feel unsafe at times given that car drivers do not always check for cyclists who might be turning into the cycle track.

To add to the confusion, there is also a place where the right turn lane from King St. W. crosses the cycle track before Paradise Rd. N.  You can see this in the image above where the solid yellow line that separates traffic becomes a broken line that car drivers are allowed to pass in order to enter the right-hand turning lane onto Paradise Rd. N.  For cyclists who are travelling west towards Hamilton’s downtown core, it can feel unsafe and dangerous when a car drives into the cycle track and is facing them head on. Some creative solutions to protect the safety for vulnerable road users like cyclists are: 1) eliminate right turns from King onto Paradise so that drivers have to turn either at Macklin or at Longwood to enter the Westdale North neighbourhood from King; and 2) put a physical barrier to protect the cycle track.

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Right-turn lane on King St. W. crosses over the cycle path.

The group rode over the 403 along the cycle track towards Hamilton General Hospital (HGH).  The cycle track is physically protected from vehicles travelling west on King St. – the protection is a welcome addition and one that often makes cyclists feel safe.  Until they have to cross at the 403 on-ramp, that is. The absence of a protected crossing at the 403 on-ramp is a common frustration for cyclists in the city. This location is one of the most commonly cited unsafe and dangerous locations for cyclists in Hamilton.  See below for the design of the crossing at this location:

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Design of crossing before the 403 on-ramp.

Cyclists have to wait in the area “protected” by bollards for a break in traffic to cross the on-ramp and reach the cycle track on the far-left side of King St. W.  With car drivers travelling at speeds higher than 60km/h, accelerating to get on the on-ramp, cyclists feel vulnerable waiting in this unprotected area. At many times, bollards are also knocked down, which reduces the little protection that they already offer.  The City of Hamilton should work with the Ministry of Transportation to design this area so that it’s safe and works for all road users – not just cars. Dr. Neary notes that you could swing the cycle track over the on-ramp via a bridge or tunnel it under the ramp.  These solutions would enable both cyclists and car drivers to commute safely and efficiently.

Once the group had crossed the 403 on-ramp, we cycle along the bike lane and turned left onto Breadalbane Dr. to bypass the intersection of King St. and Dundurn St. – an intersection that often experiences collisions.  We turned right on to Hunt St. and had to make a quick jaunt across Dundurn to reach Head St. on the other side. These streets connect the bike lanes on King and Dundurn streets to Victoria Park. The group was fortunate to have a car driver stop to let everyone pass together, which is not a common occurrence.  The kindness of the driver reminded the group that crossing Dundurn to Head St. is not often feasible or safe in car traffic. An all-way stop at both intersections, similar to the design of the Delaware/Maplewood/Sherman intersections in Ward 3 would work for this area as well.

Our tour continued on Head St. towards Victoria Park.  We travelled past the community gardens and among the trees through the park, continuing along Napier to head downtown.  Napier St. is a hidden gem for cyclists – a quiet, residential street that travels east-west and connects directly to the cycle track on Bay St. N.  A much preferred route given the neighbourhood scenery and lack of car traffic. The overall safety and enjoyableness of this street would be enhanced even more if there was a safe crossing at Queen St. N. and Napier.  If there was a traffic light and signage that permitted cyclists to cross the intersection eastbound, it would become a more popular and even safer route for people who commute to/from downtown.

Before Napier St. curves behind the Canadian Armed Forces building, there’s a walkway in sight that links the street to the cycle track on Bay St. N.  The absence of signage that permits cyclists to use the walkway beside this federal building means that it’s unclear to a cyclist that Napier St. links directly to the cycle track on Bay St.  It would be great if the City of Hamilton could install signage and increase awareness about this safe route and connection to existing infrastructure. The group turned left on to the Bay St. cycle track and headed north to connect with the Cannon St. cycle track.  We navigated the bike box at the intersection of Bay/Cannon and the tour continued east along Cannon towards Hamilton General Hospital. PM2.5 levels hovered between 1100 and 1500 as we cycled along Cannon St.

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Walkway to link Napier St. to Bay St. cycle track.

When we reached Ferguson Ave. N., the group had to dismount their bikes and walk at the traffic signal across Ferguson.  This was safer than waiting for a break in traffic along one-way Cannon St. We continued along Ferguson Ave. N. towards HGH – cutting through the parking lot of Ron Joyce Children’s Health Centre so that we could avoid cycling on Barton St.  This is another common, preferred route by employees in the area. See below for a basic drawing that Friendly Streets put together to share with the hospital to explain how employees were cycling to/from HGH. Given the volume and speed of traffic on both Barton and Victoria, we were hearing from cyclists that it was safer and more enjoyable to travel through the parking lot and along Copeland Ave. to reach the secure bike parking facilities.  Dr. Neary first shared this route with Friendly Streets which inspired the project to enhance this route with signage. These efforts are currently underway with the City of Hamilton.

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After a brief pause at HGH to explain the partnership between Friendly Streets Hamilton and the hospital, as well as an overview of the many initiatives that are underway, the tour continued back to St. Joe’s travelling along Ferguson Ave. N, King William St., and Walnut St..  The City’s signed north-south route in Beasley and Corktown neighbourhoods is Ferguson Ave., but Ferguson has a few unsafe spots – including the lack of curb cut and traffic light at Main St. E., the missing traffic light at Hunter, and the long dismount for the sidewalk passing through the TH&B tunnel.  There are plans for a light at Ferguson Ave. S. and Main St. E. – which will certainly improve the safety of this route – but further enhancements on Ferguson would go a long way to making it a more frequently used route in the city. The group detoured briefly to the Wentworth stairs along Young St. and the Escarpment Rail Trail (through Corktown Park) to highlight the feasibility of combining HSR (upbound) and the Wentworth Stairs and SoBi (downbound) to get to and from the Juravinski Hospital.  The recently installed pedestrian crossing of Wentworth on the Rail Trail has made this route much safer, and the recently installed bicycle lanes on Wentworth, Delaware and Maplewood provide a good connection to St. Peter’s Hospital a little further east. (In fact, a St. Joe’s staff member who didn’t even cycle recreationally before coming on this tour has started using that route to commute to the Charlton campus, demonstrating that the major benefit of installing bicycle infrastructure is for people who are enabled to cycle, not for those who already cycle.) Finally, the tour concluded by returning to St. Joe’s along Young St. and Hughson St. S.

The tour was very well attended – it was also a great day in terms of weather for a 3-hr bike ride!  The importance of hosting such an event cannot be underscored. Hamilton Health Sciences has over 15,000 staff.  St. Joseph’s Healthcare has just over 5,000 including physicians and volunteers. McMaster University and Mohawk College have over 5,000 students and residents in health sciences programs. Many staff and students working in health sciences in Hamilton need to travel between campuses or sites throughout the day.  Dr. Neary noted:

Counting Mohawk and St. Joe’s West 5th as one campus, and MUMC and McMaster as another, there are five major hospital/postsecondary campuses (MUMC, HGH, SJHH, Mohawk, Juravinski), which gives a total of 10 pairs of sites that staff may have to travel between. There are direct bus routes joining precisely 2 of these 10 pairs (SJHH-Mohawk, SJHH-Juravinski); the others all require transfers downtown which are very slow because our bus routes are not optimized for fast connections. In fact, Google maps shows the *longest* trip (Juravinski-MUMC) to be faster by bicycle than by bus!

-Dr. Neary

Increasing awareness about Hamilton Bike Share, as well as the convenience and reliability of making trips by bike, would encourage and empower more health professionals and students to take the healthiest mode of travel to/from sites.  Tours like this event are helpful to show people which routes they can take because route planning and wayfinding is a huge barrier for someone thinking about or wanting to cycle more but not knowing how to get from A to B.  This also means that improvements to infrastructure, including physical separation and signage, can further encourage people who don’t currently cycle to get a SoBi membership or use their bike more often.

Thank you to Smart Commute Hamilton, the City of Hamilton, St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, Hamilton Health Sciences, McMaster University, and Mohawk College for supporting this event.  But most of all, a tremendous thank you to John, Claire, and Kevin for being wonderful cycling advocates and showing colleagues how to experience and enjoy Hamilton more on two wheels!

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