Cycling zealots are once again calling for an upheaval of the streets — or, at least that’s what anti-bike lane proponents say. McMaster cycling advocates and experts tell a different story.
Despite claims of a “war on cars” and swarms of cyclists taking over the street, cities across Ontario largely rely on road sharing instead of developing robust cycling infrastructure. Yet Kate Whalen, senior manager of McMaster’s academic sustainability programs, says that cycling is sustainable and promotes individual and community health. Unless the city prioritizes the development of cycling infrastructure, potential cyclists will continue to be deterred by dangerous roads that aren’t built with alternative modes of transport in mind.
Cycling in Hamilton is growing fast but the city isn’t keeping up. The Cannon Street bike lanes are the city’s largest endeavor into creating infrastructure for cyclists. According to a 2018 CBC news article, the bike lanes attracted significant ridership. In 2015, the Cannon lanes had 75 daily trips, which grew to 396 in 2017.
While ridership is up, the Cannon lanes have some glaring faults. What is perhaps the most advanced network of bike lanes in the city, outside of multi-use trails, has lanes that are still not up to par. Cannon is a highly used road for cars, especially during rush hour. Cyclists have reported obstructed cycling lanes, pointing out an infamous corner often blocked by transport trucks. Construction projects often close the bike lanes, meaning that frequent road repair interferes with the free flow of bike traffic.
Fundamentally, the Cannon lanes are built around a road made for cars. The lanes were placed on the street as a quick solution for a mutli-faceted problem.
David Zaslavsky, director of MSU Macycle said, “I think that I’m not alone in saying that most infrastructure is built without cyclists in mind, it’s kind of an afterthought. There’s no real actually effective bike protection and bike lanes short of completely separated paths like the rail trail.”
“I think that I’m not alone in saying that most infrastructure is built without cyclists in mind, it’s kind of an afterthought."
The Locke Street bike lanes are a mixed bag. Some sections provide a space buffer from parked cars while others run directly through the Door Zone. We need a higher, more consistent design standard if we want to make cycling a serious transportation option! #HamOnt #VisionZero pic.twitter.com/lgM6J1VbEo
— Ryan McGreal (@RyanMcGreal) September 24, 2019
The lack of consistency in bike lanes is also a problem. While the Cannon lanes offer a direct route from East to West, other routes are lacking. Islands of bike networks are created within the city without much interconnection. For example, while the Cootes bike path is likely the best in the city, it connects to Main Street — every cyclists nightmare.
Main Street is the most direct link between the East and West quarters of the city. But only cars can feel confident on the Main street highway. This street is just another example of the difficulties that bike commuters face in the city. There are bike lanes in some areas but not others, poorly integrated lanes that make turns difficult and, not to mention, high speed traffic which poses a real threat to cyclists without a protective lane barrier.
Still, infrastructure is only one part of the problem. Sharing the road can only go so far in a culture built around cars. Robust infrastructure changes need to come with a culture shift that encourages alternative transportation, especially active transportation like biking and walking.
As advocates encourage the city to improve conditions for cyclists, some have seen changes, especially for students. Ward 1, the ward in which McMaster university is located, has the potential to lead the city towards multi-modal and active transport. Maureen Wilson, the ward 1 city councillor, met with bike advocates in September 2019 to discuss York Boulevard and Queen Street. The latter street has had multiple accidents, prompting city officials to convert the popular street from a one-way street to a two-way street. This change will make room for improvements for pedestrians and cyclists as the city builds new infrastructure.
Cycle Hamilton & Ward 1 meeting to discuss: a) Queen Street conversion & cycle crossings. b) York Blvd pic.twitter.com/y7friVhmNw
— Maureen Wilson (She / Her) (@ward1wilson) September 30, 2019
Elise Desjardins, a McMaster graduate student and cycling advocate, said, “The city has been very engaged with the community around cycling infrastructure by providing opportunities for people to weigh in.”
Even with the city’s proposed improvements, Desjardins and Zaslavsky agree: Hamilton needs to look Eastward. European cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen offer a guide for what bike infrastructure could be. Desjardins wants to see the city work towards bike lanes that are fully separated and that leave room for cyclists to engage with their community and feel safe.
“I always like when bike lanes have a lot of trees beside them. I think that extra buffer — that general sense of friendliness on a street — is always really wonderful,” said Desjardins.
Zaslavsky agrees that fully separated lanes can make new and experienced cyclists alike feel more safe commuting.
“A lot of research has shown that the main reason people don’t bike is that, aside from accessibility to a bike — which is a lot better in Hamilton than other places — is that they don’t feel safe.”
Hamilton, a mild-winter city with the same metro-area population as Winnipeg, currently has zero (0) physically protected bike lanes. https://t.co/66GboO6OpT
— McMaster Librarians (@MUALA_CA) September 19, 2019
Whalen describes the difference between real and perceived safety and why they both matter. Feelings of safety and actual risk management measures both impact cyclists’ experience. A painted line on the road doesn’t do much to make cyclists feel safe.
As Whalen said, “When you put a concrete barrier with a little patch of grass between the 1000 pound fast moving vehicles and the vulnerable user of transportation, that changes the game.”
“When you put a concrete barrier with a little patch of grass between the 1000 pound fast moving vehicles and the vulnerable user of transportation, that changes the game.”
It changes the game for specific groups of people too. Women, elderly and low-income community members rely on alternative modes of transportation. Transit, especially active transit, has real implications for these groups. It may not seem like it, but a concrete barrier is about equity.
“We can’t be building transportation systems that prioritize the ability for one type of person to get around more than others,” said Whalen.
“We can’t be building transportation systems that prioritize the ability for one type of person to get around more than others,”
Transportation justice is often left out of the discussion. Transportation justice highlights that we don’t just use transportation to get around. We also use it as a way to access resources. Transportation is necessary for community members to access basic needs, social interaction, health care and more.
“We have demographics that are to a certain extent socially isolated because there are certain seasons where they just cannot get around. We know that about 30% of any one community doesn’t drive due to age, financial ability, or physical ability. How are they getting around if they can’t drive? And sometimes as bus isn’t an option either,” Whalen said.
Beyond safety and equity, Whalen also wants people to enjoy how they get around. When infrastructure supports it, walking and cycling can bring a sense of community, safety and joy. While cars do have a certain amount of joy for commuters, public transit doesn’t keep up. When Whalen switched from a car to a bike, she realized that she was able to be a more engaged member of her community. Biking increased her social interaction which led her to research the topic. And the numbers back it up: cycling can be an enjoyable experience with opportunities for community engagement.
Desjardins agrees, noting that there isn’t actually much of a negative impact of bike lanes. Arguments against additional infrastructure often cite road congestion or a lack of rule enforcement for cyclists. These concerns don’t quite check out, though. While protected lanes might impact how quickly cars can get through an intersection, roads only show a limited picture. Road safety and cars’ impact on the environment also needs to be taken into consideration, not to mention the traffic that cyclists bring to local businesses.
“People care about the environmental impact of traffic and single-occupancy vehicles,” says Desjardins. “They care about their health, their care about their kids getting out to their neighbourhood and not being confined to a car. Cyclists care a lot about their community. And they show up to things where they have an opportunity to weigh in and make it better.”
With rising cycling numbers the city needs to do better to make room for bikes on the road. Car-focused streets negatively impact the Hamilton community, while bikes open up possibilities for community members to connect with the people and businesses around them. Looking forward, advocates agree: move over cars, pedal powered transportation is taking the lane.
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By: Benita Van Miltenburg
As both a Hamiltonian and a bicycle user, I was deeply troubled by the recent death of Jay Keddy. Keddy was a well-prepared and thoroughly practiced cyclist, equipped with bicycle lights and a helmet, obeying the rules of the road. Despite his diligent behavior, he was struck by a car and left lifeless on his commute home from work this past December. No one emerged from the horror of Keddy’s death unscathed — his friends, family and acquaintances, not the kindergarten students whom he taught, and not the members of the wider Hamilton community.
Around the same time Keddy was killed, two pedestrians were struck in our city, one killed and the other seriously injured. These realities indicate that we must demand safer transportation infrastructure. Not only have the lives of these individuals and their families been forever affected, but the lives of those responsible have also been irreparably damaged.
These were preventable accidents that mustn’t be forgotten a mere two months later. They were needless accidents with immense consequences. This type of tragedy must not happen again.
I see myself settling in a community I can safely enjoy by way of foot or bicycle, not just by car or bus. As it stands, Hamilton is evidently not the place for me.
Currently, the rules of the road mandate that a bicycle and a three thousand pound vehicle occupy shared road space. When accidents happen, the ones who suffer most are almost always the more vulnerable road users. This is not a system that is safe for people on bikes, and it is likewise not a system that works well for automobiles. Many residents of this city regularly make use of multiple means of transport, and nearly all road users understand the difficulties inherent to this outdated system. We, as citizens of this city, as shared users of the road, must demand more.
We should ask ourselves: what kind of city do we desire? What sort of community are we presently fostering, building for our children, for ourselves and for our seniors? Where do we see this city in five, fifteen and fifty years? I see myself settling in a community I can safely enjoy by way of foot or bicycle, not just by car or bus. As it stands, Hamilton is evidently not the place for me.
In Hamilton, pedestrians have a 42 percent higher risk for injury than the provincial average. Hop on a bike and that figure doubles to 81 percent. This is wholly unacceptable.
Hamilton is blessed with abundant potential. Situated between Lake Ontario and the beautiful Niagara Escarpment, Hamilton is home to several fantastic post-secondary institutions, vibrant art, music and culinary communities, outstanding social programs, and just enough character to keep things interesting. However, the city is currently doing itself a terrible injustice by consistently catering to one road user over others, sometimes at the expense of residents’ lives. As such, we are bypassing the opportunity to create a socially inclusive community in which residents can truly enjoy spending their time.
Transportation modes such as walking and bicycle riding allow the individual to move at a leisurely pace, stop and start with ease and engage with their environment in a way that is simply not possible from the isolated box of the automobile. I say this not to demonize car ownership, but to encourage planning that supports multiple forms of transportation.
This is a call to all residents of our community to work with city planners and legislators to make desperately needed improvements to our active transport infrastructure. Improvements that will in turn put all road users at greater ease, and ensure not one more life is needlessly cut short on account of poor planning or lack of action.
With the city-wide Transportation Master Plan in review and a notice of motion put forth to adopt Vision Zero, Hamiltonians have some crucial decisions to make. Are we to accept this subpar status quo? Are we to remain Ontario’s second most dangerous city to walk in? Can we risk any more unnecessary tragedies?
Or will all road users — pedestrians, cyclists, car drivers and transit goers alike — come together and support positive change? We need change that caters to all forms of transportation equally, change that fully protects all residents from risk of injury and as such, protects all residents from the risk of injuring others. Let’s come together and insist on safer active transportation options in 2016. We all have the right, to enjoy our city out of harms way.
Temperatures have risen, the undergraduate HSR pass has expired and now we’re left to figure out a cheap way to get around. Walking limits you to either a short radius or painful blisters and $2 (with a presto) for the HSR adds up quickly. I ventured out to get a bike for the short trips within town and the longer eighteen kilometre commute I would have to do from the GO bus stop to my work. Until you go to buy your own bike, you never quite realize how expensive bikes are. Road bikes can cost upwards of $300, sometimes going into the thousands. Even most of the used road bikes on Kijiji were over $200.
As always, my mind drifted towards do-it-yourself and I found a cheap bike on Kijiji in rough shape but with a perfect frame and wires for $50 but needed somewhere to get parts and/or labour cheap. After talking to a few enthusiasts, I discovered New Hope Commuity Bikes, a not-for-profit charity in Hamilton aiming to educate, advocate, teach new skills, and provide affordable means for people to get around while staying active.
“We take donated bikes and refurbish them. We also teach people how to fix their own bikes and provide a space where they can do that. When you have a bike you want to work on, we will give you access to space and tools and we will help you along the way”, says manager Andrew Hibma, who has been with the shop since its second year.
Used parts at New Hope are $5 and new parts start at a fraction of the cost at a bike shop in the Hamilton or Toronto area. Refurbished bikes start at $150 in perfect condition.
“We’re one of the few places that you can come to if you need a repair but can’t afford new parts. We can usually do it for less than half the price, even less if you want to put in some sweat equity and do some manual labour yourself,” said Hibma.
For $60, I got two new tires, two new tubes, two new brake pads and they even did it for me. If you take the opportunity to learn how to fix your bike yourself, you can rent tools from zero to ten dollars an hour, on a sliding scale. If you just need the tools and the space without instruction, you can rent tools from zero to five dollars an hour.
Walking in there with a bike that warranted laughter from the staff and pictures taken of my tires that had exploded, I didn’t know what to expect. As soon as I walked into the shop, I was immediately greeted. A selection of bikes lined the front room, the workshop was upstairs, and the customer repairs were downstairs. A week later, I had a functional bike that is going to end up saving me a ton of money this summer and reduce my carbon footprint.
The only thing needed now is for Hamilton to improve its roads for bikers. There are only a few bike lanes and motorists don’t like to share the road. The bike culture is improving though, even avid cyclist Hibma agreed. New Hope educates the community on safe cycling, hoping that both motorists and cyclists can learn how to get along on the road.
“[The bike culture in Hamilton] is growing, but it’s nowhere near where it should be. I think there’s a lot of mindsets we need to get past with drivers and cyclists. It’s too much ‘us versus them’ mentality. As more cyclists take the road, it will become more commonplace and people will get used to it. It’s no different from [driving with] construction or a bus. It’s about teaching cyclists how to ride in a manner that’s safe and predictable so drivers aren’t fearful or annoyed but at the same time drivers need to respect that cyclists have a right to be on the road to get places. I think it will improve with the bike share the city is putting in, I think that should help with developing the culture. The City is installing some bike lanes this summer too, I think that’s one very important missing link.”
Advocacy for cyclists is one of the things that sets New Hope apart from other bike shops.
“We are also one of the few shops that engage in cycling advocacy. We go to city council meetings and are almost kind of a voice for cycling. Our main goal is education and getting more people on bikes where at a bike shop it’s almost like a secondary goal, they are a for-profit business primarily,” said Hibma.
Many in the community have taken to using New Hope as their primary bike shop and it’s easy to see why. Some have even rented out New Hope’s cargo bikes to start a business, like Jen Vanderherberg, a Hamiltonian who has started a mobile bicycle ice cream parlour named Icycles.
New Hope’s annual bike festival runs this year from June 8 to 15. Check out New Hope at 1422 Main Streeet East near Main and Kennilworth and try and find the Icycles bike.
McMaster has been ranked by Maclean’s as the fourth best cycling university in Canada. This is due to the city of Hamilton’s ongoing efforts to improve cycling infrastructure, and the ease of biking on McMaster’s spacious campus.
The cheepest generic viagra following infographic explores some of the facts and figures that influence the student biking experience, including an anecdote from a student who experienced a downside of cycling at McMaster.
Click here for an interactive Google Map with the locations of bike thefts on McMaster's campus from 2012-2013.