On March 20, Hamilton Bike Share hosted a group event called "Three years on two wheels" to celebrate their birthday.


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By: Kamini Persaud

Soon students will be able to take out more than just a book from Mills Library. By the end of September, pending approval from Environmental and Occupational Health Services, McMaster will be host to the Bike Library, a new initiative by the organization Start The Cycle.

Start the Cycle will be providing McMaster students with five bikes with helmets that can be borrowed on a 24 or 48 hour basis, similar to a library book. This unique share plan promotes community responsibility, universal access and the already thriving cycling culture on campus.

This not-for-profit organization was founded by two McMaster students, Charles Burke and Justin Hall, who modeled Start the Cycle after similar for-profit bicycle share projects seen across North America. Burke is completing his doctorate in transportation planning and Hall is currently a master’s candidate conducting research on active transportation and urban social geography.

The bikes themselves were donated by the two co-founders, as well as MacCycle Bike Co-op, which collected and refurbished bikes that had been abandoned on campus.

Many community partners contributed to McMaster's Bike Library, with donations such as bike locks from Dundas Canadian Tire and helmets from the City of Hamilton. Due to its community nature, there are no fees associated with the program, including in the case of lost and stolen bicycles.

This project aims to give everyone at McMaster equal access to sustainable transportation. The Bike Library plans to expand to at least ten bikes by spring 2015, and if the service is in demand they could expand to offer over 40 bikes by the end of 2015.

Start the Cycle's new Bike Library pilot project intertwines with cosmetic city changes in preparation for the Pan American games coming to Hamilton, including the new Cannon Street bike path. This new bike path will create an easy, active and innovative route between the Pan-American and Para Pan-American game venues.

Tomi Milos
Features Editor

Although cycling has long been hailed as a formidable mode of transportation for city-dwellers, most Hamiltonians can be reluctant to hop on a bicycle for fear of their safety. But the threat of grievous injury does not seem to be deterring McMaster students from gravitating towards such an affordable means of transportation, as a 2010 poll of faculty, staff, and students conducted by University Sustainability discovered. Results showed that 34% of respondents biked to campus everyday.

Maclean’s recently recognized this cycling quassi-renaissance and dubbed McMaster one of Canada’s top-five cycling schools in its annual university rankings issue. In its summation of why the school deserved the recognition, the national weekly news magazine rather vaguely said, “The school’s Sustainability Office monitors and improves biking infrastructure, bolstered by Hamilton’s increasing municipal efforts on alternative transportation.”

Seeking to understand just how McMaster has garnered such acclaim, I spoke to Kate Whalen, senior manager of University Sustainability. The Strathacona resident undertook the role in 2009 and practices what she preaches; she does not own a car and cycling is her main mode of transportation.

Whalen praised the work that the city has done saying, “McMaster is surrounded by incredible cycling infrastructure; [Hamilton was] one of, if not the very first city to have our buses outfitted with bike racks.”

She also acknowledged that certain areas of the city aren’t incredibly bike-friendly: “There are many areas of the lower city that have substantial opportunity for improvement in both road infrastructure and bicycle parking space. With its high population density and variety of land uses, the downtown area also presents some of the biggest opportunity within the city to increase walking and cycling through these improvements.”

But it remains to be said that some improvements could also be made within McMaster itself, where the bike parking options fail to meet increasing student demand. One only has to take a stroll by Gilmour Hall at noon to notice how many students have been forced to lock their bikes to the steel banisters on the stairs for lack of a free spot on a nearby rack.

Whalen maintained that University Sustainability is aware of and working to rectify the problem, indicating that the 2009 installation of a secure bike storage facility opposite Chester New Hall with the financial assistance of Metrolinx Bikelinx program as well as Cyclesafe lockers display McMaster’s “committment to providing many and various types of bicycle parking and storage.”

She highlighted the fact that University Sustainability runs an annual poll of students, faculty, and staff to determine which areas need bike racks and then pass along the information to Security and Parking Services who invest into expanding bike infrastructure.

“Through the feedback obtained through community consultation, we have been able to place new racks in all requested locations each year since 2009.”

Whalen has high hopes for the future and pointed to exciting developments for cyclists, “Most recently, investment into campus bike racks was also included in the McMaster Climate Action Plan including the addition of 600 new bike parking spaces over the next three years.”

The document indicates that 20 bike racks will be added across campus this year, with a special focus on the intramural sports facilities by the David Braley Athletic Centre.

Even with the addition of more racks, one issue that Macleans skated around is theft. 84 bikes were stolen from McMaster in the last calendar year, and 36 have already been pilfered this school year.

Ian Holley says Security Services is working on cutting down that number. The special constable investigator is a staunch promoter of cycling culture, having served as the auctioneer for MACycle’s annual bike auction. If Security Services can pinpoint a pattern occurring at a location — or better yet — a specific culprit, Holley says they’ll set up one of their own bikes to be stolen and monitor the area.

Holley asserted that the thieves might not always be students, noting that many would-be perpetrators can be drawn to the campus because, “McMaster has the biggest collection of bikes in Hamilton, and they’re generally nice ones.”

What irks Holley is that many owners of these high-end bikes are using shoddy cable-locks that are all too easy to cut.

“We see almost no theft involving good U-locks, even at our regular racks. We’ve made a big push towards educating people and saying, ‘Please use U-locks or make use of our secure storage facility.’”

The secure storage facility Holley is referring to is situated beside Chester New Hall, which he admits is not the best location for everyone. But $5 per term to lock your bike within a fenced-off structure that’s monitored by camera doesn’t seem like a hefty price to pay. When asked why there aren’t more of these facilities around campus, Holley said it’s hard to justify building more in better locations when they’re not seeing use in the one they do have.

While the cycling infrastructure at McMaster and in its immediate area seems to be on the right track, things don’t happen to be as rosy in the city’s core where cyclists aren’t afforded the same privileges.

The new bus-only lane on King Street that stretches from Mary to Dundurn Street may ensure a speedy commute for the approximately 1,500 HSR riders who traverse the corridor each hour, but the poorly planned initiative has thrown bike safety under the rug. The lane poses a problem to cyclists who risk a $65 fine for entering it, which leaves them with the choice of taking an inconvenient route, or facing the danger of becoming a part of a car-bus sandwich.

Christine Lee-Morrison, media contact for the pilot project, said, “Certainly a reserved vehicle lane is typically a safer place for a bicycle to operate; however, bicycles typically travel slower than a bus. A mixed usage situation would not allow the City fully test the acceptance and impacts of a future rapid transit scenario.”

Rather than encouraging bike riders to take parallel routes, Hamilton City Council could take a cue from London, England where the bus lanes are made available for use by both cyclists and motorcycle riders. The decision was brought about by a 2008 study conducted by Transport for London which segregated powered two-wheelers and bikes from the main traffic flow and found that bike usage actually increased.

The further trouble with the parallel bike routes is that many of them end abruptly. Although the city has spent approximately $1 million a year since 2010 on adding 35 km of bike routes as part of their master cycling plan — Shifting Gears —building a safe continuous route across the top of the North end has been neglected.

Some web-savvy Hamiltonians recognized this error and organized an online petition called Yes We Cannon whose aim it was to establish a bidirectional bike lane on Cannon Street in time for the impending 2015 Pan Am games when many would be commuting from the James North Go Station to Tim Hortons Field. The petition has amassed 2172 online signatures and was a determining factor in city councillors dedicating $600,000 in September to the instalment of a two-way bike lane between Sherman Avenue and Bay Street.

Cannon Street was the best setting for the venture since it doesn’t experience high traffic volumes, moving only 2300-2600 vehicles per lane, per day as opposed to Mohawk and Garth Streets carrying 6600-9850 vehicles per lane, per day.

Daryl Bender, project manager of Alternative Transportation for the City of Hamilton, is optimistic about the city’s efforts to revitalize the bike scene. Citing a Portland, Oregon study that suggested that better cycling infrastructure and an increase in cyclists reduces the collision rate rather than collisions themselves, Bender said,“We are not certain if the same will be the experience here in Hamilton as our cycling infrastructure increases, but it would be ideal to see the number of collisions also be reduced.”

Despite poor downtown framework and a campus plagued by bike theft, cycling culture in Hamilton and at McMaster seems to be surging forward with the persistence of a Tour
de France peloton.

Kacper Niburski / Silhouette Staff

My bike is hardly fashionable. Each time I ride the metallic mammoth, the gears remain a curious experiment long forgotten, the chain rattles back and forth like the coming of the Grim Reaper, and the seat shifts, slithers and shakes uncontrollably.

I’ve had it since I was eleven and I remember the same things it remembers. The bright sun. The blue sky. Birds singing. Cities fading. Races. Friends. Dares. Accidents. Sadness. Pain. Happiness. Smiles.

I’ve also forgotten what it has forgotten. In the cascade of time, my bike and my memories have corroded. Somewhere in between the kaleidoscope of recollections and the imaginary games of knight jousting with pool noodles, I became bigger than my bike. Mountains became hills; hills became lumps; lumps became flat fields.

I’ve grown, and with my growth, the mysticism and thrill of everyday – like the vibrancy of my bike – has been lost. Salt now licks the wounds of both each winter, and I wonder if my bike will survive until spring. I wonder if I will too.

Because nowadays when I ride, my knees buckle, I feel uncomfortable in my seat and the timelessness I once felt has been replaced with the realization that time always passes. I’m getting older and my bike is too. It, like me, is becoming a fossil that’ll one day be dug up in somebody’s garage.

Yet despite looking no different than the functionless disaster of two hula-hoops strung together, I still maze my bike to school everyday. It’s not because of what my bike has been through nor is it because I hope to rekindle that childlike majesty of freedom. Though I could argue that I still feel like I’m flying through the guileless air while I’m cycling, this wouldn’t be the truth. I just don’t have brakes anymore.

Instead, I cycle every day because besides being the most efficient, healthy mode of travel, it is incredibly accessible. Sure, I’m far from the ideal, Hollywood-esque hip cyclist; I wear sweat pants and clothes that could easily get stuck in the cranks, I drift along with no hands on my handlebars and I’m an organ donor waiting to happen. No doubt.

But in a city like Hamilton, even with such inept cyclists as myself, I feel as though biking should be the norm if only because cars seem so entirely superfluous. Bikes are the engines of invention without the need for pollution. Grant Peterson said it best: “Think of bicycles as rideable art that can just about save the world.”

I’ll grant there are geographical, topographical and economic considerations to be taken into account when deciding on bicycling. In Hamilton alone, one cannot easily cycle from the Mountain (where I live) to McMaster. But these are not good arguments against biking; in fact, they suggest the opposite. They are consequences of a city trying to backpedal in an attempt to go forward.

Hamilton has rarely had pro-bike policies. Take Main Street West or King Street West as examples. Despite being the main roads for a zoo of students, both fail to accommodate cyclists with bike lanes. Even in the core of McMaster, bike lanes are not indicated by signs but by basic suggestion. This is commonplace throughout the city. In the downtown core, a report by the city of Hamilton, “Cycling Network Strategy”, found that the most common accidents happen in those without bike lanes. More importantly, however, was the finding that people do not cycle due to a combination of lack of convenience and perceived safety concerns without bike lanes.

Certainly, these concerns are pertinent to a would-be cyclist. At the same time, however, it is worth asking whether bike lanes are the best measure for all Hamiltonians. Without a doubt, it improves cyclist’s accessibility by slowly developing a well-integrated network that is both perceived to be safer and convenient.

Yet while increasing the perception of safety, some studies have found that bike lanes make riding less safe as they follow loosely fitting vehicular policy. This forgets that reconstructing roads with segregated bike lanes removes parking lots in front of already struggling downtown businesses, which suggests an equity and economical regression for the whole community.

Unfortunately, there is no clear-cut answer in this debate. Yet even with such ambiguity, the biking culture seems to be growing in Hamilton and McMaster especially.

This is seen in the development of the Arts and Science class 3BB3, where students have the chance to investigate the political, social and economical ramifications of the bicycle. In the coming weeks, they will present a “Bike Rodeo” in front of University Hall that is meant to engage both the McMaster community and the broader city with pro-bike spirit and knowledge.

While a small accomplishment in its own right, the Rodeo is the tricycle wheels needed to put Hamilton’s cycling zeitgeist on the right track – one that even my clunky, dilapidated, jarring stead, with all it’s bumps, scratches and memories, will be able to fit into. At least, until the next winter.

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