Have you ever cycled on Hamilton’s streets? If not, then you likely only know cycling in Hamilton as it appears from behind the wheel of an automobile. From this perspective, surrounded by airbags and a giant steel cage, many see cyclists as nothing more than a slow-moving obstacle that needs to be passed at the soonest opportunity.
Now take a moment and imagine the reverse situation; being that cyclist, riding white-knuckled in a wide vehicle lane, being passed by heavy, fast-moving vehicles leaving little more than a foot of gap. Not only is being a cyclist in Hamilton unpleasant, it’s dangerous. In fact, according to the Social Planning and Research Council, cyclists in Hamilton have an injury risk nearly twice as high as the provincial average.
You might think such a significant figure would spark action for improvements within the city, but the reality is that, as a city, we don’t give cycling infrastructure the attention or value it deserves. It’s seen a “nice-to-have”, something that is built with rations of the city budget seemingly to appease a vocal minority of residents. When a project like the Cannon Cycle Track is completed, we give ourselves a pat on the back and consider the year a success for cycling in Hamilton.
As we continue to limit our achievements this way, we lose more and more ground to other Canadian cities. While Hamilton builds bike lanes, other Canadian cities are building bike networks. According to the Pembina Institute, Vancouver has both the highest bike-to-work rate and the lowest bicycle crash rate of major Canadian cities. Calgary and Toronto have just implemented ambitious downtown cycle track networks, which have been accompanied by spikes in ridership. On Toronto’s one-way arterial Adelaide Street, where a protected bike lane was recently installed, there are now nearly as many bikes as cars. Imagine seeing an impact like this on Hamilton’s five-lane Main Street!
We have no one to blame but ourselves for Hamilton’s reluctance to embrace cycling. City Councillors have the authority to veto any proposed cycling project for their ward, and they exercise this power regularly. The cycling page of the City’s website shows three recent cycling projects (one in Ward 6 and two in Ward 5) that were planned and designed, only to be blocked by the local Councillor, preventing their construction. Allowing this NIMBY-ist type of decision-making is inexcusable and will most certainly create a fragmented city. In order to create a successful bike network, we must allow bike lanes to cross Wards. What would be the reaction if a Councillor had veto power to block the construction of a new community centre or affordable housing in their Ward?
Intuitively, we know that cycling is good for us. It’s a form of exercise, which improves our health and results in less cost to our healthcare system. The transport agency in New Zealand has gone one step further and put a value on this: for every kilometre traveled by bicycle, $1.30 worth of health benefits are generated. On this basis alone, we could build the full cycling master plan at a cost of $51.5 million and it would pay itself back within two years from the new bike trips it would generate. How many other proposed city projects can boast a payback period of two years? If Hamilton were a business, the Cycling Master Plan would have been fully built the year it was proposed.
Cycling has the awesome power to unite every resident of this city – young and old, urban and suburban, wealthy and poor. Let’s start taking cycling seriously.
This article was featured in the Hamilton Spectator on Feb 1st, 2016 here.