Compared to a velodrome, a continuous citywide bike lane network would produce much bigger and broader public benefits.
By Ryan McGreal
Published September 15, 2011
I've been struggling, really struggling, over what to think about the Pan Am Velodrome issue.
On the one hand, it comes closer to achieving the mandates of its funding sources than Ivor Wynne stadium: the Pan Am mandate to promote high performance amateur sport and the Future Fund mandate to grow the city's economic base, enhance the social fabric and build community.
On the other, the cost is far higher than Council originally envisioned, and the City will be on the hook to cover any shortfall in the 44 percent of the total cost that falls outside Toronto 2015's funding commitment.
The error bars on the velodrome cost estimate stretch millions of dollars in each direction, and staff were not able to confirm any additional funding sources in the two week extension TO2015 gave the city after staff presented their report to Council at the end of August. The Pan Am host corporation has since granted the city another month of leeway to try and close the gap.
Not only is the cost picture highly uncertain and risky, but at the same time, the process senior City staff have followed on this file does not inspire public confidence. The Pan Am Velodrome advisory subcommittee last met on May 26, but the new location at Mohawk College and the vastly increased price tag were not communicated to Council until the end of August.
I like the idea of the velodrome as a world-class facility that will attract elite cyclists, provide a range of community-accessible amenities and, in the words of Mark Chamberlain and cycling coach Andrew Iler, "elevate the city's international stature and ... bring Canada and the world back to the city on an ongoing basis." (They also argue that the final velodrome cost will likely be lower than the worst-case estimate Council faces today.)
But this week I received a report from Hamilton Police Services that set things into a new context. On Monday, September 12 at around 5:30 PM, a 21-year-old female cyclist was struck by a pickup truck at the corner of Concession Street and East 17th Street, between Upper Wellington and Upper Wentworth.
The cyclist was riding west on the south sidewalk of Concession. The pickup driver was heading north on East 17th and turning right to head east on Concession. According to police, the truck driver stopped at the uncontrolled intersection before proceeding. The truck turned into the intersection just as the cyclist entered it, and the cyclist was struck and run over.
As of this writing, she remains in hospital in serious but stable condition. Police are still investigating the incident.
If we're going to spend up to $17 million on cycling infrastructure, we should invest in a continuous bike lane network through the city to be used by anyone before we build an enclosed track to be used by training athletes.
It is both illegal and highly dangerous for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk, but many cyclists do it because, in the absence of dedicated space on the street, it subjectively 'feels' safer than riding in mixed traffic.
With a continuous network of bike lanes, more people would choose to ride bikes more often, and those cyclists would be more likely to use the bike lanes rather than dangerous sidewalks.
Perhaps counterintuitively, as the number of cyclists goes up, the number - not just the rate but the absolute count - of cycling collisions and casualties actually goes down.
In fact, a street designed for multi-modal use including cycling is actually safer for all users - including motorists:
The finding that most bike friendly cities are safer than average has been reinforced by the recent experience of cities such as Cambridge, MA, Portland, OR, and New York. These cities have garnered much press for their success in dramatically increasing bike use over the last several years. This increase in bike ridership has corresponded with an equally dramatic decrease in traffic fatality rates in all three cities.
Interestingly, the decrease in fatality occurred not just for people on bikes, but for all classes of road users – including people in cars and people on foot. In other words, the increase in bike use has benefited all road users by helping transform the streets into safer places.
Compared to a velodrome, a continuous citywide bike lane network would produce much bigger and broader public benefits. More cycling means cleaner air, reduced traffic congestion (a bicycle takes up much less space than an automobile), improved public health, longer average life expectancies, and even reduced deaths and injuries in traffic collisions.
In 2009, Council approved a Cycling Master Plan for the city that would stretch the construction of a city-wide 300 km cycling network over 40 years - and so far, two councillors have already exercised vetoes over bike lanes in their wards.
The total cost for Hamilton's cycling plan is $50 million, of which $21 million would go to urban infrastructure like bike lanes and $29 million will go to rural infrastructure like paved shoulders.
Contrast Paris, which decided to commit to bicycle infrastructure in 1996 and had already built 440 km of bike lanes by 2010, with another 260 km scheduled to be installed by 2014.
At the same time, Paris rolled out a large-scale bike rental system with 20,000 bikes in 1,800 stations across the city. In less than four years, the Vélib' bike rental system surpassed 100 million trips.
The most important quality of any network is that it must be connective. Very few people would drive on a street that is not connected to any other streets, and very few people will cycle on a bike lane that is not connected to other bike lanes.
The best thing we could to to drive much greater adoption of Hamilton's bike lane network is to build it out as quickly as possible so that bike lanes are continuous and connect people to destinations.
That investment would deliver ongoing dividends in cleaner air, healthier residents and safer streets, while communicating that Hamilton is a progressive, forward-looking city.
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