Today's Hamilton Spectator includes an editorial that endorses the city's proposed Cycling Master Plan, which council will consider on Wednesday evening. (The editorial was written by Lee Prokaska but represents the consensus view of the paper's editorial board.)
The city's approach to pedal power is a wise one. It combines a range of bike-friendly modifications to our roads; it can be accomplished in stages; and it recognizes the current depressed economy may not be the best time to be allocating big bucks.
Certainly, the idea of getting people out of gas-guzzling personal vehicles and onto pedal-powered bikes is good for a range of reasons. It's better for the environment. It's a great way to get some exercise at both ends of the day. It costs substantially less than operating a personal vehicle. And if there is a clearly defined network of bike lanes and paths, it's a safe way to get around. It would be good for all of us if this plan goes forward.
After acknowledging the cost of the program - $51.5 million stretched over 20 or 40 years - and acknowleding the opposition of those the paper calls "naysayers", Prokaska rebuts the common argument that the investment would have only narrow appeal:
Naysayers may attack the plan because we don't have a handle on the number of bike commuters in Hamilton. But the establishment of safe and clearly-marked bicycle routes in other cities has attracted cyclists who previously avoided a two-wheeled commute. It may be becoming a bit hackneyed, but a variation on the old saying applies nonetheless -- if we build it, lots of them will more than likely come.
Of course, given that the benefits of investment in cycling infrastructure grow geometrically with the network's continuity and that the total cost of the Cycling Master Plan is less than the city's annual roads budget, I'd rather see the plan completed in four years than in forty.
As Terry Cooke (firing on all cylinders in his bi-weekly Spectator column) noted this past Saturday:
They built the Great Pyramid in ancient Egypt in 20 years. But in Hamilton it's going to take us 40 years to construct a network of bicycle paths. Maybe we should be just a little more ambitious.
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