Special Report: Cycling

Letter to Council: Approve Cycling Master Plan

Please make an informed choice based on the clear evidence from around the world and vote to bring Hamilton into the fold of progressive, livable cities that encourage active living and full participation for all citizens.

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 19, 2009

Dear Mayor Eisenberger and Hamilton City Council,

I am writing to encourage you to approve the Cycling Master Plan, for the following reasons.

1. Cycling Infrastructure Increases Ridership

Every city - no matter its climate - that invests in a coherent, continuous cycling network sees dramatic increases in cycling as a direct result. Here are a few examples:

Please note that even the near-mythical European cycling cities on this list were not always this way. Back in the 1970s they had the same marginal rate of cycling that we still have today. Unlike most North American cities, they committed to building robust, continuous cycling networks that have encouraged steady and impressive growth in the rate of cycling.

You can't judge the potential usage of a Hamilton network based on our current sporadic patchwork of bike routes, since they are all short and disconnected from each other. By analogy, imagine how much use a road would get if it were not connected to any other roads. What makes a cycling network usable is continuity.

If you build it, they really will come.

2. A Cycling Network is More Inclusive

Everyone agrees that Hamilton has a serious problem with poverty. For Hamilton residents who cannot afford cars, the Cycling Master Plan helps to balance a transportation network that today is overwhelmingly geared to automobiles - and hence requires automobile ownership for basic mobility.

Bicycles are inexpensive to buy and repair, and cost nothing to operate or to park. If all Hamiltonians have access to safe, convenient cycling routes, that can only increase everyone's opportunity to participate fully in education, employment, and public life.

3. A Cycling Network Makes Hamilton a Better Place to Raise a Child

All the evidence from child development research indicates that children grow up more capable and confident when they have opportunities to achieve independence. A car-dependent transportation network makes children dependent on parents to chauffeur them from destination to destination, which:

  1. Denies them the empowerment that comes from self-powered mobility;
  2. Increases the risks associated with sedentary lifestyle, including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and cancer; and
  3. Increases the risk of injury and death in a motor vehicle accident.

During a period of time in which sprawl-induced obesity actually threatens to produce a generation of Canadians with a shorter life expectancy than their parents, a bicycle network that allows citizens of all ages to achieve independence of movement in an active lifestyle is desperately needed.

4. More Cyclists Means More Safety

Overall, cycling is as safe as driving in terms of a straightforward risk of injury and death, and considerably safer than driving once you factor in the increased life expectancy from active living.

At the same time, there is a very strong correlation between increasing ridership and decreasing accident and injury rates. Put simply, as the number of cyclists goes up, the number of accidents goes down.

As Brian Hanson, the head of Amsterdam's traffic department, explains, "The number of accidents has been decreasing year after year. More bikes on the road means it's safer for cyclists."

We saw fresh evidence of this from New York City, where the annual number of casualties (injuries and fatalities) decreased by half during the same seven-year period when the number of cyclists increased by two and a half times. The injury rate fell by a factor of four.

5. Cycling is Environmentally Friendly

Hamilton has a serious problem with air pollution, more than half of which comes from automobiles. A significant increase in cycling will help improve our air quality at the same time that it reduces our dependence on oil, which is expected to suffer extreme price volatility over the next few decades and is also responsible for significant greenhouse gas emissions..

The bicycle is the most energy efficient vehicle ever invented, achieving an astonishing fuel economy of 0.168 litres per 100 kilometres (1,400 mpg) equivalent.

6. The Cycling Master Plan is Affordable

The annual cost to implement the Cycling Master Plan would be either $1.25 million or $2.5 million. Even the higher amount is only a tiny fraction of the city's annual roads budget.

In fact, the total cycling budget of $51.5 million spread over 20 or 40 years is still less than what the city spends on roads in a single year ($57.6 million in 2007).

7. The Cycling Master Plan Fits Hamilton's Growth Strategy

The Cycling Master Plan strongly supports all of Hamilton's long-term planning strategies since Vision 2020: the Provincial Places to Grow framework, the GRIDS nodes-and-corridors based intensification model, and the Transportation Master Plan.

All of these overlapping plans are geared to reducing driving, increasing active living, fostering strong, healthy neighbourhoods, improving air quality and public health, making Hamilton the best place to raise a child, and addressing the negative effects of poverty.

This is a golden opportunity to create a progressive legacy for Hamilton that will benefit the city for decades to come - and for a modest annual cost!

Please make an informed choice based on the clear evidence from around the world and vote to bring Hamilton into the fold of progressive, livable cities that encourage active living and full participation for all citizens.


Ryan McGreal
Editor, Raise the Hammer

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2009 at 20:42:24

"Please post your letters here in the comments as well, so that others might be inspired."

I don't think anyone will top your summary of the main points. I found myself talking about the ones I feel most strongly about... and repeating myself too often ;):

"I am writing to ask that the Cycling Master Plan be approved.

Many compelling reasons exist for this, but the most compelling in my mind are the increased safety of cycling infrastructure, and its accessibility to different ages and income levels --- and the relative affordability of this plan as compared to the amount we spend yearly on road infrastructure. As an occasional cyclist, I would much prefer to have a continuous, usable network that would be safer than biking in the same lane as cars zipping 70 km/h down Main Street - this would give me the confidence to make many trips by bike.

As can be seen in many other cities that provide cycling infrastructure, it increases and encourages ridership.

I urge you to have the vision and courage to implement this plan.

Every time I think about why we need this plan I think of a 15-year-old whom I know. His first name is edited for public RTH posting, and his family lives in a typical subsidized apartment in Ward 2. He bikes everywhere - including several kilometres every Saturday to volunteer with City Kidz. When he works, he bikes to his job. His bike gives him access to opportunities and places that would otherwise be inaccessible. He's the kind of person that I want to see better serviced by cycling infrastructure, not just myself. Please level the playing field for those who are drivers and pedestrians and cyclists in this city, and provide infrastructure that is safer for all forms of transport, not just motor vehicles.

Thanks, Meredith"

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 22:23:27

I am writing today about the cycling plan that is coming before council. I am sure that most of your residents may have a hard time understanding the need for this to go through. Your area is very rural and many would depend on vehicles.

My main issues are poverty, workers rights and food security. We learned at the Foodstaker Holder's launch, that many in the rural areas are struggling themselves, maybe more awareness around this issue needs to come to light, not just those in downtown Hamilton. Those that struggle where ever in our community need to reach out to each other.

I used to bike quite often and in the past have rode out in your area, up to the Binbrook Conservation area. If one cannot afford a car, then what options do they have to get around. A safe biking system would be great for all the residents. Those who are on Ontario Works cannot afford to take the bus and this does restrict job search options and capabilities.

Some people like myself who used to bike for hours could ride out toward that area for a day. Anyways, from an environmental perspective, it is the right thing to do.

I give the example of the rail trail, it can connect areas. It would be great if a trail could go right into the town of Binbrook, it could bring tourist dollars, people do have to stop and get somethng to eat or drink or even just to browse around or calls from mother nature.

It is your job to bring the issues to light, to bring the connections between two areas, city and rural.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 20, 2009 at 10:01:03

This argument comes under Number 2 in Ryan's article above:

There is another group of individuals who would benefit a great deal from an increase in opportunities to cycle safely. Many intellectually handicapped adults (remember there is a range of capabilites in this group) are able to ride a bike to their destination of choice, some with support workers alongside, some completely independently. Any way that they can get themselves to meaningful activities (including employment programs) without being driven by support workers, for those who are able, is a boon to their self-esteem, good for their health and even a savings where taxpayer dollars are concerned (and yes, I do think saving taxpayer dollars is also a legitimate goal-- it's just that sometimes this goal is achieved more effectively for the long term if some money is spent in the present).

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 22, 2009 at 09:23:00

... And this also falls under number 2 in Ryan's article (inclusiveness):

As a young woman, because I could ride my bike relatively safely all over Oakville, I had a great deal more freedom than my own daughters do-- traveling by bike is certainly safer for a teenage girl after dark (which comes around suppertime in the winter months, remember) than traveling on foot. It may even be safer for young women in broad daylight: http://thespec.com/News/Local/article/58...

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2009 at 14:10:34

Does this cycling master plan include anything about making cyclists have to pay insurance premiums like drivers do and contribute to the upkeep of roads (as drivers do through their gasoline taxes)?

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By Capitacylist (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2009 at 14:56:03

^Comment fail. Drivers don't pay for the upkeep of roads through gasoline taxes, people who pay property taxes do. As a cyclist who pays property tax, I'm already paying my way. In fact if you drive I'm subsidizing you, since your 3,000 lb car does a hell of a lot more damage to the road than my 30 lb bike. As for insurance premiums bikes don't go around killing people and destroying property, cars do. Ask Amsterdamers, Copenhageners and Groningeners how much they pay in bicycle insurance.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2009 at 15:47:19


So then what do gas taxes pay for?

"As for insurance premiums bikes don't go around killing people and destroying property, cars do"

So if some drunk guy riding his bike rams into my car and causes a big dent or scratch that is not considered property damage? Give your head a shake!

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By Capitacylist (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2009 at 16:05:30

"So then what do gas taxes pay for?"

General federal revenue. Roads are paid for by local governments from property taxes. Seriously for a 'capitalist' you don't seem to understand the tax system very well.

"So if some drunk guy riding his bike rams into my car and causes a big dent or scratch that is not considered property damage?"

Ask Amsterdamers, Copenhageners and Groningeners how much they pay in bicycle insurance.

Now give your own head a shake. Do a bit of research before you spout off next time.

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By The Taxman (anonymous) | Posted June 30, 2009 at 16:09:48

@Capitalist gas taxes are an Excise Tax, a duty charged on goods produced inside the country -- as opposed to a customs duty, which is charged on goods imported, or a GST/VAT, which is charged when goods are sold. The more you know.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 30, 2009 at 21:19:50

About insurance ... everybody knows vehicles are capable of causing enormous amounts of damage. (I was there when the SUV smashed up York Blvd last Friday. I did not witness the accident but rounded the corner within seconds after. Worst scene I ever saw in person).

A small auto accident easily overshoots the cost of a bicycle collision. If a bicycle has ever totalled a car (let alone several) it would be interesting to hear of it.

Given the apparent undertaking required just to crackdown on riding on sidewalks given the shortfall of facilities, it seems difficult to even attempt the logistics of mandatory insurance for such stuff.

Anyway, when you read/watch the evening news, it is not bicycles smearing families all over the pavement, or smashing through store fronts.

Since damages easily and immediately exceed the financial abilities of the person at fault, an insurance infrastructure to facilitate risks of high powered motors was devised.

But yeah, like the other person said, Amsterdamers, Copenhageners and Groningeners don't worry about this stuff. They just live normally. So ignore the retards and do the same :)

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 30, 2009 at 21:24:46

Sorry one more thought. With insurance, by design, anyone paying premiums but driving safely and never having an accident is subsidising those who are smashing through store fronts and killing families. Cue outrage ... (mike ducks :)

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted July 15, 2009 at 22:30:00

It's hard to imagine how even a bike going at 50km/h could cause more damage to a car than a hammer, a brick or a good solid boot. Perhaps we should require hammer insurance. Perhaps we should institute graduated licencing for the handling of bricks (B1 gives you access to bricks, supervised, B2 gives you cinder blocks, etc). Maybe we should even start taxing footwear for wear and tear on sidewalks and linoleum floors.

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By canbyte (registered) | Posted July 25, 2009 at 20:11:23

Hey folks, what does all that tax money gonna do in January? I'm all for biking, a modest bike systems, etc but a full scale plan with dedicated bike lanes is a bad/ costly idea. The only benefit is in the summer, the costs (including pollution from more congestion) go all year without some complex idea for switching things back to 'normal' in winter. The cities on the list you like to mention are not in snow belts and nowhere do we really see biking in wintry weather, a few diehards notwithstanding. The whole debate is rather stupid since the root cause - urban sprawl - is not addressed. Fix that and there is no real need to change anything.

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