Cycling: If You Build It...

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 22, 2009

In tangent with the city's revised cycling master plan process and further to David Van Beveren's timely piece on cycle-friendly Groningen, I wanted to take a moment to point out the obvious fact that when a city commits to building a coherent, continuous network of cycling infrastructure, many more people are willing to cycle.

While we marvel at the high cycling rates in many European cities, it's easy to forget that they weren't always this way. It was through transforming their transportation infrastructure that those cities achieved very high rates of cycling and walking.

We see the same thing starting to happen today in a few North American cities that are following the same strategy, places like (big surprise) Portland and Seattle. Even New York, a city not traditionally known for bike friendliness, is getting in on the act and seeing tangible results:

Based on figures from an annual count of bicyclists conducted since 1984, the New York City Department of Transportation announced on Thursday that commuter cycling rose a remarkable 35 percent between 2007 and 2008.


"This growth is real," said Wiley Norvell, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, the leading advocacy group for cyclists and pedestrians in New York City. "It's born out by what I see on the streets every day, and we're reaping the rewards from the city's investment in bicycling over the last several years. More and better-designed bike lanes are producing more cyclists and more first-time cyclists."

Since 2007, 140 miles of new bicycle routes have been added to the on-street bicycle network.

A recent article in the Seattle Post takes an interesting look at the challenges of a city in transition from automobile-dependency to multi-modal choice. What jumped out at me was the following passage:

[Pedaling Revolution author Jeff] Mapes takes us to even more pedal-friendly cities. In Amsterdam, 40 percent of non-walking trips are by bike. He quotes, approvingly, Jack Wolters, the city's top traffic-safety officer: "The target of the police is not to control cyclists and pedestrians. It is to control the most dangerous part, motorcar drivers."

Can you imagine such an attitude from the local police force in a city like Hamilton?

As commendable as the city's revised cycling master plan is, the push to create a truly cycle-friendly network in Hamilton also needs to target the persistent institutional mentality that driving is the main attraction and other modes are just peripheral or at best complementary.

What places like Groningen teach us is that with the right political will, walking and cycling could be our principal modes with higher priority than driving - with all the tangible social, environmental and public health benefits that would accrue to such a shift.

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 Cycle ho! (anonymous) | Posted April 22, 2009 at 15:12:31

Right on! Fear stops people from riding their bikes. Safe infrastructure - and I don't even mean painted lines but real segregated bike lanes - would get people out in droves. The best part is that when you have more cyclists on the road, that in itself makes cycling safer for each cyclist because they're more visible and more expected by drivers. There's strength in numbers.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2009 at 15:55:50

First off, I want to point out that north-central Hamilton is a big dead zone of bicycle friendly planning. From Main to Barton and Ferguson to Gage, you've got nothing but screaming one-way streets and sidestreets that go nowhere. Sidewalk time.

Wake up planners! A bus ticket is prohibitively expensive to a lot of folks in that area. It's also adjacent to the workplaces in the north end.

Suggested bike lanes for the inner city:

1) Mohawk (Yeah I said it.)

2) Queensdale

3) Shorten the bumpouts on Concession

4) Main St. (You heard me.)

(* Also, a bridge across the 403 south of Main for motors AND bikes / peds is needed.)

5) Two-way York / Wilson / Cannon with lanes

6) Shorten the bumpouts on Barton

7) Burlington St.

8) Dundurn from top to bottom

9) Queen St. Southbound

10) Bay St. Northbound

11) Catherine southbound

12) Victoria Northbound from Burlington St. to Main

13) From Victoria to the Red Hill Valley, north-south biking works well with side streets

I believe these changes would improve traffic flow in Hamilton and provide more FREEDOM of CHOICE to Hamiltonians who want to cycle.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 22, 2009 at 16:02:58

this is your lucky day LL. The new Shifting Gears plan calls for lanes in central Hamilton exactly as you've suggested.

Bile lanes will go from York Blvd/403 right along Wilson/Cannon to the end of Cannon and then up to Barton into Stoney Creek. Bay St will also get bike lanes through downtown along with Ferguson.

And get this. There are plans for TWO escarpment crossings to get bike lanes - Jolley Cut and Claremont. I was on Jolley Cut today and noted the hugely wide lanes and wasted few feet in the middle of the road.

This new bike plan is GREAT news.

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By LL (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2009 at 16:06:25

Sorry I forgot about:

Charlton westbound -- Herkimer Eastbound -- a lane up the Jolley Cut (until the logical choice of an incline is realized)

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 22, 2009 at 16:21:12

yup, Charlton, Herkimer and Locke are all included in the new plan.

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By Daddy Big Bucks (anonymous) | Posted April 24, 2009 at 14:09:46

Yes, bikes are affordable transportation and I push around an economical CTC special on my own few, sad forays onto the trails. For a while I even tested my adaptability on a re-built used model. However, I think it's time to talk about the role of biking as economic stimulant to encourage the development of trails.

First, in my experience few of the successful, independent bike shops I've visited survive by competing with the low-end economies of the chains. There does seem to be a market for the latest expensive technologies and biking fashions. True such items might not add up to the price of a new car, but affordability does bring more people into the market, and frees up funds for more purchases in a consumer society.

It also seems to me that biking, as opposed to driving, has many of the advantages attributed to slowing traffic through commercial districts. It's easier to see store-front displays or stop for a refreshment than when racing down an expressway. No need for expensive drive-thru conversions either.

I suspect a shift to more biking will support smaller merchants who offer products that will appeal to more specialized, individualized tastes too, merely by slowing traffic. It's part of a more service-oriented economy. Wally World won't disappear anytime soon, but who seriously wants to bike through commercial power centres? Biking supports economic diversity.

Diversity is what makes cities interesting. No point going to Chicago, Montreal, New York etc. if they were merely bigger versions of Mississauga. So by supporting local economic diversity, the development of bike routes helps to support tourism.

I've long wondered why Blue Mountain Resort, now owned by a very large and sophisticated marketing organization, could develop the Collingwood ski resort to include summer mountain biking while Hamilton couldn't figure out what to do with Chedoke & King's Forest hills since snow seasons have grown so short, but then I'm not too clever myself.

Change itself is an economic stimulant. It may be the only truely reliable one.

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