The two-wheeled solution: bikes are key to our future

This article was originally published on August 10, 2016 in The Hamilton Spectator.

One of the best ways to see the city is through a bike tour.

It’s fast enough to get around, but slow enough to observe the details along the way. Because you are exposed to traffic and your surroundings, you get to see the city on ground level.

You get to see what the city is made of.

That was the goal behind HIVEX Cycle City: to encourage young professionals to explore Hamilton’s historic and heritage sites and foster a deeper understanding of city development and infrastructure. The three-hour bike tour organized by Hamilton HIVE took 25 cyclists to four notable city landmarks: Liuna Station, Dundurn Castle, Gore Park and The Cotton Factory.

The cyclists discovered stories behind the landmarks that are common sights. The magnificent Liuna Station on James Street North, formerly the Canadian National Railway station, was once a gateway to Hamilton for many immigrants. While the CN rail tracks no longer ferry passengers from there, the modern West Harbour GO station across the street is now a hub for intercity travel — a classic case of past and present converging.

Cyclists also learned about the renewal at the core. The Gore Park “Pedestrianization Initiative” is a three-phase project aimed to upgrade the park and make it more walkable. The first phase, completed in 2015, yielded a refurbished cenotaph among other things. The second phase, well underway, calls for an upgraded Central Garden Block (between James and Hughson streets) involving new trees, sidewalk repairs/replacement and upgraded lighting and more. The $1.7-million Phase 2 project is slated to be completed by the end of October.

A bike tour is more than just sightseeing. Cyclists learn to share the road. By being exposed to passing vehicles at varying speeds, you can understand why there is a need for more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly streets. Hamilton pedestrians are up to 42 per cent more likely to be injured compared to the provincewide rate, says a 2013 Social Planning and Research Council report. For cyclists that rate is almost doubled, as high as 81 per cent.

This is why bike lanes matter. The two-way protected Cannon Street bike lanes, launched in the fall of 2014, provide a safer route for cyclists to navigate downtown. On average, the city sees 500 trips a day on the route. The number of collisions, however, has also increased; 26 crashes involving cars, bikes and e-bikes in the first year.

Yet, cycling culture is here to stay. Hamilton is already seeing an appetite for alternative and sustainable modes of transportation. A record 792 people registered for Bike to Work Day this year. Twenty per cent who did so cycled to work for the first time, according to Smart Commute Hamilton. During Bike Month (May 30 to June 30), 22,534 trips on the Cannon lanes were made, peaking at 864 trips on Bike to Work Day. The SoBi bike share system has more than 10,000 active members.

Let’s keep rolling and build infrastructure to support that.