There’s been a lot of discussion around bike lanes lately. Last week, members of Hamilton’s City Council voted to spend $1.6 million on a bi-directional bike lane that will run along Cannon Street. This is seen as a victory for those community groups seeking safer and more complete streets. One such group is Yes We Cannon.
The decision by council to fund this project hasn’t gone without criticism. There are some residents that feel this will create even more of a traffic backlog. Others are concerned that their tax dollars will be spent on something that only benefits cyclists. Members of council have even questioned the extent of public consultation involved with the project.
Despite these concerns, there are several reasons to support this decision. The addition of bike lanes across the lower part of the city will provide local commuters a safer way to travel on their bikes. It’s also a transportation option with significant health benefits. Numerous studies have reported higher levels of obesity and high blood pressure amongst Hamiltonians. A bi-directional bike lane won’t make people healthier overnight, but it will encourage physical exercise. Bike lanes may reduce the strain on public health when combined with other programs.
Bike lanes also tend to contribute positively to the local economy. In fact, it’s easy to make an argument for bike lanes based solely on economics. Hamilton’s roads are amongst its worst kept infrastructure, scoring a D- in the most recent State of the Infrastructure Report. It’s expensive to maintain roadways. Shifting the use of a single lane from motorized vehicle use to non-motorized vehicle use will reduce the frequency and overall cost of repairs.
Many opt to use sidewalks instead of the road when riding their bikes. This practice is illegal, but is often considered the safest option simply due to the speed at which motorized vehicles travel. The discrepancy in speed also sees drivers fail to maintain adequate distance from cyclists. It’s clear that the best way to share the road is to have separate bike lanes. Protected bike lanes will make Cannon Street safer for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers.
Hamilton’s made a great effort to position itself as a city with a revitalized economy and downtown core. The needs of Hamiltonians have changed. It’s time for our infrastructure to meet these needs. Bike lanes are a step in the right direction.
Update: Cannon Street’s bi-directional bike lane officially opened on September 12, 2014.