Belonging

Bicycle Routes Support Healthy Child Development

Council would do well to remember that a healthy city makes it possible for growing children and teens to do interesting and productive things as independently as possible.

By Michelle Martin
Published June 18, 2009

Frequent RTH commenter Meredith made an excellent point following the last column I wrote. Writing about adolescence, referring to some ideas she's read, she noted "...how low expectations and disempowerment create many problems we have now."

I think a case in point is the lack of safe bicycle routes in Hamilton (oh, for the love of Pete - those RTH people just won't shut up about bikes). Bear with me here, I'll tell you what I mean.

I did not drive until I was 28 and it became necessary for my job because working in a group home generally involves some driving. As a teenager growing up in Oakville, I rode my old CCM Targa ladies' 10-speed racer all over town.

Traffic being lighter in those days, I easily made it to my summer job (near Trafalgar Road), from my house (just off Bronte Road, a little north of the lake). The existence of a paved bicycle path for a good portion of the route along Rebecca Street helped, and because my shifts normally finished at midnight, I was able to ride home quickly on well-lit roads with very few cars.

It was absolutely safer than waiting for a bus. That trusty Targa met most of my transportation needs between the ages of thirteen and twenty-two.

Now let's contrast that with typical middle class sixteen-year-olds of today here in Hamilton (we'll stick with middle class for a minute, because that was the context of my own youth).

Let's say they've got a part time job, or a volunteer position, or an extra-curricular activity of some kind that ends after dark. Remember that even if they have a driver's license, the family car isn't always available.

For them to get home safely, Mom or Dad have to either pick them up (like my husband and I occasionally end up doing) or let them wait for a bus by themselves - which may be a long time coming after rush hour, or off the busiest routes. If they have to wait for the bus themselves, their parents feel the need to equip them with a cell phone.

Think about it. If parents wish to encourage their children to pursue a job or an interest independently, they have to take back some of that independence by playing chauffeur, or by providing an expensive piece of electronic equipment and paying the bills for it.

But hard economic times are upon us - so let's move away from the middle class and our somewhat self-created problems (if we wanted, we could say no cell phone, or no job or activities unless the kids can get themselves there during daylight hours).

Let's think instead about families and teenagers who don't own a car and can't afford bus fare, and who don't live within easy walking distance of, say, a library.

When we lived there, our end of Toronto (Etobicoke south of the Queensway) contained four libraries. Each reached easily on foot from anywhere in their respective neighbourhoods.

Hamilton is a decidedly different library experience. We are fortunate in our particular location in that my older kids can bike to Kenilworth Library because there is a paved path that takes them from our neighbourhood to there - though unfortunately they still have to get to the bike path by riding down Ottawa Street and crossing Main Street East.

Is that the case for all the libraries in Hamilton?

It's all well and good to provide free bikes, bike repairs and helmets to disadvantaged youngsters - but if they are still confined to their immediate neighbourhood for safety's sake as they grow into teenagers, the benefits of wonderful programs like City Kidz and Recycle Cycles are prevented from being all that they could be.

Council would do well to remember that a healthy city makes it possible for growing children and teens to do interesting and productive things as independently as possible.

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton where she and her husband are watching their 10 children fly the nest, one by one. She has been published in both the Hamilton Spectator and Raise the Hammer, as well as in the online edition of the National Post and, more recently, in the Canadian Urban Transit Association's Urban Mobility Forum. Michelle is coordinator of the Community Access to Transportation program. She was formerly on the writing/copy editing team of the original Crown Point hub paper, The Point. However, the opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own. She sometimes tweets @deltawestmom

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 18, 2009 at 09:29:02

Great piece Michelle.

No need to apologize for yet another bike piece on RTH. It needs to be heard, especially in this city of ours. We have leaders who love the idea of spending billions on highways, hundreds of millions on stadiums and aerotropolis, yet can't see the tremendous value in quality of life, child-raising and safe streets that relatively minor investment in bike infrastructure would yield.
As far as transportation modes go, the bicycle is by far the cheapest to implement. And for the record, I'm not necessarily against some bigger projects. I hope we land an NHL team. I hope we get a new harbourfront stadium, and I hope we get light rail.

But it can't be denied - bike infrastructure is a no-brainer. Whether in warm climates like San Francisco, wet/mild climates like Portland or downright frigid climates like Montreal, it has been proven all over the globe - build it and they will ride.

One of the reasons my wife and I love living downtown is the availability of walking,cycling and transit as legit modes of transportation. How wonderful would it be for our children as they grow up to be able to get part-time jobs and have safe, convenient cycling routes to work instead of always needing to be driven everywhere. It's good for their health, good for developing responsibility and good for local businesses accustomed to hearing young people turn down jobs or lose jobs due to someone forgetting to drive them to work, or keeping the car out too long.

Bike infrastructure needs a forum, and it appears as though RTH has become the place. We shouldn't be apologizing for that. We should be ashamed to live in a city where a healthy form of transportation is looked down upon.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted June 18, 2009 at 10:01:30

Great read!!

I sent an email to all of council, incl Myr Fred, pushing the 'Best Place to Raise a Family' claim in order to hopefully speed up the cycling master plan.

This City needs a connective system of bike paths now, so might as well work it in with Light Rail.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2009 at 22:14:24

I know one 15-year-old whose bike broke irreparably a month ago. He can't afford to buy a new one or pay for bus fare. Before it broke, he was biking everywhere: from his part-time job to his Saturday volunteering at City Kidz several kilometres away from his home.

After it broke, he was WALKING there to volunteer until he had another bike loaned to him for the summer.

If anyone deserves a city where you can bike safely, it's young people like him.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 15:01:49

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 15:13:22

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2009 at 21:39:58

Oh, I think what Capitalist's remarks (above) are just a round-a-bout way of saying we should build more libraries, swimming pools, skating rinks, community centres etc., and closer together. That way we won't have to worry about the safety 12 year-olds while they are trying to get to them. They could all just walk!

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By arienc (registered) | Posted June 19, 2009 at 22:05:18

Well...from my own experience coming from a middle/working class family...most of the cost of getting through university, as well as the freedom to live and spend as a teenager came thanks to having the ability to cycle to my part-time job at Mickey D's. My parents were too busy working to pay the bills to drive me everywhere, so for me, cycling was my way obtaining freedom.

The kind of parents I had were the kind of parents who believed in hard work, and giving a young person enough freedom to create his own destiny. Thanks to that part-time job, that education it enabled and several years of, their trust paid off OK.

Of course in the mid 80's, traffic was not what it is now. However it is my hope that today's teens are able to take advantage of the opportunities that I had. If bike lanes help do that, I'm all for it.

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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2009 at 12:57:54

"Oh, I think what Capitalist's remarks (above) are just a round-a-bout way of saying we should build more libraries, swimming pools, skating rinks, community centres etc., and closer together. "

Michelle, sound good so long as you are will to pay to build and operate all these new facilities out of your own pocket without having to come to the taxpayer.

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By Ridikulus (anonymous) | Posted June 23, 2009 at 13:11:26

@Capitalist yeah, nothing says high quality of life like private pools, private libraries, private "community" centers that make you pay at the door. Let's just privatize our schools while we're at it, why should my taxes go to pay for your kid to get an education, it's not like he might end up working for me one day or something...

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 23, 2009 at 15:46:50

"Michelle, sound good so long as you are will to pay to build and operate all these new facilities out of your own pocket without having to come to the taxpayer."

--whoosh.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2009 at 19:14:00

Ryan >> The whole point of bike lanes is to make cycling safer by dedicating space for cyclists on the street;

Why don't you run for council already? You are smart and passionate about this city, what are you waiting for? If you are correct about increased cycling infrastructure helping to make this city a better place to live, your refusal to join the fray is delaying this process. Ryan for Mayor in 2010!

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamilton,_Ontario_municipal_election,_2010

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted January 07, 2010 at 13:33:24

sigh We shouldn't be too hard on Capitalist: he's too busy riding his hobby horse to make sensible statements about riding a bike.

Like most suburban kids, I spent a good chunk of my childhood on a bike: biking on the road from the age of nine and put my whole town and beyond at my feet: Grimsby and beyond to St. Catherine's and Hamilton. That said, I'd be reluctant to suggest that anyone under fourteen try to criss-cross lower Hamilton on a bike. A few well-placed bike lanes would make that much safer. And at a very minor cost.

And who will pay for these bike routes? I will and you will. We the taxpayers of Hamilton will. Just like we pay for the expressway in the East end that I never drive on, and the bumpy roads through my neighbourhood, and the arenas and pools that I never use.


Kenneth Moyle Hamilton, Ontario

[Comment edited by moylek on 2010-01-07 12:33:41]

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