Transportation

Bike Lanes Make Cycling Cool

By Ryan McGreal
Published March 20, 2012

When it comes to transportation modes, culture follows infrastructure. Such a simple concept, but cities that haven't built a network for cycling continue to make the excuse that people don't ride bikes because the culture doesn't support it, instead of the obvious reason. (Imagine blaming a lack of car culture if no one drove in a city that had no paved streets.)

In city after city around the world, no matter the geography or climate, once a real bike lane network is in place, people come up with all kinds of wonderful reasons to ride a bike - after all, cycling is a practical, healthy, invigorating and above all fun way to get around a city.

But when a city actually invests in cycling infrastructure and cycling goes up, the underlying reason - the reason that makes all the other reasons possible - is that it becomes possible to choose to ride a bike.

Before cycling can elevate a city, you need bike lanes to elevate cycling. It's that simple.

(h/t to Jason Leach for finding this documentary)

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 writes 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 and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

43 Comments

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Read Comments

[ - ]

By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 15:09:10

I have rode a bike for most of my youth (particularly before I had a driver's licence) and I never needed bike lanes to do it.

Permalink | Context

By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 18:27:09 in reply to Comment 75301

I don't disagree, I'm sure you did bike frequently without bike lanes. So did I.

I think the question is, would you be more likely to bike now, at your present age and circumstances, if there were bike lanes?

At present, the majority of people seem to ride their bike either for recreation/athletics, or when "forced" (e.g. young Capitalist in their pre-driver's licence years).

If infrastructure was in place that made bike riding more pleasant and safer, would you choose to ride your bike more often? Would it make any difference at all? Maybe for you the answer is no, but evidence from cities around the world suggests there are a number of people who will chose to bike - at least some of the time - if given safe, convenient and "fun" routes.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:35:55 in reply to Comment 75305

Yup. Personally, I go racing traffic often myself - I have no problem pulling my bike into the blender.

But when I haul my kids in the Chariot trailer? No, I stick to side-roads and bike-lanes for that, no exceptions.

More bike lanes means I can take my kids more places by bike.

Permalink | Context

By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:24:59 in reply to Comment 75305

To answer your question, now that I have my driver's licence and am more aware of a driver's driving habits I would not ride my bike on the road with or without bike lanes, it is just too dangerous. I keep bike riding to paths and parks.

Permalink | Context

By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 11:58:22 in reply to Comment 75326

Well, there you have it then, you are exactly the kind of person the City wants to get cycling. Imagine if you could cycle to your parks and paths, rather than having to drive there.

If bike lanes won't make you feel safe enough we'll have to figure out what will make you feel safe enough to bike and implment that feature instead (walled off bike lanes?).

Permalink | Context

By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 14:08:23 in reply to Comment 75334

I don't think anything wil make me feel safe enough. A bike coming in contact with a 2 tonne car is no contest.

Permalink | Context

By arienc (registered) | Posted March 22, 2012 at 09:35:31 in reply to Comment 75339

Here's where the going gets difficult.

Approximately 30-40% of the population are in the "no way, no how group". Whatever accomodation is provided, they don't see a use for it, and will not use it. No matter how "cool" cycling is, people like Capitalist cannot see themselves reflected in the discussion.

This is the proportion that has absolutely no desire to cycle, yet this is also the group that reaps the greatest benefit when others choose to cycle (from less car traffic for them to contend with on the remaining road space).

Their concerns largely are around the issue of sharing the space with other types of user. The prevailing view is that streets "are for cars". The concept of "sharing" that space is almost alien. Until that mentality changes, progress on cycling and pedestrian initiatives is unlikely to meet our needs.

Comment edited by arienc on 2012-03-22 09:38:22

Permalink | Context

By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 14:54:54 in reply to Comment 75339

What about a wall like the one halfway down the Jolley Cut separating the sidewalk from traffic? Would a wall like that make you feel safe?

Maybe something less barrier-like...what about something like this in Montreal:
http://www.cbc.ca/gfx/images/news/photos/2009/06/25/ottawa-090625-bike-lane-Montreal-banner.jpg

Or from Vancouver:
http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4062/4705070356_064e986fc1.jpg

Permalink | Context

By jason (registered) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 18:57:37 in reply to Comment 75305

the evidence in Hamilton also suggests safer lanes and routes are needed.
I applaud those of you who are confident enough to cycle around our high speed downtown streets. I tried a few years ago and just couldn't do it. I can cycle with some alternate, side-streets routes, but I'll never do Main again. On the other hand, I tried York Blvd ONCE before it had bike lanes and I ended up picking up my bike and putting it on the off-road trail out of sheer fear. Now with the lanes on York, I regularly use them over to the stairs down to the waterfront.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Bernie (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 19:04:41

Personally I have no use one way or the other for bike lanes. I stay off the main streets no matter whether they are there or not. A white line gives me no comfort whatever if thats what a bike lane means.

Permalink | Context

By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2012 at 22:37:04 in reply to Comment 75307

Just as the white line does not provide any comfort or safety for cyclists. It also does not prevent cyclists from suddenly jumping OUT OF the bike lanes to make a turn, take a short cut, change direction etc etc. I've witnessed it countless times both here in Hamilton driving my truck and cycling, and also in Toronto at work riding around in a Fire Truck.

I'm not opposed to bike lanes. I'm opposed to bike lanes in places where they make no sense and will only lead to tragedy. Building bike infrastructure is fine. But unless it coincides with an education and enforcement policy that treats cyclists and automobile drivers as equals and equally responsible for what happens on the streets it won't reduce accidents in my opinion. Cycling advocates cannot look through rose coloured glasses and point to automobile drivers as the cause of all car/bike carnage on the streets. It just ain't the truth.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 21:39:39

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

On one hand, I'd love to throw away my car and never look back. But, it's something that I need since I have such a long commute to work.

I also would need one for things like grocery shopping or visiting relatives who don't live in town.

Even getting from my place to relatives is about 20 minutes by car; to do that on a bike would probably be about an hour. On top of that I'd be sweaty and need to shower before being presentable... leading to bringing an alternate set of clothes.

In my youth we used to bike anywhere and everywhere around town, mostly due to the rail trail and calmer streets in the 'burbs. Now, I'd do it more in a setting like the rail trail or the bayfront, but it's impractical to juggle $50-100 of groceries on the handlebars of a bike.

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2012 at 07:19:47 in reply to Comment 75313

but it's impractical to juggle $50-100 of groceries on the handlebars of a bike.

Indeed it is. That's why bikes traditionally had rear racks and front baskets or rear pannier bags. Look around and you'll see that many bikes do have these things again.

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 22, 2012 at 07:27:03 in reply to Comment 75319

I'd already noticed that. However, it doesn't make me want to run out and buy a bike with saddle bags, etc.

Standard grocery list:

  • 1 bag milk
  • 1-2 loaves bread
  • apples
  • grapes
  • ground beef, maybe chicken if on sale
  • cereal
  • eggs
  • lettuce
  • vegetables (carrors, onion, etc)

I can't think of putting that kind of stuff into a basket or saddle bag. It'd be heavy, throw off the balance of the bike or get crushed in transit.

As has been said, I'll keep my biking to trails and less-used roads than main arteries in our fair City.

EDIT: not to mention that most bikes do not come with those accessories, thus adding an additional cost.

Comment edited by DowntownInHamilton on 2012-03-22 07:27:53

Permalink | Context

By if at first you don't succeed (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2012 at 18:33:22 in reply to Comment 75354

Just because YOU give up so easily that you aren't even willing to try does not mean that everyone else who tried and succeeded should suffer because you don't think bike infrastructure matters.

The cost of a bike with all of the accessories necessary to perform 90% of your daily tasks (especially if you live and work downtown) is less than a month's worth of gas for most people. A rear rack is like 20 bucks...

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted May 27, 2012 at 15:37:25 in reply to Comment 75427

Yeah, I'll get right on biking from my home downtown to Mississauga. The 2-day trek sounds inviting!

And yeah, $20 may not be a lot to you, but it is to me.

Permalink | Context

By highwater (registered) | Posted March 22, 2012 at 11:52:26 in reply to Comment 75354

I've hung onto our chariot even though the kids have outgrown it. I've carried six gallons of paint, a week's groceries for a family of 5, and a standard poodle (not all at once). ;-)

The chariot has the additional benefits of increasing stability, and causing cars to give me a wider berth. I've been known to take an empty chariot downtown for this reason alone.

A new chariot isn't cheap, but used ones can be found easily at relatively low cost.

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2012 at 14:50:44 in reply to Comment 75371

Even without kiddies, I've considered a used kiddie trailer for cargo - they do seem pretty versatile.

Though I've just recently acquired a not-particularly-versatile trailer which rather pleases me ...

bike with golf trailer

... and which I think that I can co-opt for some other uses. I've already determined that it will take 20 lb tank of propane, for example.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-03-22 15:19:13

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2012 at 08:00:09 in reply to Comment 75354

I can't think of putting that kind of stuff into a basket or saddle bag. It'd be heavy, throw off the balance of the bike or get crushed in transit.

Well, to be blunt - you're just wrong.

I carried more than that with negligible effort and cost in the $12 folding wire rear baskets on my hybrid - each basket fit two black, fabric PC shopping bags - or the world's largest yorkie) with room to spare. I could carry just as much in the $30 vinyl panniers I used to have on my city bike.

Poppy in a basket.

And with the old picnic basket on my front rack? Your shopping list isn't remotely a challenge.

Bike with basket

For larger shopping trips, I have three options ...

  • throw the panniers on my rear rack and bungie large items to the top of the rack
  • ask my wife to come with me and put things in her rear basket
  • take the truck

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-03-22 08:24:53

Permalink | Context

By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted March 22, 2012 at 19:54:48 in reply to Comment 75357

You have your opinion; I have mine. I can't guess as to the weight of your things, but a small dog and a few boxes (full or not? can't tell) don't do justice to lugging 30-40 pounds on a bike for a 15-20 minute ride.

Permalink | Context

By xtracycle (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2012 at 18:39:21 in reply to Comment 75396

I routinely cycle with hundreds of pounds loaded on the back of my bike. No one is saying that *you* have to do it, but it is possible - and easy - so it would be polite for you to stop telling other people that they can't.

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 22, 2012 at 23:24:37 in reply to Comment 75396

but a small dog and a few boxes (full or not? can't tell)

Sigh. Those pictures were just to show the containers.

Permalink | Context

By MissedPoint (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 22:28:52 in reply to Comment 75313

Why can't you have a bike and a car? Bikes are inexpensive, and you could use your bike to get around town or for fun, while saving your car (and money) for groceries and out-of-town excursions.

I don't think anyone is suggesting anyone get rid of their car and replace it with a bike, rather I think the point is that one could use their car less (therefor saving money while helping the environment and your health) if only a viable Network of bike lanes were available in Hamilton.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By Bernie (anonymous) | Posted March 20, 2012 at 22:42:52

There a plenty on this site that suggest we get rid of our cars and rely exclusively on public transportation and/or personal power

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 02:09:33

Seriously, biking is impractical as a transportation method for anything but leisure. Sweating during the summer means reeking at work/wherever you are going, which is not an option and winter conditions make it impractical as at best you are going to get messy, very quick on your bike or at worse be unable to traverse at all given the conditions. You can't carry a large load on a bike, and you certainly have a much higher capacity to damage what you do transport while riding one.

I would much rather the city focus on intensification and pedestrian initiatives, and leave cycling improvements to trail expansion and creating more larger parks for cycling to take place. Then and only then, if there is a massive, proven cycling culture in the city, consider expanding the existing bike lane system.

Permalink | Context

By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:23:14 in reply to Comment 75316

I'm amused to learn that I don't exist.

Permalink | Context

By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 12:06:53 in reply to Comment 75316

I guess that depends on your definition of leisure...and the distance you're travelling.

At moderate distances biking is practical withouthaving to shower or get messy - particularly in the warmer months.

Similarly, if you're making a small grocery run (some fresh bread from a local bakery, or some essentials from the convenience store) I think a bike might be just as feasible as a vehicle.

I agree that it's difficult if not impossible to live completely without a vehicle in Hamilton, but we dont' need people biking everywhere, we just want to give people the choice to bike somewhere.

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2012 at 07:17:57 in reply to Comment 75316

Seriously, biking is impractical as a transportation method for anything but leisure.

It is? Aww, man ... now I'll have to stop biking to work every day. And I guess I should have taken the truck downtown yesterday evening for that meeting instead of my bike. Crap.

Well, thanks for clarifying that for me.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-03-21 07:21:19

Permalink | Context

By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 02:18:32 in reply to Comment 75316

Also, your car culture analogy is poor, because as you have stated MANY times before, more then just cars use paved streets. Every paved street in Hamilton is technically also a piece of cycling infrastructure. It's just not utilized because of both the deterrents I have listed, and the fact that car traffic needs to be slowed down and reduced in our city.

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2012 at 07:40:43

That was a cute video and I really like the Bike Train idea. But I have a problem with designating bike lanes given the current condition of many Hamilton roadways. Has anyone here actually rode their bike on the north side of Barton from Centre Mall to downtown lately? Dozens of the storm water catch basins are like craters ready to swallow unwary bikers. You cannot ride safely near the curb anywhere along this stretch. I ride in the middle of the right hand lane to avoid swerving in and out of traffic.

I should also mention that many of the storm sewer covers on Cannon as well as Barton have their slots orientated parallel to the curb. This is very uncool especially for bikes with skinny tires and should you catch one just right, you're going over the handlebars.

Permalink | Context

By moylek (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2012 at 08:41:13 in reply to Comment 75320

But I have a problem with designating bike lanes given the current condition of many Hamilton roadways.

There are certainly cases where no bike lane would be better than a bike lane in this city - the little stretch where King West bends into Westdale for example: the curb lane is so cracked and bumpy that I have to swing out into the proper lane in order to avoid violently jarring my bike, spine and laptop.

And I'm sure that leaves motorists thinking "why the hell isn't he using the bike lane? damned cyclists ..."

Permalink | Context

By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:00:29 in reply to Comment 75321

I've always regarded those as painted-off shoulders and taken the lane anyway. Just because there's a white line doesn't mean it's a bike lane (despite what drivers like to scream at me).

Permalink | Context

[ - ]

By G (anonymous) | Posted March 21, 2012 at 10:25:48

I've been biking to work for over 20 years now.

There have been a few winters I've ridden right through, while most other wintes there are only a few days that prohibited bicycling for me cuz of snowy road conditions. Once it's cleared the enxt day, biking resumes.

I've got saddle bags on my bike that can carry quite a bit, in terms of volume and weight, and they're water proof.

Permalink | Context

By big spender (anonymous) | Posted March 24, 2012 at 18:59:51 in reply to Comment 75327

Those bags must have cost you an arm and a leg! You could have bought a car for that price I bet - and then you could have used it to get to work on the 3 days each winter that there was too much snow to cycle!

Permalink | Context

View Comments: Nested | Flat

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to comment.

Events Calendar

Recent Articles

Article Archives

Blog Archives

Site Tools

Feeds