Special Report: Cycling

Why Children do not Cycle to Central Elementary School

Five minutes on Bay Street confirmed parents' and children's fear of traffic violence from the lack of physical protection for people on bicycles.

By Kevin Love
Published July 03, 2018

The last day of school! Every adult remembers that special freedom day from when they were a child. This year, Thursday, June 28 was the last day of the school year at Central Elementary School.

Central School (RTH file photo)
Central School (RTH file photo)

But where are all the children cycling to school? Why do children arriving at Central Elementary not look like the children in this video?

Why do we not see bikes parked at Central Elementary School like this?

Bikes parked at school in winter (Image Credit: A View from the Cycle Path)
Bikes parked at school in winter (Image Credit: A View from the Cycle Path)

Why do we not see Hamilton's high school parking lots looking like this?

Bikes parked at high school in the Netherlands (Image Credit: A View from the Cycle Path)
Bikes parked at high school in the Netherlands (Image Credit: A View from the Cycle Path)

After all, the Durand neighbourhood is Hamilton's most densely populated neighbourhood. And last year, the City of Hamilton installed new Bay Street Bike Lanes right next to Central Elementary School.

The new bike lanes opened with lots of publicity. And the weather was beautiful. And yet, when I stood outside Central Elementary School before school opening time on June 28, precisely zero children were using those bike lanes to ride to school.

Why not?

After all, in The Netherlands, 49 percent of primary school children cycle to school, with the average age children start to travel unaccompanied to school being 8.6 years old.

For high school students, this increases to 75 percent. Why is this not true in Hamilton?

To answer these questions, I went around to Central Elementary School on the morning of June 28 and asked people. Specifically, I asked ten parents and two children travelling by themselves to school the following question, "Why are you not riding a bike to school?"

The answer was the same 100 percent of the time: Fear of traffic violence. Car drivers have terrorized children off of Bay Street.

When asked specifically about the Bay Street Bike Lanes, there was once again a unanimous answer: A painted line offers no protection.

The respondents referred specifically to how they were frightened by car drivers driving on or over the white line marking the bike lane. And two people pointed to car drivers who were currently engaged in doing just that.

People arriving at Central Elementary School
People arriving at Central Elementary School

Note the large group of children, with one child walking in the bike lane
Note the large group of children, with one child walking in the bike lane

Human safety and Ontario law requires a minimum of one metre safe passing distance between a bicycle and a motor vehicle.

Each of these bicycle lanes is only 1.5 metres wide. The normal space, elbow to elbow, of someone riding a bike is approximately one metre. So a motor vehicle operator who is driving on the white line is providing only 0.25 metres passing distance to someone riding in the centre of the northbound bike lane.

This is illegal and profoundly dangerous. It also fully explains why there were zero children riding to school on the bike lanes that the City of Hamilton installed. Note also that there were zero Hamilton Police officers to be seen enforcing the law in order to provide child safety.

Five Minutes on Bay Street

To see how bad this problem is, I spent five minutes on Bay Street from 8:30 to 8:35 AM, and counted the number of car and truck drivers who drove on or over the painted line marking the bike lane. Whenever this happened, I took a photo. Here they are.

Two drivers on or over the line
Two drivers on or over the line

Two car drivers are on or over the line in this photo. Note the two pedestrians on the left. In subsequent photos, we will see them walking down the street. This gives a sense of how quickly these photos were taken. Note also how there is plenty of room for the car drivers to drive further to the right to allow for one metre safe passing distance.

Third car on or over the line
Third car on or over the line

Another car driver over the line. Note the two original car drivers, further down the street, are still on or over the line. Count now at three. Note that the driver of the green car in the foreground will be on or over the line in the next photo.

Two more cars on or over the line
Two more cars on or over the line

Another car driver, this time far over the line. The driver of the green car from the previous photo can be seen ahead of him. The count is now five.

Next car on or over the line
Next car on or over the line

The very next car is also on or over the line. The count is now six.

A seventh car on the line
A seventh car on the line

I almost did not include this photo, as the car driver is just touching the white line. But he is still well within one metre of anyone in the centre of the northbound bike lane. The count is now seven.

Two more drivers passing a cyclist
Two more drivers passing a cyclist

Both car drivers passed the person riding a bike by less than 50 cm. Yikes! The count is now nine.

Tenth driver crossing the line
Tenth driver crossing the line

This driver went right over the line. The count is now ten.

Eleventh driver on the line
Eleventh driver on the line

With this driver, the count is now eleven.

Twelfth driver crossing the line
Twelfth driver crossing the line

Right over the line. The count is now twelve.

13th driver over the line
13th driver over the line

This driver's tires are well over the line. The count is now 13.

14th driver touching the line
14th driver touching the line

This driver's tires are touching the line. The count is now 14.

Two more drivers right over the line
Two more drivers right over the line

Both of these car drivers are across the line. The count is now 16.

17th driver crossing the line
17th driver crossing the line

The driver of the car in front makes the count 17. Note that the rear car driver is driving away from the line and staying in his lane, proving that it can be done.

18th driver crossing the line
18th driver crossing the line

With the grey car, the count is now 18.

19th driver on the line
19th driver on the line

The grey car from the previous photo is still on the line, and the car behind is also on the line. The count is now 19.

20th driver on the line
20th driver on the line

The van makes 20.

21st driver on the line
21st driver on the line

The white hatchback makes 21.

Truck almost halfway into the bike lane
Truck almost halfway into the bike lane

Wow! A truck is almost halfway into the entire bike lane. The count is now 22.

Truck still driving in bike lane
Truck still driving in bike lane

Yes, the truck driver drove almost halfway into the bike lane all the way down Bay Street. Scary! The count is still 22.

23rd driver on the line
23rd driver on the line

The count is now 23. Note the logo on the door of the car on the right. This is an official City of Hamilton car.

24th driver on the line
24th driver on the line

And the City of Hamilton driver is driving right over the line and into the bike lane. The count is now 24.

25th driver on the line
25th driver on the line

The black car makes 25.

26th driver on the line
26th driver on the line

The tax driver is the 26th driver to cross the line.

27th driver on the line
27th driver on the line

The count is now 27.

28th driver over the line
28th driver over the line

With this car crossing right over the line, the count is now 28.

29th driver buzzed past a cyclist
29th driver buzzed past a cyclist

Another car right over the line, after passing the woman cycling by less than 50 cm. Scary! The count is now 29.

30th driver over the line
30th driver over the line

The next driver went right over the line. The count is now 30.

31st driver on the line
31st driver on the line

Another taxi, this one also on the line. The count is now 31.

32nd driver on the line
32nd driver on the line

The count is now 32.

33rd driver on the line
33rd driver on the line

The count is now 33. Note that the car in front is staying in its lane, again proving that this is possible.

34th driver over the line
34th driver over the line

The red car (ironically lugging bikes) makes the total 34. I'm not even counting the turning car driver.

34 Drivers in Five Minutes

So there we have it. In five minutes, 34 car and truck drivers chose to drive on or over the painted line marking the bike lane, giving less than the legally required one metre of passing distance to anyone in the northbound bicycle lane.

In three of those cases, the motor vehicle operator actually did pass someone riding a bicycle with less than 50 cm of passing room.

This behaviour is dangerous, scary and very illegal. But the Hamilton Police were not present to enforce the law.

As we see in the photos, there was plenty of room for each of those three motor vehicle operators to give the legally-required one metre of passing distance.

But they and other car drivers have chosen to violate the law in a way that is dangerous, illegal and so scary that they have successfully terrorized each and every child at Central Elementary School off the road.

Kevin is a professional accountant and a retired infantry officer with the Canadian Forces. Kevin keeps encountering people who were students of his father, Dr. Robert Love, who was a professor at MacMaster University from 1977-2008. He lives near Durand Park in Hamilton and is currently Vice-Chair of the Hamilton Cycling Committee.

6 Comments

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By OliverV (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 10:47:13

This shows something that I have noticed on my daily commute. I find that car drivers pass CLOSER to me when I am in the Cannon St bike lanes (East of Melrose, where there is a lane on either side of the Street) than when I turn up Kenilworth and there is no bike lane. The reason for this, I think, is mainly that the bike lane gives the impression that as long as the car does not cross the line, the position is correct. Drivers do not need to think as much about lane position, so just carry on regardless of the presence of a cyclist. As Kevin stated, however, being on the line gives much less than the required 1m passing distance.

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By chis (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 14:04:47

Bike lanes need to be all or nothing - either segregate them or encourage cyclists to take the right-most lane with signage for drivers to respect them (ex the small strip of Cannon East of Gage). A half-baked solution, like the Southern half of the Bay line, is MORE dangerous than simply letting cyclists and drivers share the road and working together. If there wasn't enough space to segregate the lanes safely, the city should have followed the Herkimer/Charlton model with a single parallel lane instead of allowing an unprotected contraflow lane.

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By Tybalt (registered) | Posted July 03, 2018 at 15:12:38

Superb documentation of a concrete local issue! Please engage Councillor Farr and Trustee Bingham!

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By Dylan (registered) | Posted July 06, 2018 at 05:19:56

Does anyone else find the bot above kind of hilarious?

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted July 06, 2018 at 08:00:33 in reply to Comment 123239

Heh, sorry about the comment bot but I'm glad this one was at least entertaining.

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By andrew.martin (registered) | Posted July 06, 2018 at 12:57:16

Thanks for this article. There are two other glaring issues I notice, both of which stem from lack of separation or poor design:

  1. cars turning from a street with a painted lane bike lane will invariably, 9.9 times out of 10, cut into the bike lane before turning. The tendency by far is to cut off the corner. This is both dangerous, and cuts off the cyclist if the lane is clear but the car is in traffic.

  2. cars crossing perpendicular to the street, as on Bay street, where there is a bidirectional bike lane, rarely look both ways. The first instinct of many drivers on approaching the intersection is to only look in the direction cars are coming, and seeing none, to attempt the cross. Only when they start the cross do they see the bike and then it's a split second decision to either stop or try to beat the bike. If I'm travelling south on Bay, I have my hands on the brakes whenever I see a car pull up to a stop sign from a side street.

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