Special Report: Cycling

Yes, You Can Shop on a Bike

Being an effective City Councillor requires humility to recognize you don't know everything, openness to others' lived experience, imagination to see possible alternative futures, and compassion for people who aren't exactly like you.

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 14, 2020

Yesterday, the Public Works Committee churlishly voted 6-4 against receiving a design report from staff on the long-awaited bike connection on Hunter Street between Catharine Street and MacNab Street. You can watch the debate and vote, starting at 34:14 in the meeting video.

Currently, Hunter Street has unprotected two-way bike lanes between Catharine and Liberty Street and betweeen MacNab and Queen Street. They were installed in 2014 after being delayed in 2013 when staff were pulled off the project to install the ill-fated transit lane on King.

Hunter Street bike lane at MacNab
Hunter Street bike lane at MacNab

A three-block segment of Hunter between Catharine and MacNab, which runs right past Hunter GO Station, has no cycling infrastructure. That section was deferred when the lanes were first built, and has continued to be deferred every year since then. Staff started working on a design for the final section a year ago.

The Hunter bike lanes were never good enough to be considered serious cycling infrastructure. In addition to the glaring absence of a connection to the single biggest trip generator on the entire route - the GO station - the bike lanes have no physical protection whatsoever, aside from a few flimsy knockdown sticks between MacNab and Park.

In 2018, the City resurfaced Hunter Street between James and Bay. This would have been an easy opportunity to improve the bike lanes by adding proper physical protection, but of course the city just rebuilt it exactly the same as before.

In addition to not physically protecting cyclists, the lack of a physical barrier also means the Hunter bike lanes are constantly blocked by cars and trucks parked illegally in the lane.

Car blocking the Hunter bike lanes at Park after driving over a knockdown stick
Car blocking the Hunter bike lanes at Park after driving over a knockdown stick

Councillor Pauls' Tone-Deaf Comments

So when the Public Works committee voted against receiving the staff update, cycling advocates were understandably frustrated. Drawing special attention was the bizarre and tone-deaf commentary of Ward 7 Councillor Esther Pauls, who offered an astonishing explanation for voting against the report:

You believe that biking is the only safe movement? Which we've shown that very few people bike. Maybe there's, say, 100. What is our population? Almost 550,000? We're trying to say we've got to get everybody off the road by biking all the time.

I have to be truthful, when I come down, I see people begging for money on those bike lanes. And I turn and okay, you try to give them some money. They're not using for bike lanes. Let's be honest. Recreational biking is different than going to work on a bike.

How do you shop on a bike? Do you buy anything? Someone said, 'I go grocery shopping.' I couldn't grocery shop on a bike. The bags are heavy. How do I do that? Let's be reasonable. Let's talk frankly.

There's lots to unpack in that comment, including an utterly bogus guesstimation of how many people ride bikes in Hamilton and some truly cringe-worthy classism. CBC reporter Samantha Craggs thoroughly debunks the 100 cyclists claim in her article, so I'd like to focus on her last point about shopping on a bike.

Councillor Pauls is an Ironman triathlete and a small business owner who operates a sports store in Westdale, so her perspective on whether you can shop on a bike is particularly fascinating.

Shopping With a Bike

Of course, the easiest way to carry shopping on a bike is with a handlebar basket, which you can buy new for around $30 or used for much less. I don't have a bike basket but I will often rent a Hamilton Bike Share bike if I need to pick something up. Protip: the white, eight-speed SoBi bikes have finer mesh baskets so you don't have to worry about small items falling out.

Fine mesh basket on eight-speed white SoBi bike
Fine mesh basket on eight-speed white SoBi bike

Next up, you can install a rear tire rack and panniers to hold more stuff than you can fit in a basket. A rack will run you around $25 new, and you can get good waterproof panniers for around $30 new. My panniers are very simple and rugged and I've had them for about 20 years now.

Bike with panniers outside Dundurn Fortinos
Bike with panniers outside Dundurn Fortinos

In a pinch, if you have more stuff than you can fit in your panniers, you can always hang additional bags from your handlebars. Note: I don't recommend this, as it is slightly dangerous due to the swinging weight on your handlebars that can catch in your tires.

Bike with panniers and handlebar bags
Bike with panniers and handlebar bags

If you have a bungee cord, you can also strap items to the top of the tire rack.

Case of soda strapped to bike rack
Case of soda strapped to bike rack

I've even been known to strap a pie to the rack for dessert.

The pie even made it home in one piece
The pie even made it home in one piece

If you want to get into some more serious haulage, you can buy a cargo trailer for around $150-200 new. My trailer is a couple of years old and can easily carry $200 worth of groceries.

Bike with cargo trailer outside Main West Fortinos
Bike with cargo trailer outside Main West Fortinos

I will sometimes take my bike and trailer to Costco in Ancaster (after having been inspired by the example of fellow cyclist Kevin Love). They've even got a bike rack on the side of the main entrance.

Bike with trailer at Ancaster Costco
Bike with trailer at Ancaster Costco

On major occasions, you can combine panniers and cargo trailer. This is my haul right before Christmas in 2018 and it includes two 15-lb turkeys.

Bike with trailer and panniers at Main West Fortinos
Bike with trailer and panniers at Main West Fortinos

And if all else fails, you can always use a simple backpack.

Bike Lanes are Good for Business

Councillor Pauls is also a small-business owner, and street retail owners are notoriously afraid that bike lanes will somehow hurt their business. The good news is that this fear is entirely unfounded: bike lanes actually improve local business.

Far from not being able to shop, cyclists are found to be particularly good customers, spending more money per week than drivers. Maybe it's beause of all the money they are saving by riding bikes instead of driving.

This effect is observed everywhere bike lanes are installed on retail streets, including a 2019 study that specifically looked at a bike lane installed on Bloor Street in Toronto. Like studies in other cities, it found that business actually improved along that stretch of Bloor after the lanes were installed.

The effect is consistent over time and across various cities all over North America and around the world.

Listen and Learn

So the question for Pauls is: Are you going to make decisions affecting the entire city based narrowly on your own subjective impressions, or are you willing to listen and learn from the experiences of others and study the actual research?

Being an effective City Councillor requires humility to recognize you don't know everything, openness to others' lived experience, imagination to see possible alternative futures, and compassion for people who aren't exactly like you.

Recreational and competitive cycling is great. I love going for long rides in the country. But bikes aren't just expensive toys for weekend road warriors. They can also be highly effective, affordable, healthy and sustainable transportation - if we make the city safe for cycling.

The City's own data demonstrates that ridership growth is strongest where the cycling infrastructure is the most robust. The highest ridership growth has been on Cannon Street, where the two-way cycle track is physically protected from automobiles.

I urge Councillor Pauls and her colleagues to step out of their own narrow perspectives, look at what is actually working in cities around the world - including here in Hamilton - and make decisions based on evidence, not knee-jerk reaction.

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

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By ceesvang (registered) | Posted January 14, 2020 at 10:07:56

Well put and amen!

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By CareBear (registered) | Posted January 14, 2020 at 12:36:29

I often find I'm MORE inclined to shop locally when I can go by foot or bicycle. Especially in downtown areas where stores are nearby and parking may be more challenging to find, hopping on the bike just makes way more sense. Sobi has also increased this ease as being able to grab a bike quickly while on break or lunch from work can allow me to quickly run an errand and get out of the office at the same time.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted January 14, 2020 at 14:21:08

The question should really be, how much do you want to change your life habits, so you will use your bike to shop? Sure you can do it but the people who say they can't are just saying, "I don't want to change my current life habits and routines so an attempt can be made to shop using a bike!" Having to break longtime behavior and life patterns are hard. Especially, if the new behaviour is believed to be unpleasant by the person making the attempt. They have to want to do it.

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted January 14, 2020 at 18:30:10

A great article! Good to know that I was a factor in inspiring Ryan to take his trailer for shopping at Costco.

For another take on the issue of shopping by bike, please see my 2015 article here:

https://raisethehammer.org/article/2506/...

Not much has changed in the last 5 years.

The only thing that I would add to Ryan's article is a reference to specialized cargo bicycles. These bicycles can carry a vast quantity of cargo, including the most precious type, our children. Here is a video of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander of The Netherlands carrying on a cargo bicycle his two oldest daughters, Crown Princess Amelia and Princess Alexia. Note that the title "Crown Princess" designates the heir to the Throne of The Netherlands.

https://youtu.be/CI3RkICZn94

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By fmurray (registered) | Posted January 14, 2020 at 19:34:57

Thank you for posting the video. It was highly entertaining (or something) to watch Terry Whitehead come to the defense of pedestrian infrastructure!

Otherwise, how depressing was that display of ignorance and stupidity on the part of councillors? I can't even grasp how they learn to argue on every different side of a debate except the right one.

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By infowarrior_block (registered) - website | Posted January 15, 2020 at 12:06:45

This article is arguably worse than CBC propaganda.

THE HAMILTON, ONTARIO, BAY STREET BIKE LANES FIASCO.

https://www.bitchute.com/video/fba9QXbuP...

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By WRCU2 (registered) - website | Posted February 13, 2020 at 14:58:48 in reply to Comment 130494

Thanks for sharing Hans.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted January 16, 2020 at 06:27:32 in reply to Comment 130494

ok boomer

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