What Cycling Needs is Good Infrastructure

By John Neary
Published April 18, 2012

Despite evidence that cycling is safe and is made safer by creating better infrastructure and getting more people to bicycle - not from changing cyclists' behavior - the City of Hamilton remains obsessed with the latter.

The City's Cycling Education page includes such unhelpful pointers as:

These tips must be offered because cyclists, unlike motorists, break the Highway Traffic Act on a routine basis. And because riding on the sidewalk is a product of ignorance, not of a network of high-speed one-way streets and downtown mega-projects that have destroyed the connectivity of our street grid.

The City is also offering a number of cycling courses, teaching such things as "introduction to basic traffic skills", "rid[ing] safely on residential streets", and "commuting and recreational riding".

Apparently these courses are offered in order "to provide new and exciting outdoor recreation opportunities for you and your family".

The overall impression given by this page is that cycling is a dangerous activity that requires formal training. This is precisely the wrong message to send if we are really serious about promoting cycling as a means of transportation in our city.

John Neary lives in Beasley Neighbourhood and practices general internal medicine at St. Joseph's Healthcare Hamilton. He would like Hamilton to develop an urban environment that creates less gainful employment for his profession.


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By lakeside (registered) | Posted April 18, 2012 at 14:08:51

Truly sad is the way the City patronizingly posts directives to cyclists and pedestrians on their website instructing the two on how to avoid being injured by automobiles.

They go to lengths to create and maintain the impression that both are mere guests on the roads, there only but for the grace of the 'rightful' users of (publicly funded) roads -- automobiles.

I can't find anywhere on the site a page outlining the proper procedures drivers should follow to ensure safety, but maybe I'm just missing it.

The courses mentioned are presented as being useful to recreational riders. I don't know about the first couple but the CAN-Bike ones are actually excellent courses that do address bicycle riding on public roadways, with traffic.

Personally, I'm totally comfortable riding in traffic and have been doing so all my life yet I've seriously considered taking CAN-Bike 2 course anyway. I know I would learn something.

Hearing this week that the CAN-Bike courses are back in Hamilton I recommended CAN-Bike 1 to a friend yesterday, someone who just bought her first bike since becoming an adult. She wants to just get on it and pedal but I'm urging her take the course. We'll go for a trail ride this week to see if that's needed.

My task of encouraging my friend to take CAN-Bike 1 is made more difficult by the fact that none of the courses are scheduled for any downtown areas. There's nothing offered from Dundas to the RHVP, the Harbour to the Escarpment. That's an awfully large area to leave out. And isn't that where the most bicycle riders are found? It's not like many existing riders couldn't use the education, too frequently riding on the sidewalks, among other unsafe practices.

The courses teach proper technique, clarify the HTA as it concerns bicycles, and instill confidence in city riders so it's too bad they're being promoted as being for recreation only.

Riding a bicycle in many parts of Hamilton presents quite a challenge due to the rather unique design of our roadways. I personally would like to see a course tailored specifically to the roadways in this city. (It's not exceptionalism, the roads here really are designed differently than in other Ontario cities.) Then again it might just make more sense to normalize the roads so that such courses don't need to be modified.

Anyway, the courses are serious, and excellent.

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By you aren't missing it (anonymous) | Posted April 18, 2012 at 16:54:27

Auto Drivers have instructional lessons available, get tested on their knowledge of the highway traffic act and even have to take a road test. To suggest auto drivers should be included in the city initiative to educate cyclists is simply looking for a fight without cause.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2012 at 07:39:47

Standard disclaimer: I bike everyday; I bike to work, to the shops, for general errands; I regularly bike around the West end and from Dundas through to the East end of downtown.

A majority of the cyclists in the West end - that is, McMaster students, for the most part - ride in open violation of the rules of the road: most run stop signs, ofttimes when there are cars already waiting; many ride on the sidewalk, some even on Sterling with its bike lanes; quite a few will blow through cross walks when pedestrians are waiting. Yes, drivers pull French stops and don't signal turns sometimes, but at nothing like the rate at which cyclists violate the law.

And it's these violations of the law which make cyclists unpredictable - one never knows what they're going to do*. A significant minority - if not a majority - of cyclists in this town do not behave like traffic. And I don't mean "like cars", I just mean like predictable, grown-up traffic.

The most important thing that Hamilton can do to make cycling more popular and safer (the two go hand in hand, as Ryan has explained repeatedly) is to put in better infrastructure so that there are more cyclists on the road. I'm not suggesting that train-and-blame is the way to go. But I do wish we would stop pretending that cyclists blow through stop signs and hop on and off the sidewalk and turn without warning because they somehow are forced to by our car-centric roads - it degrades our credibility.

We treat cyclists like children and many cyclists expect to be accorded a child's lack of responsibility and freedom from strictures. And then we offer excuses for the poor dears.

* I confess that I sometimes get some petty amusement out of stopping at a stop sign and signalling my turn and then watching a driver - who has the right of way - just sit there waiting for me to do ... I don't know what they expect, but they are clearly puzzled by a stopped cyclists with his arm out.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-04-19 07:52:10

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2012 at 15:58:36 in reply to Comment 76051

I'd just be happy if the Mac students would get the mandatory lights and reflective material on their bikes. Seriously, they're freaking invisible at night.

And yeah, I've gotten the "driver waiting for you when you don't have the right of way" thing. Starting against the grade when pulling a Chariot trailer sucks, poor driver has no idea how long a wait he's in for.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2012 at 16:41:03 in reply to Comment 76069

And yeah, I've gotten the "driver waiting for you when you don't have the right of way" thing.

:) Yeah.

I still sometimes take the educational route and attempt to demonstrate that a bike is a vehicle and I'm just doing what I should be doing, but other times when someone waves me through out of kindness/condescension, I just smile and go.

I'm trying to be a little more chill about these situations than I have been - otherwise I probably come across like a cartoon feminist getting huffy when someone holds a door for her.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-04-19 16:58:36

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By proof (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:25:44

Automobile, truck and motorcycle drivers have to prove that they know the rules of the road by passing written and practical tests. They must also pay to have insurance to compensate others if they should cause harm. The mere requirement of having insurance keeps many people from driving because they cannot afford it, because of lack of driving experience or too many problems i.e. tickets and accidents. Cyclists and pedestrians do neither and both show a constant disregard of out laws through either ignorance or apathy. The police are constantly enforcing the rules of the road against motorists and yet just as constantly turn a blind eye to cyclists who do the same thing. The only time a pedestrian gets a ticket is during the occasional week long crackdown that occurs when some pedestrian did something stupid and got themselves hurt or killed. Cyclists are entitled to share the road but are obligated to know and obey the rules of the road. In my mind the 2 cannot be separated, if you do not know and follow our rules of the road then you should stay off of the roads. Adults should never be allowed or tolerated to cycle on the sidewalk, as is dictated by the HTA.

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By theOther (registered) | Posted April 20, 2012 at 22:01:08 in reply to Comment 76058

"... police are constantly enforcing the rules of the road against motorists ..." Pull-eeze...

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By proof (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2012 at 17:12:00 in reply to Comment 76096

... obviously you do not drive

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By z jones (registered) | Posted April 26, 2012 at 17:35:11 in reply to Comment 76261

I drive. Drivers get away with murder.

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By responsibility (anonymous) | Posted April 19, 2012 at 15:53:18 in reply to Comment 76058

I'm all for education of pedestrians and cyclists, and I believe that it should be an integral part of growing up (for many it is already)

But if we want to take a pure logical approach to this, then we need to recognize that the current licensing process for driving cars and trucks is far too lax. It is harder to get a forklift certificate than to get your G2 - but with a G2 you are released into the wild world with as little as zero experience. Most new drivers have more experience behind the wheel of a video game car than a real one. This is not appropriate considering the potential to inflict harm on bystanders through a mistake as simple as inattention.

You can challenge your drivers test having never gotten behind the wheel of a car before. Courses are 100% optional. You can take your driver's test in an automatic transmission Toyota Echo, and then drive yourself home from the testing centre in a stickshift 8 cylinder muscle car or a Hemi Dually pickup truck. Or even a cube van with no functional rear view mirror! Does this make sense?

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2012 at 11:30:53 in reply to Comment 76058

Cyclists and pedestrians do neither and both show a constant disregard of out laws through either ignorance or apathy.

Interesting. Do we need pedestrian lessons and walkers insurance, then?

I'm all for cyclists obeying the rules of the road, but I'm also all for keeping beauracracy out of the way of people's lives and pockets when not necessary.

Cars require lessons and licensing and insurance because they dangerous. Walking can no more be considered a "dangerous activity" than can breathing - we are human; we walk. In between walking and driving comes cycling. We should encourage it, not erect further barriers.

Enforcing rules against cyclists - and pedestrians - should be priority no. 2. Having a city which is a great place to bike and walk in - and thus shop and eat and hang out in - is no. 1.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-04-19 11:48:36

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By proof (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2012 at 17:18:05 in reply to Comment 76059

I bet that we will see insurance requirements for cyclists. If not to protect others than to at least protect the cyclist themselves. Bicycle falls are the leading cause of emergency room visits for kids. If it is a serious occurrence the parents automobile insurance gets involved to pay for things ( I know, I know the car had nothing to do with it) If this trend continues and fewer people have no automobile insurance then mandatory bicycle insurance will see the light of day.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 26, 2012 at 21:05:07 in reply to Comment 76262

Never going to happen. Will we see mandatory smoker insurance first? Insurance only needs to be made mandatory when you are creating risk for other people and their property. People will always have the right to hurt themselves...

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