I would like to take this opportunity to discuss with you the rationale for the initiation of the New Street Bike Lanes’ Study that was recently supported by Council.
Why should we consider designated bike lanes on New Street?
Since the City of Burlington declared itself as a Sustainable Development Community in 1990, we have invested in creating vibrant neighborhoods. To be truly vibrant, neighbourhoods should be designed to encourage active lifestyles, including walking and cycling. These areas are often favoured places to live because of lower pollution levels, less traffic congestion, more parks and public spaces, improved opportunities for social interaction, and an abundance of healthy lifestyle choices.
To get to this state, a complete transportation network must be designed to allow for a healthy and pragmatic balance of cars, public transit, cyclists, and pedestrians. That network must be safe, accessible, cater to the varied needs of our community, and be implemented in a fiscally responsible manner. This balance must meet current and long-term needs, given the investment required.
Part of defining future needs is learning about the developing trends.
The just-published study conducted by the provincial cycling coalition group, Share the Road, notes that 32% of Ontarians bike at least monthly and the majority (54%) want to ride their bicycles more often, including commuting to work, school, running errands, or even for light shopping. The survey shows that 68% of respondents state better bike lanes and infrastructure are keys to increased ridership.
Additional studies conclude that the younger demographic (under 35) is choosing to cycle more often as a healthy lifestyle choice and that providing a healthier environment is vital to attracting younger residents and families to our community, which in turn, sustains and enriches vibrant neighbourhoods.
But this trend is not exclusively the domain of the younger demographic.
US Federal data also shows that cycling rates among people between the ages of 60 and 79 are soaring when as recently as the mid 1990’s, riding a bicycle over the age of 55 was very rare and riding over 75 was almost unheard of.
This is particularly noteworthy, given Burlington’s young-at-heart population. In fact, our city has one of the highest proportions of senior citizens in the GTA.
While it would be simply wrong to predict the demise of cars, people are looking to cycling, walking, and public transit to augment their automobiles, either for reasons of health, convenience, or cost (e.g. parking, gas, etc.).
But therein lies the catch: the lack of infrastructure to support this choice.
Not all bike lanes are created equal
While a line in the pavement dividing cars from cyclists may appear to be satisfactory at first thought, in reality, it is not because it does not provide the safety and security of a protected bike lane. Cyclists who use wider, protected lanes feel safer and, more importantly, research demonstrates that they truly are safer, which ultimately protects motorists as well.
A short-cut solution merely goes part way and satisfies no one, which ultimately results in a failure of the undertaking.
This is particularly so when you consider that while current cycling enthusiasts may “accept” the risk inherent with a sub-par infrastructure, the broader community, many whom would bike otherwise, simply will not because of these safety and security fears. In short, increased cycling will not occur and a reduction may well result instead.
There are those who ask why cyclists do not use existing multi-purpose paths. There are at least two answers to this question.
First, current or prospective cyclists often want to take direct routes to their destinations and, much more often than not, these multi-purpose pathways were never constructed as such. Rather, roadways were.
More fundamentally, bicycles, in fact, compromise the safety of these pathways, which are often filled with walkers, strollers, and roller-bladers.
So is the assurance of a protected bike lane enough to expand ridership?
New research suggests that the answer is “Yes”. A recent study led by Christopher Monsere of Portland State University released a thorough analysis of new protected bike lanes in five major U.S. cities. The researchers videotaped the new lanes, conducted local surveys, and gathered data on cycling trends to get a full picture of life in these new corridors — comparing what they found to rider habits before the protected lanes were installed. They found that ridership increased anywhere from 21% to 171%. Unquestionably, cycling rates rose on the new lanes across the board.
In talking with many constituents, my sense is that that most people are accepting of cyclists and automobile drivers co-existing safely. And most want to avoid the potential for dangerous situations that the current infrastructure presents.
This works very well in new areas such as subdivisions where bike lanes are woven into the design of these neighborhoods. The complexity comes into play where we have to retrofit long-existing city roads such as New Street.
I wanted to clarify some misconception that I understand has been circulating, that the cost of the dedicated bike lanes on New Street is $2 million. Rather, the incremental cost is $1.2 million, with the balance of $0.8 million is for the resurfacing that will be done regardless.
Nonetheless, we all appreciate what is at stake here: the cost. For this reason, Council did not vote for installing dedicated bike lanes on New Street at this time. Rather, we voted in favour of directing staff to conduct an analysis for the viability of dedicated bike lanes.
It is through this platform and the current updating of the city’s Transportation Master Plan that we invite your voice to be heard so the best decision can be made.
Thank you for your interest. With Burlington slated to invest over $1 billion in infrastructure in the next 20 years, a true opportunity exists to plan and to “get it right” when upgrading our city streets.
As always I invite and appreciate hearing your views.
I have some suggested links included that will provide some statistical information on biking in cities.