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Active transport in Hamilton: We deserve safer options in 2016

Hamilton Spectator article by Cycle Hamilton’s Advocacy/Communications Chair
Benita van Miltenburg 
Retrieved From February 2016.

As both a Hamiltonian and a bicycle user, I was deeply troubled by the recent death of Jay Keddy. Keddy was a well-prepared and thoroughly practised cyclist, properly equipped with bicycle lights and a helmet. Despite these precautions, Keddy was left lifeless on Hamilton’s Claremont Access, during his commute home from work this past December. No one emerged from the horror of Keddy’s death unscathed. Not his friends, family and acquaintances, not the kindergarten students whom he taught, and not the members of the wider community.

Around the same time Keddy was killed, two pedestrians were struck, one killed and the other seriously injured. These realities indicate that we must demand safer transportation infrastructure. Not only have the lives of these individuals and their families been forever affected, but the lives of those responsible have also been irreparably damaged.

These were preventable accidents that mustn’t be forgotten mere months later. They were needless accidents and immense losses. This type of tragedy must not happen again.

As it stands, the rules of the road mandate that a bicycle and a three thousand pound vehicle occupy shared road space. The logic behind these rules is deeply flawed and problematic. When accidents happen, the ones who suffer most are almost always the more vulnerable road users. This is not a system that is safe for people on bikes, and it is likewise not a system that works well for automobiles. Many residents of this city regularly make use of multiple means of transport, and nearly all road users understand the difficulties inherent to this outdated system. We, as citizens of this city, as shared users of the road, must demand more.

We should ask ourselves: what kind of city do we desire? What sort of community are we presently fostering, building for our children, for ourselves and for our seniors? Where do we see this city in five, 15 and 50 years? I see myself settling in a community I can safely enjoy by way of foot or bicycle, not just by car or bus. As it stands, Hamilton is evidently not the place for me. In Hamilton, pedestrians have a 42 per cent higher risk for injury than the provincial average. Hop on a bike and that figure doubles to 81 per cent. Those statistics speak for themselves, but if I may contribute my opinion: They’re wholly unacceptable.

Hamilton is blessed with abundant potential. Situated between Lake Ontario and the beautiful Niagara Escarpment, Hamilton is home to several fantastic post-secondary institutions; vibrant art, music and culinary communities; outstanding social programs; and just enough character to keep things interesting. But the city is currently doing itself a terrible injustice by consistently catering to one road user over others, sometimes at the expense of residents’ lives. As such, we are bypassing the opportunity to create a socially inclusive, safely navigable community in which residents can truly enjoy spending their time.

Transportation modes such as walking and bicycle riding allow the individual to move at a leisurely pace, stop and start with ease, and engage with their environment in a way that is simply not possible from the oftentimes isolated box of the automobile. I say this not to demonize car ownership, as it is helpful, even required in some instances. Rather, I wish to encourage planning that supports multiple forms of transportation as opposed to just one. The present status quo leaves much to be desired.

This is a call to all residents of our community to work with city planners and legislators to make desperately needed improvements to our active transport infrastructure. Improvements that will in turn put all road users at greater ease, and ensure not one more life is needlessly cut short on account of poor planning or lack of action.

With the City-Wide Transportation Master Plan in review and a motion put forth to adopt Vision Zero, Hamiltonians have some crucial decisions to make. Are we to accept this subpar status quo? Are we to remain Ontario’s second most dangerous city to walk in? Can we risk any more unnecessary tragedies?

Or will all road users: pedestrians, cyclists, motorists and transit users alike come together and support positive change? Change that caters to all forms of transportation equally. Change that fully protects all residents from risk of injury, and as such, protects all residents from the risk of injuring. Let’s come together and insist on safer active transport options in 2016. We all have the right to enjoy our city out of harm’s way.

The author is a McMaster University graduate student and a member of Cycle Hamilton.

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