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Q&A with the creator of new video series rating Hamilton cycling routes

Eric Johnson, a long-time Hamilton resident, once considered himself an avid cyclist. But when a downtown move several years ago made him feel unsafe cycling in the city, he stopped. The recent opening of the Keddy Access Trail convinced him to get back in the saddle and inspired Eric to create a new video series where he tours and rates cycling routes in Hamilton. 

After the launch of the first video, which has already had several hundred views in the few days since it was posted, Eric explained his own cycling journey, why a first-person video tour could help others feel more comfortable cycling and point to infrastructure gaps in the city, and what’s to come with the series. 

Can you tell us about yourself?

I have lived in Hamilton since 1997, and although I was not born here, I consider Hamilton to be my only home. When I first moved here, and up until I started college, cycling was my life. I would cycle everywhere. I lived in Upper Stoney Creek (back when it was not as developed as it is now) so I would confidently zip around all day as if I urgently had a place to be, and I would not come home until the sun had set.

Some years after I finished high school, I ended up moving downtown so that I could live relatively close to Mohawk College and all the great amenities that downtown has. I obviously brought my bicycle, but there were absolutely zero streets that I felt safe riding, so I eventually gave my bike away and stopped riding. Since then, I gained a lot of weight, and even though cycle lanes started popping up, I still felt that they were not decent enough for me to purchase a new bicycle. I tried the SoBi [Hamilton Bike Share] bikes (and the experience was enjoyable), but having your own bike definitely encourages you to use it more often, I just did not feel that there were enough options to warrant getting one… yet.

Then the Keddy Access Trail opened up in late 2020, and I started to walk it just to see what it was like. I quickly realized that this well-protected trail was what I needed to get me back into cycling after being away from it for so long. So I bought a bicycle in early January and started cycling. I am the type of person that likes to explore, so I started planning different routes to try each day. That is when I realized that a PDF of a map and Google street view were not the most reliable tools for the job. I needed to figure out what roads were actually the best and which ones were best to avoid. That is when I came up with the idea for the Hamilton Bikeabilty series.

Why a ‘bikeability’ video series?

When thinking about safe routes to cycle, I typically think of entire roads and not just the segmented infrastructure that the city has installed. It is easier to remember to avoid a street like Hunter completely than it is to know that travelling west is mostly great, but travelling east requires you to take a detour to Jackson due to the lane ending and one-way traffic suddenly coming right at you. Cyclists should be able to pick a street and be able to stay on it until they choose to turn. They should not have to have the entire cycling system (and all its oddities) memorized.

I found it deceptive looking at the PDF map of urban cycling bike routes and seeing the good sections of Hunter coloured as having designated bicycle lanes, but neglecting to include any markers to indicate that for nearly 500 metres in the middle there is what amounts to a death-trap for new cyclists. Therefore, a ranking system (where entire streets are scored) was needed.

It is ultimately easier to plan a route when you do not have to memorize every random detour you need to take for any given road, just because the city chose not to have to deal with committing to a proper bike lane. It is far easier to know that you are comfortable on this street and that street, and even though it is not as direct of a path, it is something that you are confident you can ride, and it has simple directions.

What’s next?

The next video in the series will be about another path up and down the escarpment. I think being able to connect the upper and lower portions of the city is critical in boosting local businesses everywhere. If more people know of safe options of how to get to where they need to go, then they can choose to travel by bicycle to get there. After that, the plan is to alternate between routes from the upper and lower city. Each route will connect with a previously featured route (with a few exceptions), and each route will be shown in its entirety. Thisdoesmean that footage will have to be sped-up for some longer roads, but if people wish to view it at a reasonable speed, YouTube has the option to change the playback speed to one quarter, a half, or three-quarter speed. I will be taking that (as well as original footage and rendered video frame rates) into consideration when deciding how fast to make the timelapse.

How can the community get involved?

I would love to hear people’s input over the course of this series. Suggestions (via YouTubeTwitter) on which road to feature next would be the best way to interact with me, but critiques and recommendations are welcomed as well. I like to think of myself as being approachable, calm, and understanding, so don’t be afraid to speak your mind.

In addition, if people want their voices heard over concerns they have with the various aspects of Hamilton’s cycling routes – but they do not know how to voice them publically or just wish to remain anonymous – feel free to message me so that I can bring some attention to those issues. I feel that having an easily accessible collection of ranked cycling routes is my primary goal with this series, but I also want to raise awareness of all the flaws in our infrastructure, and hopefully bring some well-needed change.

Having video documentation of what cyclists have to face on a daily basis will ultimately help pinpoint what needs to be built, modified, or out-right scrapped from our city’s roads. Having voices from the cycling community heard, and visual evidence of those concerns seen, is paramount in achieving a better cycling experience for everyone in the city!

Check out the first video in Eric’s series, of the Keddy Access Trail, below! 

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