A “bizarre” debate on Monday during the city’s public works committee saw a motion connected to the installation of bike lanes on Hunter Street in downtown Hamilton go down to defeat.
Councillors stalled a move to add three blocks of bike lanes around Hamilton GO Centre, which would connect a gap between MacNab Street South and Catharine Street South.
The plan called for the removal of short-term parking spaces and the moving of taxi and loading spots to the north curb.
The defeat came as a surprise to one councillor and a number of bicycle advocates who expected the project to pass without incident.
“I was very surprised,” Ward 8 Coun. John-Paul Danko told Global News. “It’s like we went back 25 years to have a discussion about the first bike lane that we’ve ever put in. It was quite truly bizarre.”
The bike lanes over the three-block stretch of Hunter Street were already approved in February 2018 — which included funding kicked in by the province.
However, six out of 10 councillors on the committee Monday voted in favour of a redesign that will send city staff back to the drawing board.
Ward 14 Coun. Terry Whitehead told the committee the design doesn’t account for pedestrian safety around the station.
“We expect people to utilize and access it through cab, through Uber, through public transit, through relatives dropping them off, and we’re saying … Oh, by the way, this two-lane or four-lane roadway that’s pretty busy during peak hours in the morning, we’re asking you to walk across it. Is that the new standard we’re setting for this community?” Whitehead said.
The most notable commentary on the Hunter Street project came after a presentation made by Cycle Hamilton’s Jay Krause, who revealed an update on 20 projects worth about $6.5 million set to improve cycling infrastructure.
Moments after Krause, Ward 7 Coun. Esther Pauls told the committee she believes there are only about 100 cyclists using lanes in the downtown.
“You believe that biking is the only safe movement? Which we’ve shown that very few people bike,” said Pauls. “Maybe there’s, say, 100. What is our population? Almost 550,000?”
2018 numbers from the city’s permanent counter locations across the city suggest a contradiction to Paul’s statements over low cycling numbers in the downtown.
The active transportation benchmarking program recorded over 200,000 cycle trips on downtown bike lanes in 2018, while the city’s bike-sharing numbers recorded over 20,000 active members — up by about 2,400 riders in the past year.
Pauls went on to suggest that taking a bike would cause more collisions, injuries and death and that using a bike to shop was simply not practical for anyone.
“Somebody said, oh, I go grocery shopping. I could grocery shop on a bike. You know, the bags are heavy. How do I do that? So let’s be reasonable.”
Paul’s comments caught the attention of a number of Hamilton’s cycling population which weighed in on Twitter using the hashtag #TellEstherHowWeCycle.
“Keep the bike lanes and check your numbers” and “If you think there’s not enough cyclists, figure out how to create more” were just some of the comments directed at Pauls on social media Tuesday.
Coun. John-Paul Danko says the insinuation that the city has a conflict between cyclists and drivers and that nobody uses bike lanes is simply “frustrating.”
Being more of a driver, Danko admitted he hates sharing the road with cyclists and that’s why it makes sense from a safety perspective to keep building bicycle infrastructure.
“I hate having cyclists on the road with me. It drives me crazy because they’re unpredictable. You don’t know where they’re going to go. That’s why I want them to be in their own dedicated bike lane.”
Aa a result of the public works vote, a redesign plan will now be put out for tender.