Tuesday, April 10, 2007

'Cyclists ticked' over budget cut

hs1607749 2007-04-10-1
Cycling advocates are refusing to meet to advise Hamilton until a city co-ordinator is hired and council restores its annual funding of $300,000 for bike projects.
Hamilton Spectator File Photo
(Apr 10, 2007)
The decades-old volunteer Hamilton Cycling Committee is suspending its monthly meetings to protest the axing of the city's annual cycling budget.
The group advises city hall on cycling projects and says the cut reveals a lack of effort in combating auto dependence and pollution as urged in city documents like the new Transportation Master Plan.
In budget talks, councillors voted last month not to spend the usual $300,000 on cycling projects in 2007. Advocates call it a wrong turn if Hamilton ever wants to become a bike-friendly city.
"If they are willing to drop this $300,000, what kind of commitment does the city have to cycling?" committee chair Daryl Bender said. "These kinds of hiccups are very frustrating."
Adds Randy Kay, of Transportation for Livable Communities: "They dropped it for the second time, the other being 2003, the year of the world cycling championships, ironically.
"Cyclists are ticked they are getting dropped off the budget. It's not a lot of money, and it gives a big bang for your buck," Kay said.
The $300,000 cycling budget, which pays for things like bike trails and paths, has been accumulating, going unspent due to capital project delays. Councillor Brian McHattie says about $650,000 collected is already earmarked for approved projects -- but is caught in a backlog.
Advocates say the lack of a dedicated cycling staffer at City Hall is causing the backlog. Others say a new hire is not in the cards.
"Could we spend it faster if we hired a co-ordinator? Sure we could," said Councillor Terry Whitehead, adding it's not the time to expand staff when social service cuts may be a trade-off.
Kay said bike projects are typically overseen part-time by junior traffic department staff, with turnover so high basic information isn't updated online and questions go unanswered.
Councillor Sam Merulla, who supported the cut, said it's wrong to ask for $300,000 more from taxpayers if it won't be spent in 2007 due to the backlog.
"Nobody is anti-cycling. I know there's a spin going out there right now," Merulla said.
Bender said the cycling committee is calling off its meetings because with no new money allotted in 2007, there's nothing to advise the city on regarding future cycling projects. The committee won't meet again until council hires a full-time cycling staff person, and restores the $300,000 in funding.
Still, Bender and Kay are optimistic about local cycling, thanks to recent victories like bike racks on HSR buses. But they too see challenges.
"It's a chicken and egg: we are not spending the money because we don't have the staff to do the projects, and if we don't change that, (the projects) are not going to happen," McHattie said.
rfaulkner@thespec.com 905-526-2468
Transportation Master Plan guiding philosophy
* Old Thinking
"Walking and cycling are only viable modes for a select group of people, and only for part of the year."
* New Thinking
"Walking and cycling accounts for 11 per cent of all morning rush hour trips. The fact that 50 per cent of all rush hour trips are less than 5 kilometres suggests there is potential to increase walking and cycling activity with spinoff environmental and health benefits."
Projects the Hamilton Cycling Committee helped get done.
* Multi-use trail on the Beach Strip
* Bike lanes along Sterling Street, Markland Street
* Two-way bike lanes over the 403 on King Street West
* East-west bike corridor on Stone Church Road
* Ongoing installation of bike routes, paths and paved shoulders along North Service Road (Grays Road to Niagara region)
* Bike racks on HSR buses, expected this year
From the city's proposed cycling enhancements:
* 66 kms of new on-street bike lanes
* 143 kms of new multi-use paths
* 60 kms of new shoulder bike lanes
* Incline railway
* Trail improvements
* And one goal is to increase the share of local trips made by bike, from current 6 per cent to 15 per cent by 2030.
"This is a modest target and one that can easily be exceeded if continued enhancements to cycling infrastructure are made," the Hamilton Transportation Master Plan states.

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