The public works committee today approved hiring an alternative transportation coordinator to guide the city’s cycling and pedestrian projects. The move was opposed by Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson who argued that existing bike paths aren’t being used.Staff recommended the hiring of the coordinator earlier this year, but the proposal was turned down by councillors as an unaffordable additional cost to the city’s operating budget. They also cancelled the annual capital allocation for 2007, something that also took place in 2003.The city allocates about $300,000 a year for improvements to cycling, but the budget has not been spent because there was no specific staff person assigned to direct such projects. As a result, the cycling account had accumulated $775,000 by the end of last year.Today’s staff report says the promotion of cycling and walking should reduce air pollution, promote a healthier lifestyle and thus reduce heath care costs, and “create a city which is viewed as liveable, thereby attracting new residents and, businesses, with the attendant positive impact on the economy.” It acknowledged that the cycling program has never had regular staff support.“Program implementation has primarily been by the previous project director of the Red Hill Valley Project, prior to amalgamation and by the Manager of Traffic Engineering and Operations subsequently, with whatever staff support could be freed up intermittently from other projects,” it notes. “The overall effect of the lack of staffing has been irregular implementation as staff attempt to find time for cycling projects amid competing priorities.”Today’s proposal was apparently engineered by Brian McHattie and Chad Collins. McHattie had bitterly opposed the budget decisions that turned down the coordinator position in April and cut the capital allocation. Monies for the new coordinator will now come from the capital account and support a temporary two-year position, after which the need for it will be reviewed.Ferguson didn’t take issue with the creative financing approach, but contended that existing bike lanes aren’t being used.“We’ve gone and built these bicycle paths all through the city, and Golf Links Road is someplace I travel a lot, and never see a bicycle on it, never,” he declared. “I just wonder whether we shouldn’t be putting our resources somewhere else until it starts to implement and starts to get traction and we start to see more bicycles using the systems that have already been put in place.”Ferguson cast the only vote against the proposal. The decision still needs to be ratified by the full council on June 27.Staff say using some of the capital monies to pay the new coordinator will still allow planned projects to proceed on York Boulevard, the North Service Road in Stoney Creek, and the west Hamilton rail trail. Plans include updating of the city’s master cycling plan, and the installation of more bicycle racks. The coordinator is will also work with the city’s new pedestrian sub-committee “to improve the walkability of Hamilton”.This year’s $300,000 capital budget allocation remains cancelled. It was originally pegged at one per cent of the roads budget, but that has climbed to $42 million this year, not including the Red Hill Expressway, with no increase in the cycling allocation.The city’s new transportation master plan says a capital budget of $700,000 to $1 million a year will be needed to expand the bike lane system in Hamilton over the next fifteen years.
(From Citizens at City Hall aka CATCH)