Making Hamilton friendly to pedestrians and cyclistsPublic health staff are looking at ways to reduce car use and encourage more walking and cycling as part of an effort to cut high obesity rates in Hamilton. After hearing from Gil Penalosa of Walk and Bike for Life at last week’s Board of Health meeting, councillors agreed to consider ideas that will be developed by Hamilton Partners for Healthy Weights.Penalosa said the central questions facing the city are “how do we want to live” and “what kind of a city are we going to build” to accommodate the expected growth over the next 25 years. He pointed to Vancouver’s adoption of a “pedestrian first” objective and Portland, Oregon’s “bicycles everywhere” theme.“We need an attitude of ready fire aim because sometimes we say ready aim, aim, aim and we never fire,” he argued. “The vision has to be bold and ambitious.”Penalosa had numerous specific suggestions for change, including adopting the Velib bike rental system that has put Paris in world headlines in the last few months. Over 10,000 bicycles have been installed in racks all over the city where they can be accessed with a credit card. Its success has several world capitals considering following suit including London, Rome and Vancouver.“If you use it for less than half an hour, it’s free,” explained Penalosa, who had just returned from checking out the system. “You pick it up wherever you want and then you return it somewhere else. They have them at most within 300 metres of any place in the city, and in the downtown it’s within 150 metres.”The system mimics one established earlier in Lyon, a city about the size of Hamilton, and it doesn’t cost the municipal government a cent.“They allowed 1400 small ads of 4 square metres and in exchange for that the company put in 20,000 bikes,” noted Penalosa. “Any revenue that is generated goes back to the city.”The staff report accompanying Penalosa’s presentation points to rates of obesity in Hamilton as evidence of a need for more physical activity. Hamilton’s rates are about 20 percent higher than in Ontario as a whole.“While obesity levels cannot be solely explained by our built environment, we do know that each additional hour spent in a car per day leads to a 6 percent increase in the likelihood of obesity, while each kilometre walked per day translates to a 4.8 percent reduction in the odds of obesity,” says the report.It goes on to note that over 80 percent of Canadians say they would like to walk more and two-thirds want to more opportunities to cycle.“However, they feel that the current built environment discourages these forms of travel. A report released by the Ontario College of Family Physicians states ‘evidence clearly shows the people who live in spread-out, car-dependent neighbourhoods are likely to walk less, weigh more and suffer from obesity, high blood pressure and consequent diabetes, cardio-vascular and other diseases, as compared to people who live in more efficient, higher density communities’.”The staff report stresses the importance of urban planning principles in the promotion of pedestrian-friendly and cycling-friendly cities and reducing obesity. These include mixed land use, higher population densities, grid street patterns, traffic calming measures and “the buffering of sidewalks by landscaping, street furniture, on-street parking, and boulevards” to improve pedestrian safety.Mayor Eisenberger was enthusiastic about Penalosa’s talk and the staff report.“I’m really excited about the opportunities for Hamilton,” he declared. “The pedestrian first notion I think is something we can talk about through our strategic planning exercises and we can talk about where we’re going and what kind of city we want to have. And I agree completely that we’ve got great opportunity in Hamilton to build on many of the things that we’re already doing and expand upon them significantly.”
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