Councillor arguing against bike lanes says there are 'maybe' 100 cyclists in Hamilton

A Hamilton city councillor says there are "maybe 100" people who ride bicycles in Hamilton — and in doing so, she illustrated the divide on council between those who are fans of bike lanes, and those who aren't.

Esther Pauls estimate of city cyclists is off by tens of thousands

SoBi says there are more than 33,000 Hamilton bike share members. (Sunnie Huang/CBC)

A Hamilton city councillor estimates there are 100 people who ride bicycles in Hamilton — and in doing so, illustrated a  divide on council between those who are fans of bike lanes, and those who say they're a waste of space and resources.

Esther Pauls (Ward 7, central Mountain) said at a city council public works meeting Monday that there are only about 100 cyclists, and when she goes downtown, she sees people "begging for money" on bike lanes, not using them as transportation. She made the comment shortly after the committee stalled a move to add three blocks of bike lanes around the Hunter Street GO station.

If the city wants to get people out of cars, she said, it should encourage walking and taking the bus. Cycling is too dangerous, she said, and it's not for everybody.

"You believe that biking is the only safe movement? Which we've shown that very few people bike," she told a representative from Cycle Hamilton. "Maybe there's, say, 100. What is our population? Almost 550,000?"

"Walking is good. Taking the bus would be great."

"I have to be truthful, when I come down, I see people begging for money on those bike lanes. And I turn and OK, you try to give them some money. They're not using [them as] bike lanes."

City numbers show Pauls's estimate is off by at least tens of thousands of people.

Hamilton's SoBi bike share program, for example, tweeted that it has more than 33,000 members, and more than 100 riders even on frigid winter days. In 2017, the two-way Cannon bike lanes averaged 972 daily trips in the summer.

The estimate of 100 riders is also low when compared to the number of cyclist-involved collisions each year. In 2018, city data shows, there were 166 crashes involving bicycles, including 135 injuries and two deaths. 

But a vote Monday shows several councillors agree with Pauls about the Hunter Street bicycle lanes.

Council has already approved the bike lanes over the three-block stretch of Hunter Street, which goes by the Hamilton GO station and connects two sets of existing bike lanes. The province is paying for most of the cost. 

The committee voted 4-6 not to receive a report about the design of the lanes, saying bike lanes there would be unsafe and underused, and take away parking. The project is still alive, but the vote showed weak support for it on the committee.

Couns. Jason Farr and Nrinder Nann, who represent areas of the lower city, voted in favour of the design report. So did Coun. John-Paul Danko of Ward 8 (west Mountain), who has taken a Onewheel to work, and Coun. Maria Pearson of Ward 10 (lower Stoney Creek). 

Couns. Sam Merulla, Chad Collins, Tom Jackson, Pauls, Terry Whitehead and Arlene VanderBeek were opposed. 

Pauls also wondered Monday how people could use a bicycle to shop.

"How do you shop on a bike? Do you buy anything?" she said. "Someone said, 'I go grocery shopping.' I couldn't grocery shop on a bike. The bikes are heavy. How do I do that? Let's be reasonable. Let's talk frankly."

On Twitter, people pointed out that they use bicycles when getting groceries.

"I ride over the bridge to Westdale Food Basics on my Roadmaster Hampton Tricycle with a large basket in back for my groceries," one person said.

"Cycling is how an overwhelming number of our members get to work and class each day," said a Twitter account for CUPE 3906, which represents education workers at McMaster University. "They manage to cycle with textbooks, laptops, and a lunch. After work/school, it's how they get groceries and commute around #HamOnt."

The Hunter Street bike lanes see 50 trips on an average day. Farr said that will increase once the lanes are connected to an ongoing route.

"This is an example where once complete, people will settle in nicely."



Samantha Craggs is journalist based in Windsor, Ont. She is executive producer of CBC Windsor and previously worked as a reporter and producer in Hamilton, specializing in politics and city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca


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