How Hamilton got a Dutch sign encouraging cyclists to sing on a Stinson rail trail
The sign became permanent in the fall of 2020
When Dave Michal saw a sign from Amsterdam encouraging cyclists to sing as they cruise through the city in 2018, he didn't think he'd have a sign of his own one year later. And he definitely didn't think it would ever become an official, permanent sign in Hamilton. But it did.
"It's amazing … we just tried doing something and it got picked up," he said. "It's so whimsical and fun. You see something like that, you stop and read it. Like, Zangfietspad — who even knows what that means?"
Singing cycle path, according to an online translation.
Michal, 40, says he first saw the original Zangfietspad sign on Twitter.
The Stinson resident floated the idea online, hoping it would inspire someone to take on the project for 100in1Day. That's an event which inspires residents in cities across the world to come up with 100 creative ideas to engage a community and do them all in one day.
But there were no bites, and soon enough, people at the Evergreen Hamilton Community Storefront on James Street North asked Michal one question.
"'Why don't you do it?' And I hate to be the guy saying, 'Someone else should do this,'" Michal said.
'Why don't you do it?'
It took a few Google searches, some translating, a bit of editing, a handful of zipties and $120.
He put two signs on the bridge entering Corktown and two on the portion of the rail trail in the Stinson neighbourhood. All of them were tributes to 53-year-old Chris Parkinson, a former public school trustee who died of a sudden heart attack in 2019.
Michal says the reception to the signs was great and he watched over them for a few weeks — until they disappeared.
It turned out Michal wasn't the only one keeping a close eye on them.
Peter Topalovic, the program manager of sustainable mobility in Hamilton, said the city knew about Michal's plan and was excited to see it in action.
Topalovic and his department were hoping to do something similar, but saw Michal's project and decided to let him test it out. They thought it was a success.
"The particular trail he piloted on, both the park and the trail itself, had a number of 100in1Day events over the years."
"It's connection to the park and a cycling corridor and that it was a multi-use path in a wooded area all made sense from the examples we'd seen around the world."
'I can officially sing here'
Topalovic liked it so much, he reached out to Michal to tell him they wanted to make the sign permanent. That became a reality in fall 2020.
"I know there was a delay from the 100in1Day event to its actual placement, but we just wanted to make sure it was the right place," Topalovic said.
"We contacted the 100in1Day people, the Surprise!Hamilton people and the cycling committee … to just do it right. And I think it aligned well."
Topalovic said it's an example of something that promotes the use of infrastructure and helps people enjoy it. He compares it to the birthday party the city held for the BikeShare program.
"As a piece of infrastructure, it's very small, but I think these things can go a long way. It's a low-cost, small element that I think, if it's successful, we can try it in a few more areas … sometimes when you're on a bike and singing to yourself, maybe you're in a groove, you just forget you're singing."
While no one has blown out any candles for the Zangfietspad sign, Michal has sang while passing the sign.
"That day, on 100in1 Day … it was Tom Petty, 'Mary Jane's Last Dance,' and I was beltin' it all the way down."
"Now that the sign is up there, as soon as it gets a little warmer out, I'll be up and down that path singing some more. I'm not even a singer, man … but I can officially sing here."
Maybe the next time he passes that sign, he'll sing it Happy Birthday.