Hamilton

Women ride to city hall in sundresses to urge city to create more bike lanes

They came on SoBi bikes. They rode their own bicycles. They came from the east end, and the west end, and various parts of the lower city. But most importantly, they came in sundresses.

'Don't even get me started,' says one female rider of the theory that sundresses keep women from riding

Jessica Merolli was one of the organizers of the Sundress Ride for Hamilton Bike Lanes. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

They came on SoBi bikes. They rode their own bicycles. They came from the east end, and the west end, and various parts of the lower city.

But most importantly, the protest riders at Hamilton city hall Wednesday came in sundresses.

Local female cyclists and their allies rode in the rain for the Sundress Ride for Hamilton Bike Lanes. It came after Lloyd Ferguson, an Ancaster councillor, speculated last week that sundresses kept women from riding bicycles.

"Don't even get me started," said Gail Rappolt, who saw the event on Facebook and rode from her Dundurn Street home.

Gail Rappolt and Jessica Merolli ride outside Hamilton city hall. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

More women don't ride, she said, because the city needs better bike lanes that connect riders from one part of the city to the other. It needs safer, more complete streets that take cyclists and pedestrians into account as much as it does people driving cars.

"We need to be paying attention to cities that have done this properly and stop fighting about ridiculous things at the council table."

The conversation started last week when councillors voted to make the Cannon bike lanes — initially a three-year pilot project — permanent. City council ratified that decision Wednesday.

During the committee meeting, Lynda Lukasik, executive director of Environment Hamilton, said her agency surveyed riders on the Cannon bike lanes. They found for every seven male riders, there was one woman.

Co-organizer Frances Murray held a sign urging drivers to slow down. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Lukasik says the number of female riders is an indicator of how safe it is to cycle.

Fewer women "says to me we need to make it safer," she told the committee. "We women are a little bit more cautious when it comes to things like cycling."

Ferguson said he wanted to hear the city cycling committee's thoughts, "particularly from the female members.

"Is it because they like to wear sundresses in the summer and they don't feel comfortable on bikes? Is there another reason again? I don't know."

(Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Jessica Merolli doesn't think sundresses are the reason. She co-organized the ride Wednesday. Her group has also launched an interactive map to identify problem areas for cyclists.

Whatever the reason for the lack of female cyclists, she said, she wants to help the city identify it.

She rides in a dress all the time. On Wednesday, she even donned sparkly heels. By the time the council meeting started, she was one of about 30 riders.

"The barrier to cycling isn't the clothing that you're wearing," Merolli said. "It's the infrastructure that supports that kind of travel around the city.

The ride coincided with a Hamilton city council meeting. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

"We are all trying to focus on the question that went with that statement, which is why aren't women using the existing cycling infrastructure in the city? We think that is a great question."

As for the Cannon bike lanes, city staff say they're getting used more and more.

In 2015, they saw 580 cyclists daily during peak summer hours, and 75 in the winter. Last year, there were 972 daily riders in the summer and 396 in the winter.

The city initially estimated it would cost $867,200 to implement them. In fact, it cost $524,100.

About the Author

Samantha Craggs is a CBC News reporter based in Hamilton, Ont. She has a particular interest in politics and social justice stories, and tweets live from Hamilton city hall. Follow her on Twitter at @SamCraggsCBC, or email her at samantha.craggs@cbc.ca

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