As the weather turns warmer, the days grow longer and the sun shines brighter, more and more people start to dust off their bikes and take them out for a weekend ride. And why not? Riding your bike is a fun way of getting from one destination to another and is a great way to add more activity into your daily routine. Perhaps that’s why all throughout Hamilton and Burlington more and more people are starting to think about their bike not only as something to be used for recreation, but as a means of transportation to be incorporated into their daily routines.
Certainly, as gas prices continue to climb, there’s a very real economic case to be made for cycling more frequently, and municipalities all throughout southern Ontario are beginning to respond to demands from their citizens to install safe, effective and connected cycling infrastructure. My recent Sustainable Day-Cation trip into Burlington illustrated to me the great work that is being done to make Burlington a more cycling friendly city, a move I’m sure is going to pay dividends for many years down the road.
One of the things that I really enjoyed about cycling in Burlington is that from the time I left my door in Hamilton (near Dundurn Castle) to the time I arrived at City Hall in Burlington, I was never on a road that didn’t have a bike lane. Taking York Boulevard to Plains road, onto Fairview and then heading South on Brant Street, there is always a bike lane of at least 3 feet wide. True, there are a few spots along Plains road where construction is impinging on the lane a little bit, but I never felt unsafe riding next to the traffic on a relatively busy road.
One of the newest elements of the cycling network in Burlington is also found along this route. As Fairview crosses under the QEW, there are highly visible, bright blue bike lanes painted on the road where cars merge onto the off-ramps of the Highway. These highly visible lanes were installed as the result of a partnership between the City of Burlington and the Ministry of Transportation, and are among the first of these lanes to appear in Ontario. It provides a simple, visible solution to concerns from both cyclists and motorists with respect to visibility, and I found it really amazing what a difference it made as I rode alongside traffic. Vehicles actually slowed down to merge in behind me, rather than speeding up and cutting me off, which I have found is a much more typical response in similar situations where the cycling infrastructure isn’t as clearly demarcated. Of course, if you’re not as comfortable cycling along the road there as I am, there is the option to ride on the sidewalk legally as you move through that interchange, which can provide a solution for cyclists who would prefer to steer clear of lane-changing vehicles altogether.
So after I got past the QEW interchange and into downtown Burlington, that’s where I was really blown away by some of their recent upgrades to the cycling infrastructure in the City. Elegantly designed public art bike racks dot the street, local hotels have covered bike racks to welcome cycling tourists, secure bike lockers await City Hall staff who ride to work and, most importantly, a number of beautiful trails await cyclists who are eager to explore Burlington.
The most visible example is, of course, the Waterfront Trail. It’s hard not to have a huge grin on your face when you’re riding along the Lakeshore with the sun shining and the wind blowing through your hair. Certainly the Waterfront trail is a destination for all who come to Burlington, but its utility as an everyday commuting route is quite limited.
The Centennial Bikeways, on the other hand, are perfectly situated to fulfill the needs and desires of both commuter cyclists and people out for a leisurely, scenic ride. Carved through the Hydro Corridors running from the Eastern edge of Burlington all the way to the center of the City, these two beautiful pathways feature wide (between 3m and 4m), smooth, paved paths, a beautiful tree canopy, clear, easily understandable wayfinding signs and a series of public art benches that are as visually appealing as they are useful. These paths have been upgraded dramatically over the past couple of years with an eye towards making them a sort of “bike highway” running through the city. So far I’ve only been on the Bikeways twice, but both times I was on the trails they were filled with Burlingtonians of all ages riding their bikes and enjoying all of the beautiful landscapes that Burlington has to offer.
The future of cycling is certainly looking very bright in Burlington, even though there is still much left to do to create a network of cycling infrastructure where more riders will feel safe enough to take to the streets regularly. But the City is moving aggressively towards becoming more cycling friendly with the initiation of two car free days in Burlington this year (One on June 10th at Appleby and one in July downtown), the continuous development of new bike infrastructure and their ongoing dedication to promoting active transportation. As the city continues to develop, there is little doubt that more and more Burlingtonians are going to find it cheaper, quicker and more convenient to start leaving their cars at home and opting for a pedal powered commute, and that’s a future that looks healthier, happier and more prosperous for everyone involved.