Hundreds of cyclists across Hamilton recently participated in Bike to Work Day, an annual event organized by Smart Commute with the stated goal of “raising awareness of cycling as a healthy, practical and fun way to travel to work or school.” The Bay Observer spoke about the event with Paul Barrett, Air Quality Programs Coordinator at Greenventure, a sustainability organization that helps organize Bike to Work Day.
BO: You’re a part of Greenventure; can you tell us what Greenventure is?
PB: Greenventure is an organization advocating water and energy conservation, waste reduction and pollution prevention. What we’re really about is promoting sustainable solutions and connecting people with those solutions through education and outreach.
BO: How does Bike to Work Day fit in with that project?
PB: Cycling is a form of sustainable transportation, so it’s something that we emphasize; I think that Bike to Work Day is as much about education as it is about riding. We all learn through doing, and Bike to Work Day is in some ways about pairing up with a more experienced person and building the confidence to pursue more sustainable modes of transit. Many people know how to ride a bike and there’s lots of great infrastructure out there in Hamilton in which to ride your bicycle, but until you actually get out there and start doing it on a regular basis that level of comfort and confidence can’t start to grow. It’s about taking that knowledge and putting it into practice, and people who learn from the event can become ambassadors for other cyclists out there. It’s only one day, but the idea is that it has a lasting impact and there’s certainly lots of success stories out there.
BO: 700 people are reported to have participated in Bike to Work Day in Hamilton. Are you satisfied with the turnout and how the event went in general?
PB: Absolutely. Around Hamilton there are a few different points where people meet so we’ve got quite a few people that have gone into Gore Park, McMaster, and Mohawk as well as some other partners; that’s where the full total (700 cyclists) comes from. I’m also satisfied with the event on a whole because any time that you see cyclists out there enjoying a ride to work, it’s great because it makes a statement and it helps to build a cycling culture.
BO: Sean Burak of Downtown Bike Hounds has also talked about the importance of building a biking “culture”; people often say that such a culture is essential for an environment that has positive, safe accommodations for cyclists and that builds understanding between cyclists and motorists on the city streets.
BO: I spoke to some Bike to Work Day participants at Gore Park and many were surprised that their bike ride only took them a minute or two longer – or in some cases, even several minutes fewer – than their regular vehicular transit takes.
PB: If you ride through the city door to door, cycling is actually your fastest mode of transportation. What’s more, even just from a health standpoint commuting can be stressful, so having your mind and body engaged while you’re cycling helps to beat that commuter stress so it’s a winner on a number of health issues as well.
BO: Are you satisfied with Hamilton’s progress so far in its developments to become a cycling friendly city? Do you think there is room for improvement for municipal bike transit?
PB: I think you hit the nail on the head when you said “so far.” Hamilton has been recognized as an excellent city for cyclists by national and international standards. According to a program administered by Share the Road (a Canadian cycling initiative), Hamilton has actually received a positive “silver” standing in terms of cyclability on the program’s ranking of Canadian cities’ cycling infrastructures. There are some great connections in Hamilton – more than people might believe or give credit for – but there’s certainly room for greater connectivity. We do, however, already have some really good links east-west and even north-south. We do have the escarpment there, and though it can be a barrier there are ways to overcome that – for example, the multiuse paths, the radial trail, and even the stairs with their bicycle troughs that give cyclists access up and down the mountain.
BO: Are there any other Greenventure events coming up locally?
PB: The Clean Air Commute Week, which will take place from June the 18th to June the 24th, is a great opportunity for people to try different modes of transportation and log their experiences. Clean Air Commute Week is about trying modes of transportation other than single occupancy vehicles, and that includes car sharing, carpooling, cycling, walking – any type of active, sustainable transportation. We encourage people to try these different modes of transportation for a week, and that helps people learn what’s out there and what’s already in place for us to make our commutes more sustainable. Clean Air Commute Week wraps up on the 24th with Open Streets Hamilton, which is an annual event on James Street North where 2 ½ to 3 kilometres of the city become car free. You’re invited to come out into the streets and enjoy the neighbourhood in a totally different way, almost creating a temporary urban park. There have been two a year in Hamilton since 2010, and it’s an event that helps give you a perspective of your city that you don’t often see.