Submitted by Jon Davey
Statistics Canada tells us the average Canadian will drive their car 15,000 km every year many of which are short, local trips of 10 km or less. Thus, once we’ve welcomed our new neighbours into their 1600 units on Pier 8, assuming each unit owner also has one car, there will be hundreds of thousands of new car kilometres travelled annually through our neighbourhood streets. It’s not hard to imagine this will impact road conditions, local air quality, car commute times and commercial activity for contractors and small business operators, trying to get to their destinations. It will also result in reduced street safety, especially for children and the elderly. This outcome will be disliked by many and beneficial for few and will be no one individual’s fault. It’s an inevitable result of a transportation system that makes car use a necessity. Streets aren’t going to get any wider so a big part of embracing new development needs to mean prioritizing active and public transportation options that can make neighbourhoods both healthier and more affordable.
Canadian vehicles consume an average of 9 litres/100 km which means that travelling those 15,000 km will require purchasing 1350 litres of gas/year. With gas prices soaring, there’s little wonder people are looking for alternatives for all those short, in-town trips. In terms of avoiding pain-at-the-pumps nothing beats good old walking and cycling for those who are able-bodied. And if you’ve been seeing more cyclists moving with more ease lately, even up hills and into a strong headwind, there’s a good chance that they were actually riding an e-bike. E-bikes are almost indistinguishable from traditional bicycles, apart from a small motor and battery that provides as much, or little, assistance as the rider requires but has its speed electronically limited to 28 km/hr. But don’t be fooled. Ranging in price from $1,000 to $8,000, these aren’t to be regarded as a form of “bicycle cheating”. If anything, they’ve been shown to increase both the distance and frequency that people bicycle and therefore, the total number of calories that they burn. And what’s even better about e-bikes, is that many of the people choosing them are often those approaching an age when most would normally start to think about giving up cycling. So, their e-bike actually allows them to extend their active years, keeping them healthier and more independent.
I’ve talked to several people who have invested in e-bikes to either replace car ownership completely or replace the need for a second car, from young families at Bayfront Park, to a construction worker from Hamilton’s Strathcona neighbourhood on their way to work, to a former long-time north-ender, Robert, (still wearing his I LOVE THE NORTH END shirt), who says of his e-bike, “it’s the best purchase I’ve ever made”. It allows him to live car-free, getting groceries, running errands and even venturing as far away as Brantford via the rail trail. And he says he still has battery to spare when he returns.
The efficiency of e-bikes is nothing short of remarkable when you consider that they weigh less than a single car tire and that the battery for a single electric Ford F-150 could be split to power 300 e-bikes.
For all the talk of an “EV Revolution”, world-wide it seems e-bikes are out-selling electric vehicles by a sizeable margin, in spite of significant rebates and incentives for EVs. One reason for this is the growing price of new cars in general (averaging over $40,000) caused by supply chain issues and the increasing scarcity of the semiconductors that complex, modern cars rely on to function. Another reason is people are realizing a majority of the kilometres they drive are made up, statistically, of a whole lot of short trips (10 kilometres or less). Often those trips are made getting a single occupant to point B without much if any luggage.
While there are many whose circumstances or mobility limitations make using a car a necessity, there are many who would be able to take advantage of lighter vehicles. And by doing so, provide the people that need their vehicles the benefit of having fewer drivers between them and their destination. In order to maximize the mutual benefit of transportation options, we need safe and convenient to use alternatives; meaning well-connected and protected cycling networks, something Hamilton is working steadily, yet all too slowly, toward.