Riding a bicycle in Hamilton is often a question of morality.

You can choose to ride on the road where you may potentially be run over by a bus, or, you can choose to ride on the sidewalk where you may potentially run over a puppy. Do you risk your own safety, or sacrifice the joy of a small furry animal?

“People want to do what’s right. They recognize that walking or biking is better for their health, better for the environment, but it’s not easy. And if it’s not safe, they aren’t going to do it,” explained Justin Jones, an organizer of Yes We Cannon.

Yes We Cannon started up two months ago as a local grassroots organization petitioning for a two-way bike lane along Cannon Street, one of the most frequently used routes in the lower city.

“There’s no bike lane, no route for people to safely ride their bikes on. It’s an area used by 50,000 people,” further added Jones, an avid cyclist.

Cannon Street runs four lanes of one-way traffic from Queen Street North to Sherman North, where it then switches to two-way traffic up until Kenilworth North. The street currently caters solely to vehicular traffic, but with six elementary and secondary schools in the area, along with numerous businesses lining the road, it is still heavily used by pedestrians and cyclists.

Acknowledging that a change needed to be made, in 2009 the city of Hamilton developed the City Cycling Master Plan or “Shifting Gears” which attempts to improve cycling infrastructure and develop complete streets. Although the plan received unanimous support from city council, the bike lanes on Cannon have yet to be discussed. The cycling plan identifies Cannon as an area receiving a “road diet,” which refers to the addition of a single bicycle lane on the one-way side of the street, and a bike lane on each side of the street where traffic runs two-ways.

“What we are asking for is a separated bi-directional bike lane – similar to the ones that run on King Street – where there is a contra-flow lane that is walled and protected. That’s what we want to see [across] Cannon,” explained Jones.

To showcase their plans for sharing the road and its feasibility, Yes We Cannon has hosted two rides along Cannon: Bike to Work Day on May 27, and an Open Streets ride on June 23.

“The ride was done during the morning rush and to absolutely nobody’s shock there was no gridlock,” adds Justin when discussing Bike to Work.

With four lanes devoted to traffic, Cannon is in a prime position for bike lanes. According to traffic counts from late 2012, each lane averages about 2,500 vehicles per day. The lanes are carrying less than half of their capacity, encouraging drivers to speed, and making the area dangerous for its users.

“It’s a freeway out there and it’s very intimidating to be there as a bike when you don’t have airbags or seatbelts,” adds Justin.

The petition currently has just over 1,600 supporters, and the organizers plan to go to city council with their proposition come September. So far the city has been supportive of the campaign and understands that the city needs more active transportation infrastructure, especially along its major roads.

“We’re going in the right direction. We’re doing things to keep cyclists safe. But we still have a network that has some very significant gaps in it. If we really want to take our cycling infrastructure from good to great, we should be installing something to connect and close those gaps,” explained Jones.

The ultimate plan for Yes We Cannon would be to have the bi-directional lanes up and running prior to the start of the Pan Am games in 2015.

“We know there is going to be resurfacing going on around the Pan Am precinct in the lead up to the games… Why pay crews to come in and do resurfacing and repainting twice? Why not do it once, do it right, leave the city with a legacy of active transportation that everyone can be proud of and can use decades after the Pan Am games have come and gone?”

The reasons to add bike lanes to Cannon outweigh the reasons not to.

“We aren’t talking about taking anything away from anyone, we’re talking about giving choice back to the community. Leaving a legacy we can all be proud of.”

If you’re a cyclist, you know how frustrating it can be trying to ride along a major road, and how terrifying it can be weaving in and out of pedestrians and the aforementioned puppies on the sidewalk.   If you would like to sign the petition in show of your support, you can visit Yes We Cannon’s website at www.yeswecannon.com. Sign it for yourself, sign it for your city, and sign it for the puppies.

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