Hamilton’s embrace of bicycles marks the beginning of a new era

The below article was originally written in Urbanicity, a Hamilton-based news outlet, by Michael Kras as part of a series of sponsored articles focused on the future of Hamilton and the ambitious city builders continuing its urban resurgence.

There’s a vehicle that is currently revolutionizing local travel, both in Hamilton and worldwide.

It’s smaller than a Smart Car. The maintenance is minimal. It won’t soak you for $50 of gas money every week. Riding it isn’t just good for the environment; it’s good for you.

Oh, and it’s also over 200 years old.

There’s no denying it: bicycles are back and better than ever, and their popularity in urban centres like Hamilton is only growing stronger.

Part of this new surge of cyclists can be attributed to the current unprecedented realities of the COVID-19 era. As car-less commuters seek safer ways of getting around during the pandemic, bicycles have stood out as a compact, eco-friendly, reliable, and affordable mode of transportation that not only cuts down on carbon emissions, but also provides the safety and flexibility needed to navigate a city in the modern era.

Nowadays, Hamiltonians can’t get enough of these timeless two-wheeled transporters, and there’s no stronger evidence for that than the citywide backlash that emerged as SoBi, the city’s popular bikeshare program, suddenly faced possible extinction after its parent company, Uber Inc., announced that it would be halting operations and maintenance of the program by June of this year.

With SoBi’s clock suddenly ticking loudly, a swift community uprising – which included action from city staff, local advocacy group Cycle Hamilton, and a growing list of over 26,000 local bike share users – ended up raising enough money through fundraising to revive SoBi and support it for at least the next year under the operative hand of not-for-profit group Hamilton Bike Share.

Now, with SoBi bicycles back on the streets and ridership on the upswing, Hamilton is doing more to support a bike-forward vision for the city’s transportation infrastructure.

One of 130+ SoBi bike hubs located in Hamilton.

As the COVID-19 era sees more and more people prone to pedalling their way around, the city is investing just under $50,000 into improving its existing bike lanes with the addition of measures such as bumpers, curbs, and barriers that will keep cyclists safely separated from vehicular traffic.

The construction of the upcoming Jay Keddy Trail along the Claremont Access – a new multi-use trail that will connect cyclists and pedestrians through a continuous route between the escarpment and lower city – is a prime example of City initiatives being put to work.

Pegged at $6 million, construction for the project began July 6th and will open by November, both unifying our city’s geographical elevations and providing some much needed safety barriers for cyclists and pedestrians alike. In fact, the trail pays tribute to Jay Keddy, a cyclist who was killed by a motor vehicle while riding up the Claremont access in 2015.

There’s even the possibility of an extensive, bidirectional bike lane getting temporarily added on a stretch of King Street West between Locke Street and Highway 403; and if bicycles become even more popular in the near future, it’s not unlikely we’ll see Hamilton become increasingly bike-friendly as time goes on.

For prominent Hamilton cycling advocates like Jay Krause, who co-chairs local group Cycle Hamilton, the reasons for a rise in biking are clear; especially relative to this particular moment in time.

Dedicated bike lanes along Cannon Street.

“It has been clear that COVID-19 has been a massive driver for increased numbers in walking and biking trips,” says Krause. “Early on, the City reported massive drops of 60 to 90% in public transit and driving & parking numbers, while cycling trips were stable.”

However, according to Krause, the health implications of cycling go beyond simply avoiding potential exposure to COVID-19 on other modes of local transportation; they’re also a key part of the new ways countless urban residents are adjusting to life and self-care in the middle of a pandemic.

“I live in a small apartment in downtown Hamilton with no outdoor space and work from home full-time. Being able to get out on my bike has been an essential part of my new routines to maintain my physical, mental, and emotional well-being,” he explains.

Those health implications are even larger than some may immediately realize. In fact, a report published this year by Toronto Public Health explains that around $1.6 billion of Canada’s annual health care costs are directly related to health issues stemming from physical inactivity.

Dedicated bike lanes along Bay Street.

With cycling shown to reduce the risk of potentially fatal conditions such as cancer, stroke, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, as well as improve general physical health & wellness, the impact of a rise in biking could potentially save Canada’s healthcare as much as $150 million annually.

Thankfully, then, Hamilton isn’t the only Canadian locale expecting a bike-forward future. Neighbouring municipalities like Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, London, and Newmarket are also investing in developing transportation infrastructure that better accommodates cyclist and pedestrian traffic, building bike lanes and centering bicycles as an unprecedented transit priority.

This trend isn’t just region-wide or nationwide, either: the cycling revolution is becoming a worldwide phenomenon, with cities across Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Hungary, and beyond reporting significant spikes in cyclists for 2020 and responding by pouring resources into building cycling infrastructure.

As the world adjusts its approach to transportation, places like Hamilton can keep the wheels turning by investing further in bike lanes safely separated from vehicular traffic, ensuring the city’s bike network is properly maintained and usable during the harsher winter months, and even incentivizing biking through measures such as reducing insurance premiums for cyclists or tax deductions for related purchases.

A bike box is a designated area at the head of a traffic lane at a signalized intersection that provides bicyclists with a safe and visible way to get ahead of queuing traffic during the red signal phase.

Hamilton has lots of work to do before any of this is made a reality, but local cycling advocates like Krause believe the impact could be substantial.

“Our top priority remains developing a protected and connected cycling network,” he says. “In the short term, there is a massive opportunity for the City of Hamilton to follow the lead of cities such as Toronto, Brampton, Montreal, and now countless others, which have undertaken meaningful initiatives to rebalance streets and find opportunities to develop new infrastructure to meet the immediate need and will continue to pay dividends in the long-term.”


Author: Michael Kras
Editor-in-chief: Robert Cekan
https://urbanicity.com/

What is Urbanicity?
We are Hamilton’s community hub, publishing news you can use and curating Hamilton’s best local activities. Use Urbanicity to discover everything the city has to offer and make Hamilton truly feel like home.

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Lights, Camera, Hamilton!

The below article was originally written in Urbanicity, a Hamilton-based news outlet, by Michael Kras as part of a series of sponsored articles focused on the future of Hamilton and the ambitious city builders continuing its urban resurgence.

Crimson Peak. The Shape of Water. IT: Chapter Two. The Handmaid’s Tale. The Umbrella Academy. American Gods. The Good Witch. The Boys. Murdoch Mysteries. The list of film and television content shot right here in Hamilton keeps growing at a thrillingly rapid rate.

Our buildings have been visited by superheroes, malevolent ghosts, historical figures, and Chris freaking Evans. Our streets and neighbourhoods themselves have played parts from major metropolises to small, folksy townships. Academy Award-winning director Guillermo del Toro has repeatedly sung our city’s praises. The movies and television series shot in Hamilton have won Oscars and Emmys, and penetrated pop culture on an international level.

Hamilton is now one of the country’s hottest hubs for the film & television industry.

The overwhelming commitment to cementing our city’s film & TV scene speaks for itself. As a city with plenty of diverse shooting locations and a whole lot of character, the Hammer has long been a spillover spot for film productions coming from the oversaturated film scene in Toronto, quickly turning Hamilton into a major industry hub in its own right. The influx has now made the city the second largest in Ontario and third largest in Canada.

In fact, Hamilton is home to 9,140 talented people who work in the film industry as well as home to 902 film-related businesses. In 2019, Hamilton received $60 million in ‘direct spend’ from productions on things like hotel stays, prop and equipment rentals, and services such as traffic control.

With a glut of heritage buildings, sprawling urban exteriors, and greenery spaces, Hamilton’s appeal for location scouts makes plenty of sense. Recognizable local landmarks regularly show up on large and small screens, like City Hall’s front-and-centre appearance in the Oscar-winning film The Shape of Water, Dundurn Castle’s key role in the gothic horror period piece Crimson Peak, and multiple downtown core locations featured in the Amazon Prime superhero series The Boys.

Hamilton isn’t just a prime spot for on-location film shoots, though. Not only are we also home to some small film studios and production companies, but we’ve recently been singled out by Aeon Studio Group for an over $100 million project to develop a 200,000 square-foot film studio and residential complex sitting on between 12 and 20 acres of the Barton-Tiffany lands.

Upon its eventual completion, the gigantically ambitious Aeon Studios is proposed to not only house multiple soundstages and studio spaces, but also post-production facilities for visual effects and animation, a crew training facility, retail space, residential towers, creative incubation workspaces, and office space for film, media, and tech companies.

Though the finished product is likely a long time coming due to the enormity of its scope, the Aeon Studios project promises resounding impact on our city’s cultural footprint and job market upon its completion.

Until then, the city still has smaller-scale hubs already making major waves in the city, including the Hamilton Film Studios — a newly-established film studio and production supply retailer with an already-sizeable footprint after only a year since they opened their doors.

Camera cases are among some of the many film-related gear you can pick up at Hamilton Film Studios

“As soon as we got the keys, the door was being knocked on,” says Zach Zohr, who co-owns the Hamilton Film Studios with partners Graham Purdy and Ken Woychesko.

All three owners are industry veterans with extensive backgrounds in film & television production, and they noticed an immediate need to fill in Hamilton. Not only that of studio space and location support, but also a local retail shop so production teams shooting in Hamilton would no longer need to make obnoxious trips into Toronto for necessary supplies and equipment.

The daily foot traffic at Hamilton Film Studios speaks to how essential they are to the city’s growing film scene. From shoots in need of space, to location scouting, to emergency shopping trips for supplies, there are “at least a half-dozen” productions that come through the HFS’ doors daily, according to Zohr.

One of Hamilton’s Film Studios television sets

Those productions have been everything from commercial shoots, to music videos, to television series shot for prominent streaming platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime. Hamilton Film Studios was also home to the production of the independent feature film White Lie, which performed to critical acclaim at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival and is notable for not only being filmed in Hamilton, but also directly set in our city too.

Hamilton Film Studios isn’t the city’s only production resource, however. Barely a five-minute drive from the HFS building sits Digital Canaries, which resides along Burlington Street East and currently holds the title of Hamilton’s largest shooting space.

A film studio that offers flexible space for productions, Digital Canaries sets itself apart from the neighbouring Hamilton Film Studios by having over 50 impressive standing sets available ranging from office replicas, to prison corridors, to courtrooms, to hospital operating rooms, and beyond. On top of that, Digital Canaries also features green screen facilities, as well as an extensive prop and wardrobe house that carries well over 100,000 items of all sizes and types for production use.

Between the rich offerings of the two current spaces, Hamilton Film Studios and Digital Canaries have jointly made Hamilton an even more attractive locale for local, national, and international film & TV production; even ahead of the construction of Aeon Studios. Growth continues at a rapid rate, and according to the folks at Hamilton Film Studios, it shows no signs of slowing.

“We’re never going to be Toronto; that’s the mecca,” says Zohr, while noting that, as vacancies at Toronto’s film facilities are getting scarcer by the day, Hamilton’s status as Ontario’s second busiest centre for film production will likely continue to hold steady. “Filming permits are up every year. As long as people are watching movies, the industry is going to grow.”

Those filming permits are indeed on the rise. In 2019, the city saw 14% more filming days than it did in 2018, which itself was a record-breaking year that saw a 50% increase over the year before in film permits issued.

Hamilton now gets to play a leading role in that growth, simultaneously attracting huge investment and talent to the city on its way to becoming the new Hollywood.

Click here for our tenant spotlight on Hamilton Film Studios.


Author: Michael Kras
Editor-in-chief: Robert Cekan
https://urbanicity.com/

What is Urbanicity?
We are Hamilton’s community hub, publishing news you can use and curating Hamilton’s best local activities. Use Urbanicity to discover everything the city has to offer and make Hamilton truly feel like home.