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Public shares differing views on off-road vehicle bylaw changes

City’s ATV task force must put health of citizens ahead of everything else

in Letters to the Editor by
Public shares differing views on off-road vehicle bylaw changes

It is outrageous that the Kawartha Lakes ATV task force wants to open up essentially all roads in the City of Kawartha Lakes to ATV and Side by Side use as can be seen when one views the last task force meeting of March 4.

What is most troubling is the fact that the committee members have not consulted the local health unit for an opinion on what effects such a move would have on the health and safety of area residents. Public Health Ontario released a report on the epidemiology of ATV-related injuries in Ontario in 2019 and found that the Haliburton-Kawartha Pine-Ridge Health Unit (to which our city belongs) had the fifth highest rate of Emergency Room visits and hospitalizations of the 34 health units in the province.

We can expect nothing less than a substantial rise in these rates if the recommendations to open up road use virtually everywhere are formally adopted by the task force and enacted by council.

Why? Because when we look at the health units with the four highest ER visits and hospitalization rates, they are Porcupine Health Unit, which allows road use in Kapuskasing and Iroquois Falls and other roads, Haldimand-Norfolk which allows road use in Campbellford and elsewhere, Huron Health Unit which had many roads open to ATV use, and Grey Bruce which also allows road use on many, if not most, roads. We are in line to join those jurisdictions if we allow road use as much as they do.

The present recommendations are to open up all rural roads in Kawartha Lakes. Although the task force, and Councillor Patt Dunn, specifies certain roads for ATV use in Lindsay and Bobcaygeon, it is also in favour of allowing travel from any home to a trail or allowed road which, in effect, says all roads in the city are open for ATV use. Dunn confirms that and further admits that it would be difficult to police this. I am sure the police services have much more to do than follow ATVs around the city.

Importantly, the Peterborough Health Unit has recommended to council to not allow ATV road use in their jurisdiction. Also, when this was dealt with in Kawartha Lakes in 2011, our health unit made the same recommendation.

Particularly troubling for me is that this task force was struck by council in December 2020 with a mandate to complete a report by the end of March 2021. At the same time, council had budgeted for an Active Transportation Plan (planning of trails and paths for hikers, walkers and cyclists) in late 2019.

Choosing a consultant is just being finalized, over a year later. It is disturbing, from a public health point of view, that the healthier recreational activity has not yet been studied before ATV road use promotion is being rammed through a task force (the constitution of which is questionable given that it is composed only of ATV users or those sympathetic to their lobbying efforts).

Of note, council had contemplated bike lanes for Kent Street in Lindsay prior to reconstruction but then removed them for consideration for the Colborne Street reconstruction project from which they were eventually removed as well. So now we have two reconstructed important roads in Lindsay with no bike paths but a push by some councillors for ATV use on all roads in Lindsay.

This is absolutely retrograde thinking. I predict that, as we have seen in many cities in Canada, the US and Europe, bike paths will need to be retrofitted as we value more the ecologically and environmentally better activities of walking and cycling. Having ATVs in conflict with pedestrians, walkers and hikers is definitely not forward thinking.

The main driver for bringing ATVs into urban areas purportedly is the benefit to business and tourism. Notably, they have not asked for an economic assessment from staff. I submit that, if this council really had the interest of business and tourism in mind, it would market our trails for hiking and biking.

We are so fortunate to be on the crossroads of two important trails, the Great Trail (formerly the Trans-Canada Trail) and the Ganaraska Trail (from Port Hope to the Bruce Trail). With the will of council and proper marketing, the economic and health benefits derived from the use of these two trails, would be tremendous with no environmental degradation, which is always a concern with ATVs use.

This task force has not done its due diligence in assessing all the costs (health costs, municipal liability costs, insurance costs, impact on environment and climate, among others) of ATV road use. One of the duties that leaders such as mayors and councillors have is to protect the health and safety of its citizens. The proposed recommendations would do the opposite and must not be adopted. Consideration of the health implications of ATV use needs to happen.

Peter Petrosoniak
Director of Green Trails Alliance

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