More off-road vehicle road access criticized in pitches to council

By Kirk Winter

Public shares differing views on off-road vehicle bylaw changes

Six local citizens took on the challenge of sharing with council — in just five minutes or less over Zoom — their views on ORV access to municipal roads in the south of the city. Five of them spoke out strongly against allowing more ORV access on city roads.

Their efforts earned the praise of deputy-mayor Patrick O’Reilly who said, “the deputations were well thought out and worthy of consideration.”

Kerrie Bartlett began the deputations advocating in favour of the ATV community’s request for municipal road access. Bartlett identified as “an avid ATV rider” and argued that “ATVing is part of the fabric of rural life in Kawartha Lakes.”

“There are many benefits to ATVing,” Bartlett said. “ATVing is good for both physical and mental health. The average age of ATVers in Kawartha Lakes is 55 and with access to their machines many older folks can access the great outdoors and enjoy nature.”

“ATVing equals freedom for me,” Bartlett added. “The places you will get to visit will put a smile on your face. If you build this connecting trail system tourists will come.”

Bartlett also shared with council that a petition favouring more access to municipal roads with 4,700 signatures would soon be uploaded to the city website.

Dr. Peter Petrosoniak presented next, arguing that the current bylaw limiting ATV road access to north of the Glenarm Road is adequate, and more roadways in the south of the city do not need to be opened up because of public health concerns.

Petronsoniak said Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit opposes opening up any additional trails because of the number of reported ATV accidents in the region.

Petrosoniak reminded council of the concerns expressed by Director of Public Works Bryan Robinson, who reported that, “the shorter wheel bases typical of ATVs increase the risk of accidents.”

“Serious accidents with life threatening injuries and deaths are already far too commonplace,” Petrosoniak said. “Collisions will only get worse with more road usage. Public health has said very clearly they want no change in the current bylaw.”

Former councillor Heather Stauble agreed with Petrosoniak in her presentation, also mentioning issues of safety while agreeing that ATVs require no more access to municipal roads.

“In 2013, our health unit warned that ATVs were a significant source of injury and death for their users and are often involved in collisions with another vehicle. They recommended that council not implement a by-law that would allow road access for ATVs,” Stauble began.

“In 2021, HKPRDHU still believes that being on roadways increases the risk of collisions with other motor vehicles, and that design characteristics of these vehicles, particularly ATVs, make them unsafe for roadways,” Stauble continued.

Stauble reminded council that ATV manufacturers such as Polaris, Kawasaki, Yamaha and Honda all have warnings about operating “on any public street, road or highway, even dirt or gravel ones.”

Stauble also touched on the issue of city insurance and liability in the event of ATV accidents and the additional costs the city will have to bear because off future premiums’ increase and the costs associated with investigating and defending the city from personal injury suits of all kinds.

“Accessing the trails can be done safely and legally,” Stauble concluded, “using a trailer.”

Bill Steffler, a local financial planner and economist by training, spoke against the expansion of road access focusing his argument on revenues generated versus the costs of enforcing and maintaining this expansion of road access.

“So far we have only had vague statements regarding the economic spinoffs of this decision,” Steffler said. “No one has yet to factor in the costs of additional health care, road maintenance and enforcement. There are no financial reference points being offered. We have to remember that nothing is free in life, and that includes the consequences (of opening up more municipal roads to ATVS).”

“When health care costs are factored into equations like the one we are discussing, all financial benefits vanish,” Steffler said. “This is one group imposing its recreational preferences on the rest of the city. Decisions regarding expanded ATV access are a preference not a necessity.”

Steffler expressed frustration with the entire task force process suggesting that by the makeup of its members “it had become a lobby group (for the ATV owners and retail outlets) disguised as a task force.”

“Roads are becoming motorized recreational trails,” Steffler concluded. “We need sound data driven decision making from council. I encourage council to stop, think and do your due diligence on this decision.”

Lesley Barrett then presented in opposition to ATV access, focusing her points on children and the potential danger ATVS on municipal roads will pose for them.

Barrett said that ATVs on municipal roads will only make the walk to school every morning for many elementary students much more complicated and dangerous. Barrett also raised the subject of teenagers driving their ATVs to school, and the problems that would create for high school administrators.

“Not everyone is as safety conscious as the adult riders we have heard about today,” Barrett said. “High school kids are not so safety conscious. This is creating a dangerous mixture. Parents don’t need us to open this door.”

Barrett said, “Human life is far more valuable than any form of entertainment. We need to put this issue aside until the pandemic is done.”

John Speirs concluded the deputations, suggesting the timing for the task force “was premature.”

“Why don’t we wait until August when we will have a completed Trails Master Plan to look at, “Speirs suggested. “These two issues go hand in hand.”

“We already have a 2006 consultant’s report that cost $50,000 that suggested against more access to ATVS in built up areas,” Speirs reminded council. “We need to be respectful of all residents, not just ATV owners. There are more than enough trail miles open at the expense of others. If we are concerned about costs, the fewer ATVs we have the less cost for trail maintenance.”

“I would like to see mindful consideration given to all, rather than one large organized interest group getting what they want,” Speirs concluded.

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