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Time to get moving on active transportation

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“With an aging population, increasing health care costs and an inactive population, the City of Kawartha Lakes needs to invest in environments that make being physically active the easy choice, while at the same time reducing the environmental footprint. CKL needs to adopt a longer-term vision for how our community is designed and the policies that direct new development.” (City of Kawartha Lakes Integrated Community Sustainability Plan Final Report, April 2014)

The Sustainability Plan was an inspirational document. It saw promoting and enabling active transportation — walking and cycling — as critically important, and called for a decreasing of our dependence on cars.

The preamble to the Active Communities section ends with a vision of transformation:  “Connecting communities through safe routes for walking and cycling to school, work and key community amenities . . . can become the way of life in CKL.”

But the Sustainability Plan was meant to be more than inspirational. It included a commitment to “move these words into action.” Around Active Transportation there were sets of actions laid out around four goals, each action given a priority and a timeline.

So, five years later, what has actually been accomplished?

Well. There have been reminders of all the benefits of Active Transportation — in 2017 Director of Development Services Chris Marshall powerfully made the case to Council in a PowerPoint presentation. And there have been additional documents that call for reducing reliance on vehicles and promoting walking and cycling as ways of getting around: Just last month Council adopted an Environmental Action Plan that sets as a goal a 20 per cent reduction in carbon emissions and specifically calls for alternatives to driving.

But actions?

There have been some:

*The trails organizations have made strides: the Kawartha Trans Canada Trail completed the CKL portion of that trail, and the Green Trails Alliance has focused on Lindsay area trails.

*The  developers for the large subdivision being planned for the area north of Wilson Fields in Lindsay will be incorporating a network of multi-use pathways for pedestrians and cyclists in that new development.

*Last summer, Fenelon Falls initiated a Bike Share Program.

*The City’s Roads department has been paving the shoulders of some roads. Highway 24 from Bobcaygeon to Dunsford was completed over two years (2016 and 2018); sections of CKL Roads 6 and 7 were added in 2017 and 2018. This this year they’ll be incorporating paved shoulders into parts of CKL Roads 6, 21 and 17. (Paved shoulders are cost-effective ways of making roads safer for cyclists).

*Most notably, Environmental Action Bobcaygeon (EAB), a not-for-profit citizens’ group founded a decade ago, went ahead and completed a 120 page “Plan of Action for Walking & Cycling” for Bobcaygeon. It was finalized in 2016/17 and endorsed by City council shortly thereafter. Having that plan in place made it possible for the City to apply for provincial funding that will largely cover purchase of bike stands, racks, and repair stations to be installed in Bobcaygeon this year.

Asked about projects that have come out of the Plan of Action or are related to it, John Bush of EAB provided a long list. Among them are a bike share program and way-finding signs. The organization has also provided comments to help shape development. With comments for Canal Street’s reconstruction, for example, they have provided a “walkability audit” to ensure pedestrians’ needs are identified.

So, there has been some progress — substantial progress if you happen to live in Bobcaygeon.

The Problem

But what has been done has been piecemeal, and the fact is that on the whole we are — more than ever — five years after the Sustainability Plan, still car-centric (especially Lindsay), and still lacking the vision and the infrastructure that the Plan called for. (In the entire City of Kawartha Lakes, for example, there is less than one kilometre of marked bicycle lane).

What’s been missing has been a coherent plan for the City as a whole. This was one of the first actions the Sustainability Plan called for. At that time the “status” assigned to creating an Active Transportation Master Plan was “Essential.”  The timeline set then?  Completion within two years.

Good News: A Cautious Step Forward

A vital first step has just been taken. At the April Committee of the Whole Chris Marshall brought to Mayor and Council a “Memorandum” co-signed by two other staff, Director of Community Services Craig Shanks and Director of Engineering & Corporate Assets Juan Rojas,  recommending that Council direct staff to include funding for an Active Transportation Master Plan for the City of Kawartha Lakes in the 2020 budget.

And council, at its April 23 meeting, formally agreed to follow the recommendation, voting to have funding for an AT Plan be included as a “decision unit” in next year’s budget.

The plan, according to Marshall, “will identify pedestrian and biking networks in the City and identify where future bike lanes should be incorporated so we can make sure to include them in future road works.”

The Memorandum is short and worth reading in its entirety. In a section entitled “Background” the three directors note the concerns of a number of residents about plans for the downtown Lindsay road reconstruction not including bike lanes.

They go on to explain that not having a detailed plan outlining a coordinated, city-wide  approach to active transportation means “staff and consultants are planning for and designing road reconstruction projects without the knowledge of how that one street might fit into the larger network of streets for pedestrian and bicycle movement.” (Fine to have multi-purpose pathways in the new development, for example, but how do walkers or cyclists then get downtown?)

Their final argument is that not having an AT Master Plan has kept the rest of the City from benefiting from the provincial grants Bobcaygeon was able to receive.

The Next Steps

It will be up to council to heed their staff’s wise counsel, live up to its own inspirational documents, and approve funding for the Master Plan next year. (If we can afford $100,000 for a parking strategy designed to accommodate more vehicles in the downtowns, surely we can afford a plan to help make the vision set out in the Sustainability Plan a reality.)

A plan that promotes and enables active transportation will improve our quality of life and make our communities all the more inviting for tourists.

It will be up to those who want a walkable and cyclable city to continue to make their views known and to respectfully press on this issue.

In the meantime, let’s hope it’s possible to take some steps to encourage people to get out of their cars and whenever possible make walking and cycling their way of getting about. Striped-in bike lanes are just a matter of some paint. Bike corrals in some strategic locations (Queen’s Square, for example?) A bike share program for Lindsay now that both Bobcaygeon and Fenelon Falls have them?  More paved shoulders on rural roads?

Time to really get moving.

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Jamie is a retired teacher and Chair of the Kawartha Lakes Library Board. For The Lindsay Advocate he is reviving the 'Friends & Neighbours' column he wrote for the Lindsay Post, as well as writing a column on the library’s contributions to the community.

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