PARRY SOUND - Cycling and how to make it easier for enthusiasts to get around the Parry Sound and area was talked about at the West Parry Sound Active Transportation’s breakfast forum last week.
Held inside the Charles W. Stockey Centre for the Performing Arts, local dignitaries, municipal staff and other interested community members listened to speakers tout the benefits of having a cycle-friendly town as well as some how-to tips.
Committee chair Wendal (Wink) Fisher welcomed the group of about 60 to the early morning event, titled A Community Opportunity, and explained its meaning.
“We chose this title because it is our belief that there are health benefits and economic benefits for our communities in the West Parry Sound area in developing and implementing an Active Transportation Master Plan,” Fisher said. “The term active transportation refers to any form of transportation involving human muscle power to get from place to place and the most common forms are walking and biking. The term also implies that active transportation is incorporated into our daily routines and is not just a means of improving one’s fitness level or as a workout.
Active since 2006, the organization developed the area’s first walk and bike map, launched an Active Transportation Charter, and conducted bicycle safety courses through Canadore College.
Next up for the committee is to gain support from local groups and municipal councils for the charter and develop a West Parry Sound Active Transportation Master Plan.
Chris Baird, economic development and planning director in Norfolk County, said getting support from mayors, councils as well as MPs and MPPs is important to make changes in policies.
“We recognized health and community well-being in our Strategic Plan as our strategy,” said Baird. Within the different departments we made sure that those plans supported trail development and recreational opportunities. We made sure that we had policies in our Official Plan that supported keeping passable corridors and trying to build walkable communities.
“It doesn’t matter where you are in the country, you need to get support from mayors, your MPPS, your MP as well. They’re the ones that are in the position, they can affect change and approve budgets and policies.”
Baird said “community buy-in is important” which includes the people already within the community.
“We’ve got fellows in engineering, they help us do bike counts on our trails and our roadways, so when we’re trying to establish which roads are preferred routes, they love to do that kind of stuff,” he said. “Community planning and planning staff, making sure policies are in place. And tourism and economic development to help the marking and promotion of what we got. So there’s a lot of expertise there.
“You don’t have to consult, you don’t have to bring all sorts of experts in and pay them money. Find people living in the district that share that passion to bring that expertise to the table.”
Eleanor McMahon, CEO of the Share the Road Cycling Coalition a not-for-profit-organization funded in part by the Ontario Trillium Foundation said part of its strategic mandate is advocacy.
“At our conference, the Minister of Transportation announced a province-wide advertising and behaviour-changing initiative with the CAA that’s going to roll out this summer - ads on television, on the Internet, in print, on the radio - funded by the Ministry of Transportation in partnership with Share the Road and CAA and focus on that share the road message,” she said. “In 1971, 85 per cent of children rode their bike or walked to school. Who can hazard a guess at what that number is now? It’s 14.5 per cent…the average distance to school in the Greater Toronto Area is less than two kilometres and the rate of children being driven to school is considerable. The cost of busing in Ontario is approaching $1 billion dollars a year…(cycling) is something we used to do, but we don’t do anymore and we need to do it again.”
McMahon said she’s beginning to see a shift, that there is a growing awareness of cycling as a benefit to health, environment and economy.
She added it’s also important to educate the public on the importance of safety on the road between vehicles and cyclists.
“When cyclists are hit by trucks, the chance of fatality is high,” said McMahon, who’s husband, OPP Sgt. Greg Stobbart, was struck and killed while on his bike. “If we can reduce those number of collisions through education and awareness and other measures the chance we could lessen those numbers is absolutely essential and very key.”
McMahon also talked about the organization’s Bicycle Friendly Community competition and said she would love to see Parry Sound become one.
“I’m happy to say that 30 per cent of Ontario is listed as a bicycle-friendly community, that’s really significant,” she said.