Sir: At a recent council meeting, the death knell was sounded for safe cycling infrastructure In Chatham-Kent urban communities. The Active Communities Steering Committee, the committee of council responsible for providing guidance on this issue, resigned in protest. The engineering and infrastructure department has recommended that no more time or money be spent on this issue, since council is obviously unwilling to approve implementation projects.
How did this happen? What were councillors’ reasons for voting against the proposed projects? Let’s list and discuss some of them.
Reason No. 1: “The bike lanes already installed haven’t been used.”
Response: This is like saying, “We built a bridge halfway across the river and no one is using it, so we won’t build the second half.” The urban bikeway network is a transportation system. A basic rule for transportation systems is that they be continuous and connected. The bikeway network is a work in progress towards that goal. We need to build the second half of the bridge!
Reason No. 2: “The municipality can’t afford it.”
Response: There is at least $11 million sitting in gas tax reserves (federal and provincial) on the municipality’s books. This money is basically issued by the upper levels of government to finance transportation alternatives (pedestrian, cycling and transit). We’ve gone about as far as we reasonably can on transit development.
Full completion of the bikeway network will cost under $4 million. Completion of the sidewalk infrastructure will cost under $5 million. Several million will be left over for maintenance of these systems, and more than a million flows in from gas tax revenues most years. None of this will increase C-K property taxes.
What do you mean we can’t afford it?
Reason No. 3: “Bike lanes separated from cars only by a painted line aren’t safe.”
Response: Wow, councillor, show us your engineering degree with specialization and experience in transportation planning.
The most common cause of cyclist fatalities in many communities has been motor vehicles overtaking cyclists – either running directly into them or sideswiping them.
Some studies have put this at 40% of fatalities, but the average is about 30%. Overtaking collisions happen when cyclists are forced to ride in the same lane as motor vehicles. Where they are given a separate lane, the percentage drops as low as 5%.
Councillors, which number would you prefer?
Reason No. 4: “I wouldn’t want my grandchildren biking on a high-traffic street like McNaughton.”
Response: C-K bylaws allow young children to ride on sidewalks. When they graduate to full-sized bikes, they are safer on bike lanes than in car lanes.
Reason No. 5: ”We can’t take away on-street parking.”
Response: Why do the few households on McNaughton West have more right to on-street parking than those living on the rest of McNaughton, or on Grand Avenue, or Park Avenue? They don’t.
If road widening is necessary, costs explode, and we will never have a complete system.
Chatham-Kent will soon be the only significant municipality in North America without an urban cycling network. We win another race to the bottom.