December 08, 2010

Active Transportation Plan will get assets moving

As published in The Erin Advocate

Gill Penalosa cut to the heart of the matter last week, in a discussion of Erin's future transportation needs: How do we really want to live? Are we content with a car-dominated culture, or are we prepared to demand an infrastructure that values walking, cycling and other modes of human-powered locomotion?

"It's not about the money, it's about having the vision," said Penalosa, an internationally renowned liveable city advisor, speaking at a series of workshops throughout Wellington County. An audience that included business people, environmentalists, trails enthusiasts and town councillors attended the session at Centre 2000, part of an initiative to develop a Wellington Active Transportation Plan.

"It's time to build alliances, to get everybody working together – it might not be easy," said Penalosa. "We've got to develop a sense of urgency. We have to make the best quality of life – the general interest must prevail. We need to make walking and cycling a normal part of life."

Penalosa is the Executive Director of 8-80cities, a Toronto-based non-profit group that promotes healthy, people-oriented communities. Their name is based on the strategy of designing public areas that are not only safe and comfortable for able-bodied adults, but also for eight-year-olds and 80-year-olds. Check out

An Active Transportation Plan (a process that is already well-advanced in nearby regions) provides a guide for future development that could, for example, require adequate bike lanes when roads come up for reconstruction. It a joint initiative of the County, local municipalities and the Health Unit, which is concerned about rates of obesity, heart disease and other consequences of inadequate levels of physical activity.

Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health already sponsors the "WDG in motion" initiative, with a mandate to “create a culture of physical activity” in the region, according to their website, If you have ideas for the Active Transportation Plan, you can write to Karen Armstrong, In Motion Coordinator at the Health Unit: A consultant will be hired next year to work on the project.

It will be on a broad scaler than other related efforts, such as a Trails Master Plan for Erin, which is also being discussed. As with all such plans, they should not be used as an excuse for doing nothing until the plan is complete. If there is a consensus on the need for a certain project, it should proceed. The bias needs to be in favour of action.

Here are some of the ideas being floated to create a better environment for pedestrians and cyclists. The fact that some have been floating about for decades, but never achieved, does not make them less worthy of consideration.

• A bypass to take traffic, especially trucks, away from the downtown core of Erin village. This was mentioned by many participants at the workshop as a major factor in improving safety and quality of life in the village.

• Cross-walks or traffic lights to improve safety and discourage vehicle traffic.

• Improved off-street parking and elimination of some on-street parking to create a bike lane, with a concrete curb or barrier between the cars and the bikes.

• Improved trails, including a bridge over the river to link McMillan Park with the Woollen Mills Trail, a loop route on the water tower hill, a link from Stanley Park to Elora-Cataract rail trail, a loop including the rail trail in Hillsburgh and improved access to Barbour Field.

• Pedestrian-based areas of retail stores, restaurants and offices close to the downtown cores. Any significant redevelopment would require a sewage system.

• Bike lanes on selected rural roads to create a network among various destinations. Increased construction costs would be offset by the fact that wider roads last longer.

• A boardwalk along downtown sections of the river. The fact that some of this land is now privately owned would make such a project more complicated, but not impossible.

• Better bicycle parking areas in public places and at schools.

• Bus service to neighbouring municipalities.

• More parks and renewal of existing parks to make them more appealing to the public.

• More closures of downtown streets to vehicle traffic for special events on weekends.

• More local employment to reduce the rate of long-distance commuting.

Of course, in a town where the majority of residents live outside the urban areas and work elsewhere, cars and trucks will remain a necessity for many people. But we can still give higher priority to "active" transportation, and enjoy a better quality of life as a result.