“Sometimes a bike isn’t just a bike – sometimes it’s an indicator too. The presence of many bikes out and about can be a visual indicator that a community has been built at more of a human scale, and that the mobility of people, not just cars, is an important element of the community’s plans. Places where more people are riding their bikes are places where more children are getting to school actively and safely, where local businesses flourish, where neighbourhoods are friendly and vibrant, and where investment and tourism dollars tend to flow.
“Perhaps most importantly, they’re places where all road users – people who walk, drive, take transit or bike – are safer. Improved bikability as a community priority makes sense for so many reasons.” – Share the Road 2015 Bicycle Friendly Community Program Introduction
A month ago today, I attended the two-day 2015 Ontario Bike Summit with Jeff Mills (Mississippi Mills Bicycle Month – http://mmbm.ca – founder and so-well-liked, so-hard-working community developer). I learned a lot and had even more reinforced about the health and economic benefits of bicycle friendly communities and the bicycle tourism industry in Ontario, which I hope will include Mississippi Mills as soon as possible!
In this article, the first of two about this topic, I’ll try to summarize information from the Summit and other documents I’ve received.
The Summit and Bicycle Friendly Communities The Share the Road Cycling Coalition, organizers of the Summit, released a poll showing increased investment in cycling infrastructure is something Ontarians want. Stats include:
68% of Ontarians agree that transportation costs are a major financial burden and if someone’s only or best way to get to work or to go shopping is a bike, they should have the option to ride a bike and to ride it safely
39% of respondents see the potential to lower transportation costs as a factor that would encourage them to ride a bike more often
96% of respondents indicated if they rode a bicycle more often they would do so for recreation
A majority (54%) want to ride their bike more often
Groups that expressed the strongest interest in cycling more included:
Individuals aged 35-49 (65%)
Daily car drivers (56%)
Being certified as a “Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC)” is a goal for many communities across Ontario, and 26 small and large communities have been certified so far. BFCs are founded on five themes: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement and Evaluation & Planning. Economic Development is another “E” “of note” and a key result of the BFC program. A good recap of the 2015 Bike Summit: http://www.sharetheroad.ca/obs-2015-s16970
In Thunder Bay, the push for bicycle friendly community was tricky and the town tried lots of education approaches. The goal of Thunder Bay’s “You Know Me. I Ride a Bike” campaign was to personalize cyclists – so that motorists see a person, not an object, riding on the road. Jeff and I really liked this idea, and I hope to get something like that started in Mississippi Mills.
Our town is nearly certified a Bicycle Friendly Community Mississippi Mills is very close to becoming a BFC, but still has to invest in the “engineering” aspect of a BFD, namely we need some signage and a dedicated bike lane going down a main artery in our town (Ottawa Street would be super). More bike lanes and trails and better infrastructure are key measures that encourage frequent cycling.
Thanks to Mississippi Mills Bicycle Month, our community has a Mississippi Mills bicycle routes map and a bilingual map of cycling routes at the County level is coming soon. These are key items for increasing cycle tourism and being a bicycle friendly place. We have more kids biking to school and increased awareness about sharing the road. Mississippi Mills is also launching its first bike share program – Right Bikes – in May 2015 with four bikes to rent from the Almonte Old Town Hall. And a new active group, the Family Bicycle Club, has recently formed.
Why invest in becoming a bicycle friendly community? The province has started to get the message and I think Mississippi Mills can also get on board a 10-15 year vision: increase healthy and active lifestyles, increase tourism and increase transportation solutions. The February 2015 Cycle Tourism in Ontario report (full report: http://www.ontariobybike.ca) states the following as benefits to residents:
Improved health for all residents (Not just cyclists! More cyclists means less cars on the road, which improves air quality, safety and the health of pedestrians and car drivers too)
More bikes on the road mean less car trips (and cars) which equals lower costs for road infrastructure upgrades and maintenance in the future
Cycle tourism is booming across Ontario and building tourism goes straight to increasing economic development and helping local business to succeed
On 1 April 2015, as part of Ontario’s 20-year #CycleON strategy, the province announced it’s moving forward with a $25-million investment over three years to create a more cycling-friendly future. This includes $15 million for cycling routes that provide key connections and linkages on provincial highways, such as paved highway shoulders and barriers on bridges that separate cyclists from vehicles.
Ontario also dedicated $10 million to the Ontario Municipal Cycling Infrastructure Program to help municipalities expand local cycling routes and connect with provincial cycling routes.