Wednesday, June 1, 2011

ATV's on City's Streets Will Create Conflicts for Cyclists, Pedestrians

The following letter to the editor was submitted to the Sudbury Star for publication on Thursday, May 26, 2011. At the time of posting, the letter has not been published.


ATV's on streets will create conflict for cyclists

Later this year, our municipal council will be considering the creation of a by-law which may permit all-terrain vehicles (ATV’s) on a significant number of our city’s streets. Council should carefully consider how this by-law will impact pedestrians and bicyclists before agreeing to allow ATV’s on our streets, and whether such a by-law is in keeping with building a healthy and sustainable community.

As the price of gasoline continues to rise, we can expect more people to opt for alternative methods of transportation. Along with being environmentally sustainable, walking and cycling are healthy transportation choices for residents. For some residents, walking and cycling may be the only transportation option available, due to cost factors.

Recently, the City adopted the Sustainable Mobility Plan, which identifies the need for more cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in order to better encourage a culture of conservation in our community. The goals of this plan are worthy ones for a community looking ahead towards its future needs. Like it or not, the days of inexpensive energy have come to an end, and we must begin planning for the inevitable low-carbon future.

Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, bicycles are considered vehicles. As such, cyclists of all ages must share our streets with motorized vehicles. Cycling on sidewalks creates an unsafe environment for pedestrians, and is illegal. Cyclists are often faced with an unappealing choice: ride on the sidewalk and break the law, or risk life and limb amongst motorized traffic which does not always respect the legal requirement to share the road. Adding ATV’s to the mix on our city’s streets could lead to further circumstances which compromise the safety of cyclists.

The proposed by-law will direct ATV’s to use the right-hand side of streets, which is the same location typically occupied by cyclists. Faster-moving ATV’s on the right hand side of streets will create additional obstacles for cyclists, and could lead to dangerous situations, especially where ATV’s may be overtaking cyclists. Further, sand and debris which collect along the outer margins of streets could create hazards for cyclists if kicked up by passing ATV’s.

On many of the streets contemplated for ATV use, there are no sidewalks for pedestrians. As a result, pedestrians walking along roadsides could come into conflict with motorized ATV’s.

Council must consider how allowing ATV’s significant access to our streets is in keeping with the shared goals of building sustainable and healthy communities for the real needs of residents. Council should respect that for many in Greater Sudbury, the only means of personal transportation may be a bicycle or their own two feet.

(Opinions expressed in this blog are my own, and should not be interpreted as being consistent with those of the Green Party of Canada)


rww said...

Does any other city allow this ?

Sudbury Steve said...

I can't say for sure, but I think so...places like Timmins and Cochrane and Hearst...

Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.

Anonymous said...

And the soo, Eliott lake, parry sound, all over, never heard of a cyclist being hit by an atv ever. Fearmongering at it's best...

Sudbury Steve said...

Fearmongering? You see, you're equating past and present circumstances with what we can expect in the future. It's not going to happen that way. Currently, we don't have a lot of cyclists on our roads in Northern Ontario, either within urban areas or outside of them. That's all going to change over the next decade, with higher gasoline prices and a move towards a culture of conservation. Simply put, there will be more cyclists.

But they're not likely to be found everywhere, in equal distribution. Where we can expect to see an increase in cyclists is in our urban areas, as more people decide to leave their cars at home for commutes.

Here in Greater Sudbury, riding a bike on our streets is already an effort in risk-management; for their own safety, many, perhaps even a majority of cyclists, choose to cycle on our sidewalks. That has to change, especially with an aging population also impacted by high gasoline prices. There will be more pedestrians on our City's streets, so we need to get the cyclists off of the sidewalks. To do so, we must increase safety on our streets.

While the proposed ATV by-law isn't intended to apply to the urban core of the former City of Sudbury, it is currently intended to impact most of the streets in communities such as Azilda, Chelmsford, Val Caron and Capreol. Many of the streets in these areas, including within newly built subdivisions, do not include sidewalks.

With an increase in pedestrians and cyclists sharing the same approximate locations on our roadways within our communities, it simply doesn't make sense for us to increase the opportunity for conflicts by allowing ATV's use of our roads.

ATV users are focussed largely on recreational issues, not transportational ones. Cyclists and pedestrians in many cases are using their bikes and their own feet to get around for the purposes of accessing jobs, health care resources, shopping, and perhaps recreation. For many, biking and walking are necessities, not simply a pleasurable experience. Remember: one third of all Sudburians not having access to motorized vehicles; they must rely on walking, biking and transit to get around.

Let the recreational ATV users access designated trails, where conflicts with cyclists and pedestrians will be minimized. ATV's are not a means of transportation in the same way that bikes and feet are. Therefore, they should not be afforded priority on our urban streets and connecting links.

That's not fearmongering. That's a sensible approach to building the kind of low-carbon communities that we're going to need now that the end of inexpensive energy has come. It's time to get with the times.

Dave S said...

One thing to consider is that ATV's potentially have access to the roads on a year round basis, not sure the warm months that the cyclists do. In the rural areas, ATV's are actually quite popular and if anything, out number bicycles as a means of transportation. Cycling is great in areas where density is high, but everywhere else, it's the only means to traverse the 10-20 km distances common between small communities.

To say that ATV users are mainly recreational vs bicycles which are used to get to work is a complete fallacy. May some cyclists in the core of the city, but show me a suburbanite riding to work and I would be truly surprised.

Unlike bicycles, ATV's never ride on the sidewalks and are more like cars and drive accordingly (you do need a license to drive one). If anything, the bicyclists are more prone to cause accidents with either cars, from failing to follow traffic laws, or people, by running them off the sidewalks. Maybe it's time to start enforcing all of the laws on bicyclists to make it safer for everyone.

Sudbury Steve said...

@DaveS...I always appreciate your comments, Dave. I agree that *currently* in some parts of this City, ATV's certainly do out-number bicycles. And in some of those parts, it's likely going to remain that way for some time, particularly the more isolated locations which really are 20 km down a road off the highway.

However, here in Sudbury at least, our "suburbs" aren't quite as spread out as they are in Toronto. It's not as if you'd have to bike for an hour and a half to get into the core of the City; certainly, you can get from New Sudbury to the downtown in about 20 minutes, depending on traffic.

Distances from the "outlying" communities are greater, that's true. But these communities have their own "cores" (if not complete downtowns). These communities are still urban in nature, and although some, like Garson, are very suburban, others (like Capreol and Chelmsford) are much more diverse.

It's in these communities where we can expect to see increasing conflicts between ATV's on the one hand, and cyclists and pedestrians on the other, should ATV's be allowed access to streets.

Under the proposal recommended by our Policy Committee, ATV's are intended to have access to just about all of the streets in these outlying areas, save for some of the major ones (of which there aren't many).

If we want to get serious about building communities to meet the expected low-carbon future of tomorrow, instead of putting more hurdles up for cyclists and pedestrians, we should be removing the existing ones that we have.

ATV users are engaging in a recreational activity when they get on their ATV's. It's not a transportation choice. Certainly some cyclists are engaging in recreation when they ride, but for many others, it's a transportation choice. One in three Sudburians do not have access to cars, so they must get around this City using transit, bikes and their own feet. Let's give them priority over recreational users.

Should our laws be enforced to keep cyclists off of the sidewalks? I don't believe that bikes belong on the sidewalks. They create a very real danger to pedestrians of all ages. Lots of cyclists break our laws in this City and elsewhere. But that's a red herring in the argument about the ATV by-law. Except to say that there would probably be fewer cyclists on the sidewalk if conditions on the streets were safer for cyclists, and the ATV by-law will be a step backwards for bike user.

ATV users, too, have a bit of a rep for not exactly following the rules, with under-aged and unlicensed drivers, lack of use of safety equipment, and illegally accessing areas where they are not supposed to be. But that too is a red herring, as it, like cyclists on sidewalks, is really an enforcement issue.

The best argument I've heard to permit ATV's on streets is an economic one: it could lead to increased tourism opportunities. And that might be a good reason to allow ATV's on some roads, especially the 20km roads into the interior. But the argument breaks down when you allow ATV's on residential streets in the urban areas of Capreol, Garson, Chelmsford, etc. And since that's what the by-law purports to do, it's problematic.

Let's keep the off-road vehicles off the streets, and instead begin building the kinds of communities that we're going to need for our low-carbon future.