The Commuter Challenge kicked off this Sunday, June 5th. People are encouraged to walk, cycle, carpool or take the bus to work. Participants can track carbon emissions saved and calories burned. Local workplaces compete for bragging rights. In Greater Sudbury, events are planned throughout the week, including a Kid’s Bike Exchange on Saturday, June 11th at the Farmer’s Market. It’s the one week of the year where the community comes together to celebrate active and healthy transportation.
For the other 51 weeks, we’ll continue to celebrate the car. Not necessarily because we want to – but because we’ve designed our cities in a way that makes it convenient for drivers, and inconvenient for all other transportation users.
We know the benefits of active transportation – walking and cycling are good for our health, which is important in Sudbury where 32% of the adult population are considered obese (see: “Obesity (adjustedBody Mass Index)” Sudbury & District Health Unit). And when we’re not driving our motor vehicles, we’re not burning gasoline, so we save money and carbon emissions. We all know that we would benefit from making active transportation choices, but it’s just so easy to reach for those car keys.
Let’s face it: cars get us to where we want to go, fast and comfortably. Over the years, our roads have swelled in size to accommodate more cars, travelling at faster speeds. Even in cities like Greater Sudbury where the population has been stagnant for decades, we’ve prioritized building public infrastructure to cater to car convenience – often at the expense of healthy transport options.
Perversely, we’ve widened our streets in the name of safety, and built more of them to battle congestion. We know now that wider streets lead to faster-moving vehicles, creating less safe environments for all road users. And we know that due to induced demand, the more streets we build, the more congestion we get.
With this in mind, one might expect that we would prioritize healthy, active transportation choices over widening and building more roads. But the lure of free-flowing traffic is still the Holy Grail of traffic engineers, and over-designing our streets remains the order of the day.
Of course, retrofitting our cities for healthier transportation choices isn’t something that is going to happen overnight. The poor choices we’ve made in the past will ensure that there will be added costs to build a minimum grid for cyclists and create complete streets for all users. Going forward, we can save money by including active transportation infrastructure on all of our new roads, and add it to the mix when we refurbish our existing roads.
This year, the City of Greater Sudbury will be rehabilitating Lorne Street. Plans shared with the community earlier this year revealed that the new Lorne Street will look much like it does today, only with fewer potholes (see: "Rehabilitation work proposed on Lorne Street," CBC, April 6, 2016). Lane widths will be expanded for cars, but there will be no new infrastructure set aside for the exclusive use of cyclists. Area residents have petitioned the City to include separated cycling infrastructure, but the City appears poised to miss yet another opportunity to transform a major arterial into a truly complete street, with safe dedicated space for all road users.
Sudburians are increasingly discovering that there are already many ways of safely getting around the city without a motorized vehicle. Yet, challenges for commuters remain. We know the benefits of getting people out of their cars – a healthier population, lower emissions, and less congestion on our roads. It's time we take what we've learned and build the City that a prosperous future requires.
(opinions expressed in this blogpost are my own and should not be considered consistent with the policies and/or positions of the Green Parties of Canada and Ontario)
Originally published in the Sudbury Star as, "Active transport still a challenge in Sudbury," in print, and online as, "Column: Active transport a challenge in Sudbury," June 4, 2016. Some minor updating has occurred to reflect the timing of publication in this blogsite.