Thursday, September 9, 2010

A Wide Range of Solutions Needed to Build Safer Streets

The following text was submitted as a letter to the Editor of the Sudbury Star, in response to a headline accompanying a story related to the municipal candidates and the Sudbury Cyclists Union. An edited version of this letter was published in the September 9th edition of the Sudbury Star, under the headline "Comprehensive solution needed". My sincere thanks to the Sudbury Star for allowing me the opportunity for further input with regards to the messaging of the Sudbury Cyclists Union.

Re: “Only a matter of painting lines”, article in the Tuesday, September 7th edition of the Sudbury Star.

The headline accompanying Tuesday's article may have left the impression with some readers that the solutions for sharing the roads being offered by cycling advocates, and particularly the Sudbury Cyclists Union, will be easy to implement and without cost. While it is true that some of our city's roadways may currently enjoy lane widths where bike lanes could be added by repainting lane lines, the Sudbury Cyclists Union acknowledges that this solution isn't going to work for all users on many of our streets. While painting bike lanes on some of our roads may represent the “low hanging fruit” on the solution tree, it certainly won't be the only viable option in all circumstances.

Providing safe transportation corridors for all users, including motorists, cyclists and pedestrians, is a worthwhile goal for our City. The provision of more “complete streets” will lead to reduced interactions between cyclists and motorists (interactions which all too often lead to injured cyclists). By integrating bike lanes (separated or not), sharrows and sidewalks into the design of our streets, it provides residents with an opportunity to make a healthy choice, such as to walk or cycle, when making some of their daily trips around the community.

Cycling, as a recreational and commuter activity, is expected to increase in the coming years, for reasons related to healthy lifestyle choices, the environment, and economics (the rising cost of car ownership and transit). In recognition of this outcome, our City needs to begin planning for and building safer infrastructure for all users of our streets. When pedestrians and cyclists are given their own clearly marked locations within a corridor, it decreases the chances of interaction between users. This in turn leads to safer situations for motorists, as the actions of pedestrians and cyclists will become more predictable.

While there may be a cost of improving our streets to better accommodate all users, these costs, with appropriate planning, can be budgeted for in advance. Further, the costs need not be considerable if improvements are carried out when a road is being resurfaced or widened.

Finally, there are also costs associated with not improving our roads to accommodate all users. These costs include health care costs related to injury, as well as opportunities lost for residents to make the choice to lead a healthier, more active lifestyle. There is a real economic benefit to building a community which allows residents to make healthy transportation choices.

The Sudbury Cyclists Union is excited that some of the necessary groundwork for real and necessary change is already underway. Rainbow Routes recently submitted the Sustainable Mobility Plan to the City, which was accepted by Council. The Bicycle Advisory Panel is working on a complimentary plan which highlights specific routes for cyclists. Those seeking municipal office have begun speaking about the need for safer streets and healthier communities. And the municipal budget process will begin shortly, allowing our decision makers to allocate resources to begin making these plans a reality.

Change isn't going to happen overnight. It will happen, however, because it must. Our City can do part of the job by improving our infrastructure and making streets safe for all users. Motorists and cyclists must also begin to do their part by acknowledging that our streets are here to be shared, and by using them in a respectful and safe manner.

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