One of the small passions in my life is walking. For the past several years, I have begun each day, rain or shine, with a 10,000 step walk. (To be honest, I should be doing a few thousand more each day, but that is another matter). More importantly, I find it helps kick start my day and gets my mind focused on the tasks ahead. I also often walk to get around Western Research Park and the campus. It is a beautiful place to walk, and to work. I very much enjoy the mental downtime and associated health benefits that walking affords me, and it is a personal practice that I intend to maintain for as long as I am able to do so.
My reason in sharing this brief anecdote, is that I am big believer in the intrinsic, economic and social value of active mobility and want to see our city significantly ramp up its investment in it.
The reasons are multiple and the benefits are obvious.
A city’s engagement in, and support of, active transportation (i.e. walking, cycling, and mobility aids), contribute immeasurably to the health, wellness, and prosperity of its citizens. It is cost-effective, efficient, economic, environmentally-sensitive, and interactive. It connects and empowers citizens, allowing them to support their lifestyle and enjoy their lives.
Therefore, in my view, it is incumbent upon a municipality to not just accommodate these modes of active transportation, but embrace and enhance them.
Fortunately, the City of London has been investing in our active transportation infrastructure to promote its adoption and expansion throughout the city. For example, the London Plan is a testament to the City’s desire to materially improve the use of our public realm, streets, sidewalks, trails and pathways. In addition, site-specific plans such as Dundas Place, Back To The River, and London ON Bikes advocate significant investments into the creation of pedestrian and cycle-friendly gathering places and connector routes that augment the city’s active transportation network.
However, there still are a number of structural and cultural concerns within the current network that need to be addressed before active mobility options receive the respect they deserve as a material modes of transportation in our community.
The issues range from the simple, easily resolvable concerns such as:
- Poor maintenance of bike paths and sidewalks, especially in winter.
- Pedestrian cross-walks signals that remain stopped without manual intervention.
To more complex issues including:
- A lack of connectivity and continuity between bike paths.
- A limited number of safe, separated, or protected bike lanes.
- A concerning lack of respect by drivers for pedestrians, cyclists, and cycling infrastructure.
Another concern of mine is the pace of adoption. Perhaps I missed the report, but I could not find public update on the London ON Bikes plan or the City’s implementation efforts. Hopefully, the implementation process is proceeding nonetheless. The Plan strikes me as a pretty comprehensive piece of work, and it would be disappointing to see the schedule slide due to a lack of resourcing or focus.
In my view, London needs to continue to make the expansion of active transportation modes a priority. Moreover, the design principles of the sidewalks, pathways and bike lanes should continue to follow those used in other cities (e.g. Edmonton, Ottawa) that have successfully embraced such initiatives. They include: visibility, connectivity, accessibility, destination-oriented, integrated, safe, accommodating, distributed, attractive, informative, maintained, and supported.
A Pedestrian and Cycle Friendly City
In an effort to better understand how to accommodate these principles, I reached out to some experts who provided me with a number of initiatives to help make our city pedestrian and cycle friendlier. They include:
- A continued commitment to VisionZero and an ongoing effort to end fatalities or serious injuries involving traffic. This includes the development of a series of action steps to identify and systematically address key intersections, roads, thoroughfares of concern. Far too many pedestrians and cyclists in London have been senseless victims of vehicle collisions. These deaths and injuries are completely preventable, so let’s continue to work this problem.
- Application of design methods advocated by the National Association of City Transportation Official’s Urban Street Design Guide (org/publication/urban-street-design-guide/) for all transportation modes, especially in key urban pockets (Business Improvement Areas, Community Improvement Plan designates) within the City to help lower speed limits, calm traffic and provide a safe environment for all.
- The full application of automated and priority pedestrian crossings.
- A reallocation and concentration of resources on traffic management for all modes of transportation.
- The introduction of fully-protected, properly-maintained on-road bike lanes where riders need them. The existing designated lane system is not working and completely unsafe to cyclists (potholes, snow, sand, and far too many parked vehicles).
- Exploration of a complete cycle track featuring protected bike lanes that connect cyclists from one end of the city to the other.
- A commitment to fix and maintain year-round our existing bike/walking paths. They are worn, bumpy and unpleasant.
- Introduction of an Active School Travel program. A program that builds on the automated speed enforcement initiative introduced by Councillors Morgan, Ridley and Helmer where young people are provided safe pedestrian and cycle routes in an around school. This could also include a program used in Calgary to reward and incent safe cycling for young people. https://globalnews.ca/news/4171595/calgary-police-good-ticket/
All of the above steps are modestly priced relative to their qualitative and quantitative benefits to our community, and can be implemented with little inconvenience to merchants and residents.
All it requires is our collective commitment to the common good and a recognition that our community is much better off when all mobility options are respected, embraced and enhanced.
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