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Cyclist: province needs to make new highways safer

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Oshawa cyclists, along with Durham municipalities, are appealing to the province to add cycling infrastructure to the roads approaching the overpasses and underpasses of the new Highway 407 expansion. While the bridges themselves contain cycling infrastructure, the approaches do not, which cyclists say is a serious threat to both themselves and motorists.

By Joel Wittnebel and Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

The Durham cycling community, along with councils from the Region of Durham, Ajax, Whitby and soon, the City of Oshawa, are urging the province to act now on much needed safety measures for the eastward expansion of Highway 407.

Currently, the overpasses and underpasses of the new sections of the 407 will include bike lanes – however, the approaches to these throughways will not.

In a letter to Stephen Del Duca, Ontario’s minister of transportation, Durham, Whitby and Ajax have said the time to fix the problem is now, during the construction period, so it can be done at a fraction of the cost.

For Joe Arruda, a member of the Durham Region Cycling Coalition (DRCC), the lack of any cycling infrastructure leading to these throughways is a serious safety concern.

“Vehicles overtaking a cyclists going uphill do so blind to oncoming traffic,” he says.  “Without a double white centre line or a cycling lane, there is an increased chance of a serious fatal accident, both to cyclists and car drivers.”

The $1.2-billion Highway 407 East expansion includes several overpasses over existing sections of the 401, including Highway 412 linking the 407 and 401 and the future Highway 418 in Clarington.

In Oshawa, sections of Simcoe Street North, Thornton Road and Harmony Road North will have bridges over the new sections of the toll highway.

Arruda says the safety measures on these bridges are critical as Durham’s cyclists continue to be “boxed in” by 400 series highways.

“It is hard to get out of the urban areas up to the rural areas without going over or under the 400 series bridges or underpass,” Arruda says.

“For tourist cyclists and/or commuters, this is not a good fit trying to get to and from the lake and up to the upper sections of Durham Region.”

He adds that the MTO and 407 project planners typically underestimate the fact that cyclists tend to avoid these busy roads and are continuously funnelling them to these dangerous bridges to get across the region, which is why they should be constructed with all the safety measures in place.

“I think the city council…and staff…need to make this a priority in conversation with the MTO to add the required safe cycling facility on both phases that impact Oshawa. This will save money in the long run as these bridges will still be there for our grandkids to have to use in the future,” he says.

The item appeared on council’s most recent agenda and Arruda urged councillors to endorse the letter from their partnering municipalities, which state these bridges will “have a significant and lasting impact on the cycling connectivity throughout the region.”

However, council felt they should formulate a letter of their own.

“I think Oshawa has it’s own position,” said Councillor Bob Chapman who moved the motion, stating their letter would address “Oshawa specific concerns with those issues.”

The idea received large support from councillors.

“Anything we can do to advance that situation and make our citizens feel safer…I think is a worthwhile thing to do,” said Councillor Rick Kerr.

“Continue to beat that horse”

When the matter was raised at regional council, however, there wasn’t much optimism that this issue would be fixed.

Cliff Curtis, the region’s works commissioner, told councillors that when the issue of bike safety is raised to the province for the highway’s extension, it gets ignored.

“This issue was raised during the design of the 407 and 407 extension. They did agree to make the platform of the bridge itself wide enough to put the cycling lane in, but good luck getting there because they wouldn’t build you an approach so that you could get there,” Curtis said.

“Their position has not changed, it’s unlikely it will change. The contract has been awarded. Basically on the issues that we raised with the province, because it’s a design-build contract, we’re getting ignored. So we continue to beat that horse, but we’re not going to get it to move.”

Ajax mayor Steve Parish acknowledged that while the contract has been awarded for the extension’s construction, work has not officially started and therefore changes can be made if need be. Curtis replied that it appears the province will not go down that route.

“With respect to Harmony Road and west, that’s done. There’s going to be no changes to that, and they’re going to open in the spring,” Curtis said.

“Going further east, we’ve been working with them there as well, but the indication we get on that is that they’re not going to do a change order on that.”

Parish, one of the letter’s authors, expressed his frustration at how it appears the province is going back on its word to implement cyclist-friendly infrastructure for the 407 extension.

“This is what motivated me to write that letter, and this is what I find so extremely annoying. The minister himself has committed to not only certain politicans, but from cyclists and the cyclist colalition that these things would be addressed. The province has committed through their program to put cycling infrastructure on infrastructure that’s under the province’s jurisdiction,” he said.

“For this to be not done, and basically the province telling an untruth and deliberately going back on what they committed to, I find absolutely shocking.”

The first phase of the Highway 407 extension from Brock Road in Pickering to Harmony Road in Oshawa is set to open this spring, with the second phase of the extension to Taunton Road set for 2017 and the final leg into Clarington slated for 2020.