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Filling the gaps

Looking at the cycling infrastructure around the City of Oshawa is like looking at a broken maze, and finding a connective route from one side of the city to the other can be a dangerous test of navigational skill.

It’s a sad fact that of the city’s 1,050 kilometres of “active transportation network” only 150 of that is actually signed bike lanes.

However, it would appear the province is recognizing the pressing need to turn people’s minds away from the car, and towards other means of transportation.

In Oshawa, that need has been recognized for some time, most recently with the passage of the Active Transportation Master Plan in 2015 and the associated projects that have appeared annually within the city’s budget. With that said, cash flow has always handcuffed the city as infrastructure repairs and scheduled maintenance have pushed active transportation planning lower on the totem pole of priorities. Since 2016, more than $3.1 million worth of active transportation capital projects have found their way onto the deferred list.

Now, it looks like things might be starting to shift in the other direction.

Starting in 2019, Oshawa has been approved for more than $525,000 from the Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Program, dollars that will go towards completing some or all of a list of bike lane extensions or additions throughout the city. These dollars are boosted by a 20 per cent contribution from the City of Oshawa, or an additional $105,000 approximately.

None of the projects are yet set in stone, and will come forward at budget time next year, but in the months ahead, the city is doing the right thing by working with the experts to prioritize the projects.

Those experts, being members of the Active Transportation Advisory Committee, will be working with the city to make sure the most urgent projects get done first.

The priority projects must be those that improve the connectivity of existing bike lanes, whether it be on north-south routes, or east to west. Making sure that those who choose to ride their bikes in the city have clear and accessible routes to and from their destinations will not only keep residents safe, but may also entice others into choosing the handlebars over a steering wheel. A poll done by Share the Road in 2014 found that more than half of Ontario residents said they want to cycle more than they do. Of that portion, 67 per cent said they would be encouraged to cycle more if there was better infrastructure.

Councillor Dan Carter has also raised a good point that moving forward, the city will need to take a more proactive approach to this type of infrastructure.

A good step for this council would be to consider making bike lanes a necessity when it comes to new development.

Getting it done while the shovels are still in the ground will save these types of projects from having to climb their way off the deferred list and will also do well to improve the health and well-being of the city in the years ahead.