They are pedalling in opposite directions, but the two sides in Brockville’s bike lanes debate stayed in their lanes on Tuesday.
Supporters of the city’s proposed active transportation plan touted its health and social benefits, while opponents, focused mainly on plans to put bike lanes on Laurier Boulevard and Windsor Drive, worried about traffic safety in that area.
So intense was the interest in the matter that city council’s planning and operations committee moved the venue of Tuesday’s public meeting from city hall to the Brockville Arts Centre. But while the debate remains as polarized as ever, committee chairman Coun. Mike Kalivas thanked the many participants for keeping the debate civil and proceeding in a “very classy way.”
The committee could make a decision on the controversial plan as early as Dec. 3, when it is expected to receive a report from staff.
The active transportation plan is meant to cover the entire city over a 20-year horizon, but the Laurier and Windsor segments remain the most controversial. Objections include the shifting of on-street parking on Windsor to other areas by bike lanes, as well as possible impediments to emergency vehicles.
Stan Marshall, one of the plan’s opponents, began the long series of delegations by asking audience members who oppose the Windsor and Laurier lanes to stand up, leading many people in the theatre to rise. But in the delegations that followed, supporters of the active transportation plan outnumbered critics 12 to 10.
Complicating this nearly even breakdown was the fact some supporters of the plan did not wish to speak directly to the debate over Laurier and Windsor, while many opponents of that north-end route did not speak to the broader active transportation plan.
Brockville tourism manager Katherine Hobbs said cyclists are an important part of the city’s tourism economy, with some 6,000 cyclists coming through the city during the tourism season.
“Last year we were voted as number seven in Canada by Expedia for active living destinations,” she added.
“We do think it’s critical to have a safe passage through our community,” said Hobbs, adding clear and safe connections to the Brock trail are important.
Doug Coward, of the Brock Trail Committee, also stressed the importance of the trail to the active transportation plan, adding the trail is “a linchpin of the whole active network that’s being proposed for the city.”
“I think that long-term view has to be considered,” said Coward.
Still, the trail group is not getting involved in the dispute over the north-end lanes.
“Our main concern with anything is access,” said Coward. “How you resolve that, I don’t know, but there has to be safe access for cyclists to the trail and from the trail.”
Doug George, chairman of the cycling advisory committee, touted cycling as important for attracting tourists and enticing younger people to relocate. He added the activity is catching on, with such initiatives as Cycling Without Age.
“We see evidence of active transportation taking hold in our city,” he said.
“It is imperative, as city leaders, to support these initiatives,” he added.
North-end resident John Francis, however, said he opposed “significant aspects” of the plan, including the Windsor and Laurier lanes, but did not wish to see it tossed out entirely.
Some parts of the broader plan, said Francis, are “obviously wrong,” including its assessment of traffic stress on cyclists.
The narrowly confined downtown area has as many areas singled out for cycling improvement as the entire north end, yet it’s the north end being singled out for immediate attention, said Francis.
As a result, he added, cycling will be improved in the north end, but cyclists won’t be able to get there safely until areas to the south are improved in 20 years, in particular Stewart Boulevard.
“What I don’t see in the plan is an agreement with the starship Enterprise to tele-transport cyclists coming from the west when they enter the city to the nice safe bicycling area on Laurier,” he joked.
“If the cyclists can’t get safely to the planned safe bicycle lane, why is anyone considering building it first?”
Other opponents also stressed that bike lanes on Windsor and Laurier will endanger cyclists. Brockville Collegiate Institute teacher Colin Murdock got applause from the crowd when he warned the plan will “channel cyclists along roadways, and an intersection which the city has posted and acknowledges to be a high-accident intersection.”
Others argued cycling lanes will make cycling safer. Some told stories of being yelled at or even chased by obnoxious motorists.
Matt Williams, also a north-end resident, said he regularly cycles with his young children and they love connecting to the Brock Trail, in particular the new stretch leading to Centennial Road.
“I don’t live on Laurier and Windsor and I hate to tell anyone that lives there, you know, that they need bike lanes,” he said.
“Who am I to say? But I just hope something can be done just to make it a little safer.”