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There have been concerns raised about the St. John’s Bike Plan and I would like to take this opportunity to address them.
I understand there is a fear that the city is going to create massive changes to the Grand Concourse and inner-city walking trails without consulting the public. Many people are legitimately concerned about the environmental impacts of trail upgrades.
Substantial engagement has taken place in recent years around the topic of cycling and it was instrumental in the development of the plan announced in June 2019. Despite this, I understand people might not have expected a plan focused on cycling to impact walking trails.
The idea to make use of a small number of existing trails came out of the engagement itself. It became clear that most people are more likely to get on a bike if there are “safe, inclusive, and convenient” routes.
I’d like to respond to some of the most common concerns.
Some sections of the Grand Concourse fit this bill perfectly, so the Bike Plan proposes three of these routes as “catalyst projects” which, if built, would enable and encourage people of all ability levels to get out and get active.
The intent has always been to engage significantly on these projects as part of the “detailed design” process, beginning with Kelly’s Brook Trail. This will be an opportunity to learn what is really meant by “upgrading to multi-use,” what matters most to users, and what our options are for developing a trail that can be used by all while protecting what is most valuable.
No physical changes will be made to any trails until a full review and engagement process takes place.
While opportunities are coming for people to shape the project, we’ve already heard quite a bit of feedback. I’d like to respond to some of the most common concerns.
Trail surface — The key reason paving some trails has been proposed is accessibility. Asphalt paths enable people of all abilities to enjoy trails, including those with disabilities, mobility impairments, children in strollers, and more. And while inclusivity is our primary objective, asphalt paths are also easier and cheaper to maintain.
More user types — Some people feel that allowing more types of users on the trails will increase chances for collision or injury. Our trails are becoming more popular and already pose risks when not used respectfully. The Bike Plan proposes improved education about proper use of trails, and widening trails to two lanes of traffic, greatly reducing the risk of collision.
Environmental impacts — The proposed widening of trails leads to another big concern: how this will impact the natural environment? No one wants to destroy our beautiful trail network, so any potential impacts on wildlife and rivers will be weighed heavily. A tree inventory and protection plan will be part of the detailed design document.
The Bike Plan’s route designs are subject to change. Routes along narrow, riverside trails can be moved to nearby side-streets, for example. Some routes may not even be considered for various reasons.
I suspect that once more people see that most of Kelly’s Brook Trail is already wide and appropriate for a shared-use upgrade, we will decide that the short section along Rennie’s River should not be altered, but bypassed with a diversion along Empire Avenue (if it can be done safely).
We need a plan that everyone can feel comfortable with and excited by. Our planned engagement is what will give us all a shared understanding of what’s possible and appropriate.
It’s clear that our discussion has started on the wrong foot. But if we take a step back and come together to explore the facts and options, I know we’ll create something valued and cherished by all of us for years to come.
I look forward to the conversation.
Dave Lane, Councillor at Large
Council representative for the Bike St. John’s Advisory Committee