Friday, June 02, 2006

Spreading freedom, one suburb at a time

On Wednesday, I went to the Cycling and Pedestrian Plan meeting for York Region. The plan from the consulting company was ambitious, with an extensive network of bike paths, bike lanes and designated routes throughout the region. It's very similar to the plan Toronto has idling away, which makes sense since it was made by the same company.

Andrew provides thorough coverage of a lot of the issues that I thought were the most important from the meeting. Including our 6 million dollar line.

Not so surprising: According to the study on display - more students get driven to school in York Region than take the bus.

Strange: There were maps on display of the current cycling infrastructure and the proposed infrastructure. Richmond Hill shows a map of completed bike routes covering the city. I have never seen any evidence of this in all of my cycling in the area, and one of the "routes" passes by my office. I've seen one bike lane in Richmond Hill, 1 or 2 km long. It makes me wonder if Richmond Hill considers itself done with the matter. I don't mind the idea of designated bike routes on bike-friendly streets, but if the only map of them is sitting in a city office somewhere, then the route is like the proverbial tree that fell in the forest. Quiet or loud, the only person who knows about it, tripped over it.

The big question I was asked: If they build this network of trails and paths, will people actually use it? Right now, people give all kinds of reasons for not riding a bike. If you break it all down and look at where people do ride bikes often, the real reasons are distances are too far, and people don't feel safe on the road with cars. Everything else can be easily overcome by an individual who doesn't want to bother paying for car expenses or dealing with public transit, and improve their health.

I would say that if there is a major piece of infrastructure, like a dedicated bicycle pathway that crosses the dense part of region, and a reasonably safe way to get to the path, people would use it. I've seen this in Ottawa, and from what I've heard in online, it works in Minneapolis also. People would use it for a casual weekend ride with friends or family, and they would use it to get to work, as long as they didn't work "too far" away from home. A Highway 7 Hydro corridor path could serve exactly this purpose.

Intensification: In order for the population of a city to live closer to where they work or where they would like to visit, the density of the city must be higher. Obvious, right?

This was the part that bothered me about the meeting. In the news and from politicians, there is all this talk about getting people to use public transit, walk and cycle. At the same time, I hear about more car-focussed development up in Keswick and the rest of Georgina. From the sounds of it, this development will not be at a high enough density to support public transit, even though many residents will be commuting south. This development will come with widening of Leslie and Woodbine to get people to the 404. While Viva gets accolades for innovation, the current system keeps chugging along working against it. As was expressed by a developer lobbyist:

"We're trying to make a super tanker turn and they don't turn on a dime," Mr. Rodgers said.

In reality, this ship doesn't turn unless it hits a rock.

The rock in this case is the Green Belt legislation. (Turns out it's a cushy, forgiving rock) The Toronto Green Belt of the McGuinty government is going to force developers to look more at developing with some amount of intensity (even if the government has backed off on full protection of the Oak Ridges Moraine). A point mentioned at the meeting is that every piece of legal developable land in York Region is either in development or ready to start.

The region is forcing intensity in some locations. Unfortunately, some of that intensity will be in new developments that are nowhere near effective public transit or existing town centres. I suppose I need to be patient. Also, there was mention of infill projects, so it's almost like development is going full steam ahead in two directions.

A plus for cyclists is that developers will be expected to conform to the bike plan if they modify a street that is part of the bike network. This helps minimize the financial burden on the municipality and pass it on to the new home buyer.

As Andrew mentioned, the success of this bike network will come down to political will in the municipalities (Richmond Hill, Aurora, Newmarket, Vaughan, etc.). Even if developers foot much of the bill, as we've seen in Toronto nothing will go forward unless there is some initiative from the politicians.

Darren J 6/02/2006 12:13:00 PM

4 Comments:

If I can find a good copy of those so-called cycling routes in RH that we saw, I'm going to try and ride & document all of them somehow.

I think it is a bit wierd that the buidling community would applaud the Premier unless they know something we don't. Even with the greenbelt plan, it looks much like business as usual for most development in York.
I think they were happy with the premier because he is not going to stop the homes that were already planned for the moraine (the 6600 homes).

That would be cool if you could make a York Region or Richmond Hill cycling map. If only Platial would let you draw routes.
Why don't you use that citybikemap tool you linked to a while ago?
Good point Owen. I'd like it if we used that site but I wasn't sure if people had good experiences with it. It was running slowly a few months ago. Actually, I just tried it now, and it's pretty peppy.

I don't know much about web development, but I think the maps need to be separated by region so there aren't so many lines on everyones maps.

Anyways, definitely add your routes to CityBikeMap. Dave (the developer) was saying that the more he sees it getting used and gets feedback, the more motivated he is to work on it.

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