September 19, 2016

Get Ajax Moving - Part 2

In Part 1 of the “Get Ajax Moving” discussion (link to previous post), I provided a first hand view on Ajax’s cycling facilities and how they set the standard for the 905 suburbs. Completing this story requires learning what the government and public circles have done to bring us where we are today and what the future holds. Part 2 of this discussion will cover the Town of Ajax’s new #GetAjaxMoving initiative and a relatively new advocacy group called the Durham Region Cycling Coalition.

Point – The #GetAjaxMoving Initiative
#GetAjaxMoving tent at Taste Ajax
#GetAjaxMoving was kicked off at Taste Ajax on Saturday, August 13 and was announced in the local News Advertiser a few days earlier. Before the event got rained out, I had a chance to speak with Elysia Leung, the town’s Transportation Demand Management Coordinator and another planner. Their blue tent would make Cycle Toronto volunteers feel right at home with infographics encouraging reduced motor vehicle use, social media signs where attendees write how they pledge to get Ajax moving, and collecting data on how attendees arrived at the festival and their thoughts on various infrastructure types. Reflectors, active transportation and transit maps, info postcards, and newsletter sign up sheets were also available. At least two other events are planned for 2016; one in mid-October for a Halloween tie-in and the other in late November for the Santa Claus Parade.
Reflector and active transportation map picked up at the #GetAjaxMoving tent
Upon reading the associated Transportation Demand Management report, the Town has set a goal of increasing the share of trips made by walking, cycling, and transit from 20% today to 30% by 2031. Four themes have been emphasized which are Reduce (e.g. telecommuting, carpooling), Re-mode (e.g. walking, cycling, transit), Retime (e.g. flexible work hours), and Re-route to avoid congested routes. Think of it as a localized version of Smart Commute. The report discusses the impacts of auto dependency (e.g. cost, public health), barriers to adopting other modes (e.g. highway crossings, poor transit service, co-ordinating carpool schedules), land use planning, and a detailed action plan.

In addition to #GetAjaxMoving, the Town of Ajax adopted progressive policies which helped contribute to their advanced cycling infrastructure network. They were the third municipality in Canada to adopt a Complete Streets Policy (Toronto has one but is still developing guidelines) and a presentation the Town gave at TCAT’s 2015 Complete Streets Forum highlighted efforts dating as far back as 1978.

UPDATE (2016/10/14) - The Town's perspective is further discussed in Part 3, which involves an interview of Ajax Mayor Steve Parish. (link to post)

Counterpoint – Durham Region Cycling Coalition (DRCC)
DRCC was formed in 2015 by five cycling clubs (Clarington, Durham, Durham Mountain Bike, Oshawa, and Uxbridge) representing over 1200 club members, as well as commuter cyclists in the region who did not previously have a voice. Three people helped establish the DRCC who were Bruce MacDonald (their Executive Director), Derek Lee (DRCC Board of Directors), and Roman Manko (the Durham Cycling Club President who was killed in a cycling collision on April 5, 2016).

Three main cycling issues they identified are communication, route continuity, and highway crossing safety. Advocacy required communicating with both the Regional Municipality of Durham and individual municipalities such as Ajax, whereas Toronto has one government since the 1998 forced amalgamation. With some roads owned by the Region (usually major roads like Kingston Road but not always) and others by municipalities, the Region is looking to reassign road responsibility to avoid current jurisdictional mismatches and update their cycling map as per Derek Lee. Even so, there is little communication between Durham Region and municipalities, as well as between municipalities regarding improving cycling infrastructure. This helps explain the lack of continuous routes across municipalities, though cities like Ajax have considerably improved local route continuity.

Communication is lacking with Queen’s Park who is responsible for bridges crossing 400-series highways. In spite of the #CycleON strategy, only one bridge (Anderson Road) out of 35 for Highway 407 East Phase 1 (Brock to Harmony) included paved shoulders. Henceforth, DRCC is working with Share the Road to ensure Phase 2 (Harmony to 35/115) includes safe highway crossings. Cycle Toronto’s Yonge Working Group experiences this challenge with the dangerous Yonge-401 interchange.
Walkable and Bikeable Ajax map (Link to trails website)
DRCC concurred Ajax was Durham Region’s cycling leader, including being the only city with an active transportation map and having the Region’s first cycling advisory committee. I was surprised to find out Whitby and Clarington ranked good with supportive mayors and councillors, cycling advisory committees, and Whitby developing their cycling map.[1] Oshawa was more ambivalent while Pickering fared the worst. Pickering’s only significant bike lane is on a regional road (Kingston Road) and there was considerably less enthusiasm when DRCC presented to Pickering compared to other municipalities. Two things DRCC is advocating in Pickering are safer access to the GO station and converting Bayly Street’s sidewalk to a multi-use path.

Learning Goes Both Ways
Toronto's Richmond Street cycle track with planter pots
Even with Ajax being a cycling leader, there were some things DRCC mentioned they could learn from Toronto. These include the use of cycle tracks with planter pots, trail crossings, narrower roads, and lower speed limits. They are also looking into the possibility of emulating Cycle Toronto’s Bike Valet event parking. Hopefully, Durham Region and Toronto can find opportunities for improved collaboration such as Kingston Road, Steeles Avenue, and Twyn Rivers Drive and improve cycling across the Greater Toronto Area.

Get Ajax Moving!
Rob Z

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[1] For full disclosure, Bruce MacDonald is the chair of Whitby’s cycling advocacy committee, which their Mayor is a member.

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