October 14, 2016

Get Ajax Moving - Part 3

Last month, I wrote two blog posts about Ajax’s cycling network as part of the “Get Ajax Moving” series. Part 1 provided a first-hand view while Part 2 provided a point and counterpoint about the Town’s #GetAjaxMoving initiative and the Durham Region Cycling Coalition. To get an elected official’s perspective on developing Ajax’s cycling network and future plans, I interviewed Ajax Mayor Steve Parish, an avid cyclist who bikes to work. His answers were complemented with information from Elysia Leung, the Town’s Transportation Demand Management Coordinator.
RZ: Was there a defining point which prompted Ajax to become bicycle friendly?
SP: Me! As a cyclist, I felt it was necessary to include cycling as part of Ajax’s transportation network. Since becoming mayor in 1995, Ajax got its first bicycle master plan and cycling was integrated into the five-year capital plan, which is funded by fees such as gas taxes and development charges. There was no cycling staff person before I took office; a role Elysia currently occupies.

It takes champions to make a town bike friendly. While having the mayor play that role is best, we need everyone on board, including staff and council. Our town is ideally suited for cycling thanks to the Waterfront; a 7 km undeveloped park with a scenic, beautiful, healthy trail. Pickering should also be a leader, but they do not have any political champions.

RZ: Describe the challenges faced with getting residents to buy into this vision.
SP: There are two basic rules about politics. When residents are happy, they do not say anything. When they are angry, they are vocal. There is a constant call by some who don’t want their tax dollars spent on cycling, while other residents love what Ajax is doing. With the need to constantly manage the economy and politics, it is best to avoid any “war on the car” talk and emphasize the positive such as providing transportation options to make cycling more mainstream. While I have 3-4 bikes, I also drive given you can’t bike to places like Newmarket.

RZ: How is Ajax addressing the need for more bicycle parking?
SP: We ensured there are convenient places to park bicycles at town facilities, with as many of them covered as possible. We worked with Metrolinx to install bicycle parking at the GO station, but more can be done such as using a few parking spaces in the garage to establish a secure facility. Our site plan approval process requires developers to provide bicycle racks, while our Active and Safe Roads to School program encourages the installation of bicycle racks in schools.
This year, we installed bicycle racks at every school which participated in Bike to School Week, which was 23 out of 36 schools. The rest of Durham Region doesn't even come close. Kids are not the problem when it comes to wanting to walk or bike to school, but parents can be overprotective. There is a need to address safety, improve pick up and drop off zones, and street proof children at a young age so they can be safer when grown up.

RZ: Has Ajax considered safety tools such as lower speed limits or Vision Zero?
SP: Speeding has become an epidemic in neighbourhoods. While there have been some speed reductions, we also need enforcement. Our town has been doing two traffic calming projects per year based on a warrant system via resident petitions.[1] A suite of facilities is available such as narrower lanes and ensuring streets are multi-modal via the Vibrant Streets Policy (a.k.a. Complete Streets).

RZ: How does Ajax plan to improve wayfinding on its trails?
SP: There is a comprehensive wayfinding strategy in the works to satisfy commuter and tourist needs. We are working with Metrolinx and the Waterfront Regeneration Trust on a “Trails To Go” initiative, which is in progress and should be done next year. Cyclists should be able to find the Waterfront Trail, the GO station, and Downtown the first time, though getting more signs is a long term project.

RZ: Which new cycling facilities is Ajax planning to build in the next 12 months?
SP: We are currently going through the budget process to determine 2017 projects.
Proposed cycling facilities via the Official Plan issued January 15, 2016
RZ: Which cycling facilities has Ajax built this year?
SP: This year focused on connector routes to the Waterfront and employment areas with 14 kilometres of new facilities installed. The Carruthers Creek Trail was extended north to Taunton Road as a completely off road route. Bike lanes were built on Finley, Fishlock and Williamson, as well as cycle tracks on Harwood South.

In contrast, a report from Durham Region called for 29.6 kilometres of new bike lanes from 2017 to 2024. There is a need to connect with the region, which is geographically larger than Toronto but requires dealing with two levels of government. Whitby and Oshawa are also on the right track, but the Region needs to recognize lives don't stop at municipal boundaries.

RZ: Describe some of the issues of crossing Highway 401.
SP: Highway 401 is a key barrier for cyclists with high speeds and is MTO’s responsibility. Cyclists prefer to avoid interchanges, which leaves them Church Street and Harwood Avenue. Regarding Harwood, we had to fight just to get the sidewalks and edge lines, given MTO’s adamant refusal to include these elements.[2]

RZ: Do you have any final thoughts on developing Ajax’s cycling culture?
SP: Infrastructure improvements are needed to make cycling safe and feasible, including connecting to the GO station. Education and events are needed to spread awareness about transportation options such as the upcoming Pumpkinville on Saturday, October 15 at the Greenwood Conservation Area. The bicycle is another option to the bus or car for nine months of the year, yet many people don’t realize how easy it is.

Lead on!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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[1] This year's traffic calming projects covered Ravenscroft Road and Ritchie Avenue. (link to PDF)
[2] It should be noted the Harwood Avenue overpass was completed in 2003. #CycleON wasn't established until 2014, which required consideration of cycling and pedestrian facilities.

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