Little is gained bemoaning the past, but when new initiatives conflict with past actions, even the least critical amongst us have to wonder, “What were they thinking?” Chances are, the powers that be weren’t – and about all that can be said about that is they didn’t know any better.
The latest move by the Wellington Dufferin Guelph Public Health Unit and local municipalities to promote a more active lifestyle through parking the car and cycling or walking is a great initiative. The county has committed to pursue the development of an active transportation plan, which if developed properly will be a realistic planning advancement with numerous benefits.
For many years now, communities have worked away at creating pathways and walking trails for the use of residents. By taking those initiatives a step further and connecting the dots residents will, we hope, see workable communities that do not require a vehicle at every turn.
Opening up the opportunity to explore neighbouring towns, counties and villages could very well improve sectors of local economies that cater to tourism. It must be recognized however that tourism is not the final solution when it comes to creating jobs and developing a local economy.
There needs to be a measure of practicality when the terms of reference are drawn up for this program. To suggest bike lanes be added to major roads and that gravel shoulders be paved for a smoother biking experience would cost a king’s ransom. The report to county council referenced the potential to increase road capacity if we all biked rather than drove. Offering up the successes found in temperate climates like California and B.C. to what we have here in Wellington is laughable.
For folks interested in building sustainable communities, this project opens up great potential. We could very well find that downtowns and pseudo-downtown areas, with good shopping options, decent eateries and entertainment, will become more relevant. If a quick walk to the town centre allowed for a great meal, maybe a show and the chance to pick up a couple items we think people would like that. The fringe benefits of a healthier community are obvious, not to mention the social aspects of people brushing shoulders rather than looking at each other from the confines of a car.
Like most projects, this proposal should not be considered in isolation. Perhaps that outlook exposes the larger challenge facing local governments, school boards and provincial ministries.
For far too long, the lines of communication and efforts to plan communities have been hampered by rules and policies incorporated by those various entities.
As an example, just as this plan gains traction, the school board is looking to add buses for kids having to walk too far to get to school. Could it be the school was put in the wrong place in the first place? Recreation facilities not yet open were planted in obscure locations, requiring cars to get there. What were they thinking?
If local government bodies hope to now get serious about making communities more pedestrian friendly, there will need to be a change in attitude. Transportation of all sorts needs a hard look on many fronts, prompting us to again suggest that a road rationalization study be undertaken to make sense of a road system we believe to be in disarray.
Further to that, efforts to develop mass transit of some sort are still required.
We may believe today that such plans are unaffordable and unnecessary, but if contemplated now, we have a chance to avoid developing proposals and systems at odds with themselves. Let’s not go down this road of more thoughtful planning in isolation yet again.