It took a group of grade 8 students to help Wellington North councillors see the light on April 26.
After a presentation by students from Mount Forest’s Victoria Cross Public School, council agreed to get the ball rolling again to figure out how to ban bicycles from sidewalks in downtown areas.
Teacher Donna McFarlane came with five grade 8 students (representing two classes) to council Monday night. The students presented ideas for a bylaw forbidding bicycle riding on the main street sidewalks, and another one requesting installation of audible signals at stoplights.
McFarlane said the students hadalso written to council.
Danielle Radmacher said grade 8 students of Victoria Cross Public School want to have someone enforce a bylaw forbidding riding bicycles on sidewalks on the main street.
“There should be a bylaw, because riding a bike on the sidewalk can be dangerous to disabled people, visually impaired, the deaf and the elderly.”
She said people leaving stores could be hit by a careless cyclist, and someone could be seriously hurt. She added the regulations should also require bicycles to be parked upright, rather than flat on the sidewalk.
Radmacher said while it might be expensive to get a bicycle lane on the main street it would not cost as much to have a bylaw. “We want our town to be safe.”
Student Clemens Snoeijer, originally from the Netherlands, spoke on the differences in that country, which encourages bicycle use. He told of red roads used for bicycles only, and at stoplights bikers are allowed to go first.
McFarlane said in Holland so many people have adopted bicycles “It’s really accepted and encouraged there.” She said maybe Wellington North will get into something like that to encourage tourism.
Student James Cooper read a letter on behalf of another student. That letter proposed audible signals at traffic lights throughout the municipality. While there is a cost, students believe money could be raised from in the township budget.
“Isn’t saving a life more important than a well-balanced budget?”
Cooper said such signals help visually impaired people to cross the street safely. He also said audible signals would not create a problem for nearby residents or shop owners as the sound travels only 10 to 15 feet.
Shawn Kirk described recent visitors to the school who were visually impaired. He said all of them indicated audible signals are a good idea.
The visitors also mentioned consideration should be given to painting the edges of steps yellow, to make them more visible.
McFarlane said that Cooper and Shivangi Patel wrote a letter to Wellington County councillor Walter Trachsel. His reply shared their concerns.
Trachsel wrote the bylaws must be passed at the local level, and voted on to come into effect. He added certain bylaws are enforced by the Wellington County detachment of the OPP.
Trachsel wrote for a county-wide bylaw to come into effect, it would need agreement of all seven municipalities. He was, however, uncertain as to which municipalities might have a bicycle bylaw currently. He agreed to talk to take the concerns to fellow councillors in the hope of creating a county-wide bylaw.
McFarlane said, “We’re just here to get your reaction.”
Mayor Mike Broomhead provided a lengthy overview of the municipal process and how it deals with such issues. “You’re coming to the right bunch of people to talk about this tonight,” he said.
Councillor Dan Yake appreciated that students put together as many letters as they had.
“The issue of bicycles and skateboards on sidewalks has come to this council several times.”
He said those concerns have come through citizens, local business people, students, and councillors. “For some reason, it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. We’re being told it is a county issue, but I honestly think the ball has been dropped on this.”
He said this is something that affects everyone. “Someone is going to get hurt; there is no question about it.”
Yake was, however, confused by Trachsel’s response that it is a municipal responsibility, when he was told it was a county issue.
As to the issue of the audible signals at stoplights, Yake said unfortunately, the municipality has just completed major upgrades to its stoplights in Arthur and Mount Forest. This was the first time this particular issue was brought to council.
The comment was made that the signals are costly, and Yake agreed.
The mid-range costs are between $20,000 to $25,000 per stoplight, he said.
He noted upgrades in Arthur were $100,000. “Cost is an issue we certainly need to deal with.”
He said the concerns will be taken to the works committee.
While Yake did not guarantee the work would get done, “I can guarantee the discussion will take place.”
He offered to send a letter to the students to let them know what happened.
Other councillors agreed the bicycle issue has been discussed for a long time.
Councillor Bob Mason added “We were led to believe it had to go through the county.”
Public Works Manager Gary Williamson explained the costs of the lights. While signals can be purchased in the $10,000 to $12,000 range, they are not as reliable and require more maintenance. “One of the issue that does come up, unfortunately some people take offense to the noise and tend to break them.”
In response to Williamson’s comment that there had never really been a call for them, McFarlane said students were astounded to discover the numbers of visually impaired people in the community.
Williamson said requests were not made directly to the municipality.
Broomhead said the student presentations were well done.
“If we’re going to look at this issue, we should look at all the streets.”
He noted some efforts in the past, which included the painting of signs indicating bicycles are not allowed on the sidewalks.
He said where it gets tricky is that while the OPP?enforces bylaws, they want to have one set of laws to apply across the county.
Yake said he wants to know where the county actually stands on the issue. “Someone is going to get hurt or killed because we are dragging our heels on this,” he said. “And the county is dragging their heels on this.”
He asked Broomhead, as Wellington North’s representative on county council, to take the issue there to get the ball rolling.
“This is ridiculous,” Yake said. This shouldn’t be that hard to get this done for seven municipalities. Each municipality has the same concerns … every one of them. This is not that difficult to solve.”
Broomhead wondered if county councillor Lydna White should be invited to council to provide perspective on the issue.
White also currently serves as chairman of the Wellington County Police Services Board.
Broomhead did not believe the county had taken any stand as yet.
The issue is that the OPP?wants to enforce one set of bylaws. “The tough part of it is that if we pass a bylaw and it’s not enforced … things can get worse instead of better.”
CAO/Clerk Lori Heinbuch recommended council contact the other Wellington municipalities.
Heinbuch said work could be done to establish a county-wide bylaw.
Yake countered bringing in White would only extend the process.
“Let’s take the lead on this and send letters to the other municipalities … begging them if we need to … to move this ahead.”
He said Wellington North should forge ahead on this.
“It will drag on forever if we don’t”
Councillors agreed with Yake’s suggestion sending letters asking for support of a county-wide bylaw regarding bicycles on sidewalks.