FERGUS – Cycling advocates are a bit mixed on opinion when it comes to where and how to implement cycling infrastructure, but do agree downtown infrastructure needs to shift from the status quo.
A bike lane along a stretch of the downtown Fergus street is included in one of the designs the Township of Centre Wellington is considering for St. David Street.
The township has been surveying the public for their input on how the street should look after it is reconstructed.
Some of the designs include features such as expanded sidewalks, narrower traffic lanes, removal of some or all on-street parking and cycling lanes.
There are no true bike lanes in Centre Wellington right now and this is partly what motivated the formation of Green Lanes, an advocacy group based in Centre Wellington encouraging healthy urban design including cycling infrastructure.
John Scott, member of Green Lanes, said he has some concerns about bike lanes proposed for St. David Street, mainly that they won’t be used enough.
“One concern is if we build it and it’s not a heavily used route, it would just support the biases people have towards bike lanes as being a waste,” Scott said.
He explained he thinks this could be an issue because the proposal only calls for a separated lane for part of the street.
With St. David Street also acting as a highway through Fergus, Scott said a lot of less confident riders may feel uncomfortable biking alongside transport trucks passing through town.
He suggests a north-south bike route on a quieter downtown street may be the better option to encourage more people to use active transportation.
This too requires infrastructure, Scott explained, as some drivers will use these as “sneak routes” to pass through town instead of the main roads.
“You stop a road from being a through street but you allow bikes and walkers to walk on through,” Scott explained as an idea to quiet these roads.
“So you might force a car to turn left instead of going straight through."
Scott said some people get concerned over losing parking spaces downtown but noted he often sees municipal lots sitting empty.
“I think the issue is not lack of parking, the issue is a lack of awareness of where parking is...and making the walking pleasant form the parking lot to downtown which I think the St. David Street project could do,” Scott said.
To help with this, Scott said the group is advocating for a pedestrian-crossing on St. David Street because getting across is a big issue.
Scott said the township isn’t giving residents enough of the bigger picture with the survey such as consideration to cycling off St. David Street or a truck bypass route to calm traffic.
Bronwynne Wilton, another Green Lanes member, said she sees getting truck traffic out of downtown as a huge benefit to safety, air quality and overall enjoyment.
“I think that is key because I think people look at it and say ‘well why would I bike when there’s all those big trucks?’ the trucks shouldn’t be there,” Wilton said.
“If we can get that problem solved then I think the conversation around cycling safety and wider sidewalks and more street trees and people friendly amenities becomes an easier conversation to have.”
She is overall pleased the township is looking at making downtown Fergus more of a friendly public space.
Wilton said she’s in favour of cycling infrastructure on both major roads and the quieter streets.
It may be difficult to pull off but Wilton said she thinks the town is ready for this culture shift.
“Sure, St. David Street is busy but so are streets in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa,” Wilton said. “People managed to make cycling infrastructure work in busier places than this.”