• Protecting Water and Farmland in Simcoe County

Orillia hears call for sustainability

In Orillia
Sep 29th, 2010

Orillia Packet and Times – September 24 2010
Following Wedneday’s bicycle rally, and with the launch of extended bus hours in Orillia, it’s worth taking some time to examine the movement that Orillia is making toward sustainable transportation.
In autumn 2008, the Trails for Life committee presented a report to city council requesting that the city make a strong push toward improving active transportation infrastructure.
As part of the city’s 2010 capital budget process, city council approved funds to hire a consultant to prepare an active transportation plan. The city has now hired MMM Group, a very prestigious active transportation consultancy group, to write an active transportation plan for Orillia. The plan will be presented to council in spring 2011.
MMM Group has developed pedestrian and cycling master plans in many Ontario municipalities — previous studies include the York Region Pedestrian and Cycling Master Plan, Town of Oakville Active Transportation Master Plan, Halifax Regional Municipality Active Transportation Plan, and the Guelph City Wide Trail Master Plan.
In Orillia, MMM Group will co-ordinate with a local working group to ride and walk Orillia’s streets and trails, consult with local stakeholders in small group meetings and larger public meetings, launch an online questionnaire to gather feedback from the community, and eventually craft a proposed network of trails, bike lanes and bike routes, along with design recommendations and implementation strategies, for the city.
The finished active transportation plan may very well be the first step toward a system that lets you ride your bike from the Couchichiching waterfront, all the way out to Scout Valley, without once having to leave a dedicated bike route.
In 2005, the city did an extensive survey of Orillia transit users to identify flaws with the transit system that discouraged people from using city transit.
The survey identified the following as the primary improvements that needed to be made:
* longer service hours both on weekdays and Saturdays, and more frequent service. After a lot of work by city staff and council, as of Sept. 7, 2010, buses run to 10:15 p.m. at night (final departure from the terminal), up from 6:15 p.m. previously.
* As well, the more streamlined five-route system is able to run half-hourly, a significant improvement upon the hourly service delivered by the previous four-route system, which had so many route variations that it was really an eight-route system.
The movement to help people leave their cars parked at home is being encouraged by every level of government. In 2006, one of the first actions taken by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives was to give a tax credit to people who used public transit.
Then Environment Minister Rona Ambrose stated: “The transit tax credit will not only save people money, but by taking public transit Canadians will be helping to improve our environment. The transit tax credit is part of our government’s made-in-Canada environmental plan. Our transit tax initiative will take the equivalent of 56,000 cars off the road each year which will significantly reduce greenhouse gases here in Canada.”
In Ontario, under the 2005 Places to Grow Act, the “Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe” quite clearly requires municipalities to a) make public transit the first priority for transportation infrastructure planning and major transportation investments, and b) ensure that pedestrian and bicycle networks are integrated into transportation planning to provide safe, comfortable travel for pedestrians and bicyclists within existing communities and new development.
Orillia is listening.
The city has improved the transit system, and real work upon walking and cycling networks is about to get started.
These are seriously laudable developments. They point toward a time when we’re all healthier because we’re walking and cycling more, and we’re reducing our carbon footprint by providing such good transportation alternatives that people don’t even need to back their cars out of the driveway.
How much does that car cost you each month anyway? At least $300? Maybe up to $600 or $700?
Can you think of anything else you’d rather do with that money?
Chris Tomasini is a member of the city’s trails for life and transit advisory committees. He can be contacted at christomasini@gmail.com.

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