Dan Rankin, for the Gazette
The wheels are in motion for the city’s long term Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan.
At an information centre set up Saturday at the Stratford Farmers’ Market and Rotary Complex, the public was invited for the first time to provide input into the development of the city’s bikeways and trails over the next 20 years.
Signs on display explained plans to improve and connect existing pathway infrastructure and to implement new facilities ranging from bike route signage to bike lanes and bikeway boulevards around the city.
On hand to answer questions were representatives from MMM Group Limited, the firm hired to consult on the Master Plan report.
“The people who live and bike here use the trails and go to school, they know their community best, so it’s really important that we have their insight and that the plan is theirs,” said Dave McLaughlin, senior project manager with MMM.
“People are telling us we should look at certain streets and intersections so we’ve been going out and doing that. We’ll be working on coming up with an appropriate network that city staff will agree with.”
Different types of pathways including scenic off-road trails, paths connecting neighbourhoods with schools and businesses and a “spine” that will help people travel throughout the whole municipality are all layers of a broad transportation network McLaughlin and his team envision for the city.
“We hope that one of those layers will cater to everybody,” he said. “That’s our objective in this municipality.”
According to Stratford’s manager of recreation and marketing, Brad Hernden, studies into the state of the city’s bike and pedestrian trails over the past several years made it clear work needed to be done.
“The data was out there that we needed to improve the bike and pedestrian pathways within the city from those studies and from local advocacy groups as well,” he said.
At the end of the study, council will have a “shopping list of things they could improve on related to bike and pedestrian travel,” Hernden added.
Also, part of the task for MMM is making sure that shopping list won’t break the bank.
McLaughlin said the city could minimize the hit the Bike and Pedestrian Master Plan will have on the budget by, for instance, deferring construction until a road needs to be resurfaced or reconstructed.
“The cost to implement pedestrian and bike facilities and signs is very low as a percentage of an overall project when you have to resurface a road, or if the curbs are wearing down,” he noted.
Breaking down sections of the project into “bite-sized pieces” that can be accomplished each year will also help, and keep the plan fresh in the minds of council and the community, he added.
“It will be a 20-year plan, but our strategy is to develop specific things that should be done on an annual basis to build the network,” he said. “Every year, staff will come forward to council saying, ‘this is what was proposed for the bike plan, these certain projects are underway for the next year and we would like to proceed with these.
“Every year they’ll be looking at and dealing with the plan again.”
Stratford resident Jo-Dee Burbach Tuling thinks this sort of master plan is overdue for the city.
“I think Stratford is behind the game, compared to Toronto or Guelph or Vancouver especially,” she said. “But it’s great that we’re doing it now.”
A mother of young cyclists who enjoy riding their bikes to school, she also hopes the plan will help improve rider safety on city streets.
“The most dangerous place for them to be biking is right outside the school because of all the car traffic,” she said. “So having bike lanes or designated areas for cyclists would really make it a lot safer.”
With a stakeholder meeting planned for February and another open house to follow, local citizens still have plenty of opportunities to provide MMM with insight and steer the master plan right up until the firm is ready to submit a final draft to council in the spring.
“Every community we go into we try to connect with people we know and learn from people who live here,” McLaughlin said. “It’s really important that people get to see the whole draft and still get to provide input. I think every master plan we’ve done, even at that phase, we still end up changing it based on the input that comes in.”