[The following is an editorial written by Share the Road Executive Director, Jamie Stuckless, who is presenting at Lanark County Council this evening. www.sharetheroad.ca]
Cycling tourism is growing in Ontario, with almost 2 million visitors spending $428 million per year by bike (Tour by Bike: Ontario’s Cycling Tourism Plan). Lanark County has the opportunity to tap into this market and position itself as a popular cycling destination. Luckily, the work plan to make this happen already exists.
As part of a Bicycle Friendly Community workshop this spring, local representatives worked with the Share the Road Cycling Coalition to develop an action-oriented work plan. The work plan highlights local cycling assets, such as the trails system, relatively low volume roads, multiple tourist attractions within close proximity to each other and a place on the Voyageur Cycling Route – a 630km cycling experience that is being developed to connect Sudbury to the National Capital Region. As presented to County Council on Wednesday evening, the work plan also includes several recommended next steps that have been successful in similar communities.
To oversee county efforts to promote cycling, Lanark County should establish a county-wide Active Transportation Advisory Committee. Like we have seen in Mississippi Mills, committees like these help to provide vision and support to staff in implementing cycling work plans. In fact, 86% of communities that have been recognized as being bicycle-friendly in Ontario have an established Active Transportation Advisory Committee. This is a best practice that should be replicated locally.
Once established, the Advisory Committee can work to ensure that Lanark County is well positioned to leverage provincial funding opportunities to build a connected network of cycling routes. In addition to building a Provincial Cycling Network to connect the province by bike, Ontario will be investing up to $225 million in building safe spaces to bike as part of the Climate Change Action Plan. This could be a big opportunity to connect existing trails to local amenities and destinations like schools and downtown business districts that Lanark does not want to miss out on.
Building a cycling tourism destination isn’t just good for tourists – local residents can get in on the fun as well. To promote and support an attractive cycling culture, Lanark County can focus on encouragement programs that make cycling more fun and convenient. Every June, Mississippi Mills coordinates the Silver Chain Challenge as a friendly competition between Lanark & Renfrew Counties to inspire residents to try cycling. The Advisory Committee could jump on board to actively support this event in the area. Other communities have also seen success in helping residents and tourists explore by bike with wayfinding directional signage that highlights prominent destinations and local cycling maps.
The potential economic benefit of promoting cycling tourism could be big for Lanark County. As an added benefit, building a more bicycle-friendly community would also create a safer, more connected and greener community for residents. We know from our own research that 66% of Ontarians believe that getting more people on bikes benefits everyone, not just the people who bike. You’ve got the work plan, let’s get to work.