Active transportation options integral for sustainable future
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When I first arrived in Brandon about 18 years ago and took up a job with the Sun as a reporter, I used to drive to work every day from my apartment on the southern end of 10th Street. I didn’t think much of it at the time, as I relied on rural roads and four wheels to get to work during my previous employment.
I had a bicycle, which I used for some recreation at times, but I never really thought of using it as my vehicle to and from the office. Nor did I ever think to walk the distance, particularly not in winter. Are you crazy? Walk in -30 C? With the snow and the wind and the frozen fingers?
But it was a fellow Sun employee who would turn that around for me and make me think a little differently.
Nearly every single day that I worked with him before his retirement a few years back, former city editor Jim Lewthwaite would walk to work from his home near Brandon University. It didn’t matter if it was snowing and blowing, or sweaty and hot, he would walk the city streets on his own two feet. Sometimes he’d come in with a toque on his dome and his glasses all frosted up, and other times you’d see him walking in the door in a T-shirt fresh off a morning walk with his characteristic grin and a greeting.
Shortly after I got married, my wife and I bought a house not too far from Mr. Lewthwaite, and as she sometimes needed the car for work and gas was growing needlessly expensive (these were the days before petrol stayed permanently above a buck a litre). So, I made the decision to walk or cycle to work when time allowed.
Thanks for leading the way, Jim.
I bring this up after having read what was said this week by local cannabis business owner Rick Macl, who stood before city representatives during Thursday evening’s city plan event and asserted the creation of more bike and walking paths in Brandon was too expensive of a proposition, particularly at a time when the cost of living was rising.
This in spite of the fact city administration has identified a desire for more active transportation routes around town — a desire I suggest was reflected in the large number of people who offered their support for the idea during Thursday’s meeting.
Macl questioned the value of creating more active transportation, given how many people drive to work and the number of months where biking is inaccessible due to winter weather, and said he’d like to see members of Brandon City Council walk to work every day and see how that suits them.
I certainly can’t speak for city councillors nor for Mayor Jeff Fawcett, but I rather think that hoofing it to work and back suits me just fine.
If it’s a Monday in April and it’s raining or snowing, I’m most likely walking to work with a heavy jacket or an umbrella in my hand. The same goes for the hottest day in July, and the coldest day in January. And it’s been that way for at least the last decade.
Not only was that decision good for the pocketbook, it was good for my health. In fact, I sometimes wish I lived a little further away so I could have more regular and longer exercise periods built right into my day.
Of course, you don’t need to take my word for it. About a year and a half ago, a report by the World Resources Institute called for governments and policy-makers around the world to shift away from car-centric transport planning to a more sustainable transportation plan. Attaining and sustaining high rates of walking and cycling “are among the most powerful changes communities can make to achieve their sustainability, economic and social goals,” the report said.
And the benefits for citizens are numerous: reduce traffic and parking congestion, decrease fuel use that can help decarbonize transportation, improve citizen health and lower the cost of health care, and even boost the local economy through “increased sales, commercial rent and job creation.”
The conspiracy talk around 15-minute cities is really just that — talk. All we have to do is look at how staunchly the City of Brandon and various elected councils pushed the last two provincial governments to pony up cash to rebuild and expand the Daly Overpass and the David Thompson and First Street bridges over the last two decades.
If our elected officials are trying to get rid of cars on our streets, they have a funny way of showing it.
By giving more emphasis to urban foot and cycle traffic, local governance can improve the livability of our neighbourhoods, and this has been seen in cities around the world.
I still have my car, and I enjoy driving. I have no plans to get rid of it, nor do I think city planners will try to force me to. This is about building a better and safer city for the future, and listening to the citizens who already live, work and play in our community.
That’s a valid goal, and it’s clear that a great many people who showed up at Thursday’s meeting feel the same way.
» Matt Goerzen, editor