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Council hears budget requests

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Asking for input on the 2012 budget, town council on Monday night received three presentations from the public as to what they’d like to see in the budget, including creating a priority route for active transportation.

Becky Holden, a member of the Active Transportation Committee, said an active transportation plan was first completed in 2007. Now they would like the town to help them move on to implementing the priority routes laid out in the plan.

The foremost priority route includes:

•an off-road pathway running south of the tracks from McIrvine Road to Fourth Street West;

•a bicycle lane along Fourth Street West to Central Avenue; and

•an off-road pathway between Central Avenue and Third Street East.

This route directly affects students attending several local schools and the residential areas around the schools.

The vision of the Active Transportation Committee is to create linkages that connect the community from east to west, north to south, and includes access to town amenities including schools, hospitals, and businesses.

“By investing in active transportation, we will be creating a sustainable transportation system that accommodates diverse forms of transportation, protects our environment, creates an attractive community, provides safe routes, and supports the health of our community members,” Holden remarked.

Holden said it’s been at least five years since the town started working on active transportation. An active transportation plan was put out in 2007, and followed up by an active transportation committee working towards recommendations laid out in the plan.

This has included J.W. Walker students putting together a PhotoVoice project to highlight the hazards that exist walking to schools.

The active transportation plan has been considered in recent revisions of the official plan and the town’s strategic plan.

Recently, the committee has been working with consultants to develop an implementation study to start moving forward on implementing the plans.

They have identified five major routes, including the one mentioned above, they would like to see infrastructure changes made to and highlighted as key areas for community members to utilize for active transportation.

“As we move forward being able to implement the changes, we have two key things we need to be doing: increase education and awareness and infrastructure changes,” said Holden.

In order to make the infrastructure changes, the committee will need financial support from the Town of Fort Frances. While it will be looking at funding opportunities from other sources, “but unfortunately in order to get money, we need to have some money,” said Holden.

One snag to the planning is how to have a two-way bicycle lane along one side of Fourth Street West.

Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft, who also sits on the Active Transportation Committee, said he was reading in the Montreal Gazette about how that city is probably the most bicycle-friendly in Canada, and maybe North America, and they have bicycle paths going in two directions on one side of the road.

“What we tried to do in Fort Frances to save money was to give two-way bicycle lanes on the one side of the street, [but] apparently it’s against the Highway Traffic Act to have bicycles travelling against traffic on that side of the street,” he noted.

“It’s something that I, personally, might try to change as we go through the process, by going to the OPP zone meeting, for example, and see if we can’t become more in the 21st century.

“The culture is changing in North America and across the world, and Fort Frances could be a leader here in our region, or we could be a lagger,” added Coun. Wiedenhoeft.

“I would love to see Fort Frances become a leader in active transportation, developing pathways all across the town to access north, south, east, west, schools, parks, waterfronts.

“That’s my dream for Fort Frances, and if we can get culture change where people start riding their bikes to work and riding their bikes with their kids and stuff like that, that would certainly be one of the things I would like to see as a councillor before I leave this chair here,” he stressed.

“It is in our strategic plan to move forward with active transportation, and I would certainly like to see it move forward in the budgetary process, as well.”

“It definitely will be going into the budget process . . . whether we’ll find money or not, time will tell,” said Mayor Roy Avis.

Snow removal

Local resident Wayne Lundstrom also spoke Monday night, asking the town to ensure it removes snow from the sidewalk along the east side of Victoria Avenue from his residence on the 800 block to Scott Street.

Lundstrom is vision-impaired, and will be getting a new guide dog in the future, and he said it is essential the sidewalk remain clear so they can navigate it.

He explained that when using a guide dog, you must use one side of the sidewalk consistently—and the dog has to be able to find the curb.

The handler must command the dog to do various things, such as “Find the curb,” “Find the sidewalk,” or “Find the door.” This can be difficult if the dog can’t find these things.

When the road is plowed, the sidewalk gets covered in snow and makes the sidewalk impossible to use.

Lundstrom proposed that the town make this a priority in the budget. While realizing there is a cost to snow removal, he suggested the town look into accessibility grants available from the province.

Meanwhile, BIA board of management chair Connie Cuthbertson asked council to work with the BIA to help revitalize the downtown core.

“We have been working very hard the last couple of years to do some reassessing of how we spend our money, and are pleased to say that we have some serious cash and we are hoping to work with the town on a project in the downtown area,” she noted.

“We understand there are properties that are coming up in the future that possibly need some work done.

“For example, the Rainy Lake Hotel is a location that we know that’s going to somehow be dealt with through council in the future and we just wanted to let you know that we’re ready to play,” said Cuthbertson.

“We have some ideas, we’d like to be included in any development stages that you may have, like the Rainy Lake Hotel or other properties downtown,” she added.

“We’ve got some really good ideas. With our ‘Market Thursday’ that we had this year, we’d like to expand on that, and we have some really good ideas to make it a bit more user-friendly downtown.

“We’re hoping that we can be included in your budget next year,” Cuthbertson concluded.

“The town is always looking for partners, and with money tight, it’s nice to hear you do have some money to play with,” said Coun. Andrew Hallikas.

“I think it’s a real priority to do something with our downtown core, and so I really like the idea that the BIA has ideas about the Rainy Lake Hotel because that takes up some prime property,” he added.

“I think we’re very interested in partnering with you in some way.”

Mayor Roy Avis said the input from all three parties was appreciated, and will be considered during budget talks in the coming months.

“This is the start of a long process for us, and it’s a very important process—probably one of the most important that we have throughout the year,” he noted.

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