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Trail network benefits, options examined

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A public meeting last week to discuss a community trail network here gave residents an opportunity to hear about the benefits of active transportation, as well as voice their own ideas on how best to make the town more pedestrian-friendly.

Two years ago, the town’s recreation advisory committee sent out a survey to residents asking them what they thought the town needed in terms of recreation options and improvements.

“The number-one priority, by far, was to develop a trail strategy,” said Coun. Tannis Drysdale.

“When the recreation survey came out and it indicated walking and biking paths were the number-one desire of people in Fort Frances, I was there because that’s something I love to do,” noted Coun. Rick Wiedenhoeft.

But rather than forge ahead with their own plans, the councillors decided to use a slower process “that included broad community consultation and professional advice,” Coun. Drysdale said.

The town brought in Michael Haynes, national active transportation co-ordinator for “Go for Green,” a national non-profit organization that encourages healthy outdoor physical activity that protects or enhances the environment.

Haynes said “Go for Green” promotes “getting back to the fun and the play of physical activity.”

He explained how a more active lifestyle benefits communities, and how a trail network can be an important part of encouraging citizens to get healthier.

“Active transportation is any form of transportation that requires human power,” he explained, whether it be walking, biking, in-line skating, kayaking, or anything else.

The goal is to encourage people to incorporate these activities into their daily lives, rather than trying to set aside special time to do them. For example, walking or biking to work or to pick up a few groceries rather than driving.

“Trails are a key component to the active transportation infrastructure of any community,” Haynes stressed.

Trails are affordable to plan, design, and construct. They can foster social interaction and, in some cases, diminish crime rates.

While one kilometre of road costs about $1 million to construct, one kilometre of trail costs less than $100,000, Haynes noted.

The number-one cause of air pollution in Canada is transportation, which accounts for 48 percent. Of that, 70 percent comes from personal vehicles.

Haynes said air pollution, in turn, causes various illnesses which cost millions of dollars to the health care system.

In a recent study among about a dozen western nations, Canada was found to have the second-lowest number of people who walk or bike regularly, and the second-highest rate of obesity.

Only the United States fared worse.

“When you are obese, you are putting yourself at risk of a variety of lifestyle diseases,” Haynes warned, including Type II diabetes.

More and more, communities in Canada are exploring active transportation.

“Petawawa [west of Ottawa] has more than 50 km of paved pathways,” which locals refer to as the “Emerald Necklace,” Haynes noted.

Active transportation is not anti-automobile, he insisted, but is “anti-overuse of a single piece of technology.”

Some of the challenges facing communities are the lack of funding and research, and the few strategies available to rural communities.

“These also tend to be where people are the least healthy and the most obese,” Haynes said.

In a discussion following his presentation, several citizens spoke up regarding what improvements they would like to see made to the town.

One resident at last week’s meeting noted in her neighbourhood (from First Street West to Fourth Street West near J.W. Walker and St. Francis schools), the sidewalks only run east-west.

As a result, many parents won’t let their children walk or bike to school due to safety concerns, though it’s a short journey.

Another resident suggested the La Verendrye Parkway be extended all the way to the end of Pither’s Point Park.

Yet another said people should be reminded of the rules of the road given many people ride their bicycles on the sidewalk when they should be on the street.

Others asked about the possibility of having a walking trail over the CN tracks to facilitate travel between the north and south ends of town.

Coun. Wiedenhoeft said he would like to see a trail linking the west end of town to the waterfront, and noted municipal planner Faye Flatt had suggested linking up the public parks.

Coun. Drysdale said the town has applied for funding, and hopes to hire a consultant to help set priorities and begin the work incrementally.

(Fort Frances Times)

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