Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Barrie's first Car-Free Sunday

(Written for "Root Issues" in the Barrie Examiner: http://thebarrieexaminer.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?archive=true&e=1719159)

As gas prices rise and climate crises mount, one thing is becoming certain – we really need to pry ourselves from our cars. Driving everywhere is bad for our health, our environment, our economy, and our children. Obesity rates rise; smog is a perennial issue. Constant road repairs and widenings mean tax hikes. Kids shuttled everywhere lose out in many ways – they don’t get enough exercise, and miss out on the freedom and independence to choose their own times, routes and destinations. The cost of owning and operating a car is a significant expense – the equivalent of hundreds of hours, or several months, of work each year. If you could get by without, you’d be saving all that money and could bank it or spend it on something more rewarding.

But the general feeling is one can’t live in Barrie without a car. Of course, that’s an overgeneralization, but it certainly can be hard to get around in this city, or from here to other cities, without driving. Yet there are growing opportunities for transit and “Active Transportation”, and the more we use them, the more they will grow.

What is Active Transportation? Pretty much anything besides driving. Obviously walking or cycling. If you’re coordinated, skateboarding and rollerblading also qualify. Even taking the bus counts, since very rarely does it stop at your door and right at your destination; most bus trips include a walk to and from the bus stop at each end. Buses create far less traffic and pollution than multiple cars, so using them helps everyone.

Unfortunately, Barrie Transit isn’t always a convenient option. Many trips require changing buses and going out of your way, and even if there is a direct route, buses may be a half hour or hour between. Frequency and convenience need to be increased to attract more riders – but that can only be done as ridership increases. It’s a Catch-22.

Barrie has some bike lanes, but more are sorely needed. The existing ones often end suddenly, or don’t match up with others, putting you back in the street with the cars before you get where you’re going. With all the road work going on, it’s a crying shame that more of these re-built roads aren’t getting bike lanes as part of their upgrades. We need to pressure our councillors to keep improving bike lanes and transit routes. We also need public spaces and workplaces to provide secure bike parking.

Getting out of Barrie without a car can also be a challenge. There is bus service to various cities, but you have to start from the downtown terminal or, if you’re lucky, you can catch the bus on the way out of town. The GO Train is the big story in this respect. Very convenient – if it’s going to the right place at the right time. This is a service which would be better if it had trains going in both directions all day. At least the new Allandale station will increase access for those who don’t live in the south end.

So show that you care and come out to Barrie’s first Car-free event this Sunday, from 9 am to 1 pm. Our most scenic road – Lakeshore Drive from Tiffin to Minet’s Point – will be closed to cars and open to everything else. There will be bike rodeos and buskers, exhibits at Southshore Centre, entertainment, and fun family activities. Free skateboard and rollerblading workshops will be provided, along with bike inspections. You can learn how to set up a walking school bus – the healthiest and safest way for kids to get to school.

If it’s too far for you to walk or wheel, you can print your own free Barrie Transit passes on the web – go to www.livinggreen.info/events or www.barrie.ca and use the Walk or Wheel quicklink. A free shuttle bus will be running from the Transit Centre to the event.

By coming to this event, not only can you have a great time in beautiful surroundings, you can also learn new things. Most important, you can show Barrie that we care about Active Transportation and want more – more bike lanes, more walkable communities, better transit. And more Car-free Days!

Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is a teacher, father, volunteer, and politician.

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