August 14, 2010
By Terry Pender, Record staff

WATERLOO — Coun. Diane Freeman is working with a small group that could bring about big changes for cycling in Ontario.

She is attending the annual convention next week in Windsor for the Association of Municipalities of Ontario where the Bicycle Friendly Community Program will be launched.

“The real benefit to municipalities is about sharing best practices,” Freeman said.

A small group from Waterloo is working with the Ontario Share the Road Coalition to bring the American program to Ontario.

For years the League of American Bicyclists has invited cities to complete a detailed, 28-page application about cycling in their communities. Cities are awarded bronze, silver, gold and platinum ranks.

Now, with the help of a University of Waterloo professor, an urban planner with the City of Waterloo and Freeman, the program is set to go in Ontario, Eleanor McMahon of the Share the Road Coalition, said.

“We will be at AMO launching the program and inviting municipalities to, starting in September, apply to the program to begin to rank themselves against other municipalities and see how bicycle friendly they are,” McMahon said.

Completing the application form is at the heart of the program. It gives city councillors, urban planners and cycling advocates a lot to think about.

Does your community have a complete streets policy? A bicycle accommodation study? When was it adopted? How was it adopted? How is it implemented?

“It gets you thinking about things,” Freeman said of the application.

What is the name of your community’s bicycle program manager? Do you have a bicycle advisory committee?

“There are a lot of municipalities out there doing a lot of great things and this will be a platform for measuring how well they are doing it,” she said.

Making a city more bicycle friendly addresses many issues at the same time—obesity, reducing air pollution and easing traffic congestion, Freeman said.

How do you ensure there are end of trip facilities for cyclists? How many bike parking spaces are there in your community? What percentage of bridges and tunnels in your community are accessible to bicycles?

Questions like this make the information gathered by the coalition a valuable resource for cities that want to become more livable, walkable and more bicycle friendly, McMahon said.

“What this program does is really tell municipalities where they are on the spectrum, and gives them some knowledge and expertise about what they need to close the gaps,” she said.

Scott Nevin, the head of policy development for the City of Waterloo, helped create the Ontario version of this program.

“It is a great self reflection for municipalities to look at what maybe they should be doing and what others are doing,” he said.

“So I think that’s going to be a very effective tool to put cycling on the radar a little more clearly,” Nevin said.

Broadly speaking, communities are ranked based on five categories—engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, evaluation and planning.

“I think that whole application process is a really powerful tool to get people to look a little deeper at their own organization, their own community and how they support cycling or don’t,” Nevin said.

Tim Kenyon is an avid cyclist who is excited about the Bicycle Friendly Community Program coming to Ontario.

“I think this is great,” he said.

Kenyon, who chairs the City of Kitchener’s cycling advisory committee, thinks a city would learn a lot just from filling out the application form.

“The kind of feedback you would get from doing that is likely to be very useful,” he said.

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