A path to a better life

Cyclist/coach/father/physician responds to letter against cycling and walking paths in Vernon

I feel I have an obligation as a physician, father, coach and cyclist to respond to Ward Brunsdon’s letter that was published recently in The Morning Star titled “A Waste.”

Your letter outlines your concerns with the city choosing to spend money on both cycling and walking paths within the city limits, and your feelings that this has been done at the expense of those who drive cars.

I take great exception to most of what you have written, and feel it is my responsibility as a strong advocate for sustainable community development that I respond to you publicly.

I am sorry you feel the expense of bike lanes and walking paths is both “frivolous” and “silly.” I see it differently. I see walking paths as an opportunity for people to move safely around their city while getting the much needed exercise that citizens of our country are desperately lacking. Obesity and type II Diabetes have become two of the major epidemics of our time, leading to loss of productivity and an early death in a large portion of our community. As a physician, I advocate daily for increased activity in the patients I see. Imagine if Vernon had a scenic walkway through town that was accessible to everyone. Similar paths can be seen in Quesnel and Kimberley, and they are used extensively by people who live and work in town.

It is a fact that if you give people a place to walk, that is free of traffic, they will make use of that space, and increase their level of activity. This is neither silly nor frivolous. This is a necessity for all Canadians.

The lack of adequate safe cycling routes to elementary schools in Vernon means that very few children are enjoying what you enjoyed as a child in Ontario. That is the ability to move freely through town without fearing for your life. The roads are busier than they used to be, and drivers are moving faster. My daughter, who is now in kindergarten, was one of only three children who rode their bikes to school last week, in a school of over 200. Even kids that live within a few blocks are taken by bus, because their parents are unwilling to take the risk of sending them on the busy roads with drivers who do not respect the value of cycling and walking.

You comment that “cars pay a huge amount of road tax,” is not correct. Road works in Vernon are paid for from general revenue derived from our property taxes, and not on any payment you make towards running your vehicle. So, in fact, my family, who would like to see all future road improvements in Vernon include safe bike lanes and walking paths, pay equally towards the roads as you do. In fact, when we recently developed a property on Tronson Road (where incidentally there is no allowance for bikes or pedestrians) we were made to pay a $7,000 “gift” to the City of Vernon so they could build a suitable sidewalk. This has still not been completed, meaning there is no safe way for any children or their families to travel on Tronson Road and gain access to Kin Park at the head of the Okanagan Lake.

Your comment regarding “the majority of people and businesses that oppose such irresponsible spending” obviously misses a few very important elements. Walking routes in the downtown core would increase traffic to local businesses, and keep patrons in the area where we would like them to spend their money.

Millions of dollars in tourism are spent in towns like Canmore, Banff, Kimberley and Whistler where they have developed means of drawing travelers from around the world who come to B.C. to see its natural beauty.

Thousands of cyclists are bringing their money with them when they ride at events like Granfondo Kelowna, which incidentally makes use of one of the very few bike paths that was built in Vernon. The building of such paths and walking routes actually employs local labourers and supports the economy in terms of sustainable employment. There are numerous financial benefits to building walking routes in Vernon that you have chosen to ignore.

I can agree with you on your comments regarding the dismal state of our roads in Vernon. Pot holes, cracked pavement, and endlessly poor repairs are an embarrassment.

Hosting of this year’s Winter Games could have marked an opportunity for the city to improve its image to the rest of Canada, and upgrade the recreational facilities as well, as was done in Whitehorse three years ago.

It could have given Vernon something more to be proud of.

Getting started by developing a scenic greenway through town is a step in the right direction. It needs to be completed along with the other projects that are in the development stages, like the path to Swan Lake, and a safe bike route to VSS.

Completing bike lanes to give safe access to all elementary schools and the downtown core from the surrounding neighborhoods should be the highest priority for the new mayor and council.

 

Andrew Sellars, Vernon