Tourism minister urges more cycling in Windsor

Monday, December 12, 2016

The Windsor Star/Doug Schmidt

Get on your bikes, Windsor — the world’s best cities embrace cycling, says Ontario Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport Eleanor McMahon.

“It’s a common element of the most successful cities,” McMahon said Monday during a stopover at Bike Windsor Essex’s downtown headquarters.

Cycling and other active transportation amenities, she said, was a key factor in Pittsburgh’s successful wooing of hundreds of high-tech Google employees to its revitalized downtown. England is investing $1 billion over 10 years on City of London cycling initiatives.

To help Windsor on that pathway to success, McMahon said Bike Windsor Essex is getting a $75,000 Trillium grant to launch a cycling education pilot project.

With six recently graduated “certified cycling instructors” available for deployment, Bike Windsor Essex executive director Lori Newton said the Trillium grant will be used to hire a co-ordinator to start targeting “marginalized” neighbourhoods to get more of their residents cycling. Workshops on such topics as how to safely travel Windsor’s roads and how to maintain bikes and do minor repairs will be complemented with “confidence-building” group bike rides.

Monday’s grant announcement came as a surprise. Knowing the minister was in town for the FINA World Swimming Championships, the cycling advocacy group had invited the former founder of the Share the Road cycling coalition to visit its new Windsor hub on Pelissier Street at University Avenue West.

McMahon said municipal cycling infrastructure, particularly protected bike lanes, is essential, “so people feel safer and so people will think about taking their bicycles.” To that end, she’s pushing for more dedicated funding in the next provincial budget.

But McMahon said there’s plenty a city can do that is not costly in order to encourage more cycling.

One suggestion from the minister, who grew up in Windsor where her father was a Chrysler worker: remove motorized vehicles from one of the four lanes of University Avenue that runs between the University of Windsor and the downtown. She said another effective measure is to reduce traffic speeds in some residential neighbourhoods.

Bike Windsor Essex chairman Dale Brown said this year’s Open Streets events showed the city boasts thousands of eager cyclists. But “all those bikes went back in their garages after Open Streets,” he said, adding that, while Windsor has been painting “lots of lines” along local roads for cyclists, they’re still expected to ride next to speeding traffic.

Windsor is not only “perfect” for cycling given its flat topography and southern Canadian climate, McMahon said cyclists are proven net contributors to local economies. “We need to create a cycling culture,” she said on what needs changing.

McMahon cited a McGill University study that estimated 86 per cent of Canadian students in 1976 biked to school, while that figure today is the reverse — 14 per cent.

The minister attended Sunday’s closing night of competition at the FINA championships. She said Ontario’s $2.5-million contribution was “a great investment” and that the event “puts Windsor on the map.”

McMahon used her FINA visit to also meet with winery owners and other area tourism operators, and she said there was interest expressed by them as well for expanded local bike connections to draw in more tourists.

The Burlington Liberal MPP even weighed in on Windsor’s Pelissier Street parking debate, saying she recalls a visit to Timmins, another Ontario city boasting “boarded-up downtown retail — but, boy, they do have parking.”