According to Transport Canada, Active Transportation refers to all human-powered forms of transportation, in particular walking and cycling. It includes the use of mobility aids such as wheel chairs, and can also encompass other human-powered devices such as in-line skating, skateboarding, cross-country skiing, canoeing and kayaking.
In late May, Jeff Mills, representing Mississippi Mills Bicycle Month and Mills Community Support, partnered with Danielle Shewfelt from the Leeds, Lanark and Grenville District Health Unit, and Tiffany MacLaren from the Town of Mississippi Mills to organize and host the Eastern Ontario Active Transportation Summit at the Almonte Old Town Hall. This rural-focused event was a fact-filled two days of great lectures and workshops. Speakers explained their successes elsewhere and helped show the way forward.
In June, Mississippi Mills awarded Dillon Consulting the contract to undertake a transportation master plan. It will study our transportation needs for the next 20 years. The plan must also address Active Transportation, which according to Ontario Ministry of Transportation guidelines includes “sidewalks, on-road bicycle lanes and routes, multi-use pathways, bike parking, effective signage, and pedestrian crossings, as well as human-scaled and pedestrian-oriented development patterns.”
We are behind many regions and municipalities in Ontario. Thankfully, the annual running of Mississippi Mills Bicycle Month, co-chaired by Jeff Mills and Bob Woods, has raised the awareness of how much cycling adds to health and enjoyment. (My favorite bicycle month event is Birders on Bikes, organized by Bob Volks and Louise Beckinsale of Gilligallo Bird store in Almonte.)
Lanark County is now adding paved shoulders to many County roads to accommodate cyclists. The Mississippi Mills public works department intends to “harden” part of the road shoulder when we pave or repave a rural road, provided a wide enough gravel margin already exists. Look for the first such upgrade when the Town renews part of the Cedar Hill Sideroad in Pakenham this summer.
This year, Mississippi Mills Bicycle Month released a bilingual cycling map with funding help from the Town’s Community and Economic Development Committee. Local mapmaker, John Donaldson, did the mapping and Lise Ladouceur of Peche et Poivre translated the text. The Lanark County Tourism Association is in the beginning phase of developing a county-wide cycling map for release in 2015.
Also last year, Jordan Smith and other hardy mountain bikers completed a single-track cycling and ski trail from Almonte to the Mill of Kintail across private land. It is the first leg of a hoped-for off-road trail network.
Two counties, Lanark and Renfrew, plus the Township of Papineau-Cameron, are negotiating with Canadian Pacific to purchase the abandoned rail bed that runs from Smith Falls to Mattawa. The intent is to make a trail.
Once the CP rail line is in public hands, Mississippi Mills must work with other towns that share the route, especially Carleton Place and Beckwith, on a joint rail-trail plan that complements our economies and lifestyle aspirations.
The existing rail trail that runs from Ottawa to Carleton Place could extend through Mississippi Mills into Renfrew. From that county, a bridge connection across the Ottawa River could link our trail to the 5,000 kilometres of bike trails in Quebec. That linkage could put our local tourism industry in the direct path of multi-day cycling tours—a growing part of the vacation industry.
Also, the gorgeous Mississippi River bisects our town. Thanks mostly to topography; the river corridor is largely free of visible homes and cottages. I believe the Town should promote the river as a tourism destination for paddlers, birders and naturalists using Almonte and Pakenham as river destinations. Adding docks at key locations and erecting portage signs will help increase use of this priceless tourism asset.
Inside the limits of Almonte—from the Casey Snedden ball diamond on the south to Carss Street in the north—I would like to see the rail bed become an in-town Active Transportation corridor. It should be paved to make it easily accessible by people with mobility challenges, including motorized wheelchairs. Such a people-focussed highway would provide direct access from the Mills senior’s apartment on Country Street to the Library, Almonte Old Town Hall and Mill Street.
The rail bed within Almonte must be limited to Active Transportation users—people do not want ATVs and snowmobiles buzzing through urban neighbourhoods. The same prohibition can be extended to Pakenham village if residents ask for it.
We need to ensure that the rail bed in rural Mississippi Mills can safely support all users. Navigation rules on water give non-motorized craft the right-of-way over motorized craft. We need a similar arrangement for the rail bed. Cyclists should not have to move aside for ATVs. Skiers should not have to step outside of set tracks for snowmobiles.
Snowmobilers already have far more dedicated trail access than skiers. Lanark County offers hundreds kilometres of snow trails. With recent regulatory changes in Lanark County and Mississippi Mills, quads can now travel on the shoulders of non-urban roads. So, motor sports are already well accommodated.
Small investments that cater to cyclists and paddlers will bring tourism dividends to Mississippi Mills. Cycling and walking are fundamental to healthy and sustainable communities. Active Transportation is a winner for our economy and complements our lifestyle ambitions.