My applause to all the community leaders who worked together to make this year’s Shuswap Bike Month such a success. What an inspiration. And an opportunity. Seems to me we’re seeing our communities swing into the steep side of the proverbial j-curve where more people than not want to live in communities that make walking and cycling a part of the normal fabric of life. Realtor’s take note!
Bike to Work Week and Shuswap Bike Month invite us to take a sharper look at how we’re planning, designing, and maintaining our community infrastructure. And what better timing?
Improving walking and cycling in our communities throughout the region now shows up as a priority in every Official Community Plan, strategic plan, and in some cases, dedicated Greenway (Salmon Arm) and Active Transportation (Enderby/Splatsin) plans. Secwepemc Nation community band plans identify it. Regional district area plans identify it. Municipal plans identify it. And most recently, the Interior Health Authority has arrived at the table acknowledging that how we design our communities for walking and biking will have a direct effect on how healthy we are – and how much public money we waste on healthcare if we don’t make a change.
So let’s follow the lead of Shuswap Bike Month organizer’s and push the envelope. We’ve said this is important in our planning. Now let’s make it a priority over outdated car-centric design policies. Let’s step up our collective efforts to make a difference by aggressively reviewing our community design bylaws, standards, guidelines, and budget priorities. Let’s implement Active Transportation strategies in all our communities. Let’s stop using “the hill is too steep” as an excuse. And there’s compelling evidence to support this call to action.
In possibly the most comprehensive argument to date, noted city planner, Jeff Speck draws together decades of research in the excellent book, “Walkable City”, to conclude that the growing demand for pedestrian and bicycle friendly places is matched by a clear advantage in long-term economic opportunity. Market demand, real estate resilience, new business attraction, and health care savings combine to suggest this isn’t just a good environmental argument – it’s one of the best design policy strategies we can make to ensure we thrive economically. In fact, Speck suggests there’s evidence to suggest that communities who are making this shift will have the economic advantage over places still dominated by old-school design that caters to the car.
And there’s good news – Speck points to a collection of simple design fixes that in his words “can reverse decades of counterproductive policies and practices and usher in a new era of street life.” And he’s not talking about expensive infrastructure, either. In many cases, Speck points to how a whole series of little fixes – many achievable with paint and well-placed trees or in some cases just simple policy changes – can collectively transform our communities and our lives.
Through good initiatives like Shuswap Bike Month, and the already good work put in place by our regional and municipal community planners and political leadership, I think it’s fair to say we’re in a unique position throughout the Shuswap to go big on this. It’s time to get vocal in our support for community design that inspires walking and cycling between our homes, our schools, our shops, our work, and our friends. Anything less is simply not good enough. Thank you to all the Shuswap Bike Month organizers for inspiring us!
Phil McIntyre-Paul (Executive Director)
for the Shuswap Trail Alliance