by Tera Camus and Suzanne MacNeil
Whether you get there walking, cycling, skating or swooshing on a skateboard, there’s a festival waiting for you this Saturday in Sydney and Glace Bay.
The two downtown cores will close to motorized traffic from 10 am to 2 pm, in hopes of generating foot traffic and interest in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality’s active transportation plan that’s designed to make city streets more safe for cyclists and pedestrians and overall improve the environment.
Organizers plan to offer music, theatre, games, demonstrations and information as shop keepers open their doors to shoppers – all in the name of celebrating more healthy living in the region.
The plan, drafted in 2007, will be funded over several years and involves multiple strategies such as adding bike lanes in high traffic areas, building roads with shoulders to handle cyclists, and adding more signs to let drivers know they must share the road.
Coordinator Wayne McKay says improving active transportation in the region is vital.
“The first benefit is the positive impact on health if more people use active transportation,” McKay said. “There are also the benefits to the environment with less greenhouse gases produced.”
“It gives people freedom,” he added. “If you don’t have a license, you can still cycle or walk…the more we promote it, the more accessible it is.”
Activities planned for Saturday include games for children involving hula hoops and demonstrations on how to skateboard, cycle, and walk better.
McKay believes the event will generate some good old fashioned community spirit in downtown Glace Bay and Sydney.
“I think it’s really neat that we’re combining downtown businesses and artists and physical activity folks all together…it goes beyond active transportation; it’s a way of promoting other aspects of the community as well.”
A strong vibrant heart in the community is important, he added.
“The reason we’re doing it in the downtown is that these areas are the life of the community.”
Holy Angels will also host a similar event to promote the launch of the CBRM’s plan on June 2. He said the whole student body is planning to parade down Charlotte Street in downtown Sydney.
According to the municipality, the benefits and cost of redesigning street infrastructure to accommodate more non-motorized means of transport is worth it. The plan is also to encourage more bus riding rather than have streets so congested with cars.
“Active transportation modes produce zero pollution and are virtually free to those who use them,” according to the active transportation plan approved by council.
“Research is also starting to show that people who commute using active transportation modes are happier and less stressed than those that do not.”
Promotions and making better sidewalks are also part of the plan, as well as building better infrastructure like placing bike racks and making room for bicycle parking, or end-of-trip facilities like a public shower; and bus racks for bikes, something already installed but rarely used so far.
The Cape Breton Regional Police are also part of the plan, having introduced a new bike unit late last year who just last weekend, successfully caught the culprit of a robbery in progress escaping from Charlotte Street on foot. The officers happened to overhear the commotion as they were pedaling by, following crowd control duties at Framework Cycle and Fitness where a world famous stunt rider performed.
The plan also hopes to develop more trails for bikers – whether commuting on streets – or off track, and more bike signs and programs in schools to get kids on bicycles to schools.