Steep hill to climb for cyclists in Durham region

Morais-Cycling Cyclists in Durham Region hope to see more of these signs in the next few years.

A year ago, the president of the Durham Region Cycling Coalition was hit and killed by a car while riding his bike.

Twelve months later, his group says little has been done to make roads safer. Cyclists in Durham Region feel shorthanded by several new highway developments. Areas along the 407,412 and 418 highway bridges are particularly worrying for local cyclists.

“We feel boxed in by the bridges. We feel left out,” says Durham Region Cycling Coalition spokesperson Bruce MacDonald. “All we’re asking for is paved shoulder, we’re not asking for the world.”

“I’d love to ask for more, don’t get me wrong, but if I can’t get some very simple ideas in place how in the world can I expect something better than that?”

The Whitby resident says he began cycling at the recommendation of a doctor during one of his routine health check-ups. “The doctor told me my cholesterol was high and asked me if I had ever considered taking up cycling.” But he often fears for his safety when he’s on his bike.

The coalition has more than 1,500 members from Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax and Pickering.The group’s initiative and efforts are primarily aimed towards educating drivers and cyclists alike on road safety.

For MacDonald, the loss of his friend was a catalyst in him becoming a spokesperson for the coalition. He has now been involved in this position for over a year and actively represents the coalition in meetings to make the roads safer.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing to reduce traffic by just five per cent?” says MacDonald.“Imagine what itwould do for the region, health and commutes.”

The DRCC wants the region to know that it’s not demanding new infrastructures and systems be put in place. The coalition is asking for minimal space and pavement, an acknowledgement of their existence.

Cyclists such as MacDonald are hopeful a compromise can be reached between offering the necessary means of transportation to cars and giving cyclists the space they need to practice their sport in a safe manner.

Principal transportation planner of Durham Region, Chris Leitch, says cyclists have been heard. According to Leitch, Durham Region is currently undergoing a nine-year plan in efforts to boost cycle tourism and improve transportation.

The plan would also cover roads that aren’t currently part of the planning stages such as off-roads. “As part of this plan, we’re looking at ways to fill in some of these gaps that aren’t part of our capital capital road program,” he says.

The Transportation Planning Committee has had several contacts with the Durham Region Cycling Coalition thus far.

“We’ll be reviewing their requests in terms of how they can potentially fit in with our plans,” says Leitch.

“From a commuting point of view, there’s a lot of trips for shopping and commuting that are under five kilometres and we think lot of those trips could be switched from car to bike. Supporting these kind of trips through cycling is a big part of our plan.”

Deputy mayor Nester Pidwrebecki says the region has been cooperative and understanding of cyclist’s needs but funding is a major obstacle.

“It’s not because the region is against [developing roads],” says Pidwerbecki. “We’ve been trying desperately, but we don’t always have the final on things that the province runs under their final policy.”

He is hopeful the province of Ontario can provide more funding.

“We haven’t had the co-operation that I think we should have had from the province with regard to many of the areas in regards to cycling,” stresses Pidwerbecki. “We should make every attempt to do it now. That’s what we’ve been fighting for and trying to get across to the province. That’s where we are.”

For now, local cyclists will have to hold their breath.

“I think the province should step in and take a better look at the situation,” says Pidwerbecki.  “Do it  now, not tomorrow where it will be costlier.”

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Originally from Canada's east coast, now living in Durham Region, Tommy is an award-winning, multi-faceted journalist covering news, popular-culture, entertainment, sports and more. My work has been featured in The Chronicle, The Brooklin Town Crier and You can follow me on Twitter @itsTommyMorais