How can Windsor turn itself into a municipality where roadways are no longer considered by politicians, planners, engineers and users to be the near-exclusive domain of the automobile, and motorized vehicles the predominant mode of transportation?
A virtual workshop entitled ‘Building the Mid-Sized Cycling City‘ will be led on April 26 by a Canadian couple now living in the Dutch city of Delft, which has morphed over recent decades into just such a place.
Mobility experts Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, with the consulting firm Modacity, insist they’re not car-hating radicals. But they’re convinced that, for urban dwellers, being able to switch to walking or cycling for many shorter daily trips is more practical, efficient and enjoyable and makes for healthier and more prosperous communities.
Most importantly, they argue, it’s doable, even in lower density neighbourhoods in places like Canada’s automotive capital. Less dependence on cars, the Bruntletts add, also means increased transportation equity for kids, seniors, the disabled, families and those who don’t own a motor vehicle.
In Windsor, it’s really tough not to be dependent on cars
Windsor, like any post-war city built around sprawling residential areas and the automobile, will always have the potential for change by recognizing that designing for multi-modal transport is not about replacing all car trips but by providing options,” they told the Star.
South Windsor’s Jana Jandal Alrifai, 19, said she and her friends would love to be able to hop on their bikes more often to get around independently, “but sometimes it’s difficult to get safely to different places in Windsor.”
The first-year University of Windsor student said she’s been more fortunate than many of her peers, having grown up in a two-vehicle household with parents who would drive her where she needed to go. Even using Transit Windsor to get around on her own is not always convenient or practical, she said, citing bus trips of up to 80 minutes each way to and from classes. With mom or dad behind the wheel, it’s a 20-minute drive.
“In Windsor, it’s really tough not to be dependent on cars,” said Alrifai. “I’d very much rather have that independence.”
With an active transportation master plan, existing bike master plan and a Windsor Works strategic diversification strategy among others approved by city council, as well as with neighbouring Detroit and other cities already leading the way, “it’s all there already, it’s what we’re being told to do,” said Anneke Smit. She’s the director of the University of Windsor law school’s Centre for Cities, which is hosting the Bruntletts’ virtual visit.
“It’s not an either-or” prospect, said Smit. Every person making the switch to walking, cycling or public transportation — after safer and more efficient options are offered — means less traffic and road congestion for the motoring public.
“If Windsor made it a priority, the exact same thing could happen here,” said Ward 4 Coun. Chris Holt, who contributed ward funds toward next week’s free and public workshop.
The decision to build the new mega-hospital outside the city’s built-up area on Windsor’s Sandwich South lands “really divided the community,” he said, but the mostly vacant land that’s there currently is designated for future urban growth. Holt, who chairs two committees dealing with transportation and the environment, said Windsor now has a golden opportunity to plan in advance for more sustainable and multi-modal neighbourhood development.
“Emphasizing bike, pedestrians and the bus — that’s going to future-proof our community,” said Holt. Given the potential benefits in addressing traffic flows and volumes on local roads, “motorists should be rallying behind this alternative,” he said.
More information on Building the Cycling City can be found on the Windsor Law Centre for Cities website, including registration for the April 26 event that runs from 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Modacity’s Melissa and Chris Bruntlett, who have done consulting work with cities around the world, will follow next week’s public Windsor event with a similar but non-public workshop for city and county planners and administrators on May 17. They’re the authors of two books, Building the Cycling City — the Dutch Blueprint for Urban Vitality (2018); and Curbing Traffic — the Human Case for Fewer Cars in Our Lives (2021).
The Bruntletts told the Star what got the ball rolling in Dutch cities and elsewhere was citizen advocacy and bold local political leadership. Not all the solutions are complicated or expensive, they said, including measures that can be taken to “calm” traffic along residential streets.
Because of the climate work being done by her university’s Centre for Cities, Smit said she was invited to last month’s announcement of a $5-billion Windsor plant to manufacture the batteries for the electric vehicles of the future.
“The talent we need and want are going to look at Windsor to be green,” she said. “They’re going to expect this to be a city committed to being a green city.”
Smit said what needs to be done, and the building blocks to do it, are already there, including emerging local leaders. “The challenges are political. The hope is that (next week’s workshop) continues to build the momentum.”
Alrifai is president of the
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, which recently got local politicians to approve its plan for a Windsor-first pilot project for physically separated bike lanes along a stretch of University Avenue West connecting the University of Windsor’s downtown and main campuses.
Growing up, Kiemia Rezagian, 24, said she and her younger sister were forbidden from taking their bikes much beyond the front of their home. Her father, a long-time Windsor cabbie, knew the local streets and said they were too dangerous for children.
Having returned to her hometown after years of studies in a city emphasizing cycling, transit and walking and now working remotely for a national organization, Rezagian is another bright young Windsor adult civically engaged.
“I’m looking to stay,” she said. “It depends on how we build our city as an attractive place to grow,” she said.
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