Monday, December 5, 2011

Notes from the London Bike Summit

London Bike Summit, 2011

In 2006, OPP Sgt. Greg Stobbart was struck and killed by a truck while cycling on Tremaine Road, just south of Main. The truck driver had had his license suspended five times before the accident, owed $14,000 in driving-related fines, and yet he was only sentenced to 100 hours of community service and told to attend drivers ed.

That tragic experience led Stobbart's widow, Eleanor McMahon, to begin a crusade for bike safety that resulted in the formation of the Share the Road Cycling Coalition. The group brings together cyclists, police, and policy makers from all levels of government, all dedicated to “enhancing access for bicyclists on roads and trails and educating citizens on the value and importance of safe bicycling for healthy lifestyles and communities.”

In 2009, Share the Road sponsored the first Ontario Bike Summit. This year, the summit was held in London, Ontario, a community which was recently awarded a Bronze designation in the Bicycle Friendly Community Program. This program - which Milton would do well to implement - assesses the progress made by communities in the 5 "E's": Enforcement, Encouragement, Evaluation, Engineering, and Education.

The keynote speaker was Amy Ryberg Doyle, city councillor in Greenville, South Carolina. She outlined many of the specific measures that have been taken by Greenville over the past 30 years to make it not only bike-friendly but people friendly through its 'Complete Streets' planning policies. These policies have been successful because they are not merely suggestions - they are legislated requirements which mandate the city to consider bike lanes every time a road is repaved, and all businesses to install bike racks. They also closely monitor bicycle use and changing traffic patterns in order to measure their progress. Throughout her presentation, Ryberg Doyle's mantra was, "If you want bikes to count, count bikes!"

Amy Ryberg Doyle
Amy Ryberg Doyle, Greenville, SC

The first panel discussed the potentials of bicycle tourism in Ontario, and highlighted the economic benefits of cyclists as visitors who tend stay longer and spend more than other types of tourists. Quebec was held up as a model of a province-wide promotion and infrastructure commitment (through initiatives like Velo Quebec) that has paid off to the tune of $166 million from cycling tourists. They also discussed the Welcome Cyclists program, which allows businesses to promote themselves to cyclists by providing amenities like covered bike racks, enclosed bike lock-ups, bike repair kits, healthy food options, and local bike route maps.

The second panel discussed the specifics of building bicycle-friendly communities, and included Deputy Chief Bob Percy of the Halton Regional Police Service. Percy spoke at length about Halton's 'Share the Road' program, and highlighted the police service's role in educating cyclists and motorists in partnership with local cycling organizations. He was followed by representatives from Waterloo and Ottawa talking about their respective cities' policies, and how they plan to go from Silver to Gold Bicycle-Friendly Communities.

Waterloo representatives Diane Freeman and Scott Nevin

I came away from the conference with a renewed optimism that we really can make Milton more bike-friendly, and a host of practical ideas for making it happen. One of the best of these was the Road Diet.

It sounds like a radical notion: instead of adding lanes to improve traffic, take a lane or two away and give the space over to bike lanes, pedestrian islands, turn lanes, and/or sidewalks. And yet, it's an idea that has been proven to work - in Greenville, in Waterloo, and in dozens of other communities. Here in Milton, this is essentially what was done to Bronte Street.

Diane Freeman, a city councillor from Waterloo, showed exactly how a road diet was successfully applied to Davenport Road, transforming it from a dangerous, deteriorating four-lane thoroughfare that split the community into a quieter, safer two-lane neighbourhood road with bike lanes, pedestrian safe medians and even 'bike boxes' - all without increasing congestion. They even had a street party to celebrate Davenport's re-opening - and a thousand people came!

So, which Milton streets do you think would benefit from something like this?

Moving Beyond the Automobile: Road Diets from Streetfilms on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Milton Community Gardens

Local environmental group Milton Green recently sponsored a walking garden tour which included a close-up look at the Milton Community Gardens.

Currently located on the Allendale property across the street from the Milton Mall, this unassuming urban farm has been quietly producing tomatoes, beans and carrots for over fifteen years. And yet, most people in town don't even know it's there.

It's just as well that the Town hasn't gone out of its way to promote the garden or inform residents about its existence. Organizer Noelle Walsh has a long list of people waiting for one of the garden's 34 plots to become available, with many new residents and even a few out of towners wanting to get their hands dirty.

This is not to say that the Town and the Region aren't supportive. They prepare the plots, lease the land and insure it free of charge. Water tanks are filled throughout the season, and gardeners are provided with all the free mulch they can use. But the demand grows every year, so Walsh would like to see individual neighbourhoods start their own community gardens.

Happily, Walsh may get her wish. Chris Hadfield Public School recently received approval from the Town of Milton to start their own community garden in parkland adjacent to the school near Woodward and Dixon.

Starting next spring, students at the school will learn about gardening, food and agriculture by planting and tending to their own seedlings. Town staff will till the soil and provide water, and neighbourhood residents will tend the garden through the summer until the fruits and vegetables are ready to be harvested by the kids in the fall.

No word yet on whether other area schools plan to implement similar programs, but with any luck, community gardening in Milton will prove to be a growing trend.


Monday, July 11, 2011

One Farm

(originally posted at

Local food is all the rage these days. Proponents usually focus on fruits and vegetables, encouraging consumers to stock up on seasonal produce at farmers' markets and grocery stores. But buying local meat and dairy products is just as important - perhaps even more so. After all, what better way to ensure that the animals that feed you are being treated humanely than to get to know the farmer who raises them?

That's why one of my favourite vendors at the Farmers' Market is Dave McCann at 'The Beef Bloc'. I found out a bit of the story behind the beef a couple of years ago when I interviewed Dave for this blog and have been a loyal customer ever since. His beef isn't 'organic' or anything fancy like that, but he grows his own feed, does his own butchering, and raises his cattle free-range, with no antibiotics except when the animals are actually sick.

As someone who knows a little too much about conventional factory farming practices, I found it all very reassuring.

If you've ever driven through the village of Omagh on Britannia Road, you've probably seen Dave's cows. His family has owned the parcel just north and west of the village for over a century, and until recently it looked like this pastoral oasis would be spared the ravages of Milton's urban sprawl. Unlike their neighbours, the McCann's have not sold their land to developers, and although the new Boyne Survey development plan covers that whole area, their little patch will remain a farm - at least as long as the McCann family owns it.

But now there is a new threat.

Halton Region is moving forward with plans to widen Britannia Road to four lanes across the entire width of the region. The bottleneck through Omagh presents a problem, however, so consultants have devised three different options.

The first would simply widen the road along its existing path, essentially destroying the entire village. The second and third options would divert the road around the village, much in the same way that Regional Road 25 was diverted around Palermo.

The problem for the McCann's is the second option, which would divert Britannia Road north of Omagh... straight through the middle of their farm and all of their farm buildings.

The obvious solution is the third option, which would divert the road south through open fields. It's so obvious that one would assume that Regional Council would automatically reject the other two, and from the comments I've read on Hawthorne Villager it sounds like that is what will be happening. However, the fact that the other two options are even being considered is troubling, and illustrates the sorts of obstacles being faced by local farmers like the McCanns.

There was a presentation to Regional Council a few months back about the state of farming in Halton. One disturbing statistic: fully half of Halton's little remaining farmland is actually owned by developers and speculators who rent it out to short-term operations for quick cash crops like corn and soy. That way they can reap the agricultural tax benefits while they sit and wait for municipal development plans to reach the property.

The result is that serious, long-term farming operations like the McCann's are increasingly rare. And despite the lip service paid to sustainable agriculture and local food, all levels of government seem determined to drive them out of business.

The pressures faced by family farmers in the GTA range from major economic roadblocks to seemingly endless minor irritants. For example, Dave McCann was suddenly informed a couple of years ago that he would need to purchase a food vendor license for the farmers' market, despite the fact that Milton's business license by-law includes a specific exemption "if the goods, wares or merchandise are grown or produced by a farmer resident in Ontario who offers for sale or sells only the produce of his or her own farm."

The license itself is relatively cheap, and after arguing his case for months he just ended up paying the fee. But the fact that even that minor roadblock should be thrown up in the way of one of our few remaining local food producers is upsetting. And now the family is being forced to attend public meetings to explain why driving a four lane road through the middle of their farm might be problematic.

It makes you wonder if some people might be happier if farmers like the McCanns would just go away.

My 'Outdoor Adventure' to the New Main Library

(originally posted at

Mark June 16th on your calendars, folks! We are finally going to be hearing back from the consultants hired by the Town about future uses for the (now former) library buildings at Bruce Street. It's being billed as a 'public information session', which is Town-speak for "the decisions have already been made", and given that the new library is already open and the old one closed, I'm guessing that decision won't involve maintaining a branch library at Bruce Street.

In the end there simply weren't enough of us who will be hurt by this to override the wishes of the majority. But more on that later.

Apparently June is 'Walking Month' (who knew?), so in order to promote more physical activity - and, perhaps, to counteract the criticisms that the new library is too far to get to easily from downtown - the Library has been encouraging people to walk, bike, or take transit to 'Main@Main':

"Make each visit to the Main Library an outdoor adventure. Take a hike or ride your bike. Take to the trails or take transit. Take time to play at a park. Walk, stroll or saunter!"

Since I've been one of the ones doing the criticizing, and since it was such a lovely day yesterday, I figured I'd take them up on it. I wasn't going to walk, of course - that's about a half hour each way from my house, and I'm simply not that energetic. So I decided to take my bike.

On the way, I stopped by the old library (which is only about a ten minute walk from my house, BTW). I took a peek in the windows and was rather shocked by what I saw. You see, when the arguments were being made about just how prohibitively expensive it would be to maintain a branch library there, one of the biggest expenses was supposed to be replacing all the shelving and furniture that was going to be moved to the new site. Hundreds of thousands it would cost. Really.

So imagine my surprise when I saw this...

As far as I can tell, not a stick of furniture has been removed. Not a shelf, not a table, not a chair. Hell, even the computers are still there!

Actually, I'm not surprised at all. From the very beginning I had questioned why the Library would want all that tacky old shelving in their shiny new facility. And now we know.

I continued on my merry way, perhaps unwisely choosing to take the Main Street route to my destination. It's not a pleasant route, especially with all the construction that is only going to get worse as they move forward with the rail underpass. In fact I took Child's Drive home, which is really the best way to go if you're coming from the south-west. But I wanted you to see that section of Main Street from ground level so you'd have some idea of what sort of "outdoor adventure" they're asking the seniors in those Millside apartment buildings to go through as they make their way to the new library.

The Main Street underpass is slated to take three years to complete

In the winter this is usually blocked with snow.
And watch your bike tires don't get stuck in the rails!

This is how most kids coming from schools south of the tracks get to Main Street

I take it this is NOT one of the 'trails' they're talking about

Things improve east of the GO station

I am assured that the bike racks are on their way

You will note that I was riding my bike on the sidewalk and not on the street, which is generally a no-no. In fact, I saw six or seven cyclists of all ages on this section of Main and not one of them was on the street - and for very good reason. Between the heavy traffic, the narrow lanes, and the sinkholes that tend to form around manhole covers there, you'd have to be suicidal to try it. And that's speaking as someone who used to commute along King Street in downtown Toronto on my bike every day.

I must say, when I finally got inside the new library I was very impressed. It's beautiful - big, well stocked, lots of cool features like a silent study area and a room where some kids were playing Kinect. My main complaint is that my favourite section - the local history and microfilm area - seems to have actually shrunk (just for the record, I'd be happy to help them develop a proper genealogy section for a reasonable fee).

I also found the place a little... well, bland. But I'm sure it will warm up once they've been in there a few months.

Let me be clear: I've always been in favour of having a new library and arts centre. I think it's a lousy location, but I never disputed the need for a larger, more modern main library. And count me among those who love the design of the new building.

What upsets me - and what upsets a lot of people, especially in Ward 2 - is that our concerns were never taken seriously. If they had been, this 'feasibility study' would have been done as soon as the project was approved - not six months before the buildings were to be vacated. In fact, the effects of removing the library from downtown Milton on the social and economic fabric of our central core and the town as a whole would have been examined and analyzed many years ago, as soon as the idea was first conceived.

Instead, we were thrown a bone. We're lucky it was an election year - otherwise they wouldn't have even bothered with that. But at least now our Ward 2 councillors will be able to make their token 'Nay' votes and tell us with pride that hey, they fought the good fight. Just don't ask them why they approved the bloody thing in the first place.

Having spent spent much of the past six months in seemingly endless debate with both councillors and residents who are unwilling to see the Town spend money to keep a branch library at Bruce Street, I can honestly say that, while I continue to disagree with them, I have a much better understanding of their perspective. You see, from their standpoint the new library is a net gain for the town as a whole. While some people will have reduced access, even more will have their access increased, so obviously it's a win. And from a purely linear point of view, ignoring all the physical and psychological barriers between here and there, it really isn't that far at all.

If that was all there was to it, their perspective would make perfect sense. If Milton was a single, homogenous entity with one part exactly like every other part, then it really wouldn't matter where we put facilities like libraries as long as they were evenly distributed. If 'downtown' was simply wherever the planners or the mall developers decided it was, then we could just call Main and Thompson 'downtown' and turn the old one into a tourist attraction.

Unfortunately, real live towns just don't work that way. And that's what I can't seem to get them to understand.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

On the Buses: Some Personal Thoughts on Transit

(Sorry about the long absence, folks. I figure since my Ward 2 blog has considerable overlap with Sprawlville, I'll start cross-posting some relevant articles from here for the next while.)

I was pleased to see that the Champion finally got around to reporting on the transit debate that went on at last month's budget meetings. Although overshadowed by the hospital levy, Rick Malboeuf's motion to slash over a quarter million dollars from the Milton Transit budget was at least as surprising, and considerably more controversial.

As I reported at the time, the motion took everyone off guard and forced engineering staff and transit committee members to leap to the defense of our much maligned bus system. In the end, Malboeuf agreed to set aside his motion on the condition that Council and staff investigate the possibility of cuts over the coming year.

I had the impression that most councillors agreed just so they could move on.

The article has sparked a debate over at the Hawthorne Villager forum. I left a few comments, but I gave up after one person left a post about how someone would have to put a gun to his head to get him onto a bus full of the great unwashed, and how he failed to see any reason why he should choose suffer the grotesque inconvenience of waiting five minutes for a bus when he can jump in any one of his three (three!) cars any time he wants and pull up right to the door of his destination.

The overwhelming sense of entitlement and classism was making me a little queasy, so I decided to make a strategic withdrawal. If I had left a response, it likely would have been to question why someone happily spending thousands of dollars a year insuring, maintaining and fueling three cars - not to mention his tax dollars spent on new and existing roads - would find it so onerous to have to shell out $40 or $50 a year in taxes to provide transit for those who want or need it.

Alas, it would have gotten me nowhere.

I'm going to set aside the practical arguments for and against transit in Milton for a later post, because I want to address what I found most disturbing in all these discussions: the attitude that transit is only for students and tree-huggers or, worse, poor pathetic lowlifes who can't afford any better.

As an old Toronto girl, this attitude strikes me as particularly bizarre. I grew up in what were, at the time, the suburbs of Toronto, and the TTC was simply how everyone got around. My father was a fairly successful lawyer, so we weren't exactly short of money - and yet he took transit downtown to work just about every day of his career. So did all of his friends and colleagues. Even after my parents moved out to Bolton, he would drive to the King GO station and take transit to the office.

We had one car (nobody had two, of course) and my mother used it to run errands and drive me and my sister to skating or wherever. Certainly never to school, unless it was really raining cats and dogs. I walked to school until about grade 4 when I started taking the trolley bus. We moved to North York when I was in grade 6, but I continued to attend school at Avenue Road and Lawrence. I would take a bus, then the subway and then another bus to get there, often with my father part of the way if we happened to be leaving at the same time.

When I moved out of my parents house, I lived downtown and either took the TTC or rode my bike wherever I went. I didn't get my driver's license until I was 23 and living in Ottawa, but even then the car was never my primary mode of transport (my sister didn't learn to drive until she was 40).

Even after I married and we moved to Milton, I rarely drove. My husband would take the GO train downtown every day, so unless I felt like getting up very early to drive him to the station I was without a car most of the day. Which was fine since we still had a grocery store, banks, parks, the video store, and everything else I needed within blocks of my house. When my son was a little older and I got a part-time job up on Steeles, I just caught the bus at the stop right across the street from me.

It was only after we got the second car that I started relying on driving more and more. I was working from home so there was no need to commute by transit, the grocery store and several other amenities moved out of downtown, and it just became too easy to choose to drive.

My point is, I'm no angel. Like many people in Milton, I drive far more than I should. I do try to walk or bike as much as I can, but there's always an excuse - I'm in a hurry, it's too cold, it's too hot, I need to go to the Superstore anyway so I might as well drive. And it's taken its toll - I'm 35 pounds heavier now than when I moved here.

The difference is that I recognize all this as being a Bad Thing. Sure, as semi-affluent North Americans we're entitled to own two or three cars at a time and drive the block and a half to the mailbox and back instead of getting off our widening asses to walk. We're also entitled to throw out our clothes and dishes and buy new ones every week instead of washing the old ones if we have the money, but it's no less wasteful.

My father didn't ride the bus because it was cheaper, or faster, or better for the environment, or because he didn't have a choice. He took transit because it made sense, and because back then most people would have considered driving in your car by yourself to the office every day to be the height of wasteful self-indulgence.

I'm determined to get rid of that second car this year.

Friday, January 8, 2010

I'm Running

In case you've been wondering why I haven't posted much lately, this might help solve the mystery:

A Fresh Start

My name is Jennifer Smith, and I am running for Milton Town Council, Ward 2. Welcome to my campaign blog!

Yes, it's true - I've really done it. The papers are filed, the bank account's set up, and now (of course) the blog. Next order of business: PayPal account for donations. I'm going to need them.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Olympic Torch Comes to Milton!

Today was the big day! Your faithful reporter actually managed to get up at gawdawful in the morning and walk up to Main Street in the freezing cold just to bring you this footage.

I hope you appreciate it.

Seriously, it was a lot of fun and very exciting. I even got to sing Christmas carols and a rousing rendition of 'O Canada' with the Milton Choristers.