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Catching up with Andre, Steve and the state of non-motorized transit in the Sault

At the core of changing transportation culture is the question of what method of transportation is most convenient
2021-03-21-WarmWeatherGalleryJH11
This SooToday file photo shows the hub trail in Clergue Park this past spring

The city of Sault Ste. Marie is moving forward with several improvements to the Hub Trail along with updates towards its Active Transit Master Plan. These changes represent a new direction for non-motorized travel in the city.

Working on these improvements is Senior Planner Steve Turco.

Turco told SooToday that the city is working on addressing network gaps: sections of an otherwise accessible trail where it is difficult or dangerous to walk or cycle. This is the case in the trail that goes down Huron Street into Canal Drive.

“This part of the trail system uses a combination of on-road facilities for cyclists, and off-road sidewalks for pedestrians. However, the current configuration of the Huron Street and Bay Street intersection makes the experience challenging for trail users,” he said. 

“To address this, council recently endorsed an alternative alignment.”

These trails will feature multi-use paths.

Long-Term Plans to Encourage Non-Motorized Travel

Beyond individual improvements, the city is also looking to make cultural changes to Saultites’ approach to transit — “to encourage residents of the community to choose walking or cycling or public transit” over driving, says Turco. 

Following other cities in Canada (see, for example, Guelph, Winnipeg, Thunder Bay), the Sault updated the Active Transit Master Plan (ATMP). The 75-page document provides a series of guidelines for an urban design that facilitates non-motorized travel.

“This plan will look at ways to make getting around the city by non-motorized forms of travel, such as cycling and walking more enjoyable, efficient and safe,” said Turco. 

“Part of making cycling and walking a more attractive option depends on how the city physically grows as well as the form of development.”

Furthermore, “over the last number of years, the city began to embrace the idea of Complete Streets — streets which are designed to accommodate all forms of travel equally. This concept is supported in the city’s updated official plan and how best to implement Complete Streets will be further explored as part of the upcoming Active Transit Master Plan.”

At the core of changing transportation culture is the question of what method of transportation is most convenient. For this, SooToday reached out to the Sault Cycling Club's advocacy director, Andre Riopel.

The Sault Cycling Club is represented on the Sault Trails Advocacy Committee and gives feedback on matters of active transit.

Riopel also sits on the city’s environmental sustainability committee.

“We have a climate issue. We want people to shift to a more environmentally sustainable transportation mode,” he said. “People make choices on travel mode based on level of convenience.” 

He contends that “generally, the majority of people will take the most convenient way [of travelling]. In Sault Ste. Marie, by far, that’s driving. There are lots of roads, very little congestion, lots of free parking everywhere.” 

Beyond simply making infrastructure improvements, Riopel hopes the city will make key changes to Sault Ste. Marie’s design, which will make non-motorized transit the most convenient method.

This project may include making changes to free parking, which he calls an “oxymoron” because the cost of building and maintaining is often hidden.

It has been argued that cities where walking and cycling is the most convenient method of transportation also become more pleasant to drive in due to less congestion and laws that prioritize safety for all.

How we got here

According to Riopel, a committee within city council to provide advice on cycling has existed since the 1980s, when he was president of the cycling club.

“We sat down with city planners and engineers and other parties. And we came up with the cycling master plan," he said. “Over the years, the plan has evolved.”

By the turn of the century, then-Mayor John Roswell had the idea of building a multi-use trail around Carmen’s Way, which was being constructed at the time, going through Fort Creek. 

“I saw an opportunity based on a snow machine map of a circular route around the whole city. And I said, why are we doing a snow machine plan when we could be doing a [year-round] non-motorized trail?”