A new group committed to making Sarnia a better city is challenging residents to commit to one three-kilometre bike ride or walk once a week. That’s it.
It’s a simple act with the potential to change how we feel about jumping in a car every time we need to go somewhere, says Tristan Bassett, executive director of the NuSarnia Foundation.
“Our personal ability to make small incremental change is huge,” she said at an event Tuesday hosted by Climate Action Sarnia-Lambton. “My request of you is to pledge a three kilometre trip one time a week.”
That small commitment will lay the groundwork for more cycling and walking, encourage others to do more of it, and start to create the political will to spend additional money to make Sarnia bike-friendly, said Bassett.
Since the advent of the automobile, Sarnia has discouraged active transportation, she told about 30 people gathered at the Sarnia Library Auditorium.
Municipal dollars were historically spent on parking lots and roads. Car use grew and residents moved to the suburbs to escape traffic and congestion. That served to create urban sprawl and a dependency on the automobile that continues today.
While other cities have focused on more efficient public transit systems, trails, and infrastructure to support safer cycling and walking, Sarnia remains car-centred, Bassett said.
Not only does the environment suffer, local residents are less socially connected, she said. Driving a car is like being in an “isolated box,” whereas cycling effectively treats stress, improves mental health and creates contact with others.
Bassett cited a King’s College Study that found people who take three, 45-minute cycling rides per week were found to be nine years “biologically younger.”
“Those who cycle or walk to work have fewer sick days, better cognitive function and productivity,” she said.
Sarnia council has been convinced to install bike lanes on a few city streets in recent years but painting a simple white line on the road and calling it a bike lane is not enough, Bassett said.
NuSarnia Foundation noticed few cyclists were using the bike lane on Colborne Road and conducted a weeklong experiment that involved adding plastic construction posts and painting the lane blue between Lakeshore Road and Charlesworth.
The results were dramatic, Bassett said.
“On day one, people came and thanked us. More parents started using it with their kids. Fewer people used the sidewalk,” she said. A NuSarnia Foundation survey showed that 93% of people felt safer riding in the protected lanes versus the unprotected white line lanes. Another 95% said they were more likely to allow their children to ride with them in these lanes versus the standard ones.
“The dream is to have off-road (bike) lanes but what we have now are painted lines, so we need to find a way to make them safer,” said Bassett.
We need to prioritize people over automobiles by creating neighbourhoods with bike paths, shade, places to stop and rest that encourage cycling, she added.
NuSarnia Foundation is a grassroots group started locally last fall. It began with conversations over coffee about what kind of Sarnia residents want for their kids, said Bassett who grew up in Sarnia, lived in Australia, Vancouver and Toronto before returning to Sarnia with her husband to raise their two sons.
The foundation is hosting public guided bike tours June 7, 8, and 9 to encourage cycling and discuss making the community more focused on active transportation.
For details and to register, visit https://nusarnia.org/bens-bike-tours/.
Bassett’s presentation was the final in a speaker series hosted by Climate Action Sarnia-Lambton.
Climate Action Sarnia-Lambton is also hosting an Earth Day Clean-Up of Wiltshire Park from 10 a.m. – noon on Saturday, April 22.
All are welcome to participate and are asked to wear closed-toe footwear and appropriate outdoor clothing. The City of Sarnia will supply gloves, garbage bags and a sharps kit.