The city of Thunder Bay, Ont. is considering a 5-km bike lane proposed for a major downtown route along Memorial Ave.
The city of Thunder Bay, Ont. is considering a 5-km bike lane proposed for a major downtown route along Memorial Ave.

Earlier this week, city council in Thunder Bay, Ont. received a message from the people of the city — 1,800 of them, at least. With their signatures, those advocates are calling for a new, exclusive space for cyclists running along a major north-south route, a bikes-only artery they’ve dubbed the Memorial Link. Tucked between the road and the sidewalk, the bikeway would extend from Miles Street in the south to John Street in the north — five kilometres in all.

It’s not just about keeping cars and bikes separate, the plan’s supporters argue. Allowing dedicated space for cars, bikes and pedestrians, it’s a re-working of public space to facilitate what they see as a better way of sharing the road.

“It’s not the cheapest option in terms of being a north-south corridor,” said Dean Stamler, the organizer behind campaign efforts to see the Memorial Link realized, “but the reason why my group is promoting it is because it’s the option which does the most to cater to both existing and new people riding bicycles.” Speaking to the CBC, Stamler said that people in the community — even those not usually into bike lanes to begin with — have enthusiastically supported the idea, especially when they hear the details of the plan.

“When they hear that, ‘Hey, we want to provide physical separation for bicycles along this corridor,’ they’re like, ‘Yeah, I’ll sign that in a heartbeat,” he added.

That petition, as had been anticipated for some time, was finally presented before City Council during a session on Monday. Speaking to councillors, Stamler argued that the agenda of the Memorial Link is to create a more complete street for all road users, and as such, what benefits cyclists will benefit the whole. “This proposal that we’ve got here is basically to get bicycles off the road,” Stamler said. At times, Stamler’s words seemed to suggest an underlying conflict between cyclists and motorists — something that the plan is no doubt meant to assuage.”I don’t know what could be more perfect for people who hate the idea of bike lanes and want to drive everywhere. We’re going to take bikes, and we’re going to remove them from the space that you hold beloved.”

Above all, he said, Stamler wants the proposed bike route to be treated as a priority by the city’s government. “A road to nowhere,” he argued, “is much better than no road at all.” In response, council passed a resolution, calling on the city’s administration to study the idea’s feasibility and cost effectiveness — and what will happen with regard to maintaining the route come winter.

To Stamler, though, what’s important is getting the idea off the ground first, making the idea work for cyclists. “That’s a totally different fish to fry,” he said, addressing the question of maintenance.

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