ST. MARY’S – Getting more people out and about is not only key to social well-being, for St. Mary’s – with communities scattered over a vast geographic area – it’s also good for business, says the consultant in charge of drafting the municipality’s new active transportation plan.
“Active transportation can help bolster tourism and economic development opportunities,” Bruce Mans, partner in Upland Planning + Design Studio of Halifax, told the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s committee of the whole during his first presentation on the plan earlier this month.
“Nova Scotia’s Blue Route cycling initiative, for example, is looking at a cross-province active transportation route,” he said, noting that, elsewhere in Canada, initiatives like this have attracted billions of dollars in tourism spending, especially Quebec, where “people have come from all over the world to cycle.”
Beyond this, he said, active transportation “is also fun and helps build community. It gets people out in the outdoors and on trails together. Since [it’s] a human powered mode of transportation, it can help improve your physical and mental wellness. It can also help reduce pollution and improve mobility options, as some people may not be able to afford a car and may want to be able to walk or bike to work.”
Upland won the work to develop the new active transportation plan for the municipality with a $44,250 bid – covered by a grant from Infrastructure Canada’s Active Transportation Fund – in April. According to the request for proposals, the project is designed “to create, enhance and increase opportunities for walking, wheeling, and waterway travel… and expand upon [St. Mary’s] current Active Sherbrooke Plan (2016). The final plan should include applicable best practices for active transportation in rural communities.”
Said Mans at last week’s committee of the whole meeting, “The goal of this plan is to identify certain areas throughout the municipality – routes, trails, roads – that need to be upgraded to help increase and make transportation more feasible. But it also includes identifying things that will help make it more comfortable and easier and more accessible for people to actually use, [such as] new benches, kiosks, picnic areas, waste bins and wayfinding signage.”
As well, he said, “We’re going to be identifying opportunities to help educate people on what opportunities there are for active transportation in the municipality; how to do it safely and efficiently and, specifically, around schools and business hubs [where] there are a lot of opportunities... We’re in the discovery phase right now.”
Upcoming work, he noted, will include public engagement, community background reviews, and site analyses of geophysical constraints, road conditions, and traffic volumes. “Then, we will want to look at what sort of best practice there are in other municipalities; what sort of lessons are there for St. Mary’s to learn.”
Said Warden Greg Wier following the presentation: “It’s a vast municipality; you have your work cut out for you.”
A draft plan should be ready for council’s review by early 2024, Mans said.