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Petition hopes to put the brakes on planned Fergus bike lanes

Councillor for the area wonders if the bike lanes project may run into some roadblocks
2021-07-09 St david st AS
St. David Street North is slated for reconstruction in 2023 when underground infrastructure is replaced.

An online petition against Centre Wellington’s plan to add separated bike lanes on St. David Street North in Fergus has amassed over 500 signatures and its author is nearly ready to make his case to council. 

Resident Ed O’Shaughnessy said he was “a bit shocked” to see council unanimously support the separated bike lanes option for the street’s redesign given that it was one of the least popular responses on a survey the township conducted earlier this year. 

Presented with four options for how the thoroughfare could be reconstructed after major infrastructure work was completed there, 41 per cent of respondents wanted to see an exact replacement of the existing street. A quarter said they preferred to maintain on-street parking from St. Andrew to St. Patrick Streets with sidewalk/boulevard widening. Fifteen per cent chose the separated cycling lane option, which council ultimately endorsed. Ten per cent wanted on-street parking lanes removed and increased sidewalk/boulevard width. 

Local cycling advocacy group Green Lanes spoke in passionate support of the separated bike lane option at council prior to the vote on June 21.

“It just felt to me that our council had been persuaded a little bit by the advocacy group to go in a direction that didn’t feel like was the direction the general community was looking for,” O'Shaughnessy said. 

O’Shaughnessy shares the concern of some stores and restaurants in the area who feel the loss of parking spaces to accommodate the new bike lanes will negatively impact their businesses. He also worries about safety.

“I just think that putting those two bike lanes either side of a major highway, to me, is not the safest option,” he said. 

Will O’Shaughnessy petition be able to persuade council to back-peddle on their support for the bike lanes? The author himself is not hopeful. 

O’Shaughnessy said he plans to send the petition and some of his own research on the matter to council in the coming days. 

“I mean honestly, I’m not sure if it’ll change anything,” he said. “But it would be nice to at least get them to review it again, take a look at the feedback that’s been generated through the petition to at least show them that there is a large portion of the population that doesn’t feel it’s the right option for that street.”

Meanwhile the councillor representing the area said he’s heard many of the issues raised by the petition from his constituents, and he’s taking them into consideration. 

“When I hear this many people have concerns about it, I have to take notice,” Coun. Bob Foster said. "Five hundred is a large number."

Foster emphasized endorsing the separated bike lane option and directing staff to apply for funding — as council did on June 21 — is not the same as starting construction, and he thinks the township may run into some roadblocks before getting to the point.

Foster said, in his opinion, the bike lane project may not be eligible to receive funding under Ontario's Connecting Links program, which the township is applying to. He’s also not sure the province will approve the addition of cycling lanes on a provincial highway. If either of those things happen, “we’ll have to have a second look at it,” he said.  

Asked if he would continue to support the addition of bike lanes in future votes, assuming the township does receive provincial funding and approval, Foster said, “that’s a tough question to answer because we need to speculate on those two key pieces.”