Midland council cycling through options over bike-lane report

Change can be a difficult adjustment to accept, and it’s a tough question of whether it’s easier to change the way drivers behave versus changing the design of a road to be safer for everyone to use.

As Midland prepares its residents for the major Yonge Street reconstruction project set for completion in 2025, contention has already begun on what the road lane lines will end up becoming.

Yonge Street is listed in the town’s 2019 multi-modal transportation master plan as the main west-east arterial road in town from CR-93 to King Street, as well as a designated truck route. Once a four-lane road through that stretch, repaintings in 2017 and 2018 created the Yonge Street road diet allowing for two lanes of traffic, a centre turning lane and cycling lanes on both sides.

Town council received a staff report on bike lane options at the March meeting, as existing bike lanes don’t meet the minimum design standards set by the Ministry of Transportation of Ontario in 2021. The report had taken an October 2023 public information session into consideration, but Mayor Bill Gordon noted that the option to return back to a four-lane set-up hadn’t been offered, and council deferred so staff could revise it with further options.

At the recent committee of the whole meeting, a deputation was given by Fourth Street resident Steve Kux who stated opposition to Gordon’s reconsideration of reverting the road back to four lanes. Kux lended additional weight to his words as he introduced himself as a former transportation policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation.

“While I recognize that the decision has not yet been made, consideration of this as a potential course of action is deeply troubling to me as a person who uses Yonge Street on a daily basis and who spends time within the community that Yonge Street represents,” said Kux.

His deputation drew from a letter included in the March report from Mundy’s Bay Public School principal Chris Harding, which listed numerous advantages to a provided option of flexible bollards to segregate cyclists and pedestrians on a multi-use path from three lanes of motorists. Those advantages included health and safety through lifestyle and transportation means, as well as accessibility, equity, and environmental sustainability. Kux also noted an economic benefit for slower stop-and-shop traffic not realized by rushed vehicles.

“Any resident of Midland can tell you that Yonge Street is first and foremost a place where people come together and live; not a conveyance for cars and trucks,” said Kux. “It is an important place where life in Midland happens.

“To see what a mistake it would be to take the step backward of reducing pedestrian and bike access to the street, you need to look no further than the section of King Street between Yonge and Highway 12.”

Kux spoke as a family man rather than a professional as he provided anecdotal observations regarding his family among cyclists using safer sidewalks instead of King Street lanes, or avoiding the north-south artery through alternate streets and trails entirely.

“I’m here all but begging council not to demonstrably make the town a worse place to live to save money,” said Kux, adding that, “‘less costly’ rarely means ‘more pleasant to live in’, and is far more likely to mean ‘off-putting or unsafe’.

“As we grow, we need to think about the future. That involves putting people who live and spend time and money in different parts of our town ahead of the vehicles that pass these places by. It means thinking about students, teachers, seniors, business owners, employees, and of course the residents who live on Yonge as the street’s primary users; not the car speeding past.”

Kux also raised concern about the research implications of Gordon hosting an informal straw poll on the mayor’s personal website as council members could take those responses for their judgements instead of an officially transparent and wide-ranging survey. Gordon later defended the poll as part of his usual engagement routine with the public.

Once the deputation was complete, members of council had their opportunity for questions; Coun. Bill Meridis asked Kux for his opinion on the best option.

“I am not a huge fan of just spending money for the sake of spending money," replied Kux. "I understand that there are infrastructure needs right now with regard to Yonge – that's kind of what sparked this conversation to begin with – and that there is a requirement now that when the road is repaved that bollards be installed to protect the bike lanes. I think that would be the next logical step.

“In terms of a long-term vision, having the bike lanes separated up on the boulevards or protected by permanent curbs would be obviously the the ideal solution; speaking as somebody who chooses to cycle and walk in town, having the protected bollards and maintaining the bike lanes and the three-lane configuration is far preferable to losing them.”

Gordon expressed appreciation for Kux’ deputation and hearing back from the community on the report, but reiterated that any decisions were far from made and that the March report deferral was simply to have all available options for future consideration.

“But I also need to remind you,” added Gordon, “that back in 2017 when this was being proposed – just before my first term – there was a petition (June 2018) with probably 1,000 names on it that didn't want the road diet from local Midland residents that wanted to stay as it was for 30 or 40 years as a four-lane road. So we can't ignore them – and we didn't; council of the day then wasn't persuaded by all those names, and decided to move ahead with the road diet.”

Council thanked Kux for the deputation, which was received for information.

Information on the Yonge Street project, timelines scope, and reports are available on the construction page of the town website.

The Yonge Street reconstruction bike lanes report from March, including options and survey results, is available in the council agenda on the town of Midland website.

Council meetings are held every third Wednesday, and can be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53 when available, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel. Editor's note: This story was first published on April 15. This version corrects a quote.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca