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Variations on the word walk, walkable, walkability are used 96 times in Barrie’s draft Official Plan. It is used 164 times in Barrie’s 2019 transportation master plan and it is a highlighted focus of the City of Barrie’s council priorities.
Walkable neighbourhoods are proven to increase small-business prosperity, boost health, and improve safe mobility.
Walkability is clearly desired in Barrie, but how do we get there?
The word I would like to emphasize is ‘choice’. We, as residents of Barrie, must make the strong decisions to create walkable neighbourhoods and not only say we want them. We need to strategically decide which areas will be ‘walkable’ and which areas will not.
A neighbourhood is considered ‘walkable’ when people choose to walk to their destinations. To make this happen, the walk needs to be pleasant, safe, and the points of interests close by. Walkable neighbourhoods allow people the independence to get around without a car, stay active, and healthy.
Unfortunately, Barrie does not have many examples of such neighbourhoods. Most areas with commercial destinations are not inviting to the pedestrian or cyclist. It is rare to see someone walk along Bayfield or Mapleview, for example.
Cars and walkability are simply not compatible. It is hard to find an example where heavy and fast-moving traffic goes well side by side with a lively pedestrian street.
Which brings me to my point: We need to choose which corridor is meant for what use. We need to prioritize one transportation mode over the other on each corridor. If we have separate networks – one for cars and one for active transportation within the city, it will benefit them both.
Driving will be easier on the ‘car streets’ as their movement will be prioritized and there will be a reduction in cyclists and pedestrians. Where the pedestrian network will be composed of safe, quiet, and pleasant streets where people can exercise, shop, and commute.
Cars will be a low priority with slow speeds and sometimes movement restrictions. This separate transportation network plan provides the choice to Barrie residents on what urban environment they would like to live in.
This approach of providing people with transportation choices is proven not only to increase the health of the residents, but the economic prosperity of the city. Forward-thinking North American cities are already reaping the benefits of this.
Making an area more walkable by making strong transportation decisions is even better for small businesses. Last year's Open Air Dunlop season, where Dunlop Street was pedestrianized, resulted in 80 per cent of businesses experiencing more foot traffic and 70 per cent observing an increase in sales relative to baseline conditions.
I challenge the City of Barrie to recognize the potential of one of our under-utilized corridors: Bradford Street. This road is adjacent to our walkable downtown Dunlop with future development potential, near the waterfront, and near the Allandale GO station. I envision this corridor as our next walkable neighbourhood, and I hope you do, too.
I challenge Barrie to make the strong choices and reduce the under-utilized vehicle lanes in favour of wider sidewalks, trees, patios, parkettes, or cycle tracks so that the new and old residents to the area are not forced to drive, but can choose their travel mode, to live in a more walkable, financially sustainable, and safe neighbourhood than an auto-focused Bradford.