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Time to blaze a trail

Looking for ways to get people out of their cars and into alternative modes of transport seemed to be the theme in Kitchener this week.

Mayor Carl Zehr and Coun. Barry Vrbanovic, past-president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, participated in the Cut the Commute challenge, which asks upper levels of government to come up with a strategy to cut commute times.

People travelling into or out of Kitchener to work are spending an average of 60 minutes on their commute. That’s costing the economy billions in lost productivity, and putting a strain on our infrastructure and environment to support the car culture.

With municipalities only taking in eight cents out of every tax dollar collected, the upper levels of government have more financial flexibility than cities, and should be providing more secure, predictable and long-term infrastructure money.

At the same time, the City of Kitchener still has some work to do in promoting alternative transportation. In the past few years, its commitment to building and maintaining the local trail network hasn’t kept up with the talk of supporting cycling and walking as viable alternatives.

It’s taken almost five years to implement a redesign of the rail crossing on the Iron Horse trail near Victoria Park. It’s a dangerous spot that took the life of a cyclist in 2008, yet the city is only making noise now about improving it after it was identified as a top priority by the cycling advisory committee.

This year’s budget includes $1.4 million for trails, out of the nearly $3 million originally allocated to the Local Environmental Action Fund. Staff was also directed to search for an additional $600,000 for trails. It’s a drop in the bucket compared to what is spent on roads. This commitment should have come sooner and  been more robust, but at least they’re pedalling in the right direction.

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