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THE BALANCED LIFE | Pelham gets Active Transportation right

A rriving home from Myrtle Beach and receiving Niagara Region Health Promoter Jackie Gervais’ weekly Active Transportation Updates email on the same day is a lot to process. Never were two worlds farther apart.

Arriving home from Myrtle Beach and receiving Niagara Region Health Promoter Jackie Gervais’ weekly Active Transportation Updates email on the same day is a lot to process. Never were two worlds farther apart.

There couldn’t have been a better place to visit with our three- and six-year-old granddaughters: wall-to-wall heated indoor lazy rivers and swimming pools, amusement parks with hermit crab giveaways on every corner, and a beach littered with tiny black shark’s teeth. Collecting mere seashells is apparently so yesterday in 2022.

And yes, if you haven’t visited the U.S. since Covid struck, crossing back into Canada by land is quick and easy if you’re vaccinated and complete the ArrivCan app before appearing at the border. The need for a negative Covid test will be gone within a day or two of your reading this, which simplifies things further.

But, cars rule Myrtle Beach and its environs, and absentee landlords need have little regard for the quality of life that their property investments provide the permanent local residents. The Strand is incredibly pedestrian and bicycle unfriendly, and quickly makes one realize how fortunate we are in Pelham to have such a walkable and bikeable community.

The Canadian Government defines Active Transportation as using your own power to get from one place to another, including walking, biking, jogging, running, skate-boarding, rollerblading and non-mechanized wheel chairing. This winter, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing could have been added without argument from most of us.

A walk through Fonthill’s commercial core, past our Town Hall and library, into East Fonthill toward the Meridian Community Centre, all safely on sidewalks or purpose built paved trails, indicates that a combination of good luck and good planning, supported by enthusiastically engaged citizens, has made a difference here.

This week’s Active Transportation Update from Gervais included topics such as “Government of Canada supports physical activity through active transportation for newcomers arriving to Canada,” “Lifetime cost of driving a car,” and “Suburbia is subsidized: here’s the math.” Each study or article reinforced my sense that Pelham is on the right track.

Research has shown that adult immigrants to Canada tend to experience declining health upon arrival, in part due to reduced physical activity and social isolation, which can lead to higher incidence of chronic health conditions. Cycling is seen as a partial solution by the Federal Ministry of Health.

Our Federal Government announced last week that it will invest almost $1 million dollars via a Newcomer Bike Mentorship Program designed to support cycling as a regular form of transportation for newcomers in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax. The funding will assist, “their settlement processes by matching immigrants and refugees with local cycling experts who will provide them with support, ideas for activities, and organize group events.”

Pelham isn’t Toronto, but this clear recognition of the physical and social benefits of cycling across a wide variety of communities suggests our local trail network, bike lanes and traffic calming measures are based on evidence, and provide long-term health benefits.

A common refrain in Ontario, and Pelham, is the lack of affordable housing, with senior housing frequently prioritized. With migration from urban centres and other factors causing rapid population growth and increased housing demand in communities like Pelham, and the costs of land and services rising steeply, solutions are not easy.

Rents and property values beyond the main tourist areas in Myrtle Beach were significantly less expensive than here, but the location of these properties and lack of AT facilities made car ownership a must for their residents.

A study published this month by Stefan Gossling, in Ecological Economics, an online science journal, calculated the lifetime cost of driving a compact car in the U.S. to be $689,000. A Mercedes GLC was in excess of a million dollars. Costs were based on driving 15,000 kilometres annually over 50 years, which resulted in an annual cost of $13,780 to $20,000. Other research over the last decade has produced similar, or higher, costs.

The walkable AT facilities in Fonthill, especially those in the Fonthill East development, combined with easy access to the MCC, shopping, banking and the library, facilitate residents who are working from home, or who are no longer working, to go car-free. Going without a car requires a serious change of perspective, as will switching to an electric vehicle in the future, but $13,000 to $20,000 dollars saved each year can pay for a lot of rental cars and airport taxis and still leave a sizeable chunk to put towards a mortgage or rent. The positive impact on the environment is obvious.

A podcast produced by Jason Slaughter, creator of Not Just Bikes, a popular YouTube site focused on livable urban design, offers research to show that traditional car-centric suburban development is expensive and an inefficient use of valuable community tax revenues. Although his podcast is primarily aimed at larger centres than Pelham, the concept that careful land use policy can increase tax revenue and reduce the cost of servicing sprawl applies in most municipalities.

Slaughter uses a model similar to Return on Investment (ROI) to compare the money a municipality receives in taxes from a specific property or block of properties to what the municipality spends providing them services. The ratio of taxes to expenses is the community’s ROI on each property, and it is significantly higher in older, tightly-packed commercial cores and dense residential neighbourhoods than it is in sprawling subdivisions and huge big-box strip developments.

While new multistory condos, rental units, and tightly-packed townhomes may not reflect the Pelham of old, and the relatively compact commercial growth along Highway 20 may be causing some congestion, according to Slaughter’s findings, without their higher relative contribution to our tax base, or positive ROI, those of us on large residential lots in newer subdivisions would have to pay significantly higher taxes to cover the actual cost of our services.

Striking the balance between growth, provision of services, and providing a healthy environment cannot be easy for those tasked with running any municipality. Although Pelham may not be perfect for everyone, I know the enjoyment of walking, jogging and cycling here this spring will remind me that our community and its residents have got a lot of things right over the last decade or so.