Feds announce first-ever fund specifically for active transport

Cyclists embark from the Chi-Cheemaun during a past Passage Ride organized by Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates.

OTTAWA – The federal government announced Canada’s first ever dedicated Active Transportation Fund on March 12 with an investment of $400 million over five years to help build new and expanded networks of pathways, bike lanes, trails and pedestrian bridges across the country. The new fund is part of an eight year $14.9 billion public transit investment announced in February.

Catherine McKenna, minister of infrastructure and communities made the announcement with parliamentary secretary Andy Fillmore. “As a government our focus has never wavered from the health and safety of Canadians and on getting safely through this pandemic,” said Minister McKenna. “But we will get through it. We’re also looking for ways to build back better by building the Canada we want, with good jobs, a sustainable economy, cleaner air, more inclusive communities where people want to live work and raise their families.”

“It’s really about building what we need for the Canada we want,” she said. “Canadians love using safe cycling paths and trails to get around their towns and their cities. It’s a great way to stay healthy, enjoy nature and connect to public transit. It’s also very good for the environment. This investment will make it easier for Canadians to get around on foot, by scooter, bikes, wheelchairs, e-bikes.”

Since 2015, the Government of Canada has invested more than $130 million in 126 active transportation projects, including the Grouse Mountain Regional Trail in Vancouver, the Flora Foot Bridge in Ottawa, a bikeway extension in Cornerbrook and a new cycling path in Chelsea, Quebec. This isn’t just about recreation, explained Minister McKenna. “Smart investments in better community pathways can remove barriers to mobility while connecting people to public transportation.”

Active transportation networks support safe mobility, make neighbourhoods more vibrant, offer sustainable transportation options and allow all members of the community to participate in active living. It is an affordable and accessible way to connect communities while promoting healthy living and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Kate Walker, vice-chair on the board of Velo Bikes Canada, a national cycling organization, also studies public health and active transportation at the University of Ottawa. “Today is an important day for Canada,” she said. “Never before has a federal fund existed specifically for active transportation infrastructure. This fund can be used by communities all over Canada to build important infrastructure like separated bike lanes and walking trails that will link community destinations, allow people to be active and improve access to transit. When people live in areas that have safe, connected active transportation infrastructure they feel confident to use a bicycle to go to work, to school, to seek employment. They can move more easily in their neighbourhoods in a wheelchair. They can walk to a friend’s house. They can bike, walk or roll to transit instead of driving a car.”

Today’s announcement will bring significant health, environmental, economic and social benefits to our country, Minister Walker added. Active transportation is affordable, can be accessed by people of all ages and abilities, and promotes physical activity that is protective against a host of chronic diseases including heart disease, diabetes and benefits mental health. A strong active transportation infrastructure offers people the choice of whether to walk or cycle instead of driving, which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well. 

Local cycling enthusiast and president of Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates (MICA), Maja Mielonen, wasn’t aware of the announcement but thinks it’s a promising step forward. There’s been an explosive increase in cycling over the past year making it almost impossible to purchase a bicycle last summer, she said. “Manitoulin’s Highway 542 definitely needs paved shoulders for cyclists. It’s the last highway on the Island without and that’s dangerous,” she added. 

Ms. Mielonen would like to see a completed rail trail between Little Current and Espanola for cycling or walking. She wasn’t sure how effective cycle paths would be within Island municipalities but pointed to Assiginack’s McLean’s Park as a good example of a shared walking and mountain bike trail and said that more trails like this, or Wiikwemkoong’s Bebamikwe Memorial Trail, would be added assets for Manitoulin.

Minister McKenna also announced the launch of stakeholder engagement on a National Active Transportation Strategy. “Because smart investments in public pathways are just part of a fully connected community, today we are also starting consultations on a national active transportation strategy that will help communities share best practices in project design and execution and promote healthier, walkable communities that are environmentally sustainable and inclusive for all,” she said. 

The strategy will be informed by input from the public and key stakeholders including provinces, territories, municipalities, Indigenous communities and not-for-profit organizations and businesses. “We want to make sure that everyone who wants to can benefit from walking, biking or wheeling. Independent transportation that’s healthy for mind, body and planet,” Minister McKenna said. “Building big things in Canada has always been about nation building. We built big because we thought big. Now in 2021, it’s time to think big and build again. Canada’s first dedicated active transportation fund can help us tackle climate change, create jobs, make communities more livable, resilient, low carbon and inclusive.”