• Rob Hornberger

Trail, path development on a roll as CWATS pursues ambitious active transportation plan

The system's expansion has led to a dramatic increase in use by cyclists, walkers
The recent addition of bike lanes along County Road 50 in Kingsville is a part of a long-term plan to create safe routes for cyclists and walkers.

KINGSVILLE — Biking and walking are become increasingly popular activities in Kingsville and the organization in charge of promoting active transportation in Essex County will be revising its master plan to reflect the new reality.

When the County Wide Active Transportation System (CWATS) first drafted its 20-year master plan in 2011, it called for 1,080 kilometres of cycling and walking paths. So far, 582 kilometres have been built.

Diana Radulescu, CWATS co-ordinator, said use of the CWATS system of trails and paths has doubled since the master plan was drafted and will continue to grow as more cyclists and walkers look for safe places to pursue their activities.

“There are more women and children using the network that we didn’t anticipate … and it shows that what we’ve built is not only providing those connections but it’s also providing comfort and accessibility for those users,” she said.

Radulescu said the region is also attracting cyclists from outside the region who are attracted by the flat terrain and local attractions like area wineries.

She said bike lanes along County Road 20, Division Road and Heritage Road are examples of paths that provide a safer route for bike traffic.

Interest in cycling has increased during the pandemic as people look for outdoor sports and activities that allow social distancing.

Radulescu said one of CWATS’ main goals is to create links between existing paths and bike lanes. CWATS is looking to use the McCain Sideroad to create a link from County Road 20 to Heritage Road. Also in the works is a plan to join a proposed path along County Road 18 with a similar east-west road and planned bike route in Essex.

“In order to create the comfort for those who are hesitant, we have to put together the infrastructure that allows people to travel safely.”

The CWATS co-ordinator said Essex County owns many of the roads in the seven member municipalities, allowing the county to add bike lanes when roads are being repaired and upgraded.

The CWATS master plan is also looking at a stretch of abandoned rail line between Essex and Tilbury which would, when converted to a path, be a connecting link to existing trails in Essex County and with the biking network in neighbouring Chatham-Kent.

The plan identifies the Essex Regional Conservation Authority (ERCA) as the future owner.

Kevin Money, ERCA’s director of conservation services, said the abandoned CN track between Essex and Tilbury is for sale and has been identified as a key acquisition by the county, member municipalities, CWATS and the conservation authority.

The abandoned line extends into Chatham-Kent and the portion between Tilbury and St.Thomas has been purchased by Entegrus, a utility owned by Chatham-Kent, Elgin County and a British Columbia company. The 115 kilometre Chatham-Kent-Elgin portion of the line was purchased from CN Rail for $5 million.

Portions of the line have already been converted into a cycling and walking trail.

Money was reluctant to talk about any negotiations taking place with CN but did say the conversion of the line into a bike and walking path is part of the CWATS master plan and that the plan calls for ERCA to be the eventual owner.

The CWATS master plan includes development of a section of rail line from Essex to Tilbury. That project would link to a trail stretching east across Chatham-Kent and Elgin County to St. Thomas.

Tom Omstead, co-founder of Share the Road - Essex County with his wife Sue, said the conversion would create a safe, 100-kilometre loop of Essex County that would be attractive to local cyclists as well as long-haul riders coming from outside the county.

Long-haul cyclists usually travel with camping gear and conversion of the line into a path would allow access to ERCA properties that allow camping.

Kingsville Coun. Thomas Neufeld, who entered municipal politics because of his interest in active transportation, said the area is experiencing a cycling boom and predicted it will increase.

He said if gas prices continue to increase, more people may turn to cycling as a means to get to work or grocery shop.

“In order to create the comfort for those who are hesitant, we have to put together the infrastructure that allows people to travel safely,” Neufeld said.

“As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and nor will these connecting links, but we, collectively as a region, realize the importance of it."

Omstead said the bike path along both sides of County Road 20 between Kingsville and Leamington shows the importance of linkages.

Built in stages, it only became popular once the entire stretch was completed, he said.

Kurtis Dobson, owner of the Cycle Works bike shop in Kingsville, is using the CWATS system to create an online directory to assist riders find routes specific to their needs.

The site www.kingsvillecycleworks.com has routes for wine aficanados, campers and cyclists who prefer riding on little-used gravel roads.

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