A Better Bay: Making North Bay a Walkable City


Walking seems like one of those topics that’s just so obvious it’s not even worth talking about.

George Carlin, the late standup comedian, certainly would have shared that sentiment.

“I know they have a magazine. Walking! WALKING!

There’s actually a ******* magazine called “Walking”! ‘Look, Dan, the new “Walking” is out!’

Here’s a good article: putting one foot in front of the other!”

George Carlin

On the other hand, maybe because walking is so ubiquitous, and yet largely unconsidered, it is exactly the type of topic that might be interesting to really delve into.

We Are All Pedestrians

For some, walking is their transportation, it’s how they get from A to B. For others, those who own a private automobile, walking becomes a recreational activity, sometimes even one that they actually drive to go do.

But even if you drive everywhere you go, when you park, you still take the heel-toe express the rest of the way. Plus, even if you own a car, it shouldn’t mean driving has to be your only method of transportation. The city as a setting should offer us the freedom to move around in different ways, enriching our lives.

Finally, just because you have a vehicle, doesn’t mean everyone has that privilege. Our city should be accessible to all of its residents, and more attention should obviously be paid to accommodating those who aren’t motorists.

A Better Bay

As discussed in the last A Better Bay article, our city follows a spatial layout that is problematic. Designated zones for separated commercial and residential uses, few mixed-use neighbourhoods, and a low density pattern of sprawl, all pinhole residents into one method of transport. These patterns ensure that we are dependant on car ownership to achieve the freedom to move in our city.

Being that I’ve offered some thoughtful steps for combatting this fundamental issue with our city, for the next few weeks I’d like look at the alternatives to car travel: walking, biking, and public transit.

We must ask how we can ensure that in 30 years we live in a city that accommodates and even encourages these sustainable methods of transportation.

Some people ride bikes, some people take transit. But we are all pedestrians, so I thought that walking would be the best place to start.

The Plight of the Pedestrian in a Car Dependent City

Little attention is paid to walking infrastructure. Politicians seem to unanimously support sustainable transportation, and yet when push comes to shove, the attention given to improving the experience of walking in our city is minuscule by comparison to the attention to car travel.

So if we’re all walkers, and pro-walker position is politically correct, why doesn’t walking get its due?

Well for starters, there’s a very real perception that pedestrian issues are those of a disadvantaged, car-less class, and therefore while it’s politically correct, its not actually politically motivating to address the issues. It’s basically assumed that once you have a car you use that and that alone, a fair assumption given the city’s layout, but far from an ideal perspectives to work from.

Consider The Pedestrian by Ray Bradbury, a dystopian (very) short story where a man is questioned by authorities, and eventually institutionalized, for walking. While this is a sort of satirical take on the extreme conclusions of our societal attitude towards walking, it makes a poignant argument about the way we look at pedestrianism.

“In ten years of walking by night or day, for thousands of miles, he had never met another person walking, not once in all that time.”

Ray Bradbury (1951) The Pedestrian

The main character is taken to the Psychiatric Center for Research on Regressive Tendencies, the implication being that once a level of technology is reached (car), it would be (literally) crazy for one to utilize a “lesser” method, much less use walking to occupy time pleasantly as the protagonist does.

While obviously an exaggeration, the roots of this attitude can very much be seen reflected in our society, even more so today than when Bradbury wrote the story in 1951.

We should embrace that even for those of us with vehicles, walking is a method of transportation we should be excited to have, and should not be relegated to a method of transportation for the less fortunate.

Pretend that investments in pedestrian infrastructure only benefit people without cars (they have far reaching benefits, but for the sake of argument roll with me).

Do we not want to have a city that is equitable, and treats all of its residents like their experience matters?

I can’t speak for you, but I genuinely believe if we hold our city to these lofty standards, North Bay can and should be a city where everyone counts.

Consider also that if pedestrian infrastructure improvements are low priority, the experience of walking in our city gets worse and worse. This creates a feedback cycle, where less people choose to walk because of the crummy conditions and experience, and therefore even less attention is needed for pedestrians because there isn’t demand for it.

The History of the Street

There’s a very significant moment in history of urban planning when the streets become the property of the car.

Prior to the major proliferation of the automobile that shaped our modern world, the streets were actually mixed use, featuring cars, horses, street cars, buggies, bikes, and of course, walkers (Montgomery, 2013).

Check out this video of San Fransisco in 1906 to see what I mean.

We’re used to the idea that the street is there for cars to move. The deep truth of it however is that the reason streets are there is to move people.

So obviously, as the video shows, this was sort of chaos. With the car travelling so much faster than these other methods, and car ownership being so wide spread, mixed use roads is certainly not something I would advocate for.

I just want to be sure it is understood that at some point it was decided that the car would have the right of way. Free-crossing by pedestrians was given a criminal term “Jaywalking” and fatalities would be their own fault. The automobile was anointed the King of the streets, and the automobile became the technology around which we built our cities. The car has reigned ever since.

We need to be aware that pedestrianism has been considered a second class method of transport for a long time, and that bias needs to be acknowledged and understood to ensure pedestrians are served to a high standard in our city.

So with societal biases about pedestrianism in mind, let’s consider what we should know about walking, what the state of pedestrianism is in North Bay, and finally, ways to make the pedestrian experience better and encourage walking in our city.

Benefits of Pedestrian Cities

So what are the benefits of a population that walks more often? Well walking benefits human health, benefits the environment and is very cost efficient.

In terms of human health, walking promotes longevity and helps to combat a variety of ailments. Health Canada data suggests that in our country, about 9/10 kids, and half of adults, do not get the recommended amount of daily physical activity, contributing 5.3 billion dollars to health care expenditures (North Bay, 2019). Walking reduces the risk of obesity, stroke, hypertension, diabetes, dementia, depression, and heart disease (Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2014). Studies also state that people who walk over 3 hours per week can expect a 16% reduction in cardiovascular disease (CanadaWalks, 2015).

Basically, walking is a healthy choice, and thus, for the benefit of its residents, North Bay should nudge us towards this choice.

In addition to the benefits to our bodies, walking is also good for our minds. Walking promotes mental wellness, critical and creative thinking, and general happiness. Correlations have been found between step-count and energy/mood, suggesting that people who walk more see personal benefits (Gloady, 2006).

We can also play with the way psychology can help nudge people into walking more frequently. For example pedestrians who are stimulated with interesting sights and sounds on their path walk father, and more often (Ellard, 2015).

Our automobile dependence isn’t just having adverse effects on our health, it also has costly repercussions for the environment. We burn far more greenhouse gasses than need be to get around, a habit that reduces air quality and is a major human driver of climate change.

Studies have found that in a 11 km car ride, 90% of the emissions are used in the first 1.6 km (North Bay, 2019) This means that reducing shorter car trips, and replacing them with a zero or low emissions transportation method (walking) could have huge positive implications for our environment.

Walking is also as cheap as transportation gets. It brings you door to door without any monthly insurance, fuel, or maintenance costs to the user. A pair of shoes is all you need, and all it costs you is time.

From the community perspective, pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks, medians, etc. are relatively cheap compared to the costs of improving infrastructure for cars. For both the individual and the community, walking is the frugal choice.

Good for us, good for the environment, and the cheapest form of transportation there is.

If the benefits are significant and well known, what are the barriers preventing a resurgence of walking in our society?

Barriers to Pedestrianism

The first and biggest barrier to more people participating in pedestrian travel is the shape of our city itself. Because I already wrote a full article on this, I won’t get too deep into it. To put a nice bow on it, the separated land uses and low density of our city has made the space between destinations too far to be a truly walkable city.

As previously mentioned, walkers issues are perceived by governments, and residents, to be lower class issues. While nobody would come out as overtly anti-walking, there is a lack of political capital to the issue because of this perception. We are all pedestrians and this perception is of course untrue, but it has real consequences as a barrier to better walking in North Bay.

The physical geography of the area, including the topography and weather of North Bay, also act as barriers to walking as transportation in our city. Most people are deterred by hills, and North Bay has many, from the lows of the shores of Lake Nipissing to the heights of the escarpment. These hills make some on foot transportation impractical.

While maintenance of sidewalks could certainly be improved in the winter, the difficulties caused by the long, cold, and snowy season makes it very difficult to nudge people into choosing walking over their nice warm car.

Winter maintenance for sidewalks in our city leaves a great deal to be desired.

North Bay has an aging population, and with that comes issues of accessibility, especially when walking. This population, in order to be able to walk at all, have to be assured of a pedestrian environment that ensures their safety. In my opinion, we could do a lot better in this regard, but we’ll get into that later. Those residents who have physical limitations also face this issue.

Remember, we aren’t creating a city that works for the average resident, we’re creating a city that works for all of its residents.

Finally, there are practical limitations to the types of tasks that can be undertaken with pedestrian transportation. We can only carry so much weight, so the weekly grocery trip on foot is a rough proposal. Even light items, like toilet paper, pose and issue for walkers, and they take up a great deal of space limiting the number of other items that can be carried.

So while walking has obvious and plentiful benefits, it’s clear that there are also significant barriers that limit our capacity as a pedestrian society. So how does North Bay measure up as a walkable city?

The Lay of the Land: Walking in North Bay

In my second year in North Bay I moved into a house on Douglas St.. As a student, I made many trips to the Tim’s in the Esso on Landsdowne St. and every time I wondered how a street like that could possibly exist without a sidewalk. The city was either expecting pedestrians to avoid this fairly main connector of the Old Town neighbourhood with Algonquin, or was saying, basically, “too bad deal with it”. This was especially insulting to the physically impaired residents of the neighbourhood that I witnessed brave traffic to journey up the hill.

Of course, the year after I moved out of that house, the city built a sidewalk. I know I sound bitter, but I’m really not. The fact they recognized the sidewalk was needed is great. Unfortunately though, this example speaks to the fact that walkers are of such a low priority to the city that a street like Lansdowne could have existed for so long without one. It’s obvious when the road was built, it was built to move cars, rather than move people.

In general, North Bay definitely lacks sidewalks. While most of the main roads have sidewalks on at least one side of the road, many of the secondary streets lack sidewalks all together. You might think of this to be of little concern in low traffic areas, but because of the city’s topography there are some very dangerous blind spots caused by hills.

Streets without sidewalks, with blind spots caused by slopes like this one, really let the city’s pedestrians down by compromising their safety.
GoogleMaps

The combination of no sidewalk and these types of blindspots puts pedestrians in a dangerous position.

Bottom line, sidewalks are a basic feature of a city and there should be a much greater priority in providing adequate sidewalks on as many streets as possible. We should not think of sidewalks as a privilege, they exist for the safety of the city’s residents, and that shouldn’t ever be put on the back burner.

Opportunities to Walk

In addition to the lack of sidewalks, our tendency towards amalgamating services in a centralized location also reduces walking opportunities. For example, as schools amalgamate, and smaller, neighbourhood schools close, less and less of the student population are able to reasonably walk to school. This of course is the case here, where Chippewa and Widdifield are set to amalgamate.

The habits formed in youth have large implications on behaviour in adulthood, even when it comes to walking.

Another example of this phenomenon is the tendency towards building sports complexes over neighbourhood fields. With less maintained sports fields in neighbourhoods in favour of a centralized location, there are less opportunities for walking to these destinations. There’s also theoretically less opportunities for the informal “pick-up” style games that I personally grew up on.

Yes, it’s more efficient for the city to maintain 4 baseball diamonds in the same location than 4 spread out throughout the city, but the cost of that efficiency falls to the end user, who will have to travel farther than in the neighbourhood model.

Sports Complexes like Steve Omischl Sports Field Complex reduce walking by centralizing the city’s facilities
GoogleMaps

Overall, as we seek efficiency in the services we offer by putting them in large central locations rather than smaller, scattered ones, we reduce the amount that can be accomplished by pedestrian travel, and erode the pedestrian culture of our city, especially for youth.

Crosswalks

Every summer we visit my girlfriend’s family in Sydney, Cape Breton, N.S. I am always struck by what I’ll call the crosswalk culture of the city.

There are crosswalks everywhere. Seriously, some no more than 120 m apart.

And here’s the kicker: motorists respect the crosswalk.

Whitney Pier, Sydney, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, where crosswalks are respected by motorists and heavily utilized by pedestrians
GoogleMaps

Any pedestrian in the city can approach the crosswalk and be sure that they will be offered opportunity to cross promptly by motorists who just know to stop. On main roads fairly comparable to our own Algonquin Ave, the crosswalk simply has a traffic light in order to ensure safety and allow for better traffic flow.

The number of legal crossing opportunities, and the provision of right of way to the crosser, makes for a very pleasant pedestrian experience. The pedestrian of Sydney is respected, catered to, and recognized as a legitimate occupant of the city’s transportation system.

I’ve noticed that in some areas of North Bay there are long, long distances between legal crossing opportunities, especially on busy roads like Algonquin and Lakeshore. We have neighbourhood crosswalks on some roads, for example on Cassels St. and Front St. , but they are only respected as providing right of way if the crosswalk attendant is present, which is limited to hours servicing children walking to and from school.

The parking for the medical building on Algonquin Ave.

The best example of the lack of a legal opportunity to cross causing issues is the medical building on Algonquin Ave., which has a parking lot across the street.

Medical Building on Algonquin Ave.
GoogleMaps

The driver gets out, and to reach their destination in their limited time as a pedestrian, they must either walk to the Landsdowne / Algonquin intersection, adding 300-ish metres to a 20 metre walk. The other option is up to the highway bypass, adding over half a kilometre to legally cross.

Algonquin Ave. crossing conundrum: Friction of distance makes the legal crossing options far less reasonable than the short, illegal solution of jaywalking.
GoogleMaps

Of course, nobody in their right mind would travel all that extra distance, meaning that just about every person who parks in that lot jaywalks.

And I don’t blame them. The city nudged them. The choice to travel 20 metres instead of hundreds of metres was the obvious one.

To make matters worse, given the building houses medical services, it is not uncommon to see people with seemingly limited physical capacity make the daring cross.

Obviously this is a particularly severe example, but think about it: this is an oversight of pedestrian services that actually mostly impacts motorists.

There are literally hundreds of locations in our city that nudge pedestrians into dangerous behaviour.

Parking Lots

I’ve mentioned it before (and you can expect a more in depth analysis of it in the future), but a massive amount of space in our city is occupied by parking lots, and many of them sit empty much of the time.

Parking lots are terribly unpleasant for pedestrians. How many times has your heart stopped passing through a parking lot when a car begins to back out and evidently doesn’t see you walking behind it?

While the Independent parking lot includes medians to service pedestrians, parking lots like this one at the NorthGate Mall represent huge area where pedestrians aren’t given direction or a legitimate “place”

Parking lots are basically large areas where pedestrians are given no direction of where to walk to stay safe. When not given direction or an intuitive path, people often revert to travelling as the crow flies, the shortest path, diagonally across the large lots.

These are areas meant to service the people who park there, all of whom walk the rest of the way, and yet they are largely without any accommodations for this on-foot travel. Parking-lots provide such poor pedestrian travel that people often get back in their car, only to drive to park in a different spot in the same plaza, defeating the convenience of a commercial plaza altogether.

The parking lot in the new section of the plaza on Mckewen St. (seen below) includes medians, albeit few of them, which at least provide some comfort to walkers. By contrast the Staples/Sobeys parking lot does not really offer reasonable paths for pedestrian travel.

When you consider both satellite images, and just how much space we use on parking, this means large distances are covered by pedestrians in a fairly unregulated environment. This should absolutely be addressed by the city and property managers.

The Highway

The most expedient path to access the towns neighbourhoods, the highway, is completely inaccessible to pedestrian travel. The highway also acts as a barrier for many pedestrians, as those with capability limitations may fear crossing the highway. While the convenience to motorists of 11 and 17 passing through town is significant, so is the inconvenience to pedestrians.

Informal Access

Akin to the way Jeff Goldbloom describes life, the thing about pedestrian travel is that if you do not formally provide it, it finds a way.

Independant Grocers and the informal pedestrian access at its rear.
GoogleMaps

Take this catwalk behind the Independent for example. The pedestrian, seeking access to the grocery store and the mall, has the choice of almost an additional kilometre walk around to Laurentian St. or a path through the catwalk.

So pedestrians found a way, what’s the issue?

The local Independent Grocers provides one example of how informal access points by pedestrians when the formal access points nudge them to do so. In this case, the distance around provides that nudge.
GoogleMaps

The issue is that this is not a formalized access point, it is loose dirt, uneven surface, and narrow. Basically, the logical access point by distance is inaccessible for many people. While informal access serves those who already walk, it does little to encourage a pedestrian culture, and these informal features of the pedestrian environment should be formalized.

Leaving the Pedestrian High and Dry

I might be wrong, but I think the most deplorable pedestrian situation in town is the Food Basics/Beer Store/Shoppers Drug Mart parking lot on Cassels St.. For context the plaza is surrounded by retirement communities, and the street is one of North Bay’s main arteries.

GoogleMaps

As one approaches the plaza, passing New Ontario Brewers, the sidewalk ends at the intersection, and leaves the walker to navigate the parking lot on their own. I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen the elderly in our community standing vulnerable in the middle of the entrance of the parking lot.

GoogleMaps

I shouldn’t need to say this, but since it’s stayed this way for years, it may need to be stated:

This is inexcusable.

This puts all pedestrians at risk on a main artery of North Bay, and involves the safety of a vulnerable elderly population living nearby.

It’s an absolute joke that our urban environment was constructed in such a way that would leave pedestrians high and dry. The fact that it has stood as it is for so long just highlights the way pedestrian issues are simply not a main focus.

Fixing this specific sidewalk should be an immediate priority for the city.

Pedestrian Assets

I’ve been ripping our city pretty hard here, so I should clarify: North Bay also has its assets for pedestrians. The whole reason I thought this huge article about walking might even be worth writing was that our city has a ton of potential as a walkable environment.

The Kinsman Trail and Kate Pace Way provide beautiful linear park type areas for people to walk on, and serve almost as a highway for pedestrian and bike travel in our city. These trails offer a great opportunity, and it should be ensured they are extended and connected in ways that encourage their use and their practicality for our residents.

Chippewa Creek, Lake Nipissing and Trout Lake, and the Escarpment that cradles our city all provided beautiful landscape as a setting for pedestrian travel. North Bay’s natural features make for beautiful views, adding fantastic potential for the city as a walkable environment.

What we need is to nudge more people to walk, and accommodate the practice with infrastructure to help get our city the appreciation it deserves as a cool place to explore on foot.

Chippewa Creek makes for lovely scenery while walking.

Pedestrian Transportation

Our city definitely has potential for a wonderful place for pedestrians, but there is a ton of work to do.

In the very layout of our city, we have relegated walking to a recreational endeavour.

We have places that are lovely to walk, but the catering to automobiles of our society means that these places are often segregated from other uses. North Bay’s waterfront for example, makes a lovely place for a walk. Ironically, it’s so nice, many people drive there to participate.

We can walk everywhere, we should make the space between our everyday destinations walkable and beautiful to encourage walking as a pursuit of transportation not just recreation.

It seems to me that the city has focused a ton of attention and funds on growth and attracting businesses to our town in recent years. The effort seems to have been largely without its payoff to this point. I guess the thinking is attracting businesses and new residents grows the tax base, and with that revenue we can start to fix the city. Gotta have money to spend money.

But what if we’re going at it backwards? What if revitalizing our city, making it walkable, modern, and beautiful, is what attracts new residents. Money is spent on the campaigns aimed at growth.

What if we invested that money in creating a city that people are dying to live in, and let the businesses come to us?

Action Plan

So we’ve established that creating walkable environments increases pedestrian travel, which has large scale human health and environmental benefits. We’ve established that while North Bay has its strengths for pedestrians, it also has many barriers to practical pedestrian travel. So what can we do to make walking in North Bay better?

(Note: North Bay did get consultation on an Active Transportation Master Plan in the past few years. After reading the plan, there are certainly some promising methods for improving the pedestrian environment. Some of them are included below, in addition to other expert ideas, and some of my own. I will not deep delve into the Active Transportation Master Plan, as it will be a more central subject for the next A Better Bay article on cycling in our city.)

Employer Nudges

According to the 2016 Census, over half of North Bay residents face a commute of 15 minutes or less each day. While 15 minutes in the car translates to quite a long walk, I believe it safe to say that a least a portion of those representing the “or less” probably live within walking distance of work. Now that’s not to say they should have to commute by foot everyday, but encouraging these people to walk some days, we can have a positive impact on their health and on the environment.

Employers can help encourage walking by offering pedestrian employees a cheque in lieu of a parking space. Additionally, flex start and end times would allow for the experience of the pedestrian commuter to be pleasant and un-rushed, rather than a frantic unpleasant walk that makes them turn back to their cars.

After this COVID-19 crisis subsides, it is possible that many people will work from home some days, since this will likely prove many responsibilities can be completed from home. This means that people won’t have to worry about transportation on as many days.

Companies can provide their employees with incentives and accommodations for pedestrian commuting.
Photo by Romain V on Unsplash

It’s possible that the task of finding your way to work for 20 days per month (5 day in person work week) might encourage the purchase of a car more than say, 12 days per month (3 day in person work week).

While these employer side accommodations won’t guarantee community scale pedestrian commuting, it will definitely incentivize some to walk to work, at least some days.

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with incremental progress. Respect the baby step.

If You Build It…

A huge finding of research on urban transportation is the field of dreams effect:

“If you built it, they will come”

If we continue to build our cities around cars, we’ll encourage more and more people to be motorists. Traffic studies that increase a roadways capacity often have the secondary effect of encouraging demand for that roadway. We expand our roads and the traffic stays the same.

On the other hand, if we create pedestrian environments that feel safe and enjoyable, while we foster respect for the walker, more people will be pedestrians.

Sidewalks

The first priority in this regards has to be developing the city’s sidewalk network. Numerous streets are without sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to either share the road with the onus to not get hit, or to walk on peoples lawns, creating, long, ugly patches without growth.

This does two things:

  • it puts the pedestrian in a precarious position in term of their individual experience
  • it screams to residents that pedestrians aren’t respected.

Basically, where the city does not accommodate for pedestrians, it’s telling us they don’t belong.

Imagine that. On my own two feet in my own city, and I don’t belong?

Some of the side streets have sidewalks… sort of.

Another thing that would go a long way to making our city walkable is to put the car in its place. It seems that people in our society see roads as a vehicle (pardon the pun) to move people as fast as possible. If we were to put more emphasis on their role as providing safe transportation, we might better integrate methods that make the roadways more pedestrian friendly, including traffic calming, sidewalk buffers, and medians.

Traffic calming includes features like speed-humps, and planters that reduce the width of the lanes which inevitably slows down cars. They are a great way to reduce speeds in residential areas, and add the secondary function of adding small-scale nature to our neighbourhoods.

In some neighbourhoods, traffic calming like the planters shown above can reduce through traffic and provide walkers with a safer, more friendly pedestrian environment.
By Mike Faherty, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14449203

As you can see in the photo above, some applications go as far as to limit traffic to one way through the obstacle, reducing the incentive to use residential streets as through ways.

In extreme cases, to prevent neighbourhoods from becoming throughways for fast moving traffic, streets are split in the middle, enabling pedestrian traffic but excluding motorists.

Some of our sidewalks are right up to the road, while others run along a dirt shoulder. In both of these cases, barriers like curbs, poles, planters, trees, and boulders can provide an added element of safety and more scenery along sidewalks.

Street furniture like benches can also serve this barrier type purpose, with the addition benefit of catering to the needs of pedestrian traffic. Tiny parks can be barriers for pedestrians while providing an awesome pop of scenery, nature, and character.

One study found that a pedestrian moving 5 km/h should see something interesting every 5 seconds or so to encourage walking, and its full psychological benefit (Ellard, 2015). Tiny parks and murals can provide this scenery and help boost the psychological benefit of walking (plus offer a place to rest). Installation of street furniture, barriers, and tiny parks can encourage pedestrianism through the nudge of a pleasant setting.

Tiny parks often provide a pop of nature and accommodations for pedestrians like benches. In aggregate, many tiny parks can really change the pedestrian landscape of a city.
Photo: Sao Paulo – The Urbanist

Bike lanes, which will be explored in the next A Better Bay article, also provide a buffer between pedestrian and motor traffic, while medians provide an island for those previously mentioned illegal crossings.

In the short term, the idea of crosswalks in North Bay being as effective as those I described in Cape Breton is silly. That said, we really should consider providing more safe opportunities for pedestrians to cross streets, providing additional freedom of movement, peace of mind, and incentive to choose to walk.

This would take time to establish, identifying problem areas for potential crosswalk sites, providing signage and paint, traffic lights if necessary, and enforcement for drivers who do not abide by this. Over time, the painted cross walk could become a symbol of our walkable community, respected by motorists and utilized by pedestrians.

Photo by Sawyer Bengtson on Unsplash

Another safety issue for pedestrians is the vulnerabilities that come with areas that are dark or secluded or both.

One important concept for people to feel safe walking is “eyes on the street” which refers to the number of people that would witness an incident. Our low density settlement pattern doesn’t lend itself to heavy pedestrian traffic (yet?), which makes ensuring our sidewalks are well lit that much more important in ensuring pedestrians feel safe.

Lighting is absolutely crucial for encouraging pedestrians to feel safe moving about their city.
Photo by Artem Kovalev on Unsplash

One thing we can start to do right away, is educate about the benefits of addressing our car dependence. Walk to work days, take a walk days, and other initiatives can demonstrate belief that not every trip has to be taken by car. CanadaWalks is one organization that works to educate and bring awareness of the benefits and barriers of walking in our country.

Main St. Pedestrian Party

The most important thing I think that we could start to do (after the COVID-19 crisis is in our rearview) is encourage pedestrian travel by shutting down Main St to motor traffic regularly in the summer to provide walking only, town square type events. The city has done this on a smaller scale in the past, one event, Rocktoberfest, was a great occasion to gather as a community and the novelty of walking down Main was fantastic. This type of event could be combined with live music, the farmers market and other events like midnight madness downtown.

By User: (WT-shared) Scott77 at wts wikivoyage – Own work, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23777271

By doing it regularly, say weekly or biweekly on Saturdays in the summer, you accomplish a few things.

You bring some always appreciated foot traffic to the downtown businesses

You allow motorists a chance to be prepared for the change in their route.

Finally, you bring awareness of the pleasant experience of pedestrianism, and normalize the behaviour, developing the culture of walking in our city.

These events would be really cool for residents young and old, and might draw some bonus tourism in the summer. A regular, pedestrian only, block-party type environment would make North Bay’s magical summer season even that much more charming.

Last Call

We have had a low standard for our pedestrian infrastructure in our city for my entire time living here. I suspect it’s a culture that dates back farther than that.

It’s our job to hold our city to a higher standard.

Streets should have sidewalks. That’s not an unreasonable ask.

We should feel empowered to hold our city to a standard that ensures the city provides freedom to all of its residents.

If you have no sidewalk on your street, write or call the city and complain. You’re not being entitled. You might not get it right away, but the city needs to know pedestrian infrastructure is in the public interest.

(Note: during the COVID-19 crisis, I wouldn’t advocate for bombarding the city with these type calls. That said I’ll leave the call to action there, because we will get through this and this stuff will matter again, eventually.)

I’m not going to lie, the layout of our city makes being a walkable city an uphill battle. That said, there are concrete steps we can take to encourage and accommodate walking.

It is absolutely crucial that we remember that over time, our city will become whatever we demand of it.

We just have to take that first step.

RM


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Sources:

Bradbury (1951). The Pedestrian.

CanadaWalks (2015). CanadaWalks.ca

Ellard (2015). Places of the Heart: The Pyschogeography of Everyday Life.

Gloady (2006). Walk Your Way to More Energy.

Montgomery (2013). Happy City: Transforming our Lives through Urban Design.

North Bay (2019). Active Transportation Master Plan.

Victoria Transport Policy Institute (2014). Economic Value of Walkability.


9 thoughts on “A Better Bay: Making North Bay a Walkable City

  1. This part of your article is something I have been putting forward for nearly 15 years. It has been repeated in some landmark documents such as the Baylor Report, and yet we seem to ignore the wisdom in it.
    “It seems to me that the city has focused a ton of attention and funds on growth and attracting businesses to our town in recent years. The effort seems to have been largely without its payoff to this point. I guess the thinking is attracting businesses and new residents grows the tax base, and with that revenue we can start to fix the city. Gotta have money to spend money.
    But what if we’re going at it backwards? What if revitalizing our city, making it walkable, modern, and beautiful, is what attracts new residents. Money is spent on the campaigns aimed at growth.
    What if we invested that money in creating a city that people are dying to live in, and let the businesses come to us?”

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  2. Good morning. Many thanks for this detailed article. So many cogent observations. One that caught my eye, particularly, though, was your reference to Jeff Goldbloom’s remark that – absent pathways – pedestrians will find a way. This reminded me of the planners contemplating how best to lay out walking opportunities in New York’s Central Park. Eventually they waited until the first dusting of snow to see how the population would set their own walking routes, assuming some practical inclinations would guide that process. And, voila, so it was/is.

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  3. Amazing! I grew up in North Bay and doing a student exchange in Sweden twelve years ago completely changed my view of how cities should be planned. I hope the city council takes notice.

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