Saturday, June 23, 2012


Cycle tourism, both the human and petrol powered kind - are both increasing in popularity across North America and Thunder Bay has the assets to capitalize on both in big ways.

Today, I'm going to talk about the human powered one.  Bicycle tourism is on the rise for a number of reasons.  A greater awareness of living a healthy lifestyle, rising fuel prices and greater awareness of avid travellers to experience destinations in ways that are harmonious with he natural environment.

Thunder Bay's investments in bicycle infrastructure in the past few years is to be applauded.  The active transportation strategy and the work of the city's own Adam Krupper is helping move this forward in a big way.   While it has not always been easy, anything worth doing never is.  Its part of Thunder Bay's transformation from car loving culture to one that is very rapidly evolving into a hip and eclectic urban culture.  (Don't get me wrong as I myself love my automobiles too).  The city is finding its place and its an exciting time to be here if you're in the community and economic development fields.

The creation of dedicated bicycle lanes began two years ago to much acclaim and a bit of criticism from a minority of the motoring public struggling with the idea of being attentive at the wheel and following traffic lines.  The lanes help define shared road space and ingrain drivers with the awareness that sharing the road with bicycles is important and the law.  This network of lanes and sharrows has expanded in each of the programs two subsequent years and we're now seeing it link the main routes together as well as link to the network of recreational trails.  The lanes make sense where we have wider than average roadways and where creating dedicated recreational paths just is not financially nor logistically feasible.

This past week, our active transportation strategy made a great link to our cultural scene with the unveiling of the new bike rack program.  Local businesses and organizations can purchase bike racks that feature artwork created by the local visual arts community, providing dedicated bike lock up space, promoting the local arts community and further building awareness in bike use.

The work in recent years to map out the single track at Shuniah Mines and promotes cycling on the city's ever expanding recreational trail system also add to our critical cycling asset inventory.  Bike racks installed on the entire fleet of city transit buses beginning in 2009 also add to our cycle friendly environment.

When one looks around, the private sector investments in cycle tourism are pretty impressive as well. We have businesses like Nipigon's Epic Adventures and Thunder Bay's Superior Bike Tours, we have Superior Pedicabs and retailers like Petries and Rollin Thunder offering bike rentals.  The Thunder Bay Cycling Club even has online information catering to bike visitors and the Black Sheep Mountain Bike Club are widely known for their promotion of that segment of riding.

In the bigger picture,. these investments say "welcome" to the cycling visitor.  In a community whose tourism mission statement is to be regarded as Canada's Best Outdoor City to attract the 62% of North Americans who seek outdoor adventures as their travel motivator, these investments compliment the tourism strategy wonderfully.

This all leads to the next question. Who is the cycling visitor anyway?

Typically, 50% are between 30 and 50 years of age, 46% have an income over $75 000 annually and 51% are female. The cycling market includes leisure families, recreational riders, mountain biking, touring cyclists.  Economic impact in Niagara is $148 per person excluding accommodation which can add anywhere from $50 to $75 per person.  The cyclist wants a nice meal, a comfortable bed and unique attractions to stop at along their riding tour.   Naturally, they want their bikes, often expensive - to be safely and securely cared for. In Quebec, Cycle or "velo" tourism contributes $134 million annually to the provincial economy.

Toronto, Ottawa and Niagara Falls have all been promoting cycle tourism for some time and currently, Sault Ste Marie and Sudbury are working on a connecting link.  Closer to home, the Kinghorn line, formerly a CN rail corridor over 100 km long is been studied by a consortium of partners lead by the Trans Canada Trail group for the transition to a four season trail network connecting Thunder Bay to Nipigon.  The route has incredible potential, not only for its sweeping course through the boreal forest but also for the inclusion of the pass lake trestle, adding an incredibly unique scenic element to the route.  Now that spring is here, its not that hard to find bikes on cars, trucks, SUVs and RVs all over the city many with out of Province plates.  Its simply a growing trend we need to accommodate.

Sadly, our Provincial Ministry of Transportation in the Northwest has not included shoulders of any kind along the TransCanada in its enhancement projects nor has been willing to entertain parallel bike routes along right of ways - in essence taking a bigger picture approach to the corridors as transportation corridors and not just automobile corridors.  A current master transportation study for the North hopefully begins to address this and look at transportation more holistically moving into the future.

We're looking forward to the development of a regional cycle tourism strategy and seeing further investments, both public and private sector - made over the long term to strengthen our tourism brand as a premier outdoor city that values authentic and fun visitor experiences. It all adds to increased value in our brand and more visitors tot he community over the long run.

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