Highlands East council heard from a delegation of bicyclists May 9, looking for safer cycling opportunities in the township.

Heather Sargent and Linda Robitaille noted the demographics are changing in the township, with more people aged 55-75, who are taking part in activities, such as pickleball, yoga and fitness classes. Sargent added they have about 60 cyclists and that number is growing.

However, she said they are leaving the municipality for safer cycling options, and taking their spending power elsewhere for things such as lunches.

Sargent said the current state of the township’s roads are sending them away. With distracted driving on the rise in Ontario, she told council, “as a group, we’ve shared our stories of feeling vulnerable and scared. We hold our breath and hope for the best.” When they get together, they also share their close call stories of near misses with drivers on the roads.

Sargent said the roads are narrow with blind corners, there are no shoulders, or shoulders come and go, and there is little visibility. These conditions render ‘Share the Road’ signs ineffective.

She added there is an “inability to cycle multi-use trails that have a bias to ATVs.” Speaking to the rail trail, Sargent said it’s completely unrideable due to heavy sand, stones, deep ruts and water saturation.

In the short-term, they’d like better road signage, standardized shoulder space, clearly marked cycling lanes and improvements to multi-use trails

Longer-term, they would appreciate trail maps of Highlands East bike-friendly routes, including bike-friendly bed and breakfasts, restaurants and shops; a “true” multi-use trail system; and linkages to other rail trails via Kinmount.

She said that would make Highlands East a cycling destination for full-time and seasonal residents, as well as visitors. Now, she said people are going to bicycle-friendly neighbouring towns, such as Fenelon Falls, Bobcaygeon, Lindsay and Haliburton.

“Build the infrastructure and the people will come,” Sargent said. “We’re looking for solution-oriented discussion and action on this … how we can accomplish, in steps, things that we have outlined.”

She said the cyclists would be happy to work with council, on fundraising and seeking grants and as volunteers. “In short, we’re looking to collaborate with you.”

Mayor Dave Burton told the two the township is in the process of developing a trails master plan. Deputy CAO/treasurer Brittany McCaw said they are preparing an RFP now to hire a contractor. She said whoever gets the job will be in talks with council and stakeholders and will be holding an open house as to “what we would like to see for trails in Highlands East.”

Burton added he championed the Share the Road campaign when we was County warden. He encouraged the two to take their delegation to County council since some of the major arterial roads, Loop Road for example, are under County jurisdiction.

Deputy mayor Cec Ryall said most of the major arteries, such as Hwy. 503, 507 and Glamorgan Road are County of Haliburton roads. “We’re willing to get involved, but there is a limit as to what we can do,” he said.

In 2014, Highlands East redid a section of County Road 648 with one metre of paved shoulders on both sides. There is a Haliburton Highlands cycling map. In 2009, the Communities In Action Committee, local health unit, OPP and the County of Haliburton launched Share the Road in an effort to raise awareness of cycling in the area and make the roads a safer place for non-motorized users.

Council accepted the delegation for information.