Taking a real vacation for the first time in a number of years to celebrate our 25th anniversary, my wife, Maria, and I had as much fun as we could have hoped for. Visiting other parts of the country and world does wonders for recharging one’s batteries and reminding us that our own little world of Southwest Florida is just that. For us, traveling to Toronto and Nova Scotia provided both of those benefits.
Although I characterized our trip as a “real vacation,” I couldn’t help but look critically at the communities we visited, always considering their transportation options and infrastructure, green spaces and other quality-of-life indicators. As is usually the case when being exposed to places people enjoy visiting, there’s much to learn and bring home.
This was our third time in Toronto and second in Nova Scotia, allowing me an interesting perspective because my last visit included meetings with transportation, community-planning, transit and parks and recreation officials. At that time, the city of Toronto was in the first stages of moving to drastically improve conditions for people using bicycles and transit. What I saw during this recent visit was the result of their commitment, which is significant in enhanced infrastructure and increased bike ridership, something I’ll write more about in my next column.
View of friendly streets of Toronto
In the cities we visited -— Toronto, Ontario and Nova Scotia’s Dartmouth and Halifax — transit options abounded. Of course, Toronto had the most robust, with everything from an excellent subway and streetcar system to ferries and water taxis. But even Dartmouth, which is much smaller (population 70,000) than its neighbor across the harbor, Halifax (population 300,000), provided very good bus service as well as ferries and water taxis between the two cities. One thing I found very telling was that those on foot and bicycle are provided a 24/7 free shuttle service while major renovations are taking place on one of two bridges connecting the cities — work that will take years to complete. Additional ferry capacity is also part of a plan to ensure access during this massive project. In contrast, Lee County residents and visitors traveling on foot can’t legally use any of our bridges across the Caloosahatchee River at any time, other than one span of the newer Edison Bridge, which doesn’t even directly link Fort Myers to Cape Coral. Additionally, there are no features specific to bicycles on any bridge; merely breakdown lanes intended for motorists’ use.
The pedestrian environment in each of the cities we visited was very good in compliance to crosswalk laws by motorists and non-motorists alike. But one glaring difference between the U.S. and Canada is the apparent lack of implementation of something similar to our Americans With Disabilities Act, which requires public places to adequately accommodate those with mobility problems and other physical limitations. While there are curb ramps in most places where needed, tactile features for people with visual impairments are rare.
But the most surprising oversight is in access to many of the businesses we visited, especially restaurants. In researching Canadians laws related to access, there is indeed a version of our ADA that has been in place since the late 1970s, but specific requirements and implementation appears to be well behind ours, at least from what Maria and I encountered.
Other than the ADA-related shortcomings, most other aspects of the pedestrian experience were much more positive than what we’ve come to expect here. Whether it was running or walking, it quickly became apparent that there was less aggressiveness among drivers toward pedestrians and other motorists, even on the busiest inner-city streets. Horn blowing and antagonistic behavior was almost nonexistent, at least from what I observed. Likewise, pedestrians were less timid when interacting in traffic and took fewer risks since, as I mentioned earlier, compliance among motorists was an expectation that was generally met, unlike here. Illegally parked cars and other items that obstruct sidewalks were not an issue, either in the inner city or surrounding residential neighborhoods. And although I read and heard about incidents and complaints that were opposite of what we witnessed, I came away with the impression that whether it was in the metropolis of Toronto or more modest-sized Halifax and Dartmouth, there’s a lot more respect and tolerance among the different types of road users than in Southwest Florida. Navigating in traffic in what was for us a low-stress atmosphere made for an excellent experience that can and should be the case in our own communities.
To find out more about how other communities around the country and world are making life better for residents and visitors, visit BikeWalkLee’s blog (bikewalklee.blogspot.com).
Until next time, I’ll look for you on the roads and pathways. — Dan Moser is a long- time bicycle/ pedestrian advocate and traffic- safety professional who cycles, runs and walks regularly for transportation, recreation and fitness. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 334- 6417.