The City of Lethbridge celebrated with cyclists and residents on Sunday the opening of its first Bike Boulevard on 7 Avenue South.
The joy and enthusiasm of Mayor Chris Spearman and the other 150 riders in attendance was obvious as they took off down the avenue in a grand promenade of colourful characters, uniquely decorated bikes and smiles all around. While the creation of the new Bike Boulevard has had its detractors, Spearman felt it had all been worth it in the end.
“It’s been a courageous step and a first step in our Cycling Master Plan,” said Spearman, dressed in a bright blue cyclist’s outfit and helmet before the start of the bike parade. “As we see the community adapt to it, certainly there has been some controversy, but we want to make Lethbridge a great city for everybody, including cyclists.
“Seventh Avenue was never meant to be an alternative to 6 Avenue,” Spearman added. “It’s a residential street. It’s ideal for cyclists, and we have made some adjustments to the infrastructure to make it safe for cyclists and actually to discourage motorists on this road. There are many other choices for people who want to drive cars.”
Regular users of the City’s Access-A-Ride shuttles are having greater difficulty booking rides as the service is currently overburdened and in need of a new plan, says the City’s transit operations manager Scott Grieco.
“We will be bringing forward recommendations to the senior leadership teams which will be an eventuality presented to council,” Grieco confirms. “We have a number of operational challenges right now. Most of those challenges come at our peak times, which are from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m and 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. It’s very difficult to get service. The reason is we’ve had an approximate 55 per cent increase over the last two years in ridership. We have gone from 450 rides a day to in excess of 700 rides per day. That kind of system overload has really hampered our ability to fulfill subscriptions and on demand customers.”
Per capita Lethbridge runs the largest para-transit service in North America, states Grieco, and he is proud to say it does so to the best of its ability. Over 116,000 Access-A-Ride trips in the city are documented annually. According to stats provided by Grieco, jurisdictions of a similar size, like Guelph or Brantford, Ont., run about half as many.
However, Grieco admits the system is struggling right now. There are 20 Access-A-Ride shuttles going at any given time, he says, and even with so many on the go they are still having trouble keeping up with increasing demand.
Health-care aides protest
Health-care aides at AgeCare Columbia took to the streets Saturday to express their displeasure with the management of the government subsidized seniors’ residence. Alberta Union of Provincial Employees workers from AgeCare Columbia have been without a contract since March of 2017, and they say management has refused to come to the bargaining table in over six months.
“We want to meet and bargain with them,” said AgeCare Columbia AUPE chapter president Kristie Hutton, who was walking the picket line on Saturday. “We want them to sit down and talk with us.”
Hutton admitted there is a wide gulf between the two sides’ positions on various items. But the fact AgeCare Columbia hasn’t even tabled a complete package for discussion yet is frustrating to her members, she said.
AgeCare Columbia resident Amber Keen rolled out in her wheelchair to show her solidarity with the picketing workers. Keen hoped management would deal with its aides fairly. “These are amazing people,” said Keen.
Inspiring girls to be active
Saturday morning was a special one as fellow Olympians and girls filled the gymnasium at Chinook High School for this year’s Champ Chat.
Girls ranging from eight to 14 were able to participate in the fitness event, with former Olympian Ashley Steacy leading them.
Steacy, host of the event, says the event is all about getting the girls together while staying active.
“We’re trying to promote social inclusion in a non-competitive environment just for these girls to have a good time and enjoy being physically active,” said Steacy.
Among the activities throughout the day included a physical activity circuit, yoga session, giveaways, and an opportunity to meet fellow athletes.
Nine ambassadors were showcased in the event, and Steacy believes their involvement is crucial.