His voice occasionally breaking, Green opposition leader Peter Bevan-Baker rose in the legislature on Wednesday to table a petition in honour of his departed friend and colleague, Josh Underhay.
The petition, written by members of the new cycling advocacy group Bike Friendly Charlottetown, urged the province to complete construction of a dedicated active transportation lane, for cycling and walking, across the Hillsborough Bridge. The Bike Friendly petition had gathered 3,255 signatures.
The petition notes the province’s commitment to climate change mitigation as well as active transportation.
Underhay, who died along with his young son Oliver last spring in a canoeing accident, had been a dedicated cycling advocate. He had presented a petition in the legislature in 2016 pushing for an active transportation lane across the Hillsborough Bridge, along with a network of cycling paths.
Former premier Wade MacLauchlan had committed to building the cycling lane and plans were announced in 2017 for its construction on the bridge, along with a wastewater delivery pipeline.
However, construction of the pipe, currently underway, has proceeded without construction of the bike lane. It is unclear when the previous Liberal government decided to delay construction of the bike path and why.
Bike Friendly Charlottetown was formed by friends and family of Underhay, including his wife Karri and brother Mitch, in hopes of honouring Underhay through advocating for improvements to cycling infrastructure on P.E.I.
“What we’re seeing here today, Mr. Speaker, is truly what I believe will be a large and great legacy for a large and great human being,” Bevan-Baker told the legislature.
Bevan-Baker said the petition contained 3,255 signatures and may be the largest ever presented to the House.*
Scott Brown, a member of Bike Friendly Charlottetown, said the group is pushing for a commitment from the current PC government to build the active transportation lane within the next four years.
“We'd like to see the minister pursue this as the priority," Brown said.
"Once his government is over, you can't hold a future government beholden to anything."
“What we’re seeing here today, Mr. Speaker, is truly what I believe will be a large and great legacy for a large and great human being.”
- Peter Bevan-Baker
On Wednesday, the subject was raised in question period by Green MLA Michele Beaton, who represents Mermaid-Stratford.
“Can you explain why the promised bike lane was not included in the Hillsborough Bridge renovations that are currently underway?” Beaton asked Transportation Minister Steven Myers.
Myers replied he could not explain the reasons, as they had been made under the previous government.
“There was no money put forward in the capital budget by the previous government to do that project during this period, or any period, other than 2023 and that’s when it appears in the budget,” Myers said.
Myers said an engineering review would be needed to ensure the required shifting of traffic lanes was “not going to make the bridge topple into the Hillsborough River”.
He also said the current government has allocated $5 million for the construction of other active transportation paths across the province.
Brown said an engineering review of the bridge has already been done.
He pointed to a 2017 report by the engineering firm CBCL, which was commissioned to assess the feasibility of constructing a bike path on the bridge.
The report found that bike and walking lanes on both sides of the bridge “exhibited the lowest increase in load demand” but also recommended “a more detailed analysis”.
During estimates on Friday, Beaton again raised the lack of funding for a Hillsborough Bridge bike lane in the province’s current capital budget.
“I'm struggling with this. I want to support your government. But if you're not supporting my constituents, you tell me how I can support your budget?" Beaton asked Finance Minister Darlene Compton.
In response, Compton said the subject of the Hillsborough Bridge bike lane was not a priority raised by the Opposition Greens during consultations over the capital budget.
She suggested Beaton continue to "prod the minister to include the bike lane", referring to Myers.
"It was not part of the asks that we sent into your department because it was already approved by the previous government,” Beaton said.
"I didn't ask for it because it was already announced."
*UPDATE: The clerk of the legislature later confirmed the petition is not the largest in recent history of the P.E.I. legislature. One petition tabled by the opposition PCs in 2015, from the Campaign Life Coalition, had over 4,000 names on it. - SN