Change in ATV rules a chance for council to examine local practices

Among the items likely lost in recent remarks made by Transportation Minster Jeff Yurek last week regarding an increase in the speed limits on 400 series highway was an afterthought regarding the usage of All Terrain Vehicles (ATV) on all roadways in Ontario.

As it stands currently in the County of Prince Edward, certain roadways are utilized by ATV riders at certain periods of the year while some are permanently closed and most are permanently open. This is due to traffic flow during the tourist season, proximity to housing developments, roadway shoulder width and a myriad of other reasons.

When a potential bylaw regarding permitted ATV usage on municipal roadways was first being broached by the council of the day in 2008, it was as hot-button a topic as there was for a short period of time.

In fact, your humble scribe can recall a pair of veteran councillors getting ejected from the council chamber at Shire Hall for arguing their points too vociferously at a regular council meeting.

Among the points of contention at that time were local riders advocating for connecting links and potential tourism dollars from an influx of visiting riders that might visit and tour Prince Edward County versus the community safety aspects and the potential for life-threatening accidents.

Over a decade later it still seems somewhat of a trade off. There are riders that trailer their buggys and side-by-sides into Prince Edward County every spring, summer and fall weekend to drive the Millenium Trail and points south, bringing the local economy a boost, especially in the shoulder seasons.

But there have been tragic press releases from the Prince Edward Detachment of the OPP  where people have been seriously hurt or even killed in accidents involving ATVs Change could be in the offing however if the province passes proposed legislation that opens all roads to ATV usage which would then force municipalities to pick and choose which routes are appropriate and enforce those choices through new bylaws.

If it eventually comes to that point, council should be prepared and ready to ask questions regarding ATV usage.

Has the network of permitted and conditional roadways and allowed timeframes of travel worked for ATV riders in Prince Edward County?

Is the current bylaw serving its orignal intent of connecting networks of off-trail systems to the Grand Trunk of the Millenium Trail?

And can ATV usage on Prince Edward County roads be offered as safely as possible in a municipality that has increasing volumes of tourist traffic year-over-year?

While it might become a make work project for County of Prince Edward staff, provincial legislation regarding ATVs should force the municipality to closely examine what is working and what is not when it comes to allowing usage on the County’s road system.

A closer examination and consultation with the stakeholders and the general public in this ever-changing municipality could be a valuable exercise for Prince Edward County council to undertake, provided they listen to all members at the table.

-Jason Parks