Small crowd’s views range from no access to expanded access to streets to off-road riders

by | Feb 28, 2023

Off-road committee completes second of two public forums

With two information-gathering public meetings behind it, Woodstock’s ad
hoc off-road-vehicle committee faces tough decisions as it finalizes its
report to council, says committee member Mayor Trina Jones. The mayor,
accompanied by fellow committee members Woodstock Police Force Chief
Gary Forward, CAO Andrew Garnett and Tourism Director Tobie Pirie,
hosted the second of two public forums Monday, Feb. 27, at the AYR
Motors Gallery Room.

The second forum, geared primarily to non-off-road-vehicle users,
attracted a small crowd of fewer than 20 people. The first forum, held
at the Y’s Men Building on Feb 21, focused on users and owners and drew
close to 50 participants. At both meetings, Jones began by explaining
the committee was in “information-gathering mode,” and they were there
to “largely listen.”The public forums are part of a fact-finding process
that includes public and machine users’ reactions to last fall’s pilot
project, giving qualifying off-road machines access to portions of
Houlton, Main and Connell Streets. Asked at one point to explain the
town’s intent, the mayor responded, “the town doesn’t have an intent.”
She said the committee would weigh all factors and develop a
recommendation to take to council, which will make the final decision.
Jones said those factors include safety, convenience for users and
non-users, and economic and tourism benefits.

Asked about the origins of the town’s consideration of off-road-vehicle
access to town streets, the mayor explained it began several years ago
when some people raised safety concerns about the illegal use of town
streets and along the Trans-Canada Trail walking path parallel to the
St. John River. Viewpoints raised at Monday’s public forum ranged from
denying all off-road-vehicle access to town streets to expanding the
pilot project to include more streets and the Grafton Bridge. Twila
Rogers said that ATVs constantly raced by her home during the pilot
project despite living on a portion of Main Street which didn’t allow
off-road-vehicle traffic. “There was no reason to be on that street,”
she said, noting the illegal route took them past the police station.
Other speakers shared Rogers’ concerns, noting the constant illegal use
of Elm Street and residential streets. “They were all over the place,”
said Rogers.
As an avid snowmobiler, she said sledders can access gas, food and
overnight accommodations without using urban streets. She recommended
off-roaders follow the same template.

Off-road owner Don Calhoun explained snowmobilers have access to
different trails than off-road riders. Jones said the snowmobile
federation’s trail system is 20 years ahead of the ATV and Quad system,
noting the provincial government and off-road clubs are attempting to
create a provincewide system. Currently, she explained, the town is left
out of the loop around the province.

Part of the committee’s recommendations will reflect whether Woodstock
wants to be part of it. A constant refrain during the forum surrounded
the illegal use of off-road vehicles and dirt bikes on town streets.
Most agreed that illegal use would happen with or without legal street
access. “No matter what we decide, we’ll still have illegal issues,”
said Jones. Calhoun said people brand all off-road riders by the actions
of a few. He explained people don’t want to suspend all motorists’ legal
rights because some drivers speed or drive recklessly. “We punish the
individual,” he said.Calhoun car and truck drivers regularly deal with
various other vehicles on the streets, including tractors, plows,
bicycles, and even horses. He and several others explained that off-road
riders could safely travel the 50-km speed limit in town. During the
pilot project, off-road riders had to show proof of registration,
insurance, and a trail pass to travel the designated streets legally.
Most of the people on hand said legal users followed the rules.

Some audience members complained that the illegal users most often
refused to stop for the police and drove away. Chief Forward defended
his officers’ decision not to chase illegal dirt bikes and
four-wheelers, citing the dangers of high-speed chases.”They have to
weigh the consequences,” he explained. Before activating lights and
pursuing anyone, the chief explained, officers must consider the
circumstances, such as an ongoing threat to the public.

Mayor Jones said off-road owners, users and the general public would
have one more opportunity to express their views before the committee
makes its recommendation to council. The town will post an online survey
this week, which will be available on the town’s website and social
media for the next two weeks. Tourism Director Pirie explained responses
to the survey would be anonymous.

Jones said the committee hopes to deliver its recommendations to the
council by the April 11 meeting, when the council process begins. “It
will take time to pass the bylaw,” she said. Following the meeting,
Jones said some aspects of any bylaw could need provincial approval,
which could require significant time.

She added any bylaw passed by council would be permanent, not a pilot
project. Any future changes would require a complete bylaw amendment

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