Farmer fears race will hurt business
Plans for Milton to host the premier race during June’s Canadian Road Cycling Championships are in jeopardy, following opposition from a local strawberry farm.Saturday, June 25 is the date elite riders are to take to Milton streets for grueling 157 and 180-km races that could very well determine which Canadians will be heading to the 2012 Summer Games. Among these cyclists will be Canada’s golden girl Clara Hughes, a two-sport Olympic medalist.
June 25 is also one of the busiest days for business for Springridge Farm on Bell School Line.
With road closures planned for throughout the day and a route that runs on Bell School Line — Springridge’s home for more than 50 years — owner John Hughes is worried the race will have serious implications on his business.
During Monday’s community services meeting, Hughes asked the committee to say no to the race. “This is not a charity race, but an elite race with talk of the Olympics down the road for some. For Springridge, the strawberry season is our Olympic season.”
Hughes said the hundreds of bikes that will hit Milton streets combined with the 1,000 to 1,800 cars and anywhere between 3,000 and 5,000 strawberry pickers expected to make their way to the family-owned farm don’t make for a good mix.
“The liability exposure for all concerned is huge,” said Hughes, pointing to the poor visibility issues and crumbling infrastructure on Bell School Line.
Race Director Craig Fagan of Midweek Cycling said scrapping the Milton event all together will be “disastrously difficult.”
“This is by far the most prestigious event. It is what determines who is going to be selected to represent Canada at the Olympics.” He said Appleby Line is the circuit’s “key climb.”
“That’s what really sets the national champion apart. The women will be climbing that hill eight times and it really determines who’s the strongest.”
He added that riders from as far as Quebec have been spending their weekends in Milton to train for the race. The event is considered a primer for the Canadian Olympic qualifier.
Currently, the women’s race (nine circuits) is set for 10 a.m. to noon and the men’s race (14 circuits) from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
The route begins at Rattlesnake Point, travels northbound on Appleby Line, east on No. 14 Side Road, south on Bell School Line, and west on Britannia Road.
Fagan said about 5,000 racers and spectators will descend on Milton to watch the race. With major artillery roads being closed to traffic on and off throughout the day, the committee said traffic snarls are certain.
During the meeting, Councillor Colin Best suggested the race times be changed — the women’s 2.5-hour race in the early morning and the men’s 4.5-hour race in the evening. “I have no problem with riders starting at 7 a.m. or earlier if that’s what we need to do to get things done,” said Fagan.
However, he added that four hours of prep time would be needed prior to each race, which could cause noise concerns for neighbours.
Insp. Ivan L’Ortye of Halton police, who’s coordinating police during the paid-duty event, said traffic will be moving in the same direction of the race with left turns on the circuit prohibited.
“The underlying theme is we don’t want to mix cyclists and cars. We want this to be well-choreographed,” he said. “Obviously I think there will be significant delays, but we don’t feel it’s safe to have northbound traffic on the course.”
Mayor Gord Krantz asked Fagan about possibly compensating Springridge for the potential loss of business due to the race.
However, Fagan pointed out that with events of this scale, in many cases municipalities pay for the event to come to town.
“These events tend to turn around and deliver. In Halton, that will be one-point-something million dollars coming back to the community, which we don’t get a piece of. We haven’t asked the municipality for any financial aid.”
The committee delayed voting on the cycling championships until Town staff work with organizers and Springridge to determine if a new time for the race is possible. The report will have to go council for approval before the June 25 race is permitted.
So with the committee’s decision to delay the vote, it will provide the parties involved with the opportunity to come to a compromise with the start time to accommodate Springridge Farms regular business hours. As John Hughes stated, that day is the farms busiest day in revenue terms and it would have a severe hit on their business.
I hope that they can come to a resolution, but still there is no doubt the traffic issues will be intense. Other concerns brought up at the meeting by Councillor Lunau was the condition of the road. Bell School Line hasn’t undergone a major repair since the last race in 2007. The race organizer assured council that these are “semi-pro’s” and they know how to handle themselves on rougher terrain. With cyclists flying down the road at speeds of “80-90 km/hr” the risk is still there for a disaster to happen.
Another issue that came up was the fact local residents were not informed of the race route during the planning stages of the event. One area resident spoke up during the meeting letting their concerns be known and as far as I know, they plan on speaking again when the report comes before committee.
How should these “world class” races be planned in the future? Should their routes be approved by the local municipality before they are advertised around the world? As Mr Fagan said, people from all over will “descend” upon Milton to practice for the race, which will bring in revenue for the town. Whether this race goes through or not, I would make a suggestion to the race organizers to pay closer attention to the local residents and possibly submit their race plans/routes BEFORE they begin their advertising campaigns. This way it wont look like the municipality is backed into a corner to approve a race mere weeks before it begins.
I will await the updated report on negotiations and council will make its decision at that point.