Top cycling advocate retires from city hall

Sue Sauve was instrumental in expanding Peterborough’s network of bike lanes and trails in recent decades

When Sue Sauve started working at Peterborough city hall in 1995, she had to buy a cushier bike to navigate all the potholes on her commute to the office.

“The roads were terrible,” she said.

It’s become a lot easier to bike around Peterborough since then – thanks in large part to Sauve’s own efforts.

She spent most of her long city hall career in the transportation division, working to make it more convenient for people to get around Peterborough without a car. She had a hand in adding dozens of kilometres of new trails and bike lanes across the city.

Sauve retired in May after 27 years at city hall.

One of her first projects after moving to the transportation division from waste management in 2004 was the Parkway trail in the north end. She told me why she worried she might get fired for working on it. Here’s more of our conversation:

Sue: Within a few months of getting my position, I got a call from a philanthropist and he said: ‘we want to build a trail on the Parkway corridor between Jackson Park and the zoo.’ (The proposal was to build it along part of the right-of-way set aside for the controversial Parkway extension).

I was like, ‘what, you’re gonna throw me into this fray of the politics of the Parkway? I’m gonna get fired before I even start at this.’ The project was funded and built by two private donors; one of them was pro-Parkway, and one of them was anti-Parkway. But they both just wanted to provide a wonderful trail for people to use.

The mayor at that time was Sylvia Sutherland (a Parkway supporter) and her first response was, ‘over my dead body.’ But then she realized these people are offering a huge donation to our community. Then council ended up supporting the project. The sort of handshake agreement was that if the road goes in the trail would be rebuilt on the side of the road. I think it just shows what can happen if we put the politics aside and look at the benefits to the community: it’s a fabulous trail.

Brett: What did you wish you could have accomplished but couldn’t?

Two of the worst roads to bike on right now are Sherbrooke Street West and Brealey Drive north of Lansdowne Street. We’ve got beautiful plans that will make it much better to walk and bike there. But we really need capital funding to come forward for those projects. With the number of schools there, it’s really needed. Particularly for Sherbrooke Street, every year we get people calling and being really worried about walking or biking along there.

I wish there were more champions internally at city hall. There’s been a lot of progress, and thinking about active transportation is certainly more the norm than it was 15 years ago. But I guess I anticipated that it would be even more so by now.

Brett: What’s your biggest hope for cycling in Peterborough?

I want to see the crosstown cycling network implemented. It would allow almost every resident to be within a few hundred meters of protected cycling infrastructure, or quiet streets where people are comfortable biking already.

I really feel like Peterborough is sort of the perfect city for cycling. For the most part we’re a pretty flat city, we’re fairly dense, and survey after survey shows that people want to be active. So I feel like we’re on the cusp of becoming much more walk and bike friendly. I think we could start mirroring some of the European communities.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.


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