Keep ATVs clear of the city

The City of Whitehorse is proposing a draft ATV bylaw that would allow driving ATVs throughout subdivisions, and that's a problem.

The City of Whitehorse is proposing a draft ATV bylaw that would allow driving ATVs throughout subdivisions, and that’s a problem. They should be restricted to designated motorized trails outside of the urban containment boundary defined in the Official Community Plan.

ATVs are useful machines for work. I’ve used ATVs for work. But let’s be honest – 99 per cent of ATVs riding throughout Whitehorse neighborhoods are for recreation only. They’re basically high-impact, fossil-fuel toys. And that’s the perspective from which the bylaw needs to be written.

Just as in smoking, there’s nothing about recreational ATVs that’s beneficial to society. Many of these machines are extremely noisy, they all emit air pollution and erode trails a thousand times more than pedestrians.

They raise big clouds of dust that linger in the air when it’s dry and gouge the ground when it’s wet. All of this is discouraging pedestrians from using the same trails.

They significantly reduce healthy physical activity, as opposed to simply walking to neighborhood trails. They’re increasingly the cause of preventable injuries, straining our health-care system. Deaths or crippling injuries have resulted from ATV rollovers or collisions even when helmets were used. They’ve caused bush fires as they emit sparks out their tailpipes or by hot muffler contact with combustible material.

Allowing ATVs to ride throughout subdivisions provides them with a legitimacy that is not warranted. We even end up under pressure to turn non-motorized trails into motorized (aka “multi-use”) trails to accommodate ATVs, as is currently the case with the Millennium Trail.

As for the allowance of “pushing ATVs through prohibited areas” proposed in this draft bylaw, it should be dropped entirely. This “pushing” notion is already used as an excuse to bring ATVs into prohibited areas and, since their machines are too heavy for pushing, they end up being driven through. This routinely happens on the Millennium Trail footbridge (Rotary Bridge) and adjoining portions of the non-motorized Millennium Trail.

What we need in Whitehorse is clear-thinking leadership on this issue and commitment to enforce the bylaw, which has been sorely lacking.

Smoking laws are a good model in this case. They don’t ban the activity outright, but restrictions to outlying areas limit negative impacts on others, and additional taxes shift the costs of impacts to users.

So it should be for ATVs. Other northern communities have restricted these machines to designated motorized trails outside of residential areas. Surely Whitehorse can do the same.

Dorothy Lebel