A Manitoulin Island cycling group is hoping a new plan will help link cyclists in northern Ontario to the rest of the province.

First started in December of last year, the Georgian Bay Cycling Route would travel through the heart of Manitoulin Island and make cycling a more viable way to travel across the province.

The plan is getting more buy-in from provincial politicians and the Ministry of Transportation — something the chair of the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates group is glad to see.

Maja Mielonen said it's essential minor highways on Manitoulin Island have their shoulders paved as part of the 900 km cycling link between northern and southern Ontario.

"That's you're last option, because there is no cycling between Toronto and North Bay and there's no cycling between Toronto and Sudbury," she said.

That's because the new four-laned portions of Highway 69 prohibit cyclists.

Mielonen noted that studies show paved shoulders reduce the number of traffic accidents between motor vehicles and cyclists.

Advocating for safety

One of the northern Ontario politicians in support of the route and paved shoulders is Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller.

Miller introduced a private members bill that pushes for the Ministry of Transportation to pave the shoulders on all highways being resurfaced.

"No. 1 is safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and also for drivers," he said.

"The obvious health benefits if more people are being more active, and the tourism benefits because having a place to safely cycle adds to the tourism potential of any particular area."

Miller has had to reintroduce his cycling bill three times because of elections and prorogation — but said he hopes this time it will pass for good.

The shoulders on Highway 6 were paved between 2011 and 2012, after much lobbying from the Manitoulin Island Cycling Advocates group.

Mielonen said cycle tourism is a viable way to help the economy on Manitoulin Island — particularly as the Chi-Cheemaun ferry's overall ridership is in decline.

But while the numbers of riders on the Chi-Cheemaun are lower, the number of cyclists taking the ferry is up.

"They had over 812 walk-ons counted and they had over 560 cycles counted that were strapped onto vehicles," Mielonen said.

"So we're looking at over 1,300 cyclists that have visited and wanted to come to Manitoulin."