Armi de Francia is the Active Transportation Coordinator at the Town of Ajax who is continuing the implementation of the #GetAjaxMoving campaign.
How can suburban municipalities meaningfully engage residents to encourage the use of sustainable transportation? One example municipalities can learn from is the Town of Ajax and its #GetAjaxMoving campaign.
The Town of Ajax is home to nearly 120,000 residents. Many residents travel outside of Ajax to earn a living and are used to driving to work and other activities. Yet the significant and ongoing population increase and economic growth create an increasing demand for alternative transportation modes to move people more efficiently.
There is also an increasing need for a transportation system suited for different age groups. As the Town’s aging population continues to grow, many adults may not maintain their ability to drive. Additionally, the northeast parts of Ajax have higher concentrations of young families and children compared to the rest of Durham Region. This presents a need to enable greater affordable independent mobility options and reduce car dependency.
Less commonly known is that most trips within Ajax are a comfortable biking distance. Its small geographic size of 67km2 along with its 110km+ trail network make walking, biking, and other types of non-motorized wheeling practical options for numerous utilitarian trips.
From 2016-2018, the Town of Ajax partnered with 8-80 Cities to develop and deliver #GetAjaxMoving: an awareness campaign encouraging the use of sustainable transportation through meaningful and inclusive engagement. The campaign involves “meeting people where they are at” using pop-up booths at popular local events to inform residents about alternative transportation options. The pop-ups provided games, prizes, giveaways, toolkits, and other informational resources to equip residents with the knowledge to use these modes safely and comfortably. Partnerships between the Town’s Transportation Planning Division, Recreation Department, Communications Team, and external networks allowed for the campaign to reach 1000+ residents at in-person events and 20,000+ residents online.
The campaign sparked conversations where residents shared their concerns regarding the existing conditions for walking, biking, and taking transit. Eventually, #GetAjaxMoving made it to the Smart Density list of “most creative community engagement ideas for city planners”.
After presenting the results of the campaign to council at the end of 2018, the Town is continuing to deliver the campaign on an ongoing basis.
The Town has been implementing new games at the 2019 pop-ups. To win prizes, participants play games that incite them to reflect on the feasibility of using sustainable transportation. The games also invite residents to raise awareness about sustainable transportation among each other. Participants play until they win, receiving prizes that enable or promote sustainable transportation.
Here are some current insights from the 2019 #GetAjaxMoving campaign:
Last Family Day, the #GetAjaxMoving team hosted a snowball toss game to teach families how to be more comfortable using sustainable transportation in the winter. Participants had the option of throwing a ball in a cup or a hula hoop over a cup. Each cup was labelled with an image related to using sustainable transportation modes in the winter. After landing a ball in the cup or a hula hoop over the cup, the participant then read a fact related to the cup image. After reading the fact, the participant received either a travel mug or a tuque.
The #GetAjaxMoving booth was one of numerous fun activities for families at Winterfest. Yet even with its simplicity, the #GetAjaxMoving booth was well received. Over 170 people of different ages and ethnicities visited the table.
The pop-up unexpectedly provided social and educational benefits for participants. A pleasant surprise was the joy on parents’ faces as they saw their children read. And even though it was a winter event, the bike toolkits ended up being one of the most popular resources distributed. A simple game and information materials opened up room for pleasant surprises while facilitating meaningful interactions.
The Town’s annual Trailfest promotes a key existing asset—the Town’s multi-use trail network.
At Trailfest 2019, residents had the option of biking 47km with the mayor, biking 18km with a local councillor and the Town’s Active Transportation Coordinator, or walking 5km with other event participants. These activities let residents explore Ajax and try its multi-use trail routes while also meeting their neighbours.
Simultaneously, the #GetAjaxMoving booth challenged attendees to a game of guessing the walking or biking time between Town Hall and popular Town destinations: community centres, the GO station, and a couple major parks. If attendees guessed right, they won a prize immediately (either a Bike Month t-shift, bike lights, or a reusable bag). If they guessed wrong, they had to share a fact about active transportation with someone at the event to claim their prize.
The game helped residents realize the convenience of using active transportation to get around the Town while raising awareness about existing and proposed infrastructure for walking and biking. Over 140 people visited the #GetAjaxMoving booth that day. Although many attendees guessed the distances correctly, 33 shared facts about active transportation with someone they know or met at the event.
#GetAjaxMoving demonstrates the effectiveness of partnerships, collaboration at different levels, and simple yet affordable activities in meaningfully engaging residents. Through partnerships and collaboration, the Town of Ajax engaged residents at popular events hosted by partners who have existing relationships with the community. The simple games encouraged residents to reflect on the feasibility of using sustainable transportation and raise awareness about its benefits with their friends, family, and neighbours.
Of course, the #GetAjaxMoving campaign is a growing and evolving process. More efforts will be made to engage underrepresented populations. Through ongoing collaboration and engagement, the Town will continue to work towards enabling residents to receive the benefits of active transportation while creating a more connected Ajax.