Cycle Kingsville recently caught up to Share the Road Essex County co-founder, tri-athlete and
author, Tom Omstead, and asked him a few questions about the genesis of Share the Road
and his exciting new app SafeCycle. Here is the conversation:
Cycle Kingsville: Tom, you and Sue have been a driving force behind safe cycling for many years.
What motivated you to develop Share the Road Essex County? And how did you go
about getting it all started to the point it is today?
Tom: In 2005, cycling between Leamington and Kingsville on Seacliff Drive was very stressful
and unsafe because there was no safe space outside of the main travel lane and the volume of
traffic was very high and fast. Sue (Tom’s spouse and the other half of Share The Road Essex County) and I thought something had to be done about that for all the migrant workers who lived and worked
along that road and who used bikes as their primary mode of transportation for getting into
town to buy essentials such as groceries.
So, to highlight the danger of that road and the need for a safe cycling facility to be built there, we organized a Share the Road ride to call on local leaders to take action. On very short notice over 100 cyclists came out and rode along Seacliff Drive with us. The the national news and opened the doors of local decision-makers. One was Tom Bateman who was the County Roads Engineer at the time. He told us that he’d never considered cyclists the County’s road plans, but realized that they were lawful users of the road and that something should be done to make cycling safer. He promised to consider
cyclists in the County’s road plans from then on….and he did. In the following year, Share the Road signs were posted along more than 200 kilometres of local County roads and the gears were set in motion to establish the County Wide cooperative effort to improve cycling conditions in Essex County, which continues today as “CWATS”.
Cycle Kingsville: One incredibly successful event has been the Essex County Century Challenge. How
did that come about, and where does it stand today?
Tom: Like many cyclists, I like cycling events. In 2020, two things happened. It was the first
year that enough cycling infrastructure had been built so cyclists could bike around the region
on an enjoyable and comfortable (“EC”) 100-mile loop we found (with the help of others) and called
the EC Way 100. Secondly, concerns about COVID had shelved most events and shuttered gyms due to social distancing concerns. I thought that something should be done to respond to the
times to encourage people to stay active. Especially because being active is so important for
maintaining a positive outlook and for one’s mental health. Putting the Essex Centurion out
there as a solo event seemed to check all the boxes. It struck an immediate chord with many
Fast forward to 2023. Over 119,000 kilometres have been ridden by Essex Centurions. Eleven year old kids to adults in their 80s have completed the challenge. It’s raised thousands of dollars for worthwhile local causes. And although many events have returned, we’re still putting the Essex Centurion out there for those who want to learn how to bike comfortably around the region or test their mettle.
Cycle Kingsville: I know you are ‘chomping at the bit’ to tell us about the new app SafeCycle! How did
it originate? And briefly walk us through it.
Tom: About 10 years ago we were alarmed to see “bike route” signs going up along roads that
most cyclists should not bike on. Bike route signs were even put up on Seacliff Drive before it
got its cycling facility and was one of the most worrisome roads to bike along in the entire
region. After failing to get them removed and realizing that decision-makers weren’t concerned,
we decided upon another course of action.
About 5 years ago, we began producing bike route
maps that were colour-coded to illustrate the comfort level of each section. Green for an offroad trail that’s void of motorized traffic. Blue for bike lanes and low traffic country roads and
peaceful neighbourhood streets. Yellow & orange for the stressful “nogo” road sections that
most cyclists should avoid. The second step was to find a computer whiz who could put these
ideas into a sophisticated route planning program that could be used on electronic devices. In
2022, Windsor & Essex County sponsored a hackathon to develop a unique Cycling App.
Through the hackathon I meant Lucas, a software developer at xyzDigital, who understood the
idea and developed a working model. We won the hackathon and have now developed it into a
practical and intuitive program. We are very pleased with how it works and think it will be a
game-changer for cyclists who want to customize a route plan based on comfort level and
other factors. We recently launched it so we can get feedback from local cyclists. So far, the
feedback has been excellent and very encouraging.
Although there are inappropriately placed “bike route” signs still posted today, with our maps and SafeCycle route planner, cyclists can now find bike routes that are suited to their comfort level expectations.
Here’s the link to the SafeCycle route planner:
Cycle Kingsville: You and Sue split your time between Kingsville and Canmore AB. What parting words
can you share with us on how to live life?
Tom: Sue and I surround ourselves with positive thinking people, we love spending time in nature
and we look for new experiences. We often ask ourselves, “when is the last time we’ve done
something for the first time?” If the answer is “not recently”, then we intentionally go looking to
do something different. This question helps keep life interesting.
Cycle Kingsville: Thanks Tom for all you’ve done for cycling in Essex County… and continue to do!