Okanagan cycling advocate calls on province to design, fund bike trail networks | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Okanagan cycling advocate calls on province to design, fund bike trail networks

This staircase will assist cyclists in getting from West Kelowna to the Sagebrush Trail in Goats Peak Regional Park.
Image Credit: FACEBOOK/Trail of the Okanagan

A specially designed staircase with a rail for bicycles is a vital cycling link between West Kelowna and Peachland and, ultimately, from Sicamous to Osoyoos and beyond.

While cheering the fact that construction has started on the staircase, the president of the Trail of the Okanagans Society says the province has to get way more involved in designing and funding what’s known as active transportation.

“If the goal, in the long term, is to have active transportation have a much greater modal share, then the infrastructure has to be there,” Janice Liebe told iNFonews.ca.

“When the government designs transportation, they design them as networks and that’s not the approach they are taking to active transportation. We want to add to that conversation saying, if you want active transportation to be successful, you have to consider it as a network. You have to design and fund it that way too.”

The Trail of the Okanagans Society is working to complete the southern part of what is hoped to be a mostly rail trail from Sicamous to Osoyoos. Its focus right now is two-fold – connecting communities from the south heading north and cementing a safe cycling route between the Bennett bridge in West Kelowna to Peachland.

Last month, the Regional District of Central Okanagan announced it bought land north of the Goats Peak Regional Park. That’s now part of the park and work is underway to connect the exiting park pathway down to the Gellatly Nut Farm.

That includes a stairway up the steep slope on the north side of Goats Peak with a rail on one side to make it easier for cyclists to push their bikes up and down

Construction has started and is expected to be finished this summer.

READ MORE: Major connection along Trail of the Okanagans to open this summer

There is still work to be done through West Kelowna where the trail is expected to mostly follow Boucherie Road. The bike path on parts of that road is, at times, only on one side of the road and does not meet provincial guidelines for width safety.

On the south side, Goats Peak’s Sagebrush Trail ends at the intersection of Seclusion Bay Road and Highway 97.

The society has applied for more than $500,000 in government grants to build a trail down the side of Drought Hill to Buchanan Road. The total estimated cost is just under $600,000 so more grant applications are in the works.

 READ MORE: A trail from Sicamous to Osoyoos depends on West Kelowna to Peachland problem

“This is the section we said is the most expensive per linear metre between West Kelowna and the American border,” Liebe said.

If the funding comes through, she hopes construction can start next spring for completion before the end of the summer.

The grant process is part of the problem with the way bike paths are funded, Liebe pointed out. Numerous groups and municipalities in B.C., and across the county, are competing for the same money from the federal and provincial funding programs.

That’s where treating bike paths as part of a transportation network comes in, especially when it comes to highway crossings. Too often they’re being designed without cyclists in mind so municipalities are faced with the costs themselves or competing with non-profit groups for scarce funding.

An example of that is in Kelowna. The city received a $2.4 million federal infrastructure grant to connect the Houghton Road cycling route in Rutland to the Okanagan Rail Trail, across Highway 97, even though that part of the highway was redesigned and expanded fairly recently. Work on that project is expected to start in June and be completed in October.

That’s an example of the “catch-up” that cycling advocates are faced with because such crossings are not included in highways projects.

“Currently, even though the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure are responsible for active transportation, they’re going through an evolution of incorporating the principles that they actually authored through the B.C. Active Transportation Design Guidelines,” Liebe said. “They currently do not include those as part of intersection upgrades so it’s up to communities to advocate for that and/or having to pay for and play catchup after those intersections are designed.”

It is even more challenging in rural areas of the province, she said.

“If you’re designing an active transportation program for the province, it’s one thing to say, hey, let's connect a bunch of communities in urban Vancouver or Victoria,” Liebe said. “But, in rural communities, we’re really talking about active transportation between communities and it becomes more complex because you’re now moving outside the municipal boundaries. Often, you’re crossing either Crown land or First Nations reserves or regional parks so the conversations become much more complex.”

The focus of the group is to connect communities with safe routes that provide a destination, rather than having bits and pieces built that may, some day, connect with others.

“We’d like to be able to see programs that focus on connecting communities that are less than 25 kilometres apart, because that’s a good range to cycle, there and back, and enough for people to commute between communities,” Liebe said.

“A good example of that is, when the Okanagan Rail Trail opened and they met their five year projections in the first six months, that really showed what the latent demand is for cycling,” she continued.

“The reason that was so successful, even though that trail is not fully connected yet, is that it had lengths of trail that were meaningful to ride on and got you from place to place. We feel, as a strategy, if we build longer sections of trail that get people out riding, it will demonstrate the desire and build the voice for the trail in the South Okanagan.”

For more on the Trail of the Okanagan go to the Facebook page here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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