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Nelson council ponders bike and walking routes

City plans to prioritize non-motorized transportation
Councillor Brittny Anderson was instrumental in city council’s decision to make non-motorized transportation easier in Nelson. Photo: Bill Metcalfe

Nelson city council wants to get more people out of their cars and onto their bikes and feet.

It wants to make traffic more comfortable for pedestrians, cars, and cyclists alike, according to city councillor Brittny Anderson.

“I would like to see everybody move around safely within the community,” she told the Star, “whether they choose to bike or walk or use a wheelchair, so we are able to rely less on vehicles.”

Anderson chaired a working group recently formed to revive the city’s Active Transportation Plan, written in 2010 but given scant attention since.

Active transportation means walking or biking. It can also mean skateboarding or scootering or getting around in a wheelchair. In other words, human powered, non-motorized transportation.

The working group decided it didn’t need to update the 2010 plan, just move it up on the priority lists of council and management staff. Council discussed and agreed to this at meetings on Oct. 21 and on Monday.

The plan includes recommendations in specific parts of the city for sidewalks, snow clearing, covered stairs, rail crossings, bike access, bike racks, bike routes, and signage.

Short-term priorities in the plan include:

• Identify the primary active transportation pedestrian and cycling routes

• Reduce speed limits along active transportation networks

• Review and implement sidewalk and street clearing policy to ensure it aligns with the active transportation network

• Initiate discussions with CP Rail for additional crossings

• Work with local cycling groups to develop safe cycling training

• Improve bike parking downtown, at park-and-rides, and near bus stops

Primary walking and cycling routes

Biking is a priority in the plan, partly because of the increasing use of electric bikes.

The city has started working on where the primary walking and cycling routes might be, and have laid out a proposed designated bike route (see map below) from the bridge to Rosemont, but not with separate bike lanes.

“The bike route was based on the easiest possible grade, so it makes you zig-zag uphill,” planner Sebastien Arcand told council at its Oct. 21 meeting.

Mayor John Dooley called the route into question.

“People tend to do what they want to do,” he said. “I just got back from a trip to Ireland, and there is the odd feel-good cycle path where a bunch of politicians like us said ‘oh, we need a bike path’ … but in actual fact people are cycling all over the place.”

Arcand agreed that people might join and leave the route at various locations depending on where they are going. He added the map is still a draft and a work in progress.

Arcand said it’s not so much about big infrastructure projects as it is about looking at development and public works with an active transportation lens and creating a more comfortable environment for all traffic.

“Often it does not cost more to add a painted lane, a crosswalk, or traffic calming,” he said.

Arcand also presented a proposed bike route along Third Street (a block above Nelson Avenue and parallel to it), in which bikers would come off the Orange Bridge and turn left to access the bike route. The reason for this is the complexity of the intersection where Nelson Avenue becomes High Street.

Councillor Rik Logtenberg wondered about this.

“I do bike that route quite often, and you get up some speed coming off the bridge and want to keep that going. The idea of losing all that speed to cut left and go up Third would [not be something I would do].”

Other councillors agreed that cyclists are likely to use Nelson Avenue regardless of a Third Street designated route.

Anderson told the Star later that there is a good argument for designating Third Street as a bike route.

“You want to move vehicles and bikes safely,” she said, “and if you are commuting to work you might go down Nelson Avenue, but if you are a parent with a [bike trailer] and two kids in the back, you could cycle down Third without the volume of traffic.”

Orange Bridge review

Arcand said the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure is reviewing active transportation on the Orange Bridge (a notoriously scary cycling route) and the city wants to learn what the ministry has planned before it decides on Nelson Avenue.

“I think the cycling thing and the traffic thing needs to be thought about as how do we share the road,” Dooley said. “People currently use Nelson Avenue on bikes and it is working. Where it is not working … we need to be looking at speed limits and more of a co-operative attitude of sharing the road with motorbikes, cyclists, and cars.”

Arcand said separate bike lanes won’t work in Nelson because the streets are too narrow.

He said the province’s CleanBC Strategy has funding specifically for active transportation projects and the implementation of the plan might depend on funding opportunities.

E-bikes are a game-changer

Electric bikes are changing the way people move around the city, Anderson said, and it’s important to make this safe for everyone. She said parking and storage for electric bikes is a new infrastructure issue.

Anderson said the city needs to find a way to encourage homeowners to shovel their sidewalks.

She speculated that the city should have a few corridors for commuting pedestrians that would be given priority for snow clearing by the city.

“In Europe there are the sidewalks that are done before the roads. Pedestrian routes and cycling routes have priority, and we want to take a bit of that approach where we are also prioritizing cycling and walking.”

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The black dotted line is a proposed designated bike route, but it would not have separate bike lanes. This map has been described by city planning staff as a working document and not a final product. Map: City of Nelson

Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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