Delegates are calling on the City of Whitehorse to invest more in infrastructure for active transportation.
The request came during a public input session on the proposed 2022 capital budget and proposed capital spending to 2025 where six residents addressed council on it.
It’s a move, they argued, that would result in fewer vehicles on the road, less spending on roads and has the potential to help improve the health of citizens.
The city is proposing to spend $53 million in 2022 on capital projects, provided external funding to the tune of $43.5 million comes through. It’s projected a further $44.8 million would be spent in 2023, followed by $36.1 million in 2024, and $24.4 million in 2025, again dependent on external funding.
Council passed first reading of the proposed budget Nov. 29, prompting the Dec. 13 public input session.
While individual delegates brought up issues like the plans to replace Whitehorse City Hall, initiatives in particular areas of town and more, a common theme throughout most of the presentations was the call to encourage more active transportation in the city.
Nathan Miller, for example, highlighted a number of areas where there are no sidewalks. He suggested the city could begin working on an annual basis to add sidewalks in those areas.
He also questioned whether the city has the equipment to maintain active transportation networks like trails and encouraged the city to extend the lower escarpment trail.
“I think it’s probably one of the principal ways that the city can help address climate change actions,” he said, after also encouraging council to move forward quickly with initiatives that could provide more housing and to work on prioritizing infrastructure projects in the city’s core.
Also arguing for improvements to the city’s active transportation routes whether that be sidewalks, trails or paths was Forest Pearson of the Whitehorse Urban Cycling Association, Copper Ridge residents Beatrix Goltz and Richard Legner and Porter Creek resident Keith Lay.
Both Pearson and Goltz spoke directly to cycling in the city, noting the challenges in moving through the city given a lack of cycling-specific routes, connections, a lack of space for bicycles inside roundabouts and traffic issues.
Pearson pointed out throughout his presentation that investing in cycling costs less and is less to operate than roadways.
He also cited $1.3 million budget plans for a route that would connect cyclists between Two Mile Hill and the Riverfront Trail downtown, noting that while the cycling association is pleased the project is planned, members are upset it many not be completed next year.
“We understand this will be a technically challenging project and will take time, but it has now been over two years since the school children presented a petition to mayor and council asking the city for safe ways for kids to bike to school,” he said, arguing now is the time to make changes that make it easier for residents to get around town by bike.”Prioritizing spending on active transportation is prudent and responsible fiscal management.”
Goltz, meanwhile, in a written submission, recalled her own experience having lived around the world in places like Spain, Norway and Toronto, spending many years getting to work by bike.
At 43, after moving to Whitehorse and realizing it was not safe for her to bike from her home in Copper Ridge to downtown for work, she found herself buying her first vehicle.
She requested the city ensure funds are in the budget for a bicycle commuter route from Copper Ridge to downtown as well as for education and marketing focused on Whitehorse being a bike-friendly city.
Lay pointed out, among a number of concerns, that federal funding is available for active transportation projects while Legner highlighted the benefits that come with reducing vehicle traffic.
“In addition to reducing our carbon footprint and easing traffic congestion active transportation brings many other benefits,” another delegate said. “People have increased opportunities to exercise, reducing the risk of chronic conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”
“It brings equality to low-income citizens who may not have the means to [buy] a car. It removes cars from the streets, improving air quality and safety. Active transportation has proven to bring vibrancy to neighborhoods and downtown cores and help small businesses thrive. Demand for car parking decreases creating opportunities for more worthwhile use of limited space. The benefits are countless.”
While the topic of active transportation dominated much of the budget input session, other requests to the city included new signage for the Chadburn Lake area as well as trails and changes to the plans for Whitehorse City Hall.
Lay also called on the city for more details on the planned upgrades to the Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre, an update on the Schwatka Lake area plan, and for more specifics on improvements to the Whistle Bend pond.
City staff will be responding to the public input through a report that will come to council ahead of second and third readings on the budget in January.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org