A cyclist rides passed École Whitehorse Elementary School along Fourth Avenue in Whitehorse on Oct. 15. A petition requesting the fast tracking of the 2018 Bicycle Network Plan and use of the city parking fund for sustainable transportation projects has garnered more than 1,200 signatures as of Oct. 15. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

City cyclists call for improved bike infrastructure

A petition calls on the City of Whitehorse to implement its bicycle network plan

A petition calling on the City of Whitehorse to fast-track implementation of the 2018 Bicycle Network Plan and use the city parking fund for sustainable transportation projects has garnered more than 1,200 signatures as of Oct. 15.

Sarah Johnson and Jocelyn Land-Murphy, who cycle downtown to work every week day, added the petition to change.org on Oct. 8. Land-Murphy co-ordinates the “bike bus”, as its come to be known, with up to 10 kids including her own cycling from Takhini to École Whitehorse Elementary School each weekday morning.

As the pair explained in an Oct. 11 interview, there are a number of trails and bike paths around town for cyclists to use, but there are few connections linking them together.

Cyclists in Takhini, for example, have to make their way along Range Road to access the cycling path down Two Mile Hill.

“Wherever possible we’re avoiding the roads,” Land-Murphy said, citing safety concerns connected to biking on streets.

To avoid Range Road, the “bike bus” and other cyclists are opting for a mountain bike route downtown that then has them cycling between streets to get to school.

“It truly is very, very convoluted,” said Johnson, who takes the same route to her work at École Whitehorse Elementary School.

In January, Johnson, who described herself as a cautious cyclist, ended up being dragged by a vehicle involved in a collision when she was waiting at a pedestrian island for the light to change.

She argued the infrastructure in Whitehorse is not effective or safe for cyclists.

When she and Land-Murphy decided to speak with City of Whitehorse staff about the situation, they learned of the city’s 2018 Bicycle Network Plan aimed at improving how cyclists can get around the city.

It’s a good plan, Johnson and Land-Murphy agree, but few efforts have been made to actually implement the recommendations.

Those recommendations include redesigning the sides of Fourth Avenue as a multi-use path to Black Street.

“The City of Whitehorse’s 2018 Bicycle Network Plan details specific solutions to increasing safe and active routes to school — for all ages and abilities,” the petition says.

“Further, the City of Whitehorse’s commissioned report on Transportation Demand Management Plan in 2014 recommended that the City authorize use of its Parking Reserve fund for sustainable transportation modes, as well as a portion of funds received from the Gas Tax Fund.”

The petition also cited the health and environmental benefits that come with active transportation.

“Active commutes for the daily trip to school have been shown to improve our children’s health and learning capacity,” it reads. “Increasing active and safe routes to school also improves city traffic issues, while having a significant impact on air pollution and climate change. This would be a tangible action in response to the city’s recent declaration of a climate change emergency on September 23rd, 2019.”

Johnson and Land-Murphy will be joined by a delegation of supporters to bring the petition forward at Whitehorse city council’s Oct. 21 meeting.

“We’re wanting to get the conversation started,” Land-Murphy said, noting the city will soon be looking at the 2020 budget and projects that could be funded.

Following a council meeting Oct. 15, Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis said that while he hasn’t seen the petition, active transportation continues to be a high priority for the city.

Working towards linking the bicycle routes is something the city is continuing to work towards, but it takes time and resources, he added, especially given the competing interests in the city for everything from trail maintenance to recreation opportunities at the Canada Games Centre to other city services.

The petition is available here

Land-Murphy and Johnson said they may approach the Yukon government about the matter as well as it’s the territory that has jurisdiction over the Alaska Highway and thus any bike routes along it.

There may also be funds available through the territorial government to pay for some bicycle network projects, they suggested.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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