Highway widening plans too car centric: city, cyclists

The Yukon government's plan to widen the Alaska Highway to four lanes through much of Whitehorse is out of sync with the city's transportation goals, says Mayor Dan Curtis.

The Yukon government’s plan to widen the Alaska Highway to four lanes through much of Whitehorse is out of sync with the city’s transportation goals, says Mayor Dan Curtis.

“We just don’t want it to have that flavour, that it’s more of a freeway,” he said on the phone Tuesday.

Making the highway wider and faster through the city is “not necessarily a good thing for us, we feel.”

The city would like to see the city’s growing transportation needs accommodated with more attention to walking, bicycling, transit and carpooling, rather than simply increasing highway vehicle capacity, he said.

Whitehorse’s transit demand management plan aims to see 50 per cent of Whitehorse residents commuting by methods other than private car in the next 25 years.

A fancy new highway that’s designed primarily to speed up vehicle traffic could undermine that goal.

Indeed, the design criteria that the consultants looked at mostly had to do with reducing vehicle collisions and easing the way for vehicles to move through the corridor.

The plan does allow for the construction of a multi-use trail through the corridor, but many details have yet to be worked out.

For example, the current mock-ups show the multi-use trail going right through the Airport Chalet building.

Highways and Public Works has confirmed that there is no plan to move that building. They’ve yet to determine how the trail will be adjusted.

The Whitehorse Urban Cycling Coalition has also voiced its opposition to various parts of the design.

“We believe the project, as currently proposed, will have significant negative impacts on Whitehorse in general and specifically on sustainable transportation opportunities in our community,” the coalition wrote in an open letter to the Highways Department and project consultants.

The letter says that not enough attention has been paid to non-vehicle use of the corridor, and that this may create a dangerous situation for pedestrians and cyclists.

“Higher speeds divide the community, create an uninhabitable zone in their proximity and make the road intimidating and unsafe for users such as pedestrians and cyclists. The highway will be increasingly difficult, dangerous and scary to cross as a pedestrian or cyclist as a result of this project.”

The current proposal is to have 80 kilometre per hour speed limits through the whole corridor, except between Hillcrest and Two Mile Hill, where the limit would be lower.

The cycling coalition has suggested a limit of 60 kilometres per hour from Robert Service Way through Crestview.

The city is also concerned about the proposed speed increases through Whitehorse, said Curtis. Increased speed can dramatically increase fatal collisions.

But he’s optimistic that the Yukon government will work towards a plan that works for the city, he said.

“The minister has met with council, and he’s given us assurances that changes will occur following the consultation period.”

“I’m very, very optimistic that our administrations can work together and find a really good compromise.”

The public consultation period for the plan closed on Friday.

Alicia Debreceni, spokesperson for Highways and Public Works, said that consultants are currently working to compile the responses into a “what we heard” document, and the government will not make any decisions on how to proceed before it has seen the results.

Consultants have to date received 283 hard copy responses, 222 online responses and 30 email responses. They conducted 40 in-person meetings with affected groups and residents, and 175 residents visited public open houses.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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