If you build it, they will come — that’s what Sabine Schweiger says about cycling infrastructure in the city of Whitehorse.
Schweiger, environmental coordinator with the city, told the News on May 28 the hope now is that the priorities outlined in the city’s new bicycle network plan will bring even more bikes to the road.
Schweiger presented the plan to council at the May 28 standing committees meeting.
Developed in 2017 in tandem with the downtown and Marwell plans, the bike plan brings together feedback from 238 online respondents, city staff, and members of the Whitehorse Urban Cycling Committee who worked with the city last June to identify gaps in significant downtown routes.
“It’s not a huge surprise,” Schweiger told the News of the routes riders have identified as key. “It really mirrors the commuter cycling map that’s been published for years with the city.”
Schweiger said the lack of an east-west corridor, from the escarpment to the water, was of concern, as was filling trail gaps between Two Mile Hill and the waterfront, and installing a cycle track coming out of Riverdale and on to Lowe Street downtown.
During the standing committees meeting, Whitehorse resident Jean Paul Molgat spoke to council about the plan, which he said he feels does a good job of addressing necessary changes to the city’s cycling landscape, but he asked council to consider prioritizing a trail leading from the Alaska Highway, along Hillcrest Drive, into Granger.
Molgat acknowledged that’s the neighbourhood he lives in, and gave his reasons for wanting to see focus on that link.
“That route is 1.2 km shorter than the existing Two Mile Hill route (to downtown) and probably a couple of kilometres shorter than the Hamilton extension route,” said Molgat. “It has virtually no intersections or traffic … as opposed to the Two Mile Hill route which has 13 intersections that cyclists need to deal with. And the (city’s bike) plan goes into quite some detail about all the fixes that are needed at those intersections.”
Among those fixes are protected traffic signals and pavement markings where multi-use trails cross intersections, especially those at Two Mile Hill and Hamilton Boulevard.
When Coun. Samson Hartland asked Schweiger if she had prioritized the recommended projects, she highlighted those intersections, as well as improving links from Two Mile Hill (either by way of on-street lanes along Chilkoot Way, or via an easement behind the Canadian Tire) and Riverdale, as part of the process of improving existing infrastructure.
Anything beyond that, she said, would depend on road reconstruction. It’s cheaper and more efficient to make upgrades to cycling infrastructure when the roads are already being worked on for other reasons.
This might include working on streets to create fully separated bike paths. Options include protected on-street bike lanes, paved, off-street multi-use paths, bicycle boulevards or greenways, where bikes and vehicles share the road on side streets or bike paths.
“(Bike lanes) are not typically recommended anymore by the Transportation Association of Canada because they have too much conflict between cyclists and vehicles,” Schweiger said, noting there are still some in the city (for instance, on 4th Avenue) where there’s no space for alternatives.
“One of the things we really struggle with in the Yukon is that painted line,” Schweiger told the News, especially in the winter. “Even if it’s there under the snow, it’s not there.”
All of these measures, said Schweiger, will hopefully make people feel safer about cycling in the city, which should, in turn, get more people on bikes.
According to past statistics included in the plan, the number of residents who rely on cycling as their primary mode of transportation increased from two per cent in 2001 to 3.2 per cent in 2011. Right in the middle of that growth spurt was 2005, when the city installed its first on-street bike lanes.
Once the plan is brought to city council through the annual capital budget process, if adopted, Schweiger said it could be eligible for external funding.
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org