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Whitehorse eyes new cycling infrastructure plan

Connectivity and safety were among the biggest issues cited by Whitehorse cyclists at a bicycle network meeting June 5.

Connectivity and safety were among the biggest issues cited by Whitehorse cyclists at a bicycle network meeting June 5.

Cyclists, many of whom were members of the Facebook group Whitehorse Urban Cycling Coalition, met at the Frank Slim Building with members of city staff and representatives from the Vancouver-based consulting group Urban Systems to discuss the future of the city’s cycling infrastructure. They were invited to share their concerns, likes and dislikes about cycling in the city and participate in planning exercises to help build a cycling plan for the city.

Other issues identified included safety concerns, making biking more appealing to more people, negative interactions with drivers and Two Mile Hill, which several people said “dumps” riders out into heavy traffic on Fourth Avenue.

The goal of the plan is to make cycling more accessible and appealing, to increase the number of cyclists in the city and reduce traffic.

“The purpose of this is to help identify a long-term cycling plan for Whitehorse,” said Sarah Freigang of Urban Systems.

“There is just not enough room for everyone to bring a car downtown,” said acting city manager of planning and sustainability, and avid cyclist, Mike Ellis. “Bikes on roads cause a lot less wear and tear … there are huge economic incentives (to encourage cycling).

In 2011, cycling accounted for approximately three per cent of all commutes to work and school, said Glenda Koh, an environmental coordinator for the city. Koh said she believes those numbers are still accurate for 2016. The City of Whitehorse hopes to double that figure to six per cent by 2026.

Ellis said the city has identified three key areas as potential sites for improvement that act as corridors to sections of the city: the Black Street stairs, Two Mile Hill, and the Riverdale bridge.

All three corridors connect to residential areas that are home to many people who could be encouraged to bike into the downtown core more if the system were made more accessible to them, relieving congestion and parking issues, he said.

Cycling development has been stalled in the city since 2004, when the city installed the existing bike lanes, said Forest Pearson, an avid cycler and member of the coalition.

“Since then, there’s not a lot going on,” he said. “We had the bridge expanded and that’s been great, but everything else has been done in ad hoc pieces since then.”

Some of the conflicts that arise between cyclists and drivers have to do with the way space has been traditionally allocated within the city, said Ellis.

“Roads are public land,” he said. “I think there is an argument to be made that there is unequal use of public land which is just treated as normal … cars have been traditionally given a huge amount of space. It’s really easy to get around downtown in car.”

“There’s a certain status quo about how we divvy up our roads and having a (cycling) plan like this one challenges that.”

The total budget to develop the plan, which is city-funded, is $15,000.

The city hopes to have a draft plan for the end of June and a final plan ready for September that will tie into the larger downtown and Marwell-area planning initiatives already underway.

Contact Lori Garrison at