City council in Whitehorse on June 17. A number of future plans for the 2020 capital budget and provisional spending plan to 2023 were outlined during the Dec. 2 city council meeting. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)

Whitehorse officials promise improvements to cycling routes

Commuters say more focus on the downtown is needed

City of Whitehorse officials say they expect to move ahead with a number of projects over the next few years that would benefit cyclists, though some in the cycling community say the projects do not address the major concerns around improvements needed for downtown connections.

The city’s plans were outlined in a public hearing report presented to Whitehorse city council on Dec. 2.

The 2020 capital budget and provisional spending plan to 2023 was the focus of the Nov. 25 public hearing.

The budget would see the city would spend $7.45 million out of its own reserves with a further $26.3 million from external sources (provided the external funding is approved) in 2020.

Delegates who appeared before council last month to discuss the budget want the city to improve cycling connections. They presented a petition with 2,362 name petition calling for the city to fast-track the implementation of its bicycle network plan.

In the public hearing report to council Dec. 2, acting manager of financial services Brittany Dixon highlighted six projects planned for the coming years directly related to the bicycle network plan.

They include the reconstruction of several areas, which will also incorporate work on paths and cycling routes. There’s the reconstruction of Cook and Tlingit Streets on tap for 2020; improvements to the intersection of Range Road and Two Mile Hill anticipated in 2021; the reconstruction of Hillcrest between 2022 and 2026; the rebuilding of Range Road North eyed for 2023; and an improved asphalt path crossing at Canadian Tire (no set date). All of these initiatives include work and extensions to existing pathways and trails for cyclists.

Hamilton Boulevard will also see safety improvements to the roundabout at Falcon Drive South in 2022 and to the roundabout at Heron Drive in 2023.

Jocelyn Land-Murphy, who spoke out at the public hearing and started the petition to fast track the network plan implementation with Sarah Johnson, said the efforts outlined in the report still do not show an improved connection through the downtown.

”Although there is some conceptual planning work underway right now, the budget does not include subsequent design and construction in 2020 and 2021,” she said in an email. “The budget should include the planning of additional projects, design and construction over next three years.”

Johnson agreed: “Though there are steps moving forward I also agree that we need more information/vision as to the next steps so as to get more of the bicycle network plan under way,” she said in an email.

“The proposed action … so far still seems very piecemeal. Especially after declaring a climate change emergency, the city should be putting more emphasis on a protected bike lane along 4th Ave for cyclists sooner rather than later. The changes the city hopes to make in the near future are acceptable, but what about the rest of the plan. What truly are the next steps? The plan is there, so let’s act on it now.”

She went on to point out that in light of the recent death of a pedestrian at a Second Avenue cross-walk, more needs to be done to ensure safe, active routes in the city.

“We can’t afford to wait, for the safety of our citizens and visitors,” she stated. “Our City of Whitehorse needs to be visionary and make significant steps towards a healthier, greener community.”

In her report, Dixon also highlighted other concerns brought forward during the public hearing, pointing to fuel abatement work planned for the coming year as well plans to look at the use of biomass to heat city buildings. There’s also plans to look at capital projects for Schwatka Lake and use federal gas tax funding to plan and design a walkway between the Canada Games Centre and Mount McIntyre Recreation Centre in 2022, followed by construction — estimated at $1.8 million — in 2023.

She also responded to concerns over the city’s trail plan, noting work is underway to update the 2007 trail plan and pointing out $75,000 is allocated annually to implementing the current plan.

Council is scheduled to vote on the final two readings of the 2020 capital budget Dec. 9.

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

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