The speed at which active transportation infrastructure — including cycling and walking paths — should be constructed in Kamloops was up for debate this week.
On Tuesday, a councillor sought information to accelerate the build-out, but did not receive enough support.
Kamloops Association for Low-Carbon Commuting and Transportation president Aaron Wiebe called council’s decision “disappointing.”
Wiebe said more people are cycling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but the city’s cycling network remains fragmented. Thompson Rivers University has parking challenges but no pathways to the university. Cyclists fear for safety in areas around Kamloops.
“We thought it would be helpful in aligning some of the city’s priorities … to ensure these issues were focused on,” Wiebe said, citing a need to build out critical cycling infrastructure more quickly, including routes to Thompson Rivers University.
On Tuesday, Coun. Arjun Singh put forward a multi-part notice of motion related to cycling, which he dubbed an omnibus motion. Initially, and as previously reported by KTW, he had called for in that motion 2021 to be declared the “Year of the Cyclist.” On Tuesday, however, he opted against that declaration when presenting the motion and added more verbiage about multiple types of active transportation.
It was perhaps done to try and win over councillors, who had concerns.
Coun. Dale Bass said vehicular traffic continues do dominate in a community resulting from amalgamation. She noted the COVID-19 crisis and questioned how accelerating further active transportation infrastructure would impact staff workloads. Dudy cautioned council against being seen as “single-minded.”
“While this is a laudable recommendation, there are many other ones [issues] that we need to concern ourselves with,” he said, noting economic strain of the pandemic.
However, Singh said the city has not met a series of climate action goals over the years and transportation has been identified by staff as a key greenhouse gas emitter. In addition, Singh said investing upfront would save money on road maintenance and reduce traffic congestion for those who cannot walk or cycle. He also noted spinoff health benefits for residents.
“If we want a better life for people coming after us at this table and our kids and grandkids and nieces and nephews, I think it’s pretty important that we think about how we actually meet these goals,” he said. “One of the reasons I raise this is I think we need some momentum. We need concrete actions that can rally the community.”
The most concrete of the actions proposed by Singh would have been for staff to look into accelerating its high and medium-priority list of active transportation projects. Two years ago, council pushed ahead by about a decade a list of those projects, from 24 years to 15 years. It cost the city nearly $1 million more per year to shave the time. The city previously contributed $1.55 million annually and it now contributes $2.5 million annually. Active transportation encompasses not only cycling infrastructure, but also sidewalks, multi-use pathways and trails.
Singh, however, said some of the active transportation money has “bled out” and been used for other things. Mayor Ken Christian disagreed and said the city merely has a long list of such improvements to complete. Singh said the city has talked a lot about climate action and accessibility initiatives but that “budgets are drivers.”
Also in Singh’s motion, he asked for consideration of a community fundraising campaign to accelerate active transportation, similar to the River’s Trail. One way to create momentum, he said, is to have a marquee project. KTW had previously reported on Singh’s concept to have a pathway throughout the city, connecting the university and other areas of town and including landmarks and points of interest. Singh told council he heard support in the community. He merely wanted council to agree to looking into the initiative.
“If you look at starting at TRU, for example, and spidering out — there’s no good cycling path to TRU,” Singh said. “There’s none that gets you right there. We need to figure out actually how to connect those places and really rally the community behind something that’s good.”
Coun. Sadie Hunter, however, worried Singh's motion would set an unreasonable expectation of the public.
Ultimately, council voted six to three opposed to the motion. Christian and councillors Bass, Dudy, Hunter, Mike O’Reilly and Bill Sarai opposed and councillors Singh, Kathy Sinclair and Denis Walsh voted in favour.
Walsh and Sinclair noted Singh had requested administration to look into the matter, including budgeting, with more decisions down the road. In giving her support, Sinclair cited federal and provincial funding that is available amid the pandemic and an opportunity for the city to leverage its money with dollars matched. She said it would also help to alleviate the city’s parking problems around town.
Christian said the decision does not change the city’s plans, with respect to the $2.5 million spent each year on active transportation projects.
“My concern is that it should not be conceived that we’re not doing anything about any of the initiatives that you bring forward,” Christian said.
On Friday, the city put out a press release stating it was planning to bump up plans for active transportation infrastructure in Sahali from 2022 to 2021, with the hopes of securing grant funding. Council will review a report on the matter at its next meeting.
Asked, however, if what the city already has planned is enough for cycling in Kamloops, Wiebe said without Singh's motion the process will be slow.
“It will get done eventually,” he said.