Provincial cycling funds bypass Saanich

Saanich taxpayers learned last week that the province will not contribute towards plans to improve the cycling infrastructure along McKenzie Avenue, a major thoroughfare for local cyclists in need of upgrades.

Plans approved last November commit Saanich to building an eastbound, single-direction cycling track and a concrete sidewalk on the south side of McKenzie Avenue between Cedar Hill Road and Shelbourne Street as part of a larger effort to connect the McKenzie corridor with the Lochside Trail. The project also calls for the installation of an on-the-road, westbound bike lane on the north side of McKenzie Avenue with some repairs to the existing concrete sidewalk.

District figures peg the cost of the project at $750,000 and Saanich had applied for provincial support under the BikeBC cost-sharing program to help cover half of the cost.

While the project will still go ahead, it appears that Saanich will have to bear the full cost, after the project failed to make the cut when B.C. Liberal Minister of Transportation Todd Stone announced funding on Friday for projects in 26 communities totalling $9.25 million, but none for projects in the Greater Victoria region.

A proposal to create protected bicycling lanes on Fort Street also failed to receive provincial funding, according to Edward Pullman, president of the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, in expressing disappointment with the provincial decision.

“Both of these projects meet BikeBC’s standards of high-quality bike lanes that will encourage more people to ride,” said Pullman. “The lack of support shows just how underfunded bike infrastructure is in B.C.”

BikeBC in 2016 distributed $6.5 million in grants for cycling projects in communities across the province, including $2.7 million for four projects in the Capital Regional District (CRD), with $450,000 for the Lansdowne bike lanes to improve cycling connections between the University of Victoria, Camosun College, Lansdowne middle school, Hillside Mall, Royal Jubilee Hospital and the local neighbourhood.

The province increased funding for BikeBC to $9 million in 2017, according to Pullman, who would like to see the new provincial government at least double that figure.

“The amount of money coming from the provincial government to support cycling infrastructure is minuscule compared to the billions being spent on motor vehicle infrastructure,” said Pullman.

Citing various projects, he said the budget for upgrades to the McKenzie interchange alone adds up to $85 million in funding.

While larger communities like Victoria and Saanich have some ability to fund active transportation improvements without grant money, it will take longer to do, according to Pullman.

Smaller communities meanwhile depend on senior government funding, but often do not apply because of the uncertainty of the funding, he said.

The BikeBC program has seen a large increase in the number of applications, so it is important for the government to create a larger, ongoing funding commitment, he said.

“Each region rarely receives funding in consecutive years, leaving local governments with limited ability to expand their bikeway network and improve active transportation options for their residents,” said Pullman.

News of the failed application comes just months after the District of Saanich approved $750,000 towards improvements along McKenzie Avenue

As for his organization, Pullman said it will work with the B.C. Cycling Coalition and the B.C. Healthy Living Alliance to encourage political parties to commit more funding towards active forms of transportation, including cycling and walking.