The intersection of McKenzie Avenue and Shelbourne Street has seen improvements for cyclists like Tim Cunningham and pedestrians, but Saanich’s Active Transportation Plan promises additional improvement through the local cycling network.                                 Wolf Depner/News Staff

The intersection of McKenzie Avenue and Shelbourne Street has seen improvements for cyclists like Tim Cunningham and pedestrians, but Saanich’s Active Transportation Plan promises additional improvement through the local cycling network. Wolf Depner/News Staff

Saanich rides ahead with Active Transportation Plan

Saanich plans to double the share of all trips made by active transportation by 2050.

Council Monday approved ambitious new goals for active transportation in Saanich, but questions about its financing remain.

Saanich would like see active transportations account for 50 per cent of all trips by 2050. Saanich defines active transportation as “any form of human-powered transportation” such as walking and cycling as the most popular and well-known forms. Saanich’s definition of active transportation also includes riding public transit.

“This document is great,” said Coun. Judy Brownoff. “Obviously, we all want to see what comes forward…and how we handle the funding aspect.”

“The challenge lies ahead in how we set the priorities,” said Coun. Dean Murdock.

According to the 2016 Census, walking, cycling and taking transit account for over 24 per cent of all trips to work and school in Saanich, and the plan calls on Saanich to double this figure by 2050. In this scenario, transit would account for 20 per cent of all trips, while walking and cycling would respectively account for 17 and 13 per cent.

These figures appear in the Active Transportation Plan, which council endorsed unanimously Monday. The plan promises to guide active forms of transportation in Saanich for the next 30 years.

“Investments in walking, cycling and other forms of active transportation result in a more balanced transportation system – one that is more accessible, cost-effective and efficient in terms of infrastructure investments,” it reads. “There are also significant quality of life, health, safety and economic benefits associated with investing in active transportation.”

The report does not say how much it would cost Saanich to achieve this goal. “It will take significant time and financial resources to implement the long-term recommendations of the Active Transportation Plan,” it reads.

Harley Machielse, Saanich’s director of engineering, later said that the plan includes 100 actions that Saanich will implement.

“It’s premature to provide a cost to this wide variety of actions, most of which still require a significant amount of planning, consultation or design,” he said. “Our ability to achieve the goals of the plan will be made through good long-term planning, co-ordination with asset replacement infrastructure projects, integration with land use planning and development, applying for grant funding, adjusting maintenance practices, and partnering with regional agencies and other levels of government.”

Developed over 18 months starting in the winter of 2016 with the help of extensive public and internal input, the report mixes description with aspiration.

Overall, it says Saanich has made “significant progress implementing pedestrian and bicycle facilities throughout the community” while calling for improvements.

Public reaction to the plan has so far been positive.

Caleb Horn, a professional urban planner familiar with many of the issues facing Saanich, said on social media it includes a lot of “strong policies and actions.”

Mike Wilson, director of campus planning and sustainability for the University of Victoria, said the values of the plan align with the values of the university.

Rob Wickson, former president of the Gorge-Tillicum Community Association, praised it also. “The plan itself is excellent,” he said. But he also encouraged Saanich to introduce measures that encourage residents to use active forms of transportation.

The report says the share of trips made walking, cycling, and transit in Saanich has been steadily increasing over the past 20 years, increasing from nearly 20 per cent of commute trips in 1996 to 24 per cent in 2016.

“There is a significant demand for active transportation in Saanich,” it reads. “Results from the public engagement show that residents of Saanich think active transportation is most important for health, commuting and environmental reasons…”

But if Saanich residents appear supportive of active transportation in theory, the report concedes practical deficits.

A “number of gaps and barriers in Saanich’s existing active transportation network” remain. A lack of sidewalks and pathways, speed and noise from motor traffic, and distance appear as top concerns for people walking within Saanich, while gaps in the existing bike network, a lack of bike routes and intersection safety concern cyclists.

Jordan Williams is one of them. He rides along Shelbourne Street and he notes the spotty nature of bike lanes along the major thoroughfare. “Shelbourne is sketchy,” he said before heading east on Mckenzie Avenue. Saanich, for the record, has taken steps to link Shelbourne with Lochside Regional Trail and plans additional improvements along Shelbourne Street itself.

Maureen Stone, who lives in James Bay, is less familiar with the Shelbourne corridor. But she regularly rides the Lochside Trail on her commute to Pender Island.

“It’s fantastic,” she said. “I love the Lochside Trail. I ride [it] from James Bay to Swartz Bay.”

Looking at specific forms of active transportation, the report says Saanich currently includes approximately 250 kilometres of sidewalks, as well as a network of over 100 kilometres of developed trails, including the Lochside Trail and Galloping Goose Regional Trail.

“However, there are still large areas of the community with no sidewalks, as well as gaps in the sidewalk network,” it reads. Overall, the report foresees the installation of about 176 kilometres of new and upgraded sidewalks over the next 30 years. “This magnitude of improvement will require investment and will take many years for Saanich to implement.”

Saanich’s existing bicycle network currently runs more than 130 kilometres, consisting of protected bicycle lanes, bicycle lanes, bicycle boulevards, shared use roads, and off-street pathways, according to the report.

“However, there are significant gaps in the existing bicycle network as well as many areas with no bicycle facilities,” it reads. Saanich’s disconnected road network with limited east-west connections, the absence of a downtown, and topography both challenge and reinforce the need for a cycling network that fits the definition of what the report calls an All Ages and Abilities (“AAA”) network.

“While Saanich’s existing bicycling network offers riders several north-south options, it offers fewer east-west routes, thereby reducing connectivity to areas that Saanich identifies as centre and villages,” it reads.

In this context, the report foresee the long-term implementation of about 139 kilometres of bicycle routes (including multi-use pathways) over the long-term (15 years and beyond).

Saanich’s system of trails runs for about 100 kilometres, including 11 kilometres of the Lochside Regional Trail and 4.5 kilometres of the Galloping Goose Regional Trail. These regional trails operated by the Capital Regional District (CRD) connect Saanich north and west accordingly and form the “backbone” of the regional active transportation network.

Saanich, according to report, promises on-going support for regional initiatives, while taking steps to improve trails under its jurisdiction.

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