Piece by piece, Valley and Island trail-cycling networks come together

A small volunteer organization drew a big crowd Monday night.

The Comox Valley Cycling Coalition had booked the small downstairs Evergreen Lounge for its annual general meeting.
But a standing-room only crowd showed up to hear keynote speaker Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay, and other local government officials for updates on cycling networks here and elsewhere on the Island.
“Let’s take the Leap – From Imagination to Reality” was the theme for the evening, and attendees learned how dozens of seemingly small steps were being taken to build cycling (and pedestrian and transit) networks for travel that might some day join up for something much bigger.
Mayor McKay, who is also the Chair of the Island Corridor Foundation, gave a brief overview of the work being done to preserve the old E&N Railway line, and to restore train service on it once again.
Apart from the train service, groups and municipalities are busy working on using the rail right-of way to build cycling/pedestrian trails.
One example is the work already done and being continued by the Courtenay Rotary Club on the “Rail Trail”, which now runs from Fifth Street down to 26th Street.
The club is also busy restoring the century-old heritage Courtenay Train Station.
In the Nanaimo Regional District gas tax federal funding has been received to work on a 10 km trail hooking up Parksville, Coombs and French Creek. The City of Nanaimo has completed a 1 km trail downtown, and the train station has been fully restored and now houses a pub-restaurant in part of it.
Although building trails along the rail right-of-way isn’t cheap, McKay asked the audience to imagine what they would cost if the Foundation didn’t own the rail line property.
McKay said there’s been much confusion about the Island Corridor Foundation.
It was formed in 2003 to ensure that the rail corridor was held in perpetuity for the public, rather than being sold off piecemeal by Canadian Pacific Rail.
“In exchange for tax receipts we got it for virtually nothing,” said McKay.
The not-for-profit foundation includes representation from a number of Island regional districts and First Nations.
The 290 km long rail line is regulated by the BC Safety Authority. Service on it was shut down because of the deteriorating quality of the line.
Thousands of rail ties and joints must be replaced to make the line usable again.
There are about 3,500 land use and crossing arrangements on the line, McKay said, and these generate about $900,000 a year in revenues. There are no land use fees levied on any municipalities.
Again, he said, imagine what Canadian Pacific or other private interests would be charging for the land use and crossing arrangements.
McKay said that commercial partners say that “unbelievable opportunities” exist for the rail line in carrying freight.
And he asked the audience to imagine light rail transit from Courtenay to Nanaimo so that you could leave your gas guzzling pick-up truck at home.
McKay said as far as getting people to use alternative modes of transportation (walking, cycling, public transit) the city of Nanaimo’s target is to get 24 per cent of people taking trips less than 2 km using them, up from the current 8 per cent.
Vancouver’s target, he noted, is 50 per cent.
“We’re trying to create a minimum grid,” he said. “Just do something, and you can move from there.”
Nanaimo is setting aside $1 million a year for alternative transportation networks.
“It’s not much, but it’s a start.”
McKay said Nanaimo and other Island municipalities need a lobbyist in Ottawa to take advantage when the federal government hands out funding to shovel-ready projects.
“Communities do it all the time,” he said. “We need to get lobbyists in Ottawa working our behalf.”
McKay ended his presentation with a short video on work that’s been done in Indianapolis, a U.S. city that has very cold winters.
That city built a “culture trail” for cyclists and pedestrians that’s well used. A “Polar Bear Pedal” was highly successful, showing that people will walk and/or cycle even on the coldest days.
That’s something that Courtenay Councillor David Frisch saw first-hand recently when he visited Ottawa for a Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference on sustainability.
Frisch gave a presentation on some of the transportation ideas he learned about at workshops and meetings in the capital city – which is the second coldest in the world.
He displayed a few charts that showed cycling lanes in Ottawa were actually fairly well used, even in the height of winter.
Also speaking at the meeting were Comox Councillor Barbara Price; Rob Crisfield, (Operations Manager for the Village of Cumberland; and Karin Albert, CVRD Parks Planner.
They talked about work already done or being planned in their jurisdictions for new trails and cycling lanes.
The Comox Valley Cycling Coalition is now in its seventh year. Its initiator was life-long cyclist and enthusiast Ed Schum.
The group is small and relies on volunteers. With four political jurisdictions in the Valley, there’s “a lot of politicking to do” said group president Marg Harris.
The Coalition was excited to recently complete a Comox Valley digital cycling map funded in partnership with local governments.  The Coalition’s fundraising efforts allowed it to make a substantial financial contribution to this initiative.  They also provided many volunteer hours to make this map a reality.
The group is now working on preparing a ‘Z card’ paper map, a foldable map that cyclists could carry with them on their travels.
One of the successes this past year has been providing almost 400 children with basic Bike Safety skills through the Bike Safe Rodeos at the elementary schools.
The group has also linked with Lauren Lan and the iRide program which is provided through BC Cycling.
iRide is focused on bike handling skills enabling us to modify our program and focus specifically on road safety skills.
More school Bike Rodeos are already booked for the spring and the coalition also plans to offer more adult Bike Safety courses.
Many of the members have also volunteered their time for special events such as the bike parking area at the Air Show and the Filberg Festival. A “Christmas Lights Ride” was also started last year.
by  Debra Martin – Comox Valley Echo posted Mar 4, 2016

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