Transportation plan idles as councillors choose to further debate project list

James Donnelly and Kristin Bayet of Urban Systems.

City councillors stopped short of fully endorsing a $66-million transportation development blueprint for the future of Fort St. John, instead choosing reorganize the plan’s 15-point priority project list.

Representatives from Urban Systems, hired to conduct the city’s master transportation plan, appeared before council Monday afternoon to present a plan councillors deemed top-heavy on new cycling infrastructure, but light on major new roads they say are needed more to meet the growing pains of the city.

Councillors voted to send the plan to a future committee of the whole meeting to discuss the projects identified in the plan, from a $3.7-million downtown bike network to a $9.6-million plan to connect the North and West bypass roads.

“It’s an in-depth and robust report,” said Mayor Lori Ackerman.

“There are parts we like, parts we’d like to see changed.”

Councillors appeared to have the toughest time swallowing a litany of proposed new on-street bike routes they see would only be used for half of the year.

“That’s a lot of investment for a six month exercise, unless we’re going to create something year round,” said Ackerman, suggesting the city take a bolder look at more “human-powered” transportation, and envisioning the bike routes for multiple uses for the winter, such as snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.

“Are we doing the right thing where, done differently, it could be a 12-month space instead of a six month space?”

James Donnelly with Urban Systems said a network of bike lanes and separated multi-use trails throughout the city would encourage use, saying the the lack of “comfortable” cycling infrastructure was a common refrain heard during consultations.

“On-street bike routes are going to be used infrequently, that’s understood, though I wouldn’t say never. We have changes in weather,” he said.

“We do want to promote cycling when we can, its about having them when they are needed and desired.

Coun. Gord Klassen supported the proposed new bike infrastructure.

“Long term what we’re trying to do is help to change behaviour,” he said.

“I think it’s an investment in more than just a bike lane.”

Other parts of the plan call for establishing new residential road widths, establishing new sidewalks and boulevards, extending connector streets, and beefing up crosswalks.

Some of the bigger ticket projects include a $10-million plan to four-lane the West Bypass Road, and an $11-million plan to four-lane 100 Street between 110 and 119 avenues. It also includes another $1.4 million in work to add bike routes along 85 Avenue and 90 Street, and a $3.7-million plan to extend 105 Avenue to the West Bypass and add a multi-use trail along portions of that road.

Coun. Trevor Bolin criticized the plan for not considering the need for new bypass roads as land to the west of the city and near the hospital are slated for residential development in the future. Existing bypass roads will quickly become residential roads and shouldn’t be used for heavy industrial traffic, he said.

“We’re trying to look at the big picture,” he said.

Coun. Larry Evans added the plan failed to take into account the rail lines that trail the northern boundary of the city that will slice through new subdivisions as well.

“It’s a certain type of traffic that makes it dangerous to have a bypass in residential area, on top of the railroad,” he said.

Donnelly said it wasn’t in the plan’s scope to consider rail traffic, and added that the Alaska Highway will remain the major highway route in the region.

“That’s not going to change in the short term, or the immediate term,” he said.

“(The bypass roads can) accommodate future growth as long as they are built to ensure limited number of intersections.”