Penticton puts wheels in motion on cycling plan

Project to link community with series of bicycling paths will likely take years to complete

Even if a plan to create more bicycle routes in Penticton is given the green light, it will likely be some time before residents start seeing more dedicated lanes on city streets.

The plan still has a few more hoops to jump through as it is circulated through various city committees before going before council for discussion and decision.

“The plan has been brought to a final stage but has not yet been presented to council,” said Ian Chapman, city engineer. “It’s going to the committees, and once we get any input from the committees we’ll go to council and say, do you want to proceed with this?”

The plan shows Penticton crisscrossed by a series of bike routes of various levels, from trails to dedicated lanes like the one that already exists along Government Street.

“We don’t have one of those neat Manhattan-style grids within the city, but generally speaking the intention is that there will be a bicycle lane of some description or another no more than one kilometre away from anywhere in the city,” said Chapman, who clarified that the goal may not always be obtainable, depending on topography and other factors.

“I think the paths in the past have sort of been done ad hoc, but they never really had a congruent plan that linked north, south, east, west,” said Coun. Andrew Jakubeit, council’s representative to the transportation committee.

If the full plan is implemented, cyclists of all skill levels will be able to cycle safely throughout the city.

“People focus on the hard-core cyclist that will ride anywhere, anytime. That’s under 10 per cent of the market. There is this huge market that would love to cycle … but are a little bit nervous and afraid of the traffic,” said Jakubeit, who considers himself a recreational cyclist. “We can create steps to ensure there is more safety with respect to bike lanes and that kind of thing, then more people would be comfortable more regularly.”

But don’t expect bike lanes to pop up overnight, even if council gives the go ahead. Chapman said it will take some time and careful planning to implement completely.  “Several years, I would imagine,” said Chapman.

Council may choose, he continued, to lay out an explicit implementation plan, or may direct that the work be done as opportunity arises, such as when a street is being worked on for another reason.

Then too, there is the challenge of where the space is going to come from for some of the proposed routes.

“In order to put a dedicated bike lane in as opposed to sharing the road, something has to give. You’ve got to widen the road or you have to dedicate the area that is currently used for parking,” said Chapman. “One is very expensive and one is very unpopular, so who knows what will happen, those are issues for council to debate.”

Despite the challenges, Jakubeit sees a system of bike routes as not only a worthwhile addition to the city, but as something of an oncoming wave.

“Cities, in general, are re-evaluating alternative transportation modes,” he said, pointing out that New York has dedicated cycling routes in some of the busiest traffic areas of Manhattan, and closer to home, Vancouver has also made some major changes.

“If you start looking at a transportation plan long term, you have to start looking at ways you can use more alternative transportation,” said Jakubeit. “Penticton being for the most part flat, it’s easy to be accessible via walking and via bike.”

He said it also plays well into the concept of a cycling precinct that is being proposed for the South Okanagan and the regional trails master plan being developed at the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen.

“I think there is an opportunity there. This region is well known for cycling: through the Penticton rural areas for road cycling and then you look at all the trails we have. The KVR is the most obvious one … but there are a lot of mountain bike trails as well. I think that is something Penticton could capitalize on,” said Jakubeit. “If we can tie in our network to support a regional trail master plan to really make Penticton area a cycling precinct or mecca. So you can come here with your family, doesn’t matter if you are an avid cyclist, or just a recreational or beginner, you can ride safely and have fun and enjoy our area.”