City should move ahead with waterfront vision

Status quo not acceptable for Penticton's Okanagan Lake waterfront

Penticton council’s decision to explore design options for the west Okanagan Lake waterfront is commendable. Admittedly, the consultation process has had some problems, such as difficult to use surveys which employed many leading and closed questions. It wasn’t helped by decisions to install “day moorage” without public consultation and provide no clear information on Sicamous area improvements. Ditto for the eastern waterfront. However, the process has engaged the community.

Regrettably, it has also stoked a backlash in favour of the status quo. This presents several issues, including failure to address substandard walkways, cycling safety issues, trees obviously in decline (exposed roots etc.) and especially missing an opportunity to upgrade and thus offer an attractive, competitive lakeshore tourism experience.

Addressing such issues should be viewed as an investment in citizen and tourist amenities. Trailway upgrades are demonstrably successful in diverse locales, including the river valleys of Calgary and Edmonton, in Greater Victoria, Whistler, the exemplary Abbott Street walkways/wheelways in Kelowna, and at our own Skaha beach.

There are other reasons for waterfront redesign including rising obesity rates and concerns about greenhouse gases. These alone suggest greater priority on improving walking and cycling opportunities, especially in a resort and sports tourism town.

Redesign is also an opportunity to create an outstanding “promenade”, one where shade trees have a chance to thrive, thus enhancing Penticton’s appearance and tourist offering (while also incentivizing the latter’s modernization). Other design concerns seem solvable. Designated zones can address drop-off of passengers and gear. A one-way street can work as the Beach Cruise has demonstrated. Temporary closures for special events such as the “Cruise” are precedented and possible. Costs can be reduced by dropping non-essential boardwalks, sheds and plazas. Day moorage can safely be accommodated on the promontory next to Castaways rentals, and so on.

Public feedback has helped focus the design issues. Now it’s time for the political commitment to the vision of innovation, adventure and sustainability. It’s time for the next stage in the process of reasoning together (a charrette perhaps?) to arrive at a design a solution that can genuinely enhance Penticton’s Okanagan Lake waterfront as a strategic asset.

Denis O’Gorman