A new $1.3-million bike lane project is being added to the budget as the City of Nanaimo comes closer to settling on its five-year financial plan.
A cycle track on Albert Street between Pine Street and Milton Street, which was not a staff recommendation and wasn’t in the city’s plans until 2026, was a late addition to the budget motioned by Coun. Tyler Brown at Friday’s finance and audit committee meeting.
The cycle track will be funded out of reserves, so it will not impact property taxes for 2021.
Brown noted that the city is already planning to construct a cycle track on Fourth Street from Harewood to Pine Street in 2021.
“Being able to go from VIU to downtown or downtown to VIU in one contiguous track would just be incredible…” he said. “It would connect an ever-increasing active neighbourhood, which is Harewood – from pedestrians to cyclists – well to our downtown and we’d really start to see the formation of what’s referred to as a minimum grid which is crucial for driving modal change and getting people out of their cars.”
Transportation manager Jamie Rose said city staff had encountered challenges with consultation, design and rising costs of an Albert Street cycle track, and had decided to take a step back.
However, staff say there is potential for COVID-19 resiliency grant money paying for the bike lane or a section of the bike lane if certain timelines can be met.
Coun. Ian Thorpe suggested he’d rather follow staff recommendations on priorities and timelines for project planning.
“To suddenly bump one up, I’m not comfortable with, especially when I hear staff say that it’s going to be challenging to even accomplish it,” Thorpe said.
The cycle track will be paid for using $1 million from the city’s special initiatives reserve and $300,000 from the strategic infrastructure reserve.
The motion passed by a 4-3 margin about six hours into the meeting after two members of council had left for other appointments. Councillors Thorpe, Zeni Maartman and Jim Turley were opposed and Mayor Leonard Krog and Coun. Sheryl Armstrong were absent.
Also at Friday’s meeting, council voted in favour of another motion from Brown to increase spending on pedestrian improvement projects in 2021 from $300,000 to $1 million, with the additional $700,000 coming from the strategic infrastructure reserve. City director of engineering Poul Rosen cautioned that with the amount of time needed for project planning only a certain amount of pedestrian improvement work may be possible in 2021.
Exact projects were not specified, but staff presented a list of 11 potential projects including intersection work at Hammond Bay Road at Tiki Way and sidewalks on Rutherford Road between Butcher Road and Kenwill Drive.
Council voted 6-2 in favour of the additional pedestrian improvements with councillors Turley and Thorpe opposed and Armstrong absent.
Other budget decisions Friday included approval of six new staff positions including manager of sustainability, municipal services inspector, project engineer, buyer and two police services support positions: digital forensic technician and major case file specialist.
The projected property tax increase for 2021 now sits at 3.6 per cent. An e-town hall meeting for members of the public to weigh in on the financial plan is set for Monday, Dec. 7, at 7 p.m.