A bikeway project that would trim Front Street to two lanes is still on the table, but council will delay a final decision.
Nanaimo city councillors debated the $400,000 project Monday at a special finance and audit committee meeting. The work is already budgeted in the financial plan as part of a larger downtown cycling loop project, but staff requested that the Front Street portion, originally planned for 2021, be moved up to 2020 instead.
The project would see Front Street reduced to one car lane in either direction, with a two-direction cycle track built on one side of the street and on-street parking added on the other side.
Jamie Rose, the city’s transportation manager, said the work would not only add a cycle track, but result in shorter crosswalks for pedestrians and a net gain in parking.
“I can see somebody getting off the floatplane and walking into our downtown and immediately this looks like a modern city where there’s cyclists, there’s pedestrians, there’s vehicles, it’s easy to connect and I really appreciate the vision,” said Coun. Ben Geselbracht.
Councillors indicated they had already heard concerns about the project, including from residents of the Pacifica highrise. Coun. Sheryl Armstrong wanted to ensure government buildings remained accessible and that emergency services had also been consulted.
“That is a main road utilized quite a bit and just going back to my days [as an RCMP member] I found that a very busy road and would like to see it actually be four lanes all the way through,” she said.
Coun. Ian Thorpe wanted assurances that traffic would keep moving along Front Street.
“I know we want to get more people involved in active transportation, but I also know that we don’t want to slow down the flow of vehicular traffic through our city,” he said.
Coun. Don Bonner contradicted him, saying, “this may be a philosophical thing [but] we actually do want to slow down the traffic in our downtown core … We don’t want cars to be gridlocked, but we don’t want them going fast, either.”
Rose said two car lanes will be adequate for traffic on Front Street.
Coun. Jim Turley wondered about deliveries to the Pacifica building and Bill Sims, general manager of engineering and public works, said staff had considered that issue, but also looked at what is the best use of a public roadway.
“We’re early days on this and we want to consider everybody’s needs, concerns and try to accommodate as best we can without going down the road of tying ourselves in knots and not doing anything because we can’t get it perfect,” Sims said.
Geselbracht said as the city installs more bike lanes, design issues around impacts on adjacent buildings are bound to come up.
“We’re going to become Jedi knights at being able to solve them,” he said. “It’s just a matter of going through it and getting people used to it.”
Mayor Leonard Krog said that the Front Street bike lane project should be seen to be a council decision, not a staff decision. Council voted unanimously to advance the project to the council table, with the understanding that there will be public consultation before any decision is made.