Plan aims to drive Nanaimo residents toward alternative transportation

NANAIMO – The public has a chance to weigh in on the city's first transportation master plan during a series of open houses this month.

Nanaimo city staff members are pitching a new rapid transit route and more cycling trails to help drive residents toward alternative transportation.

The City of Nanaimo is presenting new transportation possibilities during the last wave of public consultation for a budding master plan this month.

The first-ever long term transportation plan, launched last year, is aimed at directing decision-making for the next 25 years, including polices to encourage people to travel any other way but car.

According to a new report by B.C.-based Urban Systems, 88 per cent of trips made each day in the Harbour City are via car, compared to 12 per cent made by walking, cycling and bus. The city wants to double the number of people using sustainable travel by 2041 with strategies like a faster, more direct transit service and “complete streets” that are safe and attractive for cyclists and pedestrians.

Some projects have already started to roll out, including piecemeal bike lanes on residential roads.

The latest public consultation series will allow people to weigh in on whether the new strategies are on track so more complete networks can be created, said Gordon Foy, the city’s traffic and transportation planning engineer.

“By pulling and putting together a strategic plan it gives us a much stronger piece of policy to work with and a clear sense of direction on where we are going,” Foy said. “Instead of incremental, small changes we basically have a road map – no pun intended – to move this forward.”

The latest draft plan presents transportation goals and ways to meet them, from more pedestrian-friendly neighbourhoods to more convenient bus routes.

According to the city’s early research, people that live close to service centres like the downtown core and Woodgrove Centre are trending more toward walking and cycling. The plan is to invest in making it easier for people to travel within those hubs and densify neighbourhoods to encourage shorter trips.

Nanaimo is considering sidewalks,  street lighting, weather protection and curb extensions at intersections so people wouldn’t have to cross as far. Bike networks and a “spine” of transit facilities where people could access frequent transit at 15-minute intervals and a new ‘express’ bus would also be available on the Island Highway.

Coun. George Anderson, chairman of the transportation advisory committee, believes with the right mix of strategies more people can be encouraged to pick sustainable modes of travel.

“Look at Bellingham, a community roughly the same size as Nanaimo,” he said. “They have an 18 per cent [alternative] mode share in their community right now and currently Nanaimo is at 12 per cent. It does show potential to encourage people to use alternative modes of transportation.”

Public consultation happens at University Village at 3 p.m. Friday (Nov. 8), as well as Port Place and Woodgrove Centre on Saturday (Nov. 9). The plan is slated for completion in 2014.