There were a handful of questions related to sidewalks at a budget-focused e-town hall meeting Monday. (NEWS BULLETIN file photo)

There were a handful of questions related to sidewalks at a budget-focused e-town hall meeting Monday. (NEWS BULLETIN file photo)

Taxpayers at e-town hall meeting ask for more sidewalks in Nanaimo

City collects feedback on budget items as it moves toward adopting 2020-24 financial plan

The City of Nanaimo asked for taxpayers’ thoughts on the budget, and residents replied that they want more sidewalks.

There were a handful of questions related to pedestrian infrastructure at an e-town hall meeting Monday at the Vancouver Island Conference Centre. The hour-long question-and-answer session was intended to be a forum for feedback in between the city’s budget discussions and its next steps toward adopting the financial plan.

Council cleared up some confusion about money budgeted for sidewalks, noting that a $300,000 line item is a contingency fund, not the extent of pedestrian infrastructure spending.

“It’s not all the money we’re going to spend on sidewalks by any way, shape or form,” said Coun. Don Bonner. “That is just there in case an opportunity comes up to add onto something that’s happening.”

Coun. Tyler Brown said there is $1.8 million budgeted in 2020 and $6.6 million in the 2020-2024 financial plan for pedestrian infrastructure. He pointed to the active transportation plan, which is an action item in council’s strategic plan to be completed in 2020.

“In that plan we’ll be developing a much more robust methodology for how we do these improvements and where we do them and the factors and inputs that lead into that,” he said.

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Brown suggested spending on sidewalks isn’t easily calculated because they’re tied into overlapping projects, and suggested the city will continue to apply – and possibly increase – resources “to improve an infrastructure that I think a lot of people, rightfully so, label as inadequate. A lot of it is undoing past development patterns, but that’s no excuse [not] to make the effort to improve it.”

Coun. Ian Thorpe said the city has a long-term strategy for improving transportation in all its forms.

“Because of the layout of the city it’s very, very challenging and we can’t fix everything all at once,” he said. “But there is a long-term plan, projects have been identified and often staff try to piggyback improvements in certain areas so that if we are building a roadway, we can look at sidewalks and cycle paths at the same time.”

One question submitted to councillors asked why cycle lanes were a greater priority than sidewalks and city manager of engineering and public works Bill Sims said that isn’t the case.

“I think our investment in pedestrian infrastructure is at least as or greater than cycling infrastructure … often our focus is pedestrians first,” he said.

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Asked about a breakdown of the $1.8 million to be spent in 2020, Sims said “a big part of that” will be the Metral Drive ‘complete streets’ project.

“Each of these projects are prioritized typically how we would prioritize any of them. They’re based on traffic speeds, volume, demand, that sort of thing,” Sims said.

A specific question asked for sidewalk and crosswalk improvements near Departure Bay Eco-School. Sims said staff agrees it’s a priority area, it was studied in 2018 and is funded for 2022, though staff is looking at interim measures there.

Brown said part of the active transportation planning process will be hearing input from the public about “the changing context of our streets” and said the city wants to ensure that it delivers the sort of improvements that the community wants and will benefit from.

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editor@nanaimobulletin.com

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