Transportation plan could change city’s commutes

Nanaimo city council unanimously adopted a new transportation master plan that prioritizes walking, cycling and public transit.

Nanaimo wants to get moving on getting people moving.

City council unanimously adopted on Monday a new transportation master plan that prioritizes walking, cycling and public transit.

“This is an ambitious plan in my opinion and it changes the mix…” said Coun George Anderson, chairman of the transportation advisory committee. “The plan will drive us forward to looking at a variety of potential transportation options and use of sustainable modes of transportation, while reducing our dependency on automobiles.”

The plan is intended to guide decision-making over the next 25 years. Over that time frame, the city will seek to double the number of pedestrian trips and quintuple bicycle and bus travel.

A priority in the plan is a frequent transit network linking downtown Nanaimo, Vancouver Island University, Country Club Centre and Woodgrove Centre.

“The focus is to connect the areas with the highest transit potential with the best transit service,” said Gordon Foy, the city’s traffic and transportation engineer. “For every service hour we invest here, we’re likely to get the best return and that’s going to drive our transit hours up fast.”

The goal is 15 minutes between buses at those hubs, 15 hours a day. Foy mentioned that the frequent transit network aligns with the Regional District of Nanaimo’s transportation goals.

Michael Olson, executive director of the VIU Students’ Union, said current bus stop wait times “don’t allow Nanaimoites to view public transportation as a reliable, efficient means to commute,” and said students support transit infrastructure investment and modernization.

Another ideal in the transportation master plan is a “complete streets” model that values wider, more well-defined sidewalks and bicycle lanes, clearly marked street parking and shorter crosswalks.

Some feel the city’s targets regarding walking, cycling and bus trips aren’t aggressive enough.

“I think it would make a good 10-year plan,” said Ian Gartshore, sustainable energy advocate. “The plan, as I see it, continues to keep the car at the top.”

Coun. Bill Bestwick said some people won’t be convinced to get out of their cars, especially during gloomy months when they’re commuting in the dark.

“At the end of the day it comes down to priorities and economics, as it always does, and it comes down to costs, convenience and incentive,” he said.

Sasha Angus, CEO of the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation, suggested he doesn’t want to see rush hour traffic jams. Nanaimo’s quick commutes, he said, are “a significant advantage that we have as a community that we need to maintain.”

There are a few upcoming transportation projects in Nanaimo that will be guided by the principles of the new transportation plan. This year there will be a bike lane developed along Bruce Avenue between Fourth Street and Seventh Street, and the section of Bowen Road between Buttertubs Drive and Pine Street will get a sidewalk, bike lane, more accessible bus stops and better street lighting.

Foy said the goals of the transportation master plan are achievable and work for the community. Coun. Bill McKay said he thinks that if the city makes new transportation options available, people will choose those options.

“Done properly it won’t be as long to make that transition and change of the minds of people as we think,” he said.