City council made the right decision not to go full steam ahead with a rail trail in the south end of Nanaimo.
At Monday’s council meeting, city staff presented a report on a proposed two-kilometre paved multi-use trail parallel to the train tracks from Franklyn Street to Seventh Street.
It’s one of those wouldn’t-it-be-nice-if projects. The proposed trail would be a valued amenity for the city and is something that has been discussed – and even expected – for years. It would align with modern goals of making the city more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly, and would benefit commuters and recreational users.
But council voted against moving forward with the proposal for valid reasons, including the uncertainty surrounding passenger rail service. This council seemingly set a precedent when it put off reconstruction of the Northfield Road/Boundary Avenue/Highway 19A intersection and safety concerns there because of unknowns regarding rail. Rail traffic does need to be a consideration with projects such as the Northfield intersection and a south downtown rail trail. But at the same time, the Island Corridor Foundation has hardly inspired confidence about the return of passenger rail. Postponing any and all projects that intersect or abut the corridor starts to become problematic at some point.
Council’s other major concern about the rail trail is the price tag, and it’s significant: $7.2 million for a two-kilometre stretch. When a project reaches a certain price point, then we can’t simply judge it on its own merits. We do need to start comparing it to other projects and re-assessing priorities.
The rail trail is a perfect fit, in a lot of ways, with what we want Nanaimo to be, and how we want to move about our city. But postponing this project doesn’t mean we’re veering away from those ideals – quite the opposite, as recent road improvements throughout Nanaimo prove.
It doesn’t hurt to put aside the rail trail plans for now. It’s a good idea, and it will be a good idea again soon enough.