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Making the connection: active transportation route to be studied for Nelson to Castlegar

A feasibility study for an active transportation route that connects two of the West Kootenay’s biggest communities is being supported by the RDCK — Creative Commons.

A new 45-kilometre active transportation route between Nelson and Castlegar will be investigated at the regional district level.

The latest model of the Regional District of Central Kootenay board of directors approved a feasibility study at its Nov 17 meeting for the route — through five electoral areas — that connects two of the West Kootenay’s biggest communities, as well as “parks, college campuses, schools, places of employment, goods and services and various neighbourhoods.”

The route would be a year-round, inclusive, accessible-protected pathway that links Castlegar to Nelson and can be used for safe commuting and recreation, said RDCK planner Stephanie Johnson in her report to the board.

It is “part of a larger vision that encompasses a multi-modal, active transport network connecting all of the West Kootenay,” she wrote.

The feasibility study would confirm routes and infrastructure for the protected active transportation pathway — walking, rolling, bicycle and e-bikes — along the highway, adjacent roads and paths, and/or the hydro and rail rights of way between Nelson and Castlegar, Johnson explained.

“The proposed route will link and include existing regional parkland and pathway facilities,” she said, adding that alternate recommendations will be made where the route may not be feasible.

Earlier this year the previous incarnation of the board passed a resolution in support of the planning project to apply for the Infrastructure Canada Active Transportation Fund for the grant.

The regional district had applied for the grant on behalf of the West Kootenay Cycling Coalition (WKCC) — of which $50,000 was secured — with the delivery of the project the duty of the WKCC.

For their part, the WKCC will be hiring a consultant — through a request for proposal procurement process — to conduct the feasibility study, with public engagement, to help residents learn about the direct and indirect benefit of building such a network, build support

and ultimately develop a plan for future implementation.

Existing situation

Currently there are no convenient, safe active transport connections between communities, parks or trails in the region, said Johnson in her report.

“The highway, hydro and CPR rail rights of way are parallel and provide opportunity for active transportation routes that could be at rail grades and situated on a combination of these lands,” she wrote.

In addition, there are a number of rail trails throughout the area that are not connected to each other — the Great Northern Rail Trail/Cottonwood Lake, Slocan Valley Rail Trail, protected pathway in Castlegar, rail trails to the Boundary area and beyond — and the existing parks and trails are not easily accessible to all ages and abilities.

Other barriers to active transportation include closed rail crossings that reroute users long distances, highway bridges that do not have any accommodation for pedestrians and no washroom facilities.

There are few places to park and lock bicycles, and not all buses have bike racks, said Johnson.

“An active transportation corridor provides commuters with a viable and safe, healthy, environmentally-conscious alternative to car driving,” she said.

Source: RDCK November agenda

On the upside

An active transportation route would provide safe, affordable, convenient options for active transport commuters of all ages and abilities, the report to the board theorized.

“Many rural residents who can't afford private vehicles are struggling to get around,” said Johnson.

Currently, there are existing fragmented trails in mountainous terrain with long distances  between communities, which don’t encourage active transportation, she explained in her report.

“A route along the highway would ensure a direct and connected route with flatter terrain accessible to more users,” she said.

The route would take action against climate change, Johnson said.

“Driving is one of the biggest sources of emissions in the central Kootenay. Creating a multi-modal active transport network would help the area meet emission reduction targets,” she said.