An overhead view of what two new cycle lanes might look like along Front Street at the intersection with Church Street. (City of Nanaimo image)

Nanaimo approves waterfront bike lanes

$400,000 project will reduce automobile traffic to one lane in each direction

Nanaimo will be getting a new two-way cycle track along the waterfront on Front Street, at the expense of existing vehicle lanes.

Nanaimo city council, at its meeting Monday, voted 6-2 to approve the final designs of the $400,000 project, to be constructed this year.

The project will reduce Front Street to one lane in each direction. The lane closest to the water will become a protected two-way cycle track from Maffeo Sutton Park to the downtown ferry terminal, while the lane on the opposite side of the street will gain parking.

Councillors were asked to OK the project at a finance and audit meeting last fall, but asked staff to further consult with stakeholders before bringing final designs back to the council table. Staff reported Monday that there has been engagement with RDN Transit, B.C. Ferries, the Port of Nanaimo and Front Street businesses and residents. Staff again recommended the project proceed.

“We will be losing travel lanes south of Chapel, but we’re already at two lanes north of Chapel, so the actual corridor itself, fundamentally it’s a two-lane cross-section,” said Jamie Rose, city transportation manager. “And the demand on it is far below that.”

Coun. Erin Hemmens said the project is a good one if it can introduce cycling infrastructure without interrupting traffic, and others agreed, including Coun. Ben Geselbracht.

“I’m excited about utilizing this road more effectively,” he said. “I think it’s going to connect the waterfront with downtown more effectively and as we slowly build out our roads to look like modern roads where there’s an established bike network throughout the town, we’ve got to do it chunk by chunk, bit by bit.”

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Coun. Ian Thorpe opposed the project for a few reasons, predicting it will be under-used, won’t benefit a majority of residents, and will cause problems in the future if, for example, a hotel gets built on the Hilton site. He also pointed out that the staff presentation failed to mention that Front Street strata residents would prefer the cycle track project not proceed.

“I support improved amenities for cycling, for pedestrians, for active transportation, but I do not support those at the cost of impeding vehicle flow,” Thorpe said. “Because the reality is our city is growing tremendously quickly, we are going to have more and more cars on our streets whether we like it or not and we have to be able to handle them.”

Coun. Tyler Brown said it’s one thing to support plans in principle, but it’s another to implement those plans with budget dollars.

“I would even be as bold as to say this is the best $400,000 we could spend on active transportation and in the downtown in general, from what’s been presented so far,” he said.

Hemmens said if there were a referendum, most residents probably wouldn’t support the expenditure, but said community leaders need to look past the short-term.

“We have plans in place that say this is a value we hold,” she said.

Council voted in favour of staff’s recommendation to approve the final designs of the cycle track and move project funding forward to 2020, from 2021. Councillors Thorpe and Sheryl Armstrong were opposed.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo council won’t OK Front Street bike lanes right now

READ ALSO: City of Nanaimo looking at closing two lanes of Front Street, adding bike lanes

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