If a 6th Street multi-use bridge ever comes into fruition, the Comox Valley Cycling Coalition hopes it will be widened a little further than what’s being proposed.
The group is concerned that the four-metre design width is not enough to separate cyclists and pedestrians. For safety reasons, the group says a 4.8-metre deck is needed, based on the B.C. Active Transportation Guide.
“We feel the four metres does not provide safety for users,” coalition board member Mike Keohane said in a Jan. 18 presentation to Courtenay council.
A multi-use bridge at 6th would provide a cyclist/pedestrian connection between downtown and Simms Park. If council decides to proceed, staff recommends constructing the bridge in 2022, after the Fifth Street Bridge is rehabilitated. Construction would cost around $4 million, and last five to seven months.
The coalition says a user count forecast under-estimates numbers for the proposed bridge. Moreover, a forecast from a recent Urban Systems Report suggests 50 per cent of 5th Street pedestrians and cyclists would move to a new 6th Street Bridge. The coalition says this number is also a low estimate.
“Certainly most leisure walkers will use the quieter 6th Street option,” Keohane said.
The group’s biggest issue with the design is on the west side, beside Home Hardware. The plan calls for separate pedestrian and bike lanes that would converge into a raised crosswalk across the parking lot entrance. Cyclists and pedestrians would then merge onto a four-metre bridge deck.
“We believe this creates a very dangerous situation, involving not just pedestrians and cyclists, but vehicles,” Keohane said.
According to the coalition, the net cost estimate for a 4.8-metre bridge is $3.1 million, when including $2 million saved from excluding cantilevers in the 5th Street Bridge project. Widening from four to 4.8 metres is estimated at $674,000.
Considering the wider picture in terms of an east-west, crosstown connection, Coun. Melanie McCollum would prefer to invest the $674,000 into separating cyclists from vehicles, more so than cyclists and pedestrians. She isn’t sure that adding a cost onto this project is the best way to improve cycling and safety.
Coalition president Lawrence Vea noted the difficulty of widening a bridge after construction.
“We have to look at that now, the other stuff we can extend in the future,” Vea said.
Coun. Manno Theos said cost restraints are preventing upgrades to roads and sidewalks.
“Why is cycling more important than fixing the roads and sidewalks to create safety?” Theos said. “That’s the question I get asked every day.”
“It’s as important, and it hasn’t been as important for many years,” Vea said. “And that’s where we are with cycling infrastructure. We have been car-oriented for so long, that we’re trying to catch up.”
“If you build safe cycling infrastructure and take multiple persons out of cars to ride bikes, it makes the whole world a better place,” Keohane added. “It makes you spend less on roads, it makes you spend less on car accidents, it makes you spend less on health insurance. There’s huge benefits, and it’s been proven.”
Coun. Doug Hillian said the proposed project stands a better chance of moving forward if the coalition, and other groups, are willing to raise money.
“We’re going to be challenged to deliver this project as it is,” Hillian said. “If we do have to borrow, we’re going to be competing with other projects, and we’re going to be creating a cost that will be borne by the taxpayers of Courtenay for something that will benefit the entire region.”