A transportation plan presented to Fort St. John City Council on Monday could dramatically change how people get around the city.
On Monday, city council discussed details of the Transportation Master Plan it commissioned that proposes $66 million in changes and upgrades to the city’s roads, sidewalks, trails and bike routes over the next 20 years.
It’s a wide-ranging plan that includes narrowing some streets and widening others, building bike lanes, widening sidewalks and creating safer road crossings.
But with the province potentially clawing back some of its Fair Share payments to the city, critics say the plan is too bold. The city hasn’t said what amount of the $66 million might be added to the $3.5 million debt it carried into 2015.
City council did not make a substantive decision Monday. Instead, they voted to discuss it at a later committee of the whole meeting, which City Manager Dianne Hunter said could happen “in the next few weeks.”
The report identifies seven key issues and opportunities: growth and development; redeveloping downtown; fixing sidewalks; bike and road networks; pedestrian crossings; and parking.
New bike lanes
Two priorities in the report are a 90th Street Bike Route and another in the downtown area. The 90th Street route would go along that street from 100th Avenue to 112th Avenue at a cost of $820,000.
The larger downtown bike route would cost $3.7 million and would create dedicated bicycle lanes on three city streets. These routes would provide a marked 1.5-metre-wide lane on each side of the road for use only by cyclists.
This path would go from 111th Avenue along 102nd Street to the Alaska Highway. A bicyclist on this path could turn east on 96th Avenue and 102nd Street and ride towards 96th Street. At 96th Avenue and 96th Street, the bike route would then start going north along 96th Street all the way up to 112nd Avenue.
“Cycling in the city and the surrounding region for leisure, social, work, school and other trip purposes is increasing,” the report states. “A safe and comfortable bicycle network ... will serve to enhance the experience for cyclists and potentially attract a large population of people to use active transportation modes within the city.”
However, only about 15 per cent of Fort St. John residents use “active transportation,” which includes biking and walking, the report notes.
A bike path along 90th Street was met with skepticism from Councillor Byron Stewart at Monday’s meeting.
He expressed concerns that large vehicles could block the view of a bicyclist who would be passing near multiple driveways while traversing those paths.
Stewart expressed support for multi-use bike lanes, similar to those along 105th Avenue.
Narrowing some streets
Another of the seven priorities in the Transportation Master Plan is downtown redevelopment. The main focus is on 100th Street and 100th Avenue.
“Historically, these roads provided the primary north-south and east-west routes for travelling across the City and were widened to accommodate increasing traffic demands,” the report states. “However, the expansion of these two roads led to a downtown core that is overly focused on vehicles and lacks the character and pedestrian environment that other inviting downtowns offer.”
The report calls for big changes of the intersection 100th Avenue and 100th Street.
At a cost of $5.6 million, 100th Street would be three-laned from 97th Avenue near the KFC all the way to the Tim Hortons near 105th Avenue. The middle lane would be dedicated for turning vehicles.
The same would be in store for the east-west section.
At a cost of $6.5 million, 100th Avenue would also be three-laned from 96th Street near the Mac's Convenience Store to 104th Street near the New Frontier Bar and Grill.
This part of the plan has the support of some local businesses.
Catherine Ruddell, the manager of Whole Wheat ‘N’ Honey, located on the intersection of 100th Avenue and 100th Street, said these changes, “would be a great improvement to the downtown core to encourage people to walk the streets and relax downtown.”
“I do believe this town is walkable, and would be more walkable if there wasn’t this volume and speed of traffic,” she said. “I don’t buy the idea that this isn’t a walkable city.”
Three-laning downtown is probably the most controversial part of the city's transportation overhaul.
Fort St. John resident Bob Fedderly said he did not believe there were enough businesses downtown to make it more of a destination.
“They let the horse out of the barn when they started allowing restaurants along the highway,” he said. “They should have all been uptown.”
The $12.1 million needed to three-lane the downtown core is about what was spent on the new fire hall that opened in 2014.
Widening other streets
Much of 100th Street would essentially be torn up and rebuilt.
While the stretch from KFC to Tim Hortons would be narrowed to three lanes, the area in front of City Hall would be left as-is, and the road would be doubled to four lanes from the Seniors Hall all the way to 119th Avenue near Northern Lights College. The latter project would come with a $11.2 million price tag.
“[Those planned improvements] should have been done a long time ago,” said Fedderly. “It’s going to be a big project; the town is growing that way quite a bit.”
The increased capacity in the north end would be needed to cope with the growing population there.
Areas west of 108th Street and north of 100th Avenue — along with areas northwest of 86th Street and 100th Avenue — are slated for major developments. About 3,600 single family homes are slated to be built in those two areas, the plan estimates.
Major development zones are also slated to be in the southwest and southeast corner of the city. About 300 acres of commercial and industrial property is slated for development in the southwest, while in the southeast, about 2,000 residential units are planned.
Sidewalks and trails
The plan also calls for the city to improve its sidewalk and trail network, although to bring it up to standard would require a significant amount of money.
The plan specifically calls for improved sidewalks in the downtown core, around school zones and near recreational areas — with the aim for all sidewalks to be a minimum of two metres wide.
All new roadway construction and major changes to streets outlined in the plan would create a “boulevard” — the area between the street curb and the sidewalk — two metres wide.
One of the most costly proposals is a $10.34 million upgrade for a multi-use trail from the Alaska Highway to Road 267.
The plan also calls for new pedestrian crossings.
“It is critical that safe crossings are provided where bicycle routes, multi-use trails, and major roadways intersect [i.e. on 100th Street, 100th Avenue, 86th Street, and 119th Avenue],” the report states.
It identifies specific intersections where pedestrian signals should be installed.
They include 86th Street and 91st Avenue, 93rd Street and 99th Avenue, 96th Street and 119th Avenue, 11th Street, and a potential future west bypass connector road, 96th Street and 99th Avenue, 96th Street and 94th Avenue, 100th Street and 99th Avenue, and 100th Street on 98-98A Avenue.
Ruddell supported the improvements downtown as they would make the city more walkable.
“[Motorists] have to obey the rules, and when the rules have changed, they just have to change,” she said.