Two new active transportation paths planned to connect the Comox Valley

Two new active transportation paths planned to connect the Comox Valley
Photo by Madeline Dunnett/The Discourse
School zone sign along Royston Road.

Comox Valley Regional District (CVRD) is planning on building two new active transportation paths to connect communities in the Comox Valley.

The Cumberland to Courtenay Connector will link the Village of Cumberland to the City of Courtenay/ The Royston Road path will run up from the waterfront Seaside Trail and then turn on Livingston Road towards the elementary school.

Though both projects are still in the planning stages, they are the regional district’s two top priorities for improving the Comox Valley’s active transportation network. CVRD approved its Active Transportation Network Plan Implementation Strategy in 2023.

Active transportation refers to any self-propelled mode of transportation, such as cycling or walking. Active transportation infrastructure can include bike lanes, multi-use pathways or anything that helps people move from place to place safely without a vehicle. One example on Vancouver Island is the recently completed ʔapsčiik t̓ašii path (pronounced ups-cheek ta-shee), the multi-use path that connects Ucluelet to Tofino.

For both the Cumberland and Royston Road project, CVRD is hoping to build paved pathways, suitable for not only bikes, but other forms of transportation such as scooters, wheelchairs, rollerblades and pedestrians.

“It’s commuter focused… not recreation,” said Robyn Holme, manager of long-range planning and sustainability for CVRD. “Our idea is to try and provide an alternative mode of transportation.”

Michael Zbarsky, manager of transit and facilities at CVRD, said they want to make the paths accessible for people with disabilities and at various walks of life.

“You can build it so that an eight year old or an eighty year old could ride their bike on it, and we’re trying to achieve that,” he said in a previous interview with The Discourse in January.

According to their Active Transportation Network Plan Implementation Strategy, the Royston Road path will be 725 metres long and three metres wide and is set to be buffered pedestrian lanes or a roadside multi-use path. The cost is currently estimated at $600,000 to $2.2 million to complete.

Holme said that the CVRD is waiting to hear back from the BC Active Transportation Grant Program on whether their application for a $500,000 grant for the project was successful. The CVRD is also waiting on approval for the design of the project from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure, which has jurisdiction over roads in the regional district.

The Cumberland to Courtenay Connector is planned to be a much bigger project, slightly over four kilometres with an estimated cost of $5.2 million to $7.8 million. Plans include a roadside path for pedestrians and other modes of transportation, plus a bicycle lane.

Zbarsky said the CVRD is hoping to begin construction on the projects later this year, pending successful grant applications.

Increasing safety for commuters

Holme said that Royston Elementary Parent Advisory Committee (PAC) was also very involved in the Royston Road Project.

The PAC raised concerns in 2022 regarding unsafe conditions along Royston Road towards the school, which is less than a kilometre away from the intersection of Royston Road and Highway 19A.

The intersection does not have sidewalks and is a heavily-used route connecting the community of Royston to the highway.

The focus was improving a connection to the school… a safer connection for kids in the neighbourhood,” said Holme.

The safety concerns are timely. On Feb. 8 of this year, a cyclist was fatally struck on the Comox Valley Parkway near Minto Road. This stretch of road is slated to get a new bike lane as part of the Cumberland to Courtenay Connector project.

According to Statistics Canada, motor vehicle collisions made up 73 per cent of fatal cycling incidents in Canada between 2006 and 2017.

Comox Valley Cycling Coalition is one local nonprofit organization in the Comox Valley hoping to make cycling safer for everyone.

Mike Keohane, one of the coalition’s board members, said that they have advocated for improved cycling infrastructure between Cumberland to Courtenay for many years.

The biggest change needed to make active transportation safer is a significant and consistent level of funding to build infrastructure,” he said.

Holme and Zbarsky both said that the Cumberland to Courtenay Connector is a more complex project. It would move through multiple local jurisdictions—Cumberland, Courtenay and the CVRD. It requires more coordination, including with the provincial Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Next steps for this project will be establishing a route. In the meantime Holme and Zbarsky both shared that they are still interested in feedback on what would make the path as user-friendly as possible.

Holme said she wants to know more about what is stopping people from commuting via bike, scooter or walking.

“What would it take to make you feel safe?… Is it the barrier? Is that going to help you, by having that physical separation? Because that’s what we think it is,” she said.

She also said that she wants to underline the fact that this particular initiative is commuter-focused. The idea is to help people move to and from work, school and other regular activities.

“What would it take to get somebody who wouldn’t normally bike to work from Cumberland, say, to Courtenay?

And of course, less cars on the road would also decrease the Comox Valley’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Keohone said that cycling lanes are investments with huge returns. Cycling is good for your health, the environment and your bank account.

“Plus, every cyclist means one less car to cause traffic congestion!”

By Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse

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