As inconsequential as construction of a new road may seem, the City of Kelowna is on track to make a decision that will undoubtably determine the future of land-use, transportation and future growth of the City.
At the tail-end of the last election, former Mayor Colin Basran announced the City of Kelowna secured $600,000 to complete design studies related to the construction of a future north-end connector, linking Clement Avenue to either Highway 33 or McCurdy Road.
While seemingly small, building a road by extending Clement Avenue, built adjacent to the Okanagan Rail Trail could have serious implications for future transportation needs and the built form of Kelowna’s downtown.
Any future second crossing in Kelowna would need to go from West Kelowna into Kelowna’s downtown, likely near the base of Knox Mountain, and then up to Clement Avenue and through the Rail Trail.
For it to exist, Clement must be extended north. However, its construction would result in Kelowna’s downtown being straddled on both ends by a highway, chocking off downtown from the rest of Kelowna. Further, it would separate Knox Mountain and what could, one-day, be a highly desirable trail from Knox Mountain, through the downtown waterfront and out to Lakeshore.
The potential for a new, Granville Island-style community at the old Tolko site would be gone, with a highway cutting through the north side of it. While the allure of a new road to ease congestion on the highway is undoubtedly strong, cities across North America have attempted this in the past and seen congestion worsen.
In recent years, many of those communities have removed those highways, only to see congestion decrease. There’s an urban planning reason for this, but that’s not the point of this column.
A road extending Clement Avenue would have to run parallel to the Rail Trail. The Rail Trail is a defining part of Kelowna and a true crown jewel. It’s hard to find infrastructure like that in any major city and is commonly used and enjoyed by residents and tourists alike.
With features like the brewery district in the North End, the Parkinson Recreation Centre, UBCO’s planned downtown campus, Kelowna’s airport and more connected to the Rail Trail, it’s likely to continue to be used by residents and tourists in the coming years.
It may not be the most direct route for people, but using a designated path with no cars and few lights is truly unique.
We must also recognize that 87% of traffic going over the existing W.R. Bennett Bridge originates, or ends, in Kelowna. That means 87% of all vehicles you see crossing the bridge either got into their vehicle in Kelowna or will get out of their vehicle in Kelowna.
Therefore, creating a second crossing with the intention of bypassing much of Kelowna to get people from Lake Country to West Kelowna or vice versa, doesn’t make much sense.
The easier solution to easing traffic along Harvey Avenue in Kelowna, beyond the obvious of having fewer people drive, is to reduce the number of intersections, e.g. the lights at the intersection of Harvey Avenue and Abbott Street.
Finally, a further consideration is that building the Clement Avenue extension will all but eliminate any chance of a future light rail line in Kelowna, potentially connecting the airport to downtown, with stops along the way.
Private studies have shown there is enough space adjacent to the Rail Trail to add a light rail line. In addition, because it was previously a rail line, the land is already graded for rail transit. That creates a far cheaper means of building the line.
A future city council may also wish to build stations along such a line using public private partnerships, whereby the city provides land to developers allowing them to build housing next to the stations in exchange for the developers covering the cost of the new stations.
While some have advocated for a light rail line alongside Highway 97, the coordination it would take with the provincial government, the necessity to remove lanes of traffic, and the need to have trains to stop at each intersection, would make it a bad plan. None of those would be considerations with a light rail line adjacent to the Rail Trail, with the exception of minimal work with the province on right-of-ways.
Building or not building the Clement Avenue extension has major implications for the future of Kelowna.
It’s not just a road — it may determine whether Kelowna will ever get a second crossing or a light rail line.
Disclosure: Adam Wilson was campaign manager for Kelowna mayoral candidate Tom Dyas in the civic election.
This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.