We urge the City of Kelowna to preserve the full existing width of the rail trail corridor as a wetland and green space for public health and active transportation.
With the increased densification and loss of trees in Kelowna, green spaces are sorely needed for the health and well-being of Kelowna residents. The rail trail corridor is easily accessible from many parts of the city, and, as it runs along Mill Creek, is an important source of shade and moisture for residents. With climate change, Kelowna summers are projected to last longer, and to be both drier and hotter than they are currently. Preservation of moisture corridors and green spaces is critical, both for the health of residents and for landscape resilience in the face of current and future climate stress.
Transportation accounts for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in Kelowna. In order to reach its greenhouse gas reduction targets, Kelowna needs to significantly increase the proportion of the population choosing to commute by non-motorized means. Separated, park-like paths such as the rail trail are essential for the growth of active transportation. The biggest obstacle to getting people out of their cars and onto bikes is the absence of routes that physically separate cyclists from vehicles. The current rail trail is an absolute jewel in this regard, and such park-like trails have the highest success rate in attracting commuters to active modes of transportation, and can move far more people per hour than roads.
Building the North End Connector would significantly, if not completely, eliminate the natural beauty and ecosystem services provided by the current rail trail corridor. The additional asphalt and loss of wetlands would exacerbate the city’s heat island problems, the additional traffic would expose users of the rail trail to significantly more vehicle noise and pollution, and the loss of natural surroundings, especially healthy wetlands and trees, would make the bike path far less attractive as an active transportation corridor. Furthermore, new roads are generally ineffective at reducing congestion, as they simply create more demand and quickly fill up. One more lane certainly won’t fix traffic, but will thoroughly ruin Kelowna’s crown jewel of active transportation infrastructure.
This project is a denial of best transportation engineering practices and of climate change as a whole, through the induced demand of traffic and increased carbon emissions. The upshot of the project will be more asphalt, more vehicle traffic, more noise, more pollution, additional road maintenance expense, just as much congestion, a hotter landscape, and less green space for residents engaging in active transportation. That’s a net loss for everyone.
The current rail trail and corridor is a wonderful space for pedestrians, cyclists, tourists, children, families, and the elderly, and should be protected as an invaluable piece of green infrastructure which can be listed among the country’s best bikeways/multi-use pathways and of which Kelowna residents can be immensely proud.