Defining the best place for an alternative transportation route can be difficult. For the most part, the land in the Gulf Islands has been occupied for decades and save for the existing roads which have developed along with our populations, there is little room to spare. Where should we go ?

For some people, the answer is obvious … just use the roads. Bicycles have all the rights to use the roads that cars have, and pedestrians even more. Unfortunately on our narrow islands roads this can lead to conflict, with drivers in a hurry getting impatient behind a cyclist slowly grinding up a hill. While regular cyclists can get used to the close proximity of vehicles, it is a significant hurdle to the beginners. Our youth may not share our fears but it is a rare parent that doesn’t have some restrictions on where and when they can ride.

One suggestion is to widen the shoulders and give the cyclists and pedestrians space there. Following the adoption of the Magic Ferry Route, the theory is that such accommodations will be made by MOTI (Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure), but in practice such improvements depend so much on available budget and road maintenance planning that it will likely be more than 20 years before any significant progress is made (just think back to the last time your road was paved !)

Where else can we look ? If landowners are agreeable, we can put in paths across their lands, either permanent trails via easements or less formal routes via renewable agreements. It is definitely a generous landowner that grants an easement for a trail, as they are likely to lose some resale value and privacy. Sometimes easements can be negotiated during subdivision and occasionally an easement can be purchased but for the most part obtaining new easements to facilitate transportation routes is rare. A renewable term agreement is another option that carries much less negative baggage for the landowner and such agreements may become a lot easier for us once the Gulf Island Trail Society (GITS) is fully operational, but it can be hard to justify much capital investment in trail construction when it could disappear again in 6 months.

Public lands (with the exception those designated closed for security, safety or conservation reasons) can be traversed without fear of trespass and many of the MOTI statutory right of ways have been developed by our local Parks and Recreation Commission (PIPRC) as trails to ocean accesses. For the most part though, existing PIPRC trails are suitable for recreation and exercise, not getting from A to B. There are however a few spots where public lands might provide the key to opening up alternative routes.

MAP has identified two locations where alternative routes through public land could work well. The first is mostly within the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve (GINPR) and runs between Shingle Bay and South Otter Bay Road. Traveling mostly on an old logging road with a short (70m) rough trail before joining the end of South Otter Bay Road. Usable now for pedestrians, we have proposed it be considered for a multi-use trail by GINPR. Any decisions on this though will await the completion of their management plan.

The other location is between the Driftwood and Bedwell Harbour Road, following the public road dedication also known as the Alice Church Road. While this was designated as a gazetted road in 1923 and portions were formally surveyed when the one parcel was subdivided in 1998, it has never been used as a transportation route. The Experience the Gulf Islands program called for trail proposals at the end of 2013 and MAP identified the Einar’s Hill Bypass as the best candidate on Pender. While providing benefits such as cutting off a dangerous part of the Magic Ferry Route (Einar’s Hill) and has about half of its length already developed, it nonetheless has stirred controversy. For the landowners beside it who have been able to treat it as their private land for decades, the loss of their exclusivity is not appreciated. Some have raised ecological concerns, in part because it passes through some wetlands and also the potential for any trail to divide habitat. Others feel it is taboo to use the park for transportation (the route includes about 125 m of GINPR land). Increased risk of forest fire is another concern.

So what do we do ? Back to the roads and squeeze our kids into the traffic ? Wait for MOTI to eventually repave the roads so our (great ?) grandkids can benefit ? Try to find some landowners receptive to trails and located along a useful transportation route ? Give up ? …

Or maybe we can work together, roll up our sleeves and sort out the kinks to use public land for the community … what do you think ? Comments always appreciated ! 🙂

Multi-use trails

October 19, 2010

Cyclists getting around Pender will inevitably have to deal with our narrow roads and steep hills. While tolerable for some, on road cycling isn’t for everybody (traveling with children can be a particularly nervy affair ! 😉 and the availability of off road multi-use trails (such as the Lochside/Galloping Goose network on Vancouver Island) would make it much easier to replace car trips with healthy, enviro friendly bike trips. Bike trails can provide short cuts or simply quieter/safer routes for those unable/unwilling to tackle the roads.

At this point, there are no multi-use (pedestrian/bike/stroller) friendly trails on Pender. Bikes are explicitly not permitted on any of the existing PIPRC trails, nor within the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve. As with everything in life, having bikes on trails has its pros and cons … as noted above, an off road trail greatly increases the range of the public able to use bike for transportation but using a bike on trails not built for them can adversely impact the environment through accelerated erosion. Multi use trails typically cost more to build and take up more space, though considerably less than a full fledged road for motor vehicles. Even for those unable to ride, a trail built to handle bikes will be much easier to walk on, providing exercise opportunities for those whose physical abilities aren’t up for a steep climb over tree roots. Such trails would also be wheel chair accessible, another segment of the population to benefit.

What do you think ? What things are important to build into the trails themselves and the regulations governing their use to protect the environment ? Would you use these trails if they were available ? How much are multi use trails worth ? Overall I think the net benefit to the community and environment is huge and I welcome your comment and suggestions on how we can make such trails a reality here on Pender.