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 ! 🙂

The results of the visitors survey conducted by MAP this summer for visiting cyclists is available here.