Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray rides a bike along Phase 1 of Rails with Trails during a press conference on Friday, where Phase 2 of the pathway was announced. The City of Kelowna will design and build the 4.5-metre wide pathway, extending the existing pathway 1.5 kilometres east from Spall Road to Dilworth Drive.
Dignitaries pounded another spike in the Rails with Trails project, announcing an extension to the popular bike path through Kelowna.
The next phase of the corridor will add 1.5 kilometres to the existing pathway, which now ends at Spall Road. Once complete, the trail will run south of the CN Rail line from Spall to Dilworth Drive, where it will join a gravel trail system that parallels Mill Creek north of Enterprise Way and continues to Highway 33.
"The long-term vision is to extend to UBC-Okanagan and to Kelowna Airport as a non-motorized, active transportation route," Kelowna Mayor Walter Gray said at a ceremony Friday. "That will be some years away, but we have to bite this off as we can, one section at a time."
Cyclists have pressed the city for years to build an off-road corridor from Kelowna's downtown to the university and airport. The first phase, a 1.7-kilometre link between Gordon Drive and Spall, opened in 2008.
The second phase stalled after CN reversed its policy and forbade the development of cycling and pedestrian paths along its tracks. Officials said it was dangerous for users, even with fencing.
City officials decided an extension of the existing 4.5-metre-wide path could be built just outside the railway's right-of-way. The B.C. government provided $1.52 million through BikeBC to the project and the federal government chipped in $1.46 million through the Gas Tax Fund transfer.
Cyclists are applauding the addition and optimistic the route to UBCO will follow.
"It's always been stalled," said Landon Bradshaw, president of the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition. "Getting the momentum back is very important to continue on to UBCO. There are times I want to go to the airport and I want to ride my bike.
"I'm not really happy with Highway 97, but I'll do it if I have to."
A serious hazard along the route should soon be safer. The Ellison overpass on Highway 97 is the bane of cyclists because traffic roars past them as they pedal along a narrow lane less than a metre wide. Contractors will soon bid on designing and building a separate bridge for pedestrians and cyclists only.
"This project was stalled because of the railway," said Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick.
"We had the money - $1.5 million in provincial dollars dedicated to this in the budget. The original (vision) was to see a wood structure."
The request for proposals should go out by the end of the month. The new bridge just east of the overpass could be complete by the time school starts for university students this fall, Letnick said.
The second phase of Rails with Trails will link people between Kelowna's downtown and the Landmark buildings and other neighbourhoods. Kelowna MP Ron Cannan called it a "great asset." He envisions a protected bike path all the way to Vernon.
"Wouldn't that be a great tourist draw? People could cycle right down, connecting the communities together," he said.