Airport Way

The crosswalk at the intersection of Airport Way and the Okanagan Rail Trail has almost disappeared from the wear-and-tear of 9,400 vehicles a day, above. Pedestrians and cyclists should press an activation button for the yellow flashing lights, wait for vehicles to stop and then cross with caution.

Mother Nature threw a curveball – a wet snowball – at the Okanagan last weekend.

After we cycled the Okanagan Rail Trail on Friday – the third time in a week, a layer of snow fell on the valley bottom last Saturday. So Constant Companion Carmen cancelled her proposed bike outing with Central Okanagan Outdoors Club members on Sunday.

That snow melted by Saturday afternoon causing a lot of second thoughts but there was more snow in the valley bottom on Sunday morning. So COOC members headed to Kelowna Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Club for excellent mid-winter skiing conditions. Perfecto.

Back to the rail trail, there was a group discussion when we cycled north and reached the remnants of a painted crosswalk at the busy Airport Way intersection. (Fresh paint required.) A push button on a metal post activates overhead yellow flashing lights to alert motorists but you can’t see them because they have hoods facing oncoming traffic.

That traffic didn’t stop so we weren’t sure if the yellow lights were flashing. And there are no electrical boxes that have a lighted white pedestrian or green bicycle symbol indicating it is safe to cross.

One pickup driver slowed, looked at us, didn’t stop and used his raised hands to indicate he was confused why we weren’t crossing. Because we were waiting for you to stop.

The ORT intersections with Dilworth Drive and Sexsmith Road have full signalization with both pedestrian and cyclist buttons, and have electrical boxes with both pedestrian and cyclist symbols.

So the Sheriff asked Matt Warona, the City of Kelowna’s active transportation coordinator, about the difference.

“This is pretty standard,” he responded, pointing to similar yellow flashing lights (with no pedestrian/cyclist symbols) at ORT crossings on Richter and Ellis streets.

“It didn’t strike me as odd,” said Warona who recently used the Airport Way crosswalk. He advises ORT users to activate the warning lights and wait for traffic to stop before crossing, the same procedure used in crossing Richter and Ellis streets.

The decision on crosswalk signalization isn’t just based on traffic flow, he emphasized. Airport Way has 9,400 vehicles on an average annual weekday compared to 11,000 at Sexsmith Road, and 4,000-6,000 on Richter and Ellis streets.

The city also takes into consideration factors such as the speed limit, terrain/conditions on either side, the suitable amount of vehicle delay, pedestrian/cyclist numbers and driver mindset.

The Airport Way intersection is more complex than the others because terminal-bound drivers have a right turn to get to the terminal and into parking lots just past the crosswalk, he said, while those leaving the terminal have a right turn past crosswalk pedestrians and cyclists onto Airport Way. Drivers unfamiliar with traffic flow there could be going slower and drive more cautiously while other drivers may be late and rushing.

The ORT-Sexsmith Road crosswalk is on a hump which may create line-of-sight (blind corner) challenges for some drivers watching for pedestrians and cyclists, he noted, adding Sexsmith Road has larger traffic flow peaks during rush hour. The ORT-Dilworth crosswalk is at the bottom of a hill and around a curve.

“There is a plan to have more sophisticated crossing signals/technology in the future as traffic volumes increase (on Airport Way),” said Tom Wilson, the city’s media relations manager. Specifically, it could be a roundabout with reworked road connections.

“The apparatus currently in place is considered appropriate for the today’s traffic volume, but the airport’s Master Plan 2045 and the Okanagan Gateway Transportation Study both see the need for a higher level of traffic management in the future. There is definitely no firm date. I asked the airport people and they don’t have it on their plans for the next few years.”

A preliminary design of what the roundabout might look like is subject to change as a more detailed design process gets underway but only when traffic volumes trigger the need to implement this traffic management plan, he said.

It should be noted that Kelowna International Airport is the 10th busiest in Canada with two million passengers in 2019, and up to 38 commercial departures a day, or approximately 266 departures per week. By 2045, YLW is anticipated to serve 3.5 million passengers annually. That’s a lot of traffic heading to and from the airport.

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Pedestrian and cyclist counts on the Okanagan Rail Trail – available online at: http://www.eco-public.com/ParcPublic/?id=4198# – are fascinating.

The daily average is 450 users at UBCO/Bulman Road; 345 at Sexsmith Road; 407 at McCurdy Road (several days over 1,000); 444 at Dilworth Drive (multiple days over 1,000); and 609 at the Bernard Avenue overpass (multiple days over 2,000, one at 4,000 and one at 6,000). By comparison, Knox Mountain’s Apex Trail has 325 and Waterfront Park Walkway has 881. And the active season in Kelowna generally just keeps getting longer.

There are no user counters at the Airport Way-ORL crosswalk or the multi-use pathway to the north but you can imagine how many people will head there once the six kilometres of rail trail are completed between Old Vernon Road and Lake Country’s ORL. The federal government still hasn’t approved the “fast-tracked” application to add the former CN rail line to the Okanagan Indian Band reserve so it remains closed along with the section through Eldorado Ranch.

FYI, the wide multi-use pathway on Airport Way is one of the best ways to check out all the small planes, large planes, immense jetliners and helicopters parked on the tarmack and grass fields while aircraft are almost constantly landing and taking off in the background.

Some jetliners are parked on the west side of the pathway so pay attention to pathway signs warning not to cross when airplanes are crossing Airport Way. You mean we can’t duck under the wings and fuselage, and take a selfie?

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The Regional District of North Okanagan has Okanagan Rail Trail counters at three locations, and the 2019 total is astounding.

The total number of users accessing the ORT from Kekuili Bay Provincial Park was 93,383; total users accessing from Kickwillie Loop was 217,602; and total users accessing from KM 0 (December only) was 1,193.

Total users on the RDNO-owned sections of the trail in 2019 numbered 312,178, said Ashley Gregerson, RDNO communications officer. “The counter at the newly-developed KM 0 access started tracking in December. Please note that this does not include any use on Lake Country or Kelowna sections,” she said.

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You can enjoy another Coast Capital Savings Cruz the Blues at Big White Ski Resort on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 17-18) during B.C.’s spring break (March 16-27). The challenge is to ski all the blue runs in two days but you just have to ski more than three to qualify for prizes.

Pick up your boarding pass from the Concierge Desk in the Village Centre Mall, find letters on the blue runs and figure out the secret phrases on the pass. You do have to look carefully for the signs since they might be nestled among trees, hidden behind bumps or tucked away on the side of the run.

This family-friendly event is the perfect way to explore the mountain and everyone who participates receives a free T-shirt, available after 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday (March 18) at the Happy Valley Day Lodge. The prize ceremony to award Spy goggles, frisbees, portable speakers, bluetooth ear buds, drink bottles and Big White toques starts at 4 p.m. that day. Happy Valley Day Lodge also offers Cruz the Blues food and drink specials. The last Cruz the Blues of the season will be March 28-29.

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If you want to get first tracks in Big White Ski Resort’s fresh powder before the public can even board the chairlift, First Tracks lessons will get you on top of the mountain 30 minutes before everyone else. It’s a perfect opportunity to ski or snowboard with internationally renowned instructors and breakfast is provided.

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The second annual Seismic Spring Mountain Festival at Silver Star Mountain Resort has been cancelled due to COVID-19.

The 10-day festival would have featured sport, business, art, culture, culinary and community.

However, the resort announced the cancellation Friday in a statement:

“We are taking all the necessary precautions recommended by the BC Ministry of Health and Interior Health, to protect the health and wellbeing of our guests, employees and community.

“We are monitoring the dynamic situation, in regards to COVID-19, and will continue to follow the advice and guidance of federal and provincial officials and health agencies.

“We have made the decision to cancel all events through the end of March that would bring large numbers of people together, including SEISMIC Spring Festival, Winter-land and larger after parties.

“The majority of our operations and services are currently available and we will continue operations through to the end of the winter season. So that we may do so, we are taking a number of actions to limit potential risks.”

J.P. Squire, aka the Ski Sheriff, is a retired reporter. Email: jp.squire@telus.net