Bike lanes

Bike lanes and sidewalks removed from the road help improve safety, reduce accidents.

Walking in Kelowna can be deadly.

That was one of the lessons city councillors learned during a wide-ranging workshop held last week on the city’s 2040 Transportation Master Plan.

A picture of how deadly walking emerges from the numbers.

Eight per cent of all trips are made by walking, Mariah VanZerr, the city’s strategic transportation planning manager, told councillors. “And unfortunately, we know that people walking are more likely to suffer injury or death in a collision than vehicle occupants.”

Pedestrians are involved in one per cent of collisions, but account for 9.4 per cent of fatalities, VanZerr told council.

“Kind of scary numbers,” said Coun. Charlie Hodge. “That’s a high number of

people being killed.”

A city report from 2019 shows an average of 46 pedestrian collisions are reported every year. Most collisions result in injury and there is an average of three fatal pedestrian collisions a year, the report said.

“People walking are more vulnerable than other travellers and are more likely to suffer injury or death,” the report said.

Cyclists are also highly vulnerable. Two per cent of trips in the city are made by bike.

The workshop covered a lot of ground; From cycling, transit, and the status of current and future roads, to driverless cars and light rail transit.

One stated goal is to reduce our heavy reliance on cars. Today, Kelowna residents drive for 84 per cent of their trips. The goal is to get that down to 75 per cent, VanZerr said.

“I don’t feel the citizens of the community are with us on this,” Coun. Luke Stack commented, citing the number of people who like to drive their Ford F-350 trucks, while calling for more education efforts. “If we don’t start changing people’s attitudes, our plan will be continually challenged,” he said.

One project that might improve pedestrian safety is an overpass across Highway 97 from Bertram Street to the Central Green development. However, some councillors thought Abbott Street and the highway might be a better overpass location.

Traffic congestion on Highway 97 and in and out of the Mission during rush hours were cited as problems.

Mayor Tom Dyas raised a long-standing concern about synchronization of lights on Highway 97, which is controlled by the province.

Mac Logan, general manager of civic operations, said the city offered to operate the lights on highways 97 and 33, but the province rejected the idea.

“The city has actually offered to manage those signals because they’re done more remotely than we would like. However, the province has maintained control of those signals.

“We do our best to co-ordinate the signals that are adjacent to those,” Logan said.

In an email response to The Daily Courier, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure said it works collaboratively with the city and “is open to further discussion or recommendations they may have.”

“MoTI retains control of signals on all provincial highways to ensure they

continue to serve the mandate of regional goods movement and regional travel,” the email said.

“In 2021-2022, MoTI undertook a major infrastructure upgrade program where we replaced all traffic signal controllers along Highway 97 in Kelowna and West Kelowna with modern devices.

“This is allowing us to take additional steps to create more reliable coordination, transit signal priority, and facilitate easier movement for emergency vehicles.”

The ministry “continuously monitors the network and retimes signals as needed,” the statement said.

“These investments also support better and faster public transit on the Highway, which is an important factor in addressing congestion.”

Coun. Loyal Wooldridge asked if any other discussions taken have place about Highway 97. The province is nearing completion of a major traffic study, Logan said.

The ministry said it is working with local governments and First Nations to develop the Central Okanagan Integrated Transportation Strategy.

“The ministry will meet with First Nations and local government to review the strategy before it is finalized” and made public, a statement said.

As for improvements to local roads, the 2.3-kilometre South Perimeter road, connecting southeast Kelowna with the city, is complete, but held up by legal issues.

Land title issues with the privately built public road must be resolved.

“The delay is around the fact that the right-of-way had not been dedicated as a public road right-of-way as had previously been thought,” Logan said.

Frost Road, which would connect Chute Lake Road with Gordon Drive, is planned for 2036.

“Previous designs must be upgraded. Then we have to figure out how to pay for it,” Logan said.

Coun. Stack suggested signs be posted warning when there is congestion ahead, but was told people now get that information from their in-car navigation devices.

Widening roads isn’t always the answer either, staffers said, pointing out it’s expensive and roads usually become congested again.

“Building and widening roads can be expensive for taxpayers and developers. In Kelowna, our ability to expand roadways is hemmed in by Okanagan Lake, steep hillsides and protected farmland,” VanZerr said.

Some councillors noted later how some widening projects did improve traffic flow.

Driverless cars may add to congestion. By 2040 many vehicles on road may be driverless, in particular delivery and ride-hailing vehicles, VanZerr said.

Coun. Mohini Singh asked if light rail transit was in the city’s future. Typically, light rail comes along for regions with populations of 500,000 or more, VanZerr responded.