Presenting a snapshot of my vision for the West Kootenays in 2030. I believe that accessible, active transportation is key to building a positive future while addressing the climate crisis.
I often hear that we can’t afford to invest in active transport. Yet, driving has barely been around for 100 years and now there are paved roads literally everywhere. The privilege of driving accounts for 70% of emissions in our region and enables ever increasing consumption. Consumption, that we desperately need to lower. We built a railroad across Canada entirely by hand in 6 years. I’m pretty sure we can afford to build an active transport system in our region within the next decade. A lot of the required infrastructure already exists. We have the manpower and the technology too. We just need the will to make this a priority.
Instead of focusing on the things we’ll have to sacrifice, I want you to think about what we stand to gain. I believe we get bogged down in doomer data and get paralyzed by all the apocalyptic scenarios. Let’s use our imagination to create a positive vision to guide the decisions we make now to reach the goals we want to achieve in the future. If we can establish a shared vision, then we have a better chance of making it a reality. Climate change is our biggest challenge and every decision we make will have to support a just transition using less energy with the resources we already have. Let’s focus on rebuilding connections to each other and the world around us — let’s imagine how active transportation can transform our relationship to food security, affordable shelter, healthy lifestyles and resilient communities. I believe that accessible active transportation is key in building those connections.
This is a snapshot from my vision for the future of transportation in our region:
It’s 2030 and I’m riding my bike to Nelson. As I descend the gravel road, I can see the recent tracks from a car share vehicle. Not many residents own private vehicles anymore. It didn’t make sense to invest in roads when transit and active modes cost significantly less to build and maintain. Where my road meets the highway, is our local fire department which is also a bus stop, public washrooms and an emergency shelter. The car share for our neighborhood is also located here.
I roll around the Beasley bluffs. The highway lanes were narrowed here, so that part of the surface could be used for active transport. It was the cheapest solution. Initially, we considered building a pathway beside the highway but it wasn’t worth the time and effort when this road space could easily be repurposed into a multi-use path. Even Canada Post uses this path to make deliveries. Only a few private cars, emergency vehicles, buses and shipping trucks drive on the 3A. Speeds limits have been reduced to 60 km cutting emissions substantially and reducing the number of collisions on narrow lanes.
I coast down to Taghum Community Hall which is now a transit hub boasting a bus stop, passenger rail stop and a car share. The RDCK policy to broaden the scope of transit service to ACTIVE transportation was instrumental in this development. These halls, already centrally located, are perfect for building community hubs for both social and transport needs. New full time jobs were created in the process. Hubs like Taghum, include cafes, washrooms, showers, libraries for books and tools, bunk rooms serving as emergency shelters for residents and accommodations for eco tourists. Parking lots have been mostly converted to bike storage and community gardens with a few stalls remaining to accommodate car shares and deliveries. Excess food is preserved and stored in the hall for anyone to access.
I love the view from the Taghum Pedestrian Bridge. It was a car free way to connect residents from Blewett to the essential services that Taghum Hall offers. Pedaling down Granite Road, I roll back along the highway to the junction where there is now a train station and bus stop. Kids and parents are disembarking school buses and jumping on the next train. School buses, better suited to our mountain terrain, now provide essential transport for kids and their working parents and neighbors. I proceed past Grohman Narrows Provincial Park. Like all the parks along this route, it too has been upgraded to include public washrooms, picnic shelters and convenient transit stations.
I reach Nelson and head to the train station which is the transportation hub. Passenger rail runs from Trail to the East Kootenays. Catch a bus to rural locations, make use of a car share, a bike share, or ride a street car. Many streets in Nelson have been converted to walking and pedaling corridors only. Almost every little town, including Castlegar’s Columbia Avenue has a street car. Personal vehicle ownership has fallen out of favor with so many active transport incentives. Every new housing development was required to replace parking with a car share program. There are still a few remaining vehicle arteries but most streets are for people. The air is clean. There’s green space reclaimed from the asphalt. There is no need for traffic lights. Shop displays and patio tables line the streets year round. People dress for the weather and spend more time outdoors.
Multi-family homes were incentivised with free eBikes. Landowners were penalized for parking spaces but rewarded for growing gardens and converting garages into dwellings. This made rent affordable. Incentives made it easy for residents to give up cars. We were healthier too with less chronic pain and lower levels of stress. The savings also enabled the area to retain our youth and build a more resilient community. We are lucky to have abundant hydroelectric power and young engineers to help us learn how to harness this energy more efficiently. Some wood manufacturing has returned to the area as well as more farming. We have finally reached a target of zero waste. Our excellent multi-modal transportation network allows for fossil free local distribution of manufactured goods and food.
By halting all new investment in roads and auto infrastructure we were able to pour vast savings into an active transport network making travel affordable and accessible to all. With even more savings from lower healthcare costs we were able to directly invest in better education programs and sustainable food production. We even had the dollars and the network to pay doctors to make house calls.
Due to our reliance on fossil fuels, we realized that we would never meet our regional climate goals. Soon, we wouldn't even be able to afford to provide basic services. Instead, we chose to invest in a just transition. This was achieved with thoughtful incentives prioritizing the easiest goals to achieve first while making use of existing infrastructure. This brought immediate relief to those struggling financially. We began to work less and have more free time. We became healthier and happier. The West Kootenays have become a shining example of regional self-sufficiency and thriving CONNECTED communities. We shifted our auto-centric culture to something better and more inclusive.
— Solita Work (VP, West Kootenay Cycling Coalition)