Anyone travelling along Willingdon Avenue in North Burnaby could not have failed to notice that over the years the City of Burnaby has accumulated properties on the east side of Willingdon north of Brentwood mall. The city recently announced its plan to develop this land into what is being called the Willingdon Linear Park: a 1.2-kilometre greenway connecting rapidly growing, high-density Brentwood Town Centre with Hastings Street, Confederation Park and community amenities such as the library, community centre and high school.
There is much to like in the plan, including landscaping, benches and public art; however, there is also a significant flaw. A single path would be shared among people walking (some with mobility aids, strollers, children or dogs) and people cycling. Drivers turning onto and off Willingdon would face cyclists crossing in both directions from a curved path set in landscaping, so potentially hidden from clear view.
Research from UBC has identified shared paths as among the most hazardous types of infrastructure for cycling. Best practices from around the world support separating people walking from those cycling, particularly in an urban environment where there will be many users and there are frequent intersections to cross.
Underlying these design issues is the lack of community consultation. A single open house was held with relatively little notification despite the fact that many thousands of Burnaby citizens will be affected and millions of taxpayer dollars are wrapped up in the project. Not only has the city neglected to adequately consult on this project, it has neglected to acknowledge and address by far the most frequent concern of those who did attend the open house: the safety and suitability of the proposed shared path. The result is a plan that neglects the needs of the people it is intended to serve.
Since 1995, Willingdon Avenue has been identified in the Burnaby Transportation Plan as a commuter cycling route, to be built when adjacent development takes place. Burnaby’s newly adopted Environmental Sustainability Strategy confirms the direction of the transportation plan, calling for making walking and cycling easier, safer and more comfortable, and emphasizes the need for high quality north/south cycling connections. However, the Jan. 17 report recommending the Willingdon Linear Park fails to even acknowledge these. Mayor Corrigan has recently stated Burnaby is developing a new transportation plan.
This is welcome news, and it raises an important question: should we, the citizens of Burnaby, be spending $8 million on a project that not only disregards our current planning policies but is even less likely to meet our new ones?
Willingdon Avenue represents a wonderful opportunity. Taking a prudent approach and delaying implementation of a final design until the new transportation plan is completed would enable the creation of a state-of-the-art public space: one that includes not only aesthetic enhancements but also the safest and most comfortable accommodation for people walking, cycling and driving on this crucial north/south corridor.
Acting chairperson, Cathy Griffin, Burnaby Committee of HUB Cycling