Rosslanders planning healthier, greener route to work

Sustainability Commission finds strong support to upgrade local bike trail for daily commuters

It might save some greenhouse gas emissions, and maybe even some lives.

Rossland’s Sustainability Commission wants to build a route for commuters to cycle to work from Rossland to Trail.

“We are already a keen biking community and with the advent of these amazing electric bikes, what used to be a challenging ride up from Trail is quite easy,” says Ann Damude, the outgoing co-ordinator of the commission. “So we’re looking at developing a trail that would be e-bike and cyclist-friendly, that would allow people to commute without actually risking being on the highway.”

The trail would use the existing Wagon Road trail, and go from Rossland to Warfield, the limit of the Sustainability Commission’s jurisdiction. From there riders can follow back streets for the rest of the trip to downtown Trail.

Damude says making the Wagon Road trail more accessible could have a significant impact on the carbon footprint Rossland produces.

“Some studies have estimated that 600 people a day leave Rossland to work in the valley — not including the Greater Trail area, like commuting to Castlegar or Nelson,” says Damude.

There are actually two good routes heading into Trail from Rossland, but Damude says a survey done with interested cyclists found they preferred the rougher Wagon Road route be developed.

“We were surprised, but they said the Wagon Road is the most direct route, and they want to get to work and home, not have a leisurely ride through the forest.

“While the Rail Grade Trail is in better shape, and more easily rideable, it’s the Wagon Road people are choosing to ride, especially with electric bikes. It’s a little steeper and rockier, but e-bikes handle that type of terrain quite well.

“Many could be commuting on the trail now, but it’s just not a pleasant experience,” she says. “It’s a little overgrown, a little rooty and rocky, but really nothing stopping anyone with an electric bike from riding the trail.”

The commission is now digging deeper into what would make the Wagon Road run a more effective commuter trail. There are many issues, including working with the owners of the patchwork of properties the trail crosses; deciding what improvements might work the most, like signage and trail building; and dealing with the fact the trail doesn’t currently allow e-bikes.

To tackle these issues and more, the commission’s looking for grant money, and approached city council recently for support.

“They have committed to writing us a letter of support, and some small funding we can leverage with other funders, that will give us enough to get a solid plan in place, then we can start chasing bigger pots of money,” says Damude.

But Damude recognizes it’s more than just the physical trail that needs to be built. An infrastructure of “behavioural supports” also have to be established.

“What we need to do is work with Rosslanders to address the other barriers,” she says, and begins listing some of the issues people have.

“What happens if I get to work and my kid in school gets sick, how do I get home quickly? Or what if it’s a rainy day and I don’t want to ride back up the hill, what do I do?

“Once my bike is down in Trail, where can I park it or store it securely? How does my employer feel about me showing up at work in my riding gear? Is there change space?

“We call them “behavioural barriers,’ and part of the planning project is not only adjusting the physical barrier, but other barriers as well.”

With support and funding, Damude says the commission hopes to address some of these behavioural issues by the fall. They could begin tackling the physical issues on the trail by next summer.

Damude’s confident they have the support to get Rosslanders to make the shift to a healthy commute.

After putting out an online survey, they got more than 200 responses from the public — double what they hoping for.

She says it’s a sign there’s a real desire to see something like this happen.

“The City of Rossland isn’t the only jurisdiction looking at the whole ‘commuter trail’ concept. It is very cool, being out talking to people now, because it is showing up on every municipality’s radar screen. So if we do our little section that gets us to Warfield, we’ll see some good partnerships coming out from other municipalities, the regional districts, tourism organizations, etc.

“There are some good rumblings going on about the need to build the trail and how that would transform how people go to work.”

 

A rider on the Wagon Road route, circa 2008. Photo from trailforks.com

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