Transportation planning has run into speedbumps amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (File)

Long-range transportation planning around Central Okanagan offers challenges

Work from home has upended traditional traffic patterns

Strategic transportation planning for how Central Okanagan residents will move around 20 years from now remains an evolving proposition.

That evolution has been thrown a curveball with the COVID-19 pandemic, as civic transportation planners look at how the pandemic continues to impact the economy, affecting most immediately changing attitudes about how people get to work and telecommuting from their home.

Rafael Villarreal, administrator for the Sustainable Transportation Partnership of the Central Okanagan (STPCO), said working more from home upends the traditional traffic patterns of people driving to work in the morning and home at night.

Villarreal, the manager, integrated transportation for the City of Kelowna, says using the transportation infrastructure to best adapt to changing work traffic patterns offers a challenge, as does finding a continual balance between a healthy local economy tends to mean higher traffic volumes.

“More people working at home and a slower economy tends to throw that balance off,” he said.

The STPCO is in the midst of submitting a draft regional transportation plan to municipal councils from Lake Country to Peachland along with the regional district and Westbank First Nation council.

After that consultation phase is done, the draft will be opened up for public input online this summer before final adoption takes place sometime this fall.

The master plan, which will align with individual transportation plans for Central Okanagan communities, is meant to incorporate a broader vision for motor vehicle, bus transit, cycling and other transportation modes.

Villarreal says having the report in place will provide greater clarity when securing support from provincial or federal government sources, establishing funding priorities and a transportation landscape moving forward.

He said transportation planning today has become increasingly complex.

“It is not just about engineering roads anymore. Now we have to take into consideration things like land use, technology, economic development and social inclusion,” he said.

“The emergency of E-scooters is an example of how things are changing. We are likely going to see a lot more electric-powered vehicles on the road 20 years from now. That will have environmental benefits but could also could create higher traffic diversity volumes,” he said.

He said long-range dependence on transit buses is still front and centre moving forward, due to the high costs of rapid transit. “We have seen transit ridership steadily increase but the key factor which makes that make sense is higher population density,” he said.

The need for higher density has already clashed with those in favour of the more historical single-family residential traditional growth development patterns.

But in Kelowna, Villarreal says road networks have already started changing to adapt to more varied traffic such as on Abbott Street, Sutherland Avenue and Ethel Street.

He added the traffic flow into Kelowna from Lake Country and West Kelowna continues to grow.

“The numbers coming over from West Kelowna are larger because it is a larger community, but on a per capita basis the impact is proportionately similar, ” he said.

READ MORE: ‘Gradual return to service’ as passengers adjust after COVID-19: Kelowna International Airport

READ MORE: Alleged drunk boater facing charges after incident on Okanagan Lake

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