Prior to his annual State of the City address to the chamber of commerce last week, Kelowna Mayor Colin Basran downplayed what he was going to say.
Unlike a few years ago, when he surprisingly—and unexpectedly—went public with the city’s frustration over its inability to get local water providers onside with a plan for a city-wide water distribution system, Basran said this year there wouldn’t be any surprises.
But his call for light rail to link Okanagan Valley cities did raise some eyebrows.
As Basran sees it, with the growth of the region showing no signs of letting up, the way we move ourselves around the valley needs to change.
While not “asking drivers to give up their keys,” Basran said alternate forms of transportation need to be looked at. And light rail could be an answer in the future.
Admitting the region is not ready for that yet, Basran said the time has come to start looking at the idea. And he held out the former CN rail corridor—soon to be a recreational trail connecting the Central and North Okanagan—as a possible route.
The idea, while still a long ways off, is intriguing.
There’s no doubt the current population of the valley, while growing, is still not large enough to support the huge investment light rail would require here. But, as the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Steps can be taken now to start a process that one day could lead to Basran’s vision becoming a reality.
The question that needs to be asked, however, is if the demand for such as transit system will be there.
When the Ministry of Highways conducted its study to look at the future of a second crossing of Okanagan Lake, it discovered a very small amount of vehicle traffic currently use the existing Okanagan Lake Bridge on a daily basis to travel beyond Kelowna, Lake Country and West Kelowna. So, if drivers are not heading north in large numbers on a regular basis now, why would they use trains to do that in the future?
The answer, most likely, is development. As land between the major valley centres of Kelowna, Vernon and Penticton is developed, the ability to live farther afield and work in the urban centres will become more important.
But it’s a chicken and egg scenario. What will come first—far-flung development or the transportation system needed to reach it? And do we want to see that type of “sprawl” in the valley?
There’s no doubt about it, more—and wider—roads will fill up with vehicles quickly if we keep building them. There are plenty of studies to show that. So transportation changes within cities in the valley need to change and adapt to better serve users if we want them to get out of their vehicles. As moving between communities, well the jury is still out on that.
But having a vision, looking towards the future and proposing what may or may not work over time is not such a bad thing.
Seems like Basran did have a surprise up his sleeve after all.
Alistair Waters is the assistant editor of the Capital News.