Local residents are urging the City of New Westminster to be bold and to fast-track a plan to convert roads to other uses.
City council has approved “seven bold steps” to address the climate emergency, which includes creating a quality, people-centred public realm. The plan is to reallocate a minimum of 10% of today’s street spaces that serve only motor vehicles, including transit, to sustainable transportation or public gathering spaces by 2030.
“I don’t see in this budget concrete ideas or plans to reach this goal, so I am here to urge you to take the next step and to commit in this 2020 budget to create car-free streets that put the environment and the people first,” Katelyn Maki, New Westminster organizer for Force of Nature, recently told council. “In particular, I urge you to look at Columbia Street in downtown and an uptown area at Sixth and Sixth, as we have been hearing a ton of support from the community for making these areas car-light or car-free zones. That is the kind of visionary, transformative action we urgently need.”
Maki was among the residents belonging to Force of Nature who recently addressed council about the city’s proposed 2020 to 2024 capital budget.
“We are in a climate emergency now, no doubt, so reducing our reliance on single-occupancy vehicles has to be a top priority. It’s time for visionary, transformative climate solutions,” Maki said. “We would like to see this taken a step further. It should really change the game and not be more of the same.”
While he was heartened when city council declared a climate emergency and announced its seven bold steps to tackle climate change, Sebastian Salda said he’s concerned about the lack of funding proposed in 2020 torepurpose 10% of streets for pedestrian use, sustainable transit and public gathering places. He hopes council can “be bold” with implementation of the climate strategy and support a budget that reflects that vision.
“Ten per cent of streets being reallocated for sustainable transit, as well as pedestrians and public gathering, can mean a lot of things,” he said. “That can be 10% of side streets that has very little impact or it can be 10% of major roads that will have a big impact. It is these major roads that need to be targeted, such as the uptown area or the downtown areas of New Westminster, to get the true benefits of pedestrianizing streets or making streets car-light.”
Brendan Vance is pleased the budget includes funding for initiatives such as greenways and tree canopies but would like the city to start taking steps to reallocate 10% of road space toward active transportation modes starting this year if possible.
Avalon Findlay thinks the city is proposing a “pretty good budget” overall, but should include work on car-free streets. She said car-free streets would result in fewer pedestrian deaths and would increase pedestrian traffic to support local businesses.
“You can do better. I even think the goal can be better,” she said. “Ten years? Admittedly, I am no city planner ,but I don’t think it should take more than two. Hell, one. One – now that’s a bold move.”
Garey Carlson, co-chair of the HUB New Westminster cycling coalition, agrees that giving “some of the abundance of asphalted land that is used for carbon-emitting vehicles” back to the community will contribute immediately to building a stronger and healthier community.
“I strongly encourage council to ensure enough money is included in the 2020 budget so that a thorough assessment and benchmarking report can be developed, identifying our city’s current inventory of road space primarily used for motor vehicles,” he said. “This must be done this calendar year so that the implementation and monitoring of the 10% reallocation over the next 10 years can be done transparently and in a timely manner.”
Carlson said the city needs leaders and builders that are not going to recoil because hard decisions and sacrifices need to be made.
“The reluctance to reallocate road space must stop. The time is now,” he said. “Let’s change our community for the better.”
The city’s seven bold steps to tackle climate change focus on: carbon-free corporation; car-light community (including a goal of making 60 per cent of all trips within the city to be made by sustainable modes of transportation (walk, transit, bike, multi-occupant shared) by 2030; carbon-free homes and buildings; pollution-free vehicles; carbon-free energy; a robust urban forest; and quality people-centred public realm.