Editorial by Gord Van Dyck
On May 26, 2021, the CVRD’s Regional Services Committee approved a recommendation to divert the Cowichan Valley Trail (CVT) from the E&N rail corridor to Chemainus Road close to the Ladysmith boundary. If adopted by the CVRD Board, the CVRD will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to provide additional parking, a crosswalk and a short roadside path. This will force CVT cyclists and pedestrians to cross Chemainus Road and travel on a sidewalk past four intersecting roads and 22 intersecting driveways to and from Coronation Mall. This is a safety and planning travesty. There is no good reason why the CVT cannot continue on the E&N rail corridor to and even through Ladysmith.
Rail trails (or trails beside rails) turn unused rail corridors into thriving tourist attractions and safe commuter corridors. They also protect these valuable transportation corridors for future generations. Rail trails often provide safe cycling and pedestrian access to landmarks, historical sites, beaches and parks like Transfer Beach and town centres like those on First Avenue in Ladysmith. The section of rail corridor from North Watts Road to Coronation Mall can provide beautiful views of the Ladysmith Harbour and Stuart Channel.
It cost about $1.5M to build the Saltair portion of the CVT. This included the cost of two bridges and improved drainage. As no bridges are required, the cost of continuing the trail from North Watts Road to Coronation Mall appears likely to be significantly lower. If the Island Corridor Foundation (ICF) can be persuaded to lease the railbed, the cost would be lower yet.
The Okanagan Rail Trail appears to be the gold standard for rail trail development in BC. In that case, the municipalities of Kelowna and Lake Country, the Regional District of North Okanagan and the Province of BC invested $22 million to purchase the discontinued CN railway running from Coldstream to Kelowna. Together with the Okanagan Indian Band, these local governments comprise the Okanagan Rail Trail Committee. This committee acts as a common voice for governance to foster teamwork and collaboration on trail development and management. There is much to be learned by visiting the Okanagan Rail Trail web site (above) to find out how it became such a success.
Here, we don’t need to purchase a railway. The E&N rail corridor is owned and managed by the ICF. The ICF could lease portions of the rail corridor to interested parties for use as a rail trail until, if ever, it becomes economically feasible to use the corridor for another method of transportation. Recently, Ladysmith Mayor, Aaron Stone, was appointed to the ICF Board of Directors.
I urge the CVRD Board of Directors to reconsider this latest recommendation. We can and should build a rail trail that will significantly benefit future generations of Cowichan Valley residents and businesses.