The suburbs have long been synonymous with cars. But Coquitlam residents are saying they want to walk, bike, and take public transit more often — leading the city to wonder how they can meet that demand.
On May 31, the City of Coquitlam is set to host a panel with a collection of sustainable mobility experts to discuss the future of transportation in the city.
Douglas McLeod, Coquitlam’s director of transportation, said the panel will give residents the chance to hear from unbiased experts about what transportation solutions are feasible in Coquitlam.
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“It’s important to have a different perspective from a number of experts and professionals in associated industries, but aren’t working for the City of Coquitlam,” McLeod said. “So residents can hear from us, and others, about what it’s going to take to create a new transportation future.”
Coquitlam adopted their current transportation plan in 2012.
However, with the addition of SkyTrain and technologies like e-bikes increasing in popularity, the city is hoping to adapt the plan so it can address new transportation needs in Coquitlam.
The panel, which will be held at Douglas College’s Coquitlam campus from 7 to 8:30 p.m., comes weeks after Jaime Boan, Coquitlam’s general manager of engineering and public works, submitted a report to council with a vision of the city’s new Strategic Transportation Plan.
In a six-month consultation period with the public from July to December in 2022, Coquitlam staff reported that residents were eager to walk and bike more in their commute and in general throughout the city.
But concerns about road safety were preventing them from using the sidewalk or bike path.
“We really do need to rethink mobility in the city,” said Colin Fowler, co-chair of HUB Cycling Tri-Cities.
“It’s very obvious for anyone that gets around in anything other than a car, or even for people who do get around in a car, that what’s happening right now just isn’t working.”
A survey held by the city of Coquitlam in the fall found that 22 percent of all trips in the city were made by sustainable transportation — such as walking, micromobility, and transit.
While that signified progress in Coquitlam’s efforts to increase active transit in the city, it also showed they were short of their current Strategic Transportation Plan goal to have 30 percent of all trips be completed through sustainable modes of transportation by 2031.
In addition to updating the Strategic Transportation Plan, McLeod said, Coquitlam is also working on a road safety strategy that will serve as a guide to help the city make its roads safer.
Specifically, he cited curb extensions and wider pedestrian letdowns as two examples that may make it more comfortable for residents to cross the street.
“We heard that people want to walk, bike, and be more active,” McLeod said. “But they don’t feel the infrastructure is safe or accessible for them to use. So we clearly need to have that as foundational in what we’re doing to make that more inclusive.”
Fowler said he would like to see concrete policies that will address safety issues related to biking and active transportation.
Specifically, he said, Coquitlam needs to make infrastructure that encourages people to bike, which will simultaneously reduce congestion on the roads.
“A lot of parents are driving their kids to school because they don’t feel comfortable with their kid biking or walking on their own,” Fowler said. “So, instead, they’re joining traffic as another driver, which increases feelings of unsafety and leads people to drive.
“It’s a vicious cycle we have to break.”
Although multi-use pathways have been used in the past to accommodate pedestrians and cyclists in Coquitlam, Fowler is concerned that the rise of e-bikes could create risks on the extended sidewalks.
“A senior walking with a mobility aid such as a stroller, and someone on an e-bike that’s capped at 30 kilometres an hour, it’s not hard to think of a scenario where both users — or even just one — could get seriously injured,” he said.
The Guildford Way Greenway, a project that is slated to add physical barriers to the already existing bike lanes, is a template Fowler thinks the city should use to increase road safety for cyclists.
“Pedestrians are separated from cyclists, and both are separated from traffic.”
But those projects require significant amounts of fundings, he said, so traffic calming installations like speed bumps may be a more practical way to reduce road safety fears.
Coquitlam is planning to have an updated transportation plan complete by early 2024.
Ultimately, Fowler applauded the city for taking measures to discuss the importance of redefining transit in Coquitlam.
But time will tell how the suburban city will adopt sustainable transit in the future.
“The most important thing [Coquitlam] takes from this session is a plan to implement some of the recommendations to enable people to bike, walk, or use mobility devices to get around the city easier and safer.”