New Brunswick

Saint John bike plan nearly ready but no money available

Saint John's proposed new cycling strategy comes with a caution from city manager, John Collin: There is no money.

Public to comment online before plan receives council vote

Saint John's draft cycling strategy is opening for public comment. Funding will be a big challenge. (City of Saint John)

Saint John's proposed new cycling strategy comes with a caution from city manager, John Collin: There is no money.

The MoveSJ plan, the first in a decade, includes a lengthy list of proposed new cycling lanes but acknowledges key recommendations from the previous effort, the Trails and Bikeways Strategic Plan of 2010, have yet to be implemented.

That called for a 183-kilometre community network of routes, citywide corridors and "recreational loops."

It resulted in the Campus-Harbour Connector, a 4.5-km bike route from the University of New Brunswick in Saint John to the city centre.

Final improvements to the route are to be completed next summer, when bike lanes will be added along University Avenue.

The Great Trail, formerly the Trans-Canada Trail, also travels through the city but several sections do not include dedicated bike lanes.

And while city bike lanes are now proposed for numerous other routes, including Crown Street and City Road, it's going to be hard to find the money to do the work. 

Collin said municipal policy now dedicates 90 per cent of capital spending to "fixing old stuff,' crumbling infrastructure in need of repair. He said no federal funding programs are open to the city.

Ward 3 councillor David Hickey. It's not closing streets, it's opening them up. (Graham Thompson, CBC)

"There is no money for this right now," said Collin. "We have no guaranteed sources of money that we know we can go after."

While councillors largely spoke in favour, Ward 1's Blake Armstrong said he will vote against the plan.

"I've never had a person - ever - ask 'I need these bike lanes,'" said Armstrong. "This is going to cost a fortune. You're shutting down arteries."

Councillor David Hickey, who said he cycles in excess of 200 kilometres a week, directed his response at Armstrong's remarks.

"We have councillors around this table challenging us and saying that we're closing down streets," said Hickey. "I think that's entirely false. I think what we're doing is opening them up."

Hickey's fellow Ward 3 councillor, Donna Reardon, said she is "a hundred per cent" in support of the draft plan.

"Outdoor spaces are important to us right now with COVID," said Reardon. "Nobody's travelling. So we want to do some of these activities."

She said the speed limit on the causeway to and from the city's east side should be lowered to 50 km/h to make it safer for cyclists.

Nick Cameron is government liaison for the advocacy group Saint John Cycling.

He said he's cautiously optimistic about the plan and urged the city not to be discouraged by a seeming lack of funding.

Cycling Saint John's Nick Cameron. 'Cautiously optimistic.' (Nick Cameron, submitted)

Cameron said the city cannot apply for public or private funding until a master plan is in place.

"[We] really want to make sure that we don't have another situation like we did in 2010, where we put all this work into a strategy and then spend the next few following years coming up with reasons why we can't do what the recommendations say," he said.

The draft plan will now undergo a public engagement process expected to take place largely online. Anyone can participate, including motorists and transit users.

A final council vote is expected by the end of the year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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