Yellowknife is getting some city planning advice thanks to a partnership with the University of Calgary.
Five civil engineering students in the university's transportation department are developing a plan to improve connections among the city's bike lanes and multi-use paths with the goal of making Yellowknife more pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly.
When complete, the strategy will be presented to city council for consideration. Councillors may choose to adopt some, all or none of the students' plan.
“They're going to come up with a plan and we're going to say is it realistic or not?” Dennis Kefalas, Yellowknife's director of Public Works and Engineering, said Monday.
“At least (the students) will give us something we'll consider and maybe over several years we might phase portions of it in.”
The 4th-year Schulich School of Engineering students were interested in exploring “active transportation," which is about ways of getting around that do not involve a motorized vehicle.
“We're actually looking at where the city is going to grow and then develop a plan for that,” Dr. Alex De Barros, the professor leading the project, said Friday.
“The goal is to encourage people to use non-motorized transportation, like walking and cycling and in winter, modes of transportation like cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.”
University of Calgary students have worked with the GNWT on engineering and geotechnical projects in the past.
Some of these have been more theoretical than practical and may never be implemented, or at least not according to the students' designs. On such project, for example, proposed a route for a highway through the Slave Geological Province.
But De Barros hopes the active transportation project will have an immediate impact on Yellowknife.
Kefalas met with the students when they were in town from Oct. 30 to Nov. 3, and took them on a tour of the city that highlighted gaps in car-free transportation routes.
First and foremost, said Kefalas, the city wants to provide safe pedestrian access to all the subdivisions, including those around Grace Lake.
“In the summertime, people don't really like taking the bus or driving, they like to walk or cycle to work, so I said that's really important,” said Kefalas.
He didn't give the students any specific requirements.
“I wanted them to run with it,” he said.
De Barros said the challenge for the students is to develop a fully-connected network people can use to take “meaningful trips.”
“It's not just for going out for a walk, or going out for a ride, but actually going somewhere, going to work, or going to school , going for a sport activity, going for an event outside, or going shopping,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Yellowknife's long winters make designing a year-round active transportation strategy especially difficult.
Because snow covers the pavement for much of the year, the students will be tasked with finding an innovative solution for indicating bike paths, other than markings on the road.
The students may also look into the possibility of integrating commuter cross-country ski trails into the plan.
The 2018 budget draft proposes spending $300,000 on extending the Frame Lake Trail behind the new Stanton Hospital and connecting it to the underpass near to Staples.
It also proposes putting $25,000 toward developing a strategy with the Transportation Initiatives Committee to connect all car-free trails and paths in the city.
Though the students were not provided a budget to work within, they were given a ballpark estimate of what the city can spend in a given year on options for active transportation.
The students' active transportation strategy is expected to be complete by the spring.