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Community feedback spurs debate on Spirit Trail to Deep Cove

There was some consensus at District of North Vancouver council on two sections slated for completion in 2025

There are still bumps in the road when it comes to extending the North Shore’s longest continuous greenway to the east.

During a workshop on Monday (May 13), District of North Vancouver council provided staff with feedback on sections of the Spirit Trail planned to wind its way eastward.

While staff asked council to focus on phases of work targeted for completion in 2025 – namely, Seymour River to Windridge Park and Roche Point Trail to Whey-ah-Wichen/Cates Park – much of the workshop’s discussion trailed off into debates about more controversial parts of the path.

In particular, some on council expressed a preference for the trail to cross Mt. Seymour Parkway at Strathaven Drive, while others thought staying south of the arterial route was better. But those southern routes would require more bridges to be built, and neighbours have complained because the path would pass through more residential areas.

Elected officials also weighed the merits of different routing choices for the final stretch to Deep Cove, which is slated for construction in 2027.

Work on the extension was approved by council last year as part of the 2023-27 capital plan, explained Shane Devine, senior project manager for the district.

Around one year into the plan, staff have started an awareness campaign and has gathered early feedback from the community. Around 600 people attended two open houses on the project, and staff have received more than 130 emails, as well as dozens of phone calls and individual meetings.

Speaking to council, Devine addressed a few common themes from the public input. One of those was how to manage the different types of trail users, which he said can be addressed through design choices like traffic calming and improved sightlines to increase visibility.

“Furthermore, by improving the rest of the cycling network, such as planned improvements for Mt. Seymour Parkway, it is expected that faster cyclists will be encouraged to stay on the more direct connections,” he said.

Devine added that there were concerns expressed over the trail travelling through local residential streets.

“It’s critical to know that local roads can be made safe for a fraction of the cost as compared to busier roads,” he said, adding that the cost can be substantial to make trails accessible to a variety of users and can result in substantial loss of trees and habitat.

“Simply put, there is no way for council to completely avoid the use of local roads to make a Spirit Trail connection from Seymour River to Deep Cove given budget constraints,” he said.

Devine finished his presentation by asking council to give feedback on the first sections of the trail so staff can be on track to start construction late 2024 or early next year.

Mayor Mike Little said one of the original criteria for the Spirit Trail was to minimize use of roads in single-family neighbourhoods. He also noted that crossing Mt. Seymour Parkway isn’t insurmountable, as the current route already crosses some major roads.

“What are your comments on that as a route, getting north of the parkway and staying north of the parkway using switchbacks and forest trails to get us as directly to the Cove as you can?” he asked staff.

Devine said it was too early to comment on that section without more technical work, and that approval of the first sections wouldn’t preclude later options.

“It’s harder for me to give other comments on the other spaces until I know whether that’s viable or not,” Little said. “So at this point, that’s my preferred option for further exploration.”

Coun. Jim Hanson agreed with the mayor and went further, advocating for the trail to continue north all the way to Deep Cove.

“I wonder if it isn’t premature for us to be weighing in on Roche Point and the Whey-ah-Wichen connection,” Hanson said.

Councillors disagree whether Spirit Trail should travel through Whey-ah-Wichen/Cates Park

In response, Coun. Jordan Back said missing a link to that park would be a huge missed opportunity.

“That particular park is such an important part of our community, to the səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) community, so I would hate to see that not move forward,” he said.

Beginning with an anecdote of her own personal experience, Coun. Catherine Pope said she was unable to exit Deep Cove north of the parkway even on her e-bike.

“I can’t see anyone else using it either,” she said.

On the Whey-ah-Wichen section Pope aligned with Back, calling it a “critical” connection.

“I don’t see that it excludes any other option, so I’m very supportive of pressing forward,” she said. “I would hate to see any kind of pause put on this project at this point, because it’s been around since 2010.

“Here we are again fourteen years later. We’ve got funding, we’ve got interest, we’ve got excitement. It’s time to move forward with it,” Pope said.

After more back and forth, council agreed there was consensus for the Windridge portion, but were divided if the Spirit Trail should travel south through Whey-ah-Wichen Park or not.

To that end, Little suggested that the Roche Point Park connection could still be completed, and council could later decide if it would become the main route of the trail, or a “spur” off of it.

“It sounds like there’s enough support for that in either case, as to whether it is a spur that goes to the park or whether it becomes the elbow of the Spirit Trail looping up to Deep Cove,” he said. “It doesn’t sound to me like there’s disagreement on that.”

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