Guest: Brian Farquhar
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The CVRD Regional Active Transportation Plan: Human-Powered to
Move Beyond Boundaries
In this episode, we welcome Brian Farquhar, Manager of Parks & Trails for the Cowichan Valley Regional District, a regional district with approximately 82,000 residents on southern Vancouver Island to talk about the in-progress CVRD Regional Active Transportation Plan – a Plan that strives to integrate existing and in-progress transportation plans, policies, and initiatives throughout the region, while filling in gaps to create a cohesive and connected regional active transportation network.
About Brian: The parks & trails programs delivered by Brian and his staff team provide both municipal-type parks and outdoor play spaces within the unincorporated Electoral Areas across the region as well as delivery of a regional parks service that is inclusive of the region’s four member municipalities. Significant parks & trails initiatives of the Cowichan Valley Regional District over the years have seen rehabilitation and re-opening of the historic Kinsol Trestle, completion of major sections of the 120 km Cowichan Valley Regional Trail (part of the Trans Canada Trail), implementation of a regional parks and trails master plan and supporting regional parkland acquisition fund, development of community parks & trails master plans for several electoral areas to guide decisions for establishment of new and expanded outdoor spaces for recreation and environmental protection/stewardship.
Active Transportation has recently emerged as a strategic priority for communities across the region and through direction of the CVRD Board a regional active transportation plan is currently under development to address opportunities for regional active transportation connections between communities. In his time away from all things parks & trails at the CVRD, Brian takes time to experience and explore the outdoors both on and off Vancouver Island, whether it be multi-day hiking treks or sailing within the Salish Sea.
Leanne Buck: Brian, you're leading a substantial project. But before we get into the nuts and bolts of all the details of it, perhaps you can just tell us a little bit about the Cowichan Valley, where you're located, how many residents. Give us a little bit of background about where you live and where this project takes place.
Brian Farquhar: The Cowichan Valley Regional District is located here on the wonderful Southern part of Vancouver Island out in British Columbia. We have residents of around 82,000 across four municipalities, and nine rural electoral areas that we manage through the regional district. So to the south of us is Greater Victoria, and to the north is Nanaimo, and the primary focus of our region is really around a mix of small urban and rural living, where people enjoy opportunities for things to do with the outdoors.
A lot of recreation takes place here year-round (hiking, mountain biking, sailing, horseback riding,) and we see that we have a lot of opportunities for people who might necessarily want to find their sort of niche work areas. So a lot of startup businesses. We have wonderful wineries across the region that rival the Okanagan. In terms of opportunities for employment, people still reside here that are involved in historical fundamental employment to do with forestry and fishing. But it's really dynamic now in terms of the burgeoning opportunities with wineries, with small little boutique businesses that people have, and an opportunity to live in a wonderful part of the world.
Leanne Buck: Well, I've been fortunate enough to be able to tour the region through involvement on this project, and it is, it's a beautiful area of this country. So I look forward to being there more often and venturing around the different areas of the region. Now, stepping back, why and when did the CVRD decide to take on a regional active transportation plan?
Brian Farquhar: The direction of this is coming through the Cowichan Valley Regional District Board, which is our 15-member representatives, our elected folks who come from both the municipalities and from our nine electoral areas. For the past four years our board has established a strategic plan, which included wanting to develop and implement a framework to identify, prioritize, and fund active transportation infrastructure ...
Recognizing that through some of our municipalities they have been independently developing active transportation plans. And through our electoral areas, some rural planning has also identified the need and the opportunities. So for the regional plan, it's really looking at wanting to have a foundational basis for bringing together various plans and putting together a more formal plan that can drive opportunities for the public to do more than just drive their cars around.
Leanne Buck: Excellent. So you're looking at a regional plan that's connecting these four municipalities and the more rural, regional electoral areas.
Brian Farquhar: Yes. In addition to that, we also have nine First Nation communities. So it's important that we're dialoguing, reaching out, and looking at opportunities on how we can provide opportunities to connect with those communities as well.
Leanne Buck: Yeah, that's really important. So how does this plan differ from local municipal plans? A lot of people may not realize the little idiosyncrasies that happen or that are part of a regional plan as compared to a municipal plan.
Brian Farquhar: As a regional district ... and not all provinces have regional districts. I think we're one of the few. We're in essence equivalent to, let's say county down in the US, where as a regional district our boundaries cover quite a large area. There's 28 regional districts across the province of British Columbia, and they're all forms of shapes and sizes. We're one of the smaller ones, but our boundaries are basically connecting to the Capital Regional District to the south, the Nanaimo Regional District to the north, and extending from the Salish Sea in the east all the way out to the Pacific Ocean on the West Coast of Vancouver Island.
As a regional district, we have responsibilities that deal with both regional initiatives, (things that are shared collectively across all those that reside within the region,) but also we look after all the responsibilities for the areas that are outside of our First Nation communities and outside of our member municipalities. So the regional district is looking at a regional active transition plan that is looking at, where we have our residents living, integrating opportunities to provide connections that go beyond just the municipalities that go beyond just one or two electoral areas. It's really about linking the opportunities for connectivity for folks to get across the region without having to, as I said earlier, drive a car.
Recent assessments have determined that upwards of 90% of our residents right now drive across the region rather than find other ways of getting around, and this is much higher than the provincial average that's around 70%. So for us it's a real driver, (pun intended,) to find ways to get people an opportunity to get around the region without driving a car, looking at alternative modes of transportation. Whether it's cycling, whether it's walking, whether it's running, whether it's other forms of active transportation, and looking at a regional network for that connectivity that can provide people better opportunities to move across the region without being in a car.
Leanne Buck: So there are current and recently completed active transportation plans, and transportation plans with member municipalities and First Nations. What are the synergies that you're trying to accomplish?
Brian Farquhar: One of the key things is reaching out to our member municipalities, reaching out to our First Nation communities to find out what they have underway or have in place, and understanding where there are opportunities to develop a regional network that can connect with and build upon what they've done in their communities. And as I mentioned earlier, within our unincorporated electoral areas. Looking at what plans are underway or envisioned there, and again, seeing what opportunities there are to establish connections and do an overlay of a regional network that ties into what each local area, each local municipality is doing, what each First Nation community may have an interest in.
To say, hey, if we collaborate under a regional plan, we can look to network together all of these local initiatives, and build something bigger and better that benefits all of the region and everybody within it. In terms of finding ways to get around safely, from perhaps going to work from home, perhaps going to school, perhaps connecting to favorite places to recreate. As well as for the folks who may not have opportunities to access an automobile with the cost of fuel and cars going up and up more these days.
Leanne Buck: That's right, totally. Well, there's something to be said about working together as opposed to in silos when you're really trying to build out a network like this for people to actually make the decision to not pick up their keys to make some of their travel trips.
Brian Farquhar: Definitely, yes.
Leanne Buck: So, we know that the planning process is well underway. This project has been underway for several months now. We're now at the second stage of public, stakeholder, and First Nations engagement, and the public is being asked for their feedback on a draft network. Can you tell us some of the details about the recommended network at this stage?
Brian Farquhar: The majority of our communities reside on the east side of our regional district, so along the coast of the Salish Sea. Running from the top end, the communities of Ladysmith and North Oyster, down to Mill Bay and the Malahats, and then westward out to the Lake Cowichan area. So we're looking at what the public has provided so far in terms of feedback, and looking at those linear connections. And we have a couple of opportunities that we're really wanting to fulfill in terms of one being our Cowichan Valley Trail Initiative completion, which is a 120-kilometer trail that links communities from the north to the west and to the south. We're well along with that one, but there are some gaps still. It's part of the Trans-Canada Trail section on Southern Vancouver Island.
But we're also looking at an Eastern route, something that would pick up and connect with communities from basically places like Crofton and Cowichan Bay down to Mill Bay. So we're wanting to make sure we've got a couple of parallel networks that could be brought forward and developed over time that provide that north-south, and east-to-west connections, and then some linkages or connections between the two. So overall it's about trying to connect all of the communities within the region that have population centers or places of importance that people want to get to, and tie those into this regional network.
Leanne Buck: You mentioned Crofton, Mill Bay. Those are both areas where there's ferry service as well to different areas of the region and extending. Is that one of the objectives as well, to try and get people walking or on their bikes to the various islands off Vancouver Island?
Brian Farquhar: So, definitely connecting to the local Gulf Islands, but also connecting to the mainland and also connecting to our two neighbouring regional districts and their communities. So we've got Nanaimo Regional District to the north, which also has tie-ins to Duke Point Ferry over to Tsawwassen in the lower mainland, and then south to the Capital region, which also has connections through Sidney and Saanich in the lower mainland as well. So it's looking at these linear linkages beyond our region as well, and the importance of that connectivity that will over time really provide a lot of variety for people to get around the region, and into out of the region as well.
Leanne Buck: Yeah, I think it's exciting to think about. So, what types of improvements are being considered as part of this regional plan?
Brian Farquhar: We've been looking at everything from the toolkit that the Ministry of Transportation has put out recently about developing active transportation, as well as what our member municipalities have identified in terms of how they're looking to continue to roll out their active transportation plans. We have opportunities to look at everything from separated pathways parallel to the roads, where there's room between adjoining lands and the roadway itself. We're looking to widen shoulder opportunities, and we're looking at improvements on wayfinding as well.
So it is looking at probably a mix at the end of the day in terms of what the various opportunities and constraints are, in terms of the existing road network within the region. Whether we're dealing with a municipality and their opportunities and requirements, or we're dealing with the Ministry of Transportation, who's the road authority in the electoral areas, in the rural areas, in terms of what their allowances are for improvements along roadways to provide for active transportation. So it's going to be mix at the end of the day, but at the end of the day we hope it's going to have value for what we're able to deliver on.
Leanne Buck: There are nine First Nations communities, which you mentioned, throughout the region. So the draft network is transversing several territories. What is CVRD trying to achieve through engagement with local First Nations?
Brian Farquhar: Through the planning process and with our consultants, we are definitely wanting to seek their inputs, their values, their interests ... And opportunities for how active transportation can bring value to their communities and connect beyond their communities for where they're seeing their members having importance to get to. It's all about dialogue, it's all about understanding, and it's all about outreach.
So part of our overall process is wanting to understand, to date, (similar to our member municipalities,) what our First Nation communities have been able to look at or consider. And also look at opportunities where we can look to bring value to them in terms of what a regional active transportation network being developed can bring to the table. But at the end of the day, we really want to make sure that their interests are heard, that their input is valued, and that the network itself at the end of the day brings, as I said, important opportunities for everybody to use and benefit from.
Leanne Buck: Now, in terms of the ... The survey is open up until September 23rd, I believe is when it's open until. And the survey is really asking folks to provide comment and feedback on the three different routes that have been identified as well as the design considerations. Is there anything there that you feel residents throughout the region ... Why should they go complete this survey? Why do we need their feedback on these routes and the prioritization of them?
Brian Farquhar: So earlier in the spring during round one, we had some wonderful feedback, and a number of people across the region took the time to fill the surveys out. Which helped shape and form the development of these draft routes that we're bringing forward now as the premise for what would be the regional network. So it's very important not only for us as staff, but equally important for our elected officials to be hearing yet again that our residents are seeing value in terms of the network that's being proposed, that they support it, that they understand that there needs to be priorities around investment.
And that finalizing the plan, having good feedback and affirmation that the work that's been done today is hitting the mark in terms of what people are expecting is very important. Because without the public input, it's very difficult to otherwise determine what it is that they really support. So we want to make sure that they are given plenty of opportunity, and we're encouraging them to take the time to go to PlanYourCowichan.ca to fill out the questionnaire for round two. Because their input is valued, and we want to make sure that everybody has the opportunity to be heard in terms of building this plan.
Leanne Buck: Thank you, Brian. So what are the next steps? We have the survey that will be open until about the third week of September, and then what are the next steps for this project beyond that time?
Brian Farquhar: Ideally we'll have this resounding amount of feedback for round two from our community. We'll be able to take that information, work with our consulting team, and work with our ongoing dialogue with our First Nation communities to really then start bringing the plan together. Ideally through the end of the year, the plan itself will be shaped and formed into an overall document, and we'll look to bring that forward to our new board.
Because we're into the fall elections for new councils, for municipalities, for new regional board members through electoral areas. So it'll be with the new board for their four-year term to receive the plan and the recommendations. And then look to their direction in terms of next steps for implementation based on what we've heard from our community in developing the plan.
Leanne Buck: Okay. Well, I think this is exciting, and I think it's a great step forward for Vancouver Island, for the Cowichan Valley region, for residents. It's a wonderful step forward for building a healthier community, for getting people out of their cars, at least some of the time to make those travel choices through the Cowichan Valley trail along a future scenic east route, and to get people to the community connections that have been talked about. Whether it be the town center's new hospital that's being built, and just giving people a nice alternative to the automobile for getting around.
So, thanks so much, Brian. You've given us great information about the project, and you have told us where folks can go to learn more about the project, complete the survey, or provide input on the project site, and that's PlanYourCowichan.ca. Beyond the plan, I'm looking forward to seeing how this Regional Active Transportation Initiative is implemented in the years ahead. I know that there's challenges, but with that lie opportunities. So, thank you for joining us, and thank you for listening to the UpLift Community podcast. Have an amazing day and uplifting week ahead.
Brian Farquhar: Thank you.