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Highway 97 cycling fatality prompts calls to finish the Okanagan Rail Trail

Click to play video: 'Fatal crash prompts calls for Okanagan Rail Trail to be finished' Fatal crash prompts calls for Okanagan Rail Trail to be finished
WATCH: A fatal crash involving a cyclist on Highway 97 has amplified calls for a cycling route to be opened between Kelowna and Lake Country. Bike advocates and community members say governments should move as quickly as possible to open the Okanagan Rail Trail between the two communities to move bikes off Highway 97. – May 24, 2022

A fatal crash involving a cyclist on Highway 97 has amplified calls for a cycling route to be opened between Kelowna and Lake Country in B.C.’s Interior.

Bike advocates and community members say governments should move as quickly as possible to open the Okanagan Rail Trail between the two communities to move bikes off Highway 97.

Read more: Way paved for completion of Okanagan Rail Trail

While police have released few details about the Tuesday morning collision that occurred near Highway 97 and Parkinson Drive, Landon Bradshaw, a director with the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition, said riding along the highway corridor is not safe for cyclists.

“Cyclists should not be required to ride along the highway when people are going 90 km/h,” Bradshaw said.

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Read more: Stiffer fines for ‘dooring’ cyclists go into effect Monday

In the wake of Tuesday’s fatality, Bradshaw is among those emphasizing that the nearby Okanagan Rail Trail, which remains unfinished and closed north of the Kelowna airport, should be opened quickly to give cyclists a safer option to get from Kelowna to Lake Country than the highway.

“We’ve been sitting here with this route half-closed, with nowhere to go and it feels like we are being left,” said Bradshaw.

“There are many people that live in Winfield, live in Lake Country, live in Oyamathat are willing to ride, but I think most of them would go crazy trying to think about riding along the highway.”

The Okanagan Rail Trail from Coldstream to Kelowna remains unfinished and blocked off north of the Kelowna airport. A sign warns trespassers will be prosecuted. Megan Turcato / Global News

Lake Country’s Chamber of Commerce is also among those pushing for the rail trail to be fully opened quickly.

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“Today is a very tragic experience of why it needs to happen,” said the chamber’s business engagement adviser Tony Pallas.

Pallas said the business group has been advocating for the trail to be fully opened for years as it would be good for local businesses and commuter safety.

“I think we as a community have to really work together and try to come to our local governments on both sides of the trail…and show that today can never happen again. We all have to collaborate, come together, and come up with a positive solution to open this rail trail immediately.”

In February, the City of Kelowna, District of Lake Country and Okanagan Indian Band announced they had reached a memorandum of understanding that was expected to lead to the rail trail’s completion “once the Government of Canada adds the lands to the reserve.”

Read more: Okanagan Rail Trail e-bike rules drive up controversy

On Tuesday, the city’s general manager of infrastructure, Mac Logan, said the three local jurisdictions are working to open the rail trail, but first, they need federal government’s approval to access land in the Okanagan Indian Band area.

“I can sincerely tell the citizens that this is something that is a priority, it is something that we are working on literally on a daily basis,” Logan said.

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“There is a tremendous amount of cooperation between the City of Kelowna, District of Lake Country, and most importantly the Okanagan Indian Band. But the federal government plays a role here and we are doing our best to try and get those agreements in place.”

Read more: Fatal collision between cyclist and vehicle closes Highway 97 in Lake Country

Logan said he agrees cyclists need a travel corridor separate from the highway.

“Today’s tragic events are a sad reminder that we need to have separate facilities for people who are going to use cycling as commuting,” said Logan.

Logan could not say when construction might start on the still-closed section of the rail trail.

 

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