Willingdon urban trail may be in the works

A proposed urban trail on Willingdon Avenue could become a reality whether it links to a new community centre or not, say city officials.

The path for pedestrians and cyclists has been cited as a possible connection for Brentwood residents to a community centre next to Eileen Dailly pool.

Burnaby Coun. Sav Dhaliwal, chair of the parks commission, said some sort of recreation facility is still likely at the site of the former Burnaby Heights Resource Centre.

But instead of one large centre there the city is looking at two smaller ones. The second one would ideally be located closer to the major redevelopments happening at Willingdon and Lougheed Highway near Brentwood mall.

Either way, the urban trail still has a good chance of happening, said Stuart Ramsey, Burnaby's manager of transportation planning.

But the original plan to build an HOV lane next to it? Not so much.

Leif Bjorseth of Burnaby's engineering department explained that 10 to 15 years ago, the city came up with a longterm plan to widen Willingdon and put in a high-occupancy-vehicle lane. The idea was it could help convince TransLink to bring express buses up and down Willingdon.

Starting in 2000, the city bought properties on the east side of Willingdon as they came up for sale. The city now owns all the properties on that stretch between Lougheed and Hastings Street and has demolished all but two or three of the homes on them.

In 2008, the city developed a concept that included the HOV lane plus a four-metre-wide urban trail. That concept was brought to a public meeting.

"There was quite a strong reaction from the public, they didn't want this," Bjorseth recalled.

Area residents raised concerns the plan would worsen the problem of rat-running traffic and were worried about the lack of safe places to cross Willingdon.

City staff revised the plan to try and address the issues but ended up shelving it because it wasn't a big priority, he said. It was decided to review the idea as part of an update of the city's overall transportation plan.

That update will include a public process but likely won't start until later this year, said Ramsey. It's expected to take two years to complete.

One thing they do know is that much has changed since the current plan was developed 20 years ago. And HOV lanes are no longer likely to get council approval.

"Council is generally not a big fan of road expansion in general," Ramsey said, noting it took "quite a strong position" against the province's Highway 1 expansion project.

"We're developing new ideas for how we might use that corridor and certainly I think that making it a better corridor for pedestrians and cyclists is more the direction that we're heading in now."

Even without a community centre in the Heights, there is still "quite a nexus" of civic amenities there including the pool, McGill library, seniors centre, Confederation Park and the Heights commercial district itself.

"In my view, it makes sense in any event to build a more walkable city, a more bikeable city, and to enhance that connection."

As for the express bus idea, Ramsey pointed out there is less traffic on Willingdon the further north you go. So the lack of HOV lanes on that section would not prevent the buses from being implemented.

Even if council decides to go ahead with the urban trail project, it would likely be at least another three years before moves up the priority list, he said.

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