Monday, September 25, 2023
September 25, 2023

Hornby Island pathway experience makes local picture clearer


I’m writing to you from Hornby Island, where I’ve cycled to visit their roadside trail (and a friend). When I finally saw it, I was surprised. It looks just like our packed gravel walking trails on Salt Spring. Turns out, that’s no coincidence.

The nine-kilometre Hornby Roadside Trail system was built to connect island features, along the busiest roads. The trail topping is a mix of soil and gravel, designed for walking, but okay for slow cycling and horseback riding.

Over 20 years ago, Salt Spring’s Jean Gelwicks came to Hornby to visit an artist friend, Lynn, and was so inspired by her husband Andrew Carmichael’s work to establish these walking trails with a vibrant group of volunteers, that she brought the concept home.

Jean met some top-notch retired experts and engineers on Salt Spring and they created Partners Creating Pathways, a committee of Island Pathways, so they, working with the Salt Spring Island Transportation Commission (a Capital Regional District entity) could get walking trails designed and built on Salt Spring. They have been doing this for over 20 years.

A few years ago they celebrated the completion of the original Ganges Village Pathway Network, a network of mostly gravel pathways into and around Ganges that was embedded in the official community plan and the dream of the Salt Spring community for years.

“These pathways were constructed for pedestrians, but anyone who feels safer off the road — riding a mobility scooter or a bicycle — is welcome to use them,” says Jean.

Here on Hornby, I biked along Central Road on some of their roadside trail, but it was rooty and narrow and I couldn’t roll very quickly. So I continued along the paved road edge and ruminated on what we really need back home to connect ferries with town.

What I’ve learned is that we will need both a roadside walking trail, preferably of crushed gravel, as well as cycling lanes of at least 1.5 metres on both sides, decreased speed limits and driver education.

Here on Hornby, they also have those ambiguous “Share the Road” signs. Some drivers see them as directions to cyclists to stick to the very road edge, which we’ve seen is dangerous. Whereas, I’ve spoken with cyclists who interpret the signs as instructions to drivers to share the lane.

One of the best recommendations in the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s recent Salt Spring Island Cycling Safety Report was to stencil large bicycles on the main road lanes wherever there is a “Share the Road” sign, emphasizing that cyclists have as much a right to the road as motor vehicles.

Funny thing was that a few weeks ago, I took my kids to Canoe Island in the San Juans for the long weekend and reconnected with a friend there, Stuart Carmichael. We chatted about my work on Salt Spring, and then he described his father Andrew’s work on Hornby.

Stuart talked about his dad as someone who loved bringing people together to get something done. They would look for “desire lines” — the worn trails where people already walked along shoulders — and then expand them with gravel until they became real trails.

“There was a whole gang all working together that Andrew was part of,” said Stuart. “They needed to get gravel to a forest trail, so he invented a special machine that unlocked the ability of volunteers to get the trail to the next level.”

Andrew has now passed on, but his legacy and inspiration of skilled residents collaborating and “just getting it done” to get safer trails built endures!

So many Gulf Islands are following suit. Denman recently completed a long section of roadside trail with help from their Regional District, and Mayne’s path to Miners Bay is under construction. Everyone wants to be able to walk and cycle safely, and we’re all connected here.

The writer is an active Island Pathways and Cycling Salt Spring committee member.


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