The idea of building an overpass over Summit Drive to connect the downtown west end of Kamloops with TRU has been in plans for a decade or more. Recently, the idea of developing this overpass seems to have become a higher priority project due to a variety of reasons. The soon-to-be-completed Peterson Creek pathway means that the overpass is next up in terms of large projects for the City’s pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure network. The recent purchase of Upper College Heights and the proposal to construct more student housing in the neighbourhood provides greater urgency for the overpass as there are likely over a thousand students and staff that live in this area with that number expected to grow in the future. The recent death of an international student in Prince George further highlights the need for safe access to campuses for all modes of travel.
Earlier today, Mel Rothenburger published an editorial that said that TRU, not the City, should pay for the costs of the overpass. He also said that building a fence on Summit would be a suitable alternative to building the overpass. While I don’t disagree with him that TRU should pay at least a portion of the costs, if not all of them, particularly given that they are flush with cash and embarking on private land development, I believe that Mr. Rothenburger is quite wrong about the fence – it’s not a suitable alternative to an overpass.
Besides the increase in safety that it would provide, the overpass would also offer more direct access to the heart of campus than going to the intersection of Summit/McGill. I have heard people say that this overpass could be similar to 3rd Avenue overpass over the rail tracks which doesn’t get much use but this is not a great comparison simply for the fact that most times during the day, there isn’t actually a train crossing 3rd Avenue cutting off access to Lorne Street and Riverside Park and walking along 3rd Avenue is easier, more efficient and safe. The same cannot be said of Summit Drive where there is always traffic which forms a moving barrier to actually walking safely across the road and therefore using the overpass would make sense.
Another benefit would be that pedestrians would no longer have to wait for the walk signal at the intersection and would not have to worry about turning vehicles. On the flipside, there would be a benefit for motorists making turns as there would be fewer pedestrians crossing the road. This would reduce vehicle congestion at one of the busier intersections in Kamloops.
The overpass would also help to better integrate TRU with the west end of downtown and the core of downtown itself. The TRU campus is like an island in the middle of the city bounded by arterial roadways. While the campus itself is quite nice, it has always felt like a separate entity to me. While this overpass would not completely solve this issue, it would provide a tangible connection between TRU and a neighbourhood in town which is a good starting point in better integrating the campus in the city. The overpass could become a fundamental component of a broader bicycle network in the city that could connect Dufferin and Aberdeen through the TRU campus with the downtown.
While a fence could be installed in the median of Summit Drive and would be a cheaper alternative, such a move is retrogressive. It means that we are going to continue to prioritize motorists of pedestrians and people that ride bikes and other modes of travel which is the opposite of what progressive communities are doing. It is saying to pedestrians that we like you enough that we don’t want to crush you with our 2000 pounds of steel but we don’t like you enough to actually give you something that makes your travel more convenient.
The overpass won’t be cheap but it is a worthy investment. It would be safer, more efficient, and would send another signal that our community is putting pedestrians and people that ride bikes on a more equitable level with motorists. Hopefully TRU and the City can get this figured out and get it built soon.