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'No safe detour,' says cyclist as Trans Mountain construction closes Coquitlam connection

Cyclist worried he'll have to ride along the busy Mary Hill bypass to get to Port Coquitlam and beyond as construction on the Trans Mountain pipeline ramps up, shutting cycling connections, and a path in Colony Farm Regional Park

Cyclists are losing a direct connection between New Westminster, Burnaby, Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam with the closing of two popular bike routes to make way for Trans Mountain Pipeline construction.

And the route they’ll be forced to take instead will put them in traffic along the busy Mary Hill bypass, where a cyclist was killed last February.

“They seem to shut down what ever they want,” said Phil Smith, a New Westminster resident who commutes via bike to his Port Coquitlam business.

Smith said he’s disappointed pipeline construction is preventing cyclists from using a path near Maquabeak Park that runs alongside the Mary Hill bypass to Port Coquitlam and another route, through private property in an industrial area, connecting to a multi-use path in Colony Farm Regional Park.

Both are popular for cyclists seeking connection to the Fraser Valley and beyond but Smith, the co-owner of Tinhouse Brewery, said they are also critical infrastructure that while still muddy and rough in spots are important to get people out of their cars and active during COVID-19.

In fact, he believes the two routes should be improved not closed off for several months during construction.

“Our hope was that they would have taken that into consideration and put in some safe detours for cyclists, especially since they are taking away the only two safe routes. It seems like everything is an afterthought to this project,” said Smith.

To get to his business at 550 Sherling Place, Smith will have to ride along the shoulder of the busy Mary Hill bypass, where cars and trucks routinely travel well above the 60 km/h speed limit.

The concern arises as Trans Mountain establishes work sites to permit pipeline construction along routes through Coquitlam to Burnaby.

The federal government owns the company and the $12.6 billion pipeline project, which has promised to provide community benefits, including $1.4 million for Colony Farm Park enhancements, and to restore areas where work is being done.

Soon, cyclists and walkers will be denied access to a perimeter trail on the western edge of Colony Farm that is an access route to Coquitlam for bikes and provides for a loop trail for walkers around old field habitat next to the Forensic Institute and Colony Farm Road.

For Smith, who is an experienced cyclist, forging ahead on the Mary Hill bypass is his only option as he’s determined to continue his regular cycling commute.

“It’s not fun to drive at the best of times, it’s not really nice or safe to ride on given that we have two to three feet of shoulder to ride.”

However, he’s resigned to the closure, even though it could be for several months, and will also affect his recreational cycling group, Fraser River Fuggitivi, whose members would use the cycling path to get into the lush forests and valleys of the Fraser Valley.

Steve Schaffrick, Metro Vancouver division manager for the parks central area, confirmed that signs will be going up soon to inform park visitors of the closure.

“The real impact to the park users will be seen starting on March 8. That is when Trans Mountain has their official what’s called a commencement start date, that is when we expect the permitter trail will be closed and there will be signs posted the park with signage indicating which trail is closed, trying to give as much advance notice to users.”

In recent days, work on environmental concerns have also taken place in anticipation of the construction project, Schaffrick said.

Sweeps have been conducted to identify Oregon Forest Snails in the construction area and relocate them. The tiny species-at-risk typically hibernate underground but emerge when weather warms.

As well, Metro Vancouver hired an environmental monitor to keep watch over the pipeline project, to ensure that it sticks to its environmental plan and impacts are kept to a minimum.

“They will be our eyes and ears on the site.”

As for cyclists, they will have to look for other routes, perhaps, up through Coquitlam, to bypass Trans Mountain construction.

Smith said doing a route along Foster Avenue in upper Coquitlam or along Lougheed Highway, which has a lot of debris, will take him out of his way.

”I’ll probably roll the dice and risk my life,” said Smith as he anticipates forging a new route along the busy, and sometimes treacherous, Mary Hill bypass.

More information about the Coquitlam leg of Trans Mountain pipeline construction is available here.