Sidewalks are coming to Function Junction, as soon as this summer. A group of developers and landlords calling itself the Function Junction Pedestrian Strategy Group sent a letter to Whistler Council this week to let council know about its plans to develop a pedestrian sidewalks on private property along the west side of Millar Creek Road. It also wants the municipality to participate in the development and funding of connecting sidewalks on public lands to make the neighbourhood more pedestrian friendly.
Phase One for the municipality, according to Steve Bayly, should be a sidewalk from the intersection of Highway 99 to Olives Community Market.
"What we're looking for this year is the trail from the highway as far as Olives, which would be a road widening basically, with a couple of stop signs," he said. "I gather the municipality is doing a bigger overview for Function a year from now, but it would sure be nice to have at least that one section done this summer."
There is no question that Function is a busy place these days. Bayly says that more than 800 people are currently working in the industrial park for some 150 businesses, while the area is becoming more popular with pedestrians with Cheakamus Crossing opening across the highway, new businesses bringing indoor recreation, retail, arts and services to the area, a busy brewery and essential services like Olives Community Market.
"That's a big change," said Bayly of the market. "There's a shift for the whole neighbourhood."
Bayly has heard from one commercial real estate agent that there was over 38,000 square feet of vacant space for rent in Function Junction in May 2012, and in early 2013 there is only around 6,000 square feet available.
Bayly and others have already committed to building a sidewalk on their properties along the west side of Millar Creek Road, and are talking to the owners on the other side of the street about doing something similar. However, while the sidewalk will make things safer for pedestrians on that stretch of road, there's currently no safe way to get into Function Junction. As a result, Function shoppers have to walk along the side of the same busy road used by construction vehicles, cement trucks, transport trucks and other industrial park regulars.
And while pedestrian traffic is increasing, the number of buses servicing Function has been reduced with more buses turning into Cheakamus Crossing instead of the industrial park.
"This (proposal) isn't entirely selfless, but we really do think it's good for everybody," said Bayly. "It's good for merchants, it's good for the landlords and it's very good for safety... It's so crazy now in Function Junction that people will get in their cars and drive somewhere within Function to get lunch or go to a business meeting because there's nowhere to walk safely."
Bayly and partners have drafted a 13-page proposal with photos and maps that show how the entire industrial park can one day be connected with sidewalks and trails while taking into account things like plow trucks, the need for snow and run-off ditches, private landowners and the need for a possible pedestrian bridge over Millar Creek.
Bayly said that any solution will ultimately have to be a Whistler one. "That's the one thing I'm most proud of on this," he said. "Whenever there's a problem around here, people come out of the woodwork to solve it. It's always been a bit of a tradition in Whistler."
Council reviewed the letter and referred it to staff on Tuesday night. They were told that it was too late to add new sidewalks to the work plan for 2013, but there may be a possibility to add stop signs this year and then build sidewalks in 2014.
The Function Junction Pedestrian Strategy Group also includes Brent Harley, Dave Williamson and Chantelle Dean, and other property owners in the industrial park are supportive as well.