The automobile is king in this town, I was reminded of this, as, for the second time in a month a local paper features a large spread about the local car dealers. This time it refers to the opening of a new Hyundai dealership by Craig and Keith Kalawsky. The last big article was about the 20 years of community and business service that Craig and Keith’s parents, Darlene and Neil Kalawsky, have given to Castlegar, around their business of Castlegar Toyota and Kalawsky’s GM dealership.

Their story is one of hard work and perseverance through economic struggles and creating a brand that is known throughout the Kootenays. They are a big part of the local economy, and many of the vehicles being driven in this town have been purchased at one or another of their dealerships. Their success is in part also due to the distances between towns and the generally low level of service or availability of other modes of transport.

The State of Transportation in Castlegar

The above image (click to see a larger version) is about all the data on travel choices that we can get from the published national census data. It is a breakdown of how people travel to work, and I’ve compared Castlegar to BC, and to Canada in general.

I’m not sure why Castlegar’s data for public transport is zero – I would have expected it to be at least one percent (say 30 workers), but for some reason it is zero in the data. More notable is the data for people driving to work, which is 12% higher than the BC or Canadian stats, (which by the way are remarkably similar!).

Bus routes are limited, and the town extends about 7.5km (4.6 miles) from North to South, so walking and bicycle options are limited. There is no train service despite the ever-present railway line through town and extending in either direction from Trail to Nelson. All in all, Castlegar is heavily dependent on private automobiles as the primary mode of transportation, and the heavily used parking lagoons adorning the strip malls and mini malls scattered along Columbia Avenue are a testament to the fact that this town, like it or not has a location and a layout that makes travelling by automobile the easiest option by far.

The Future

Almost every newspaper or blog that covers issues of fuel and energy has at one point or another discussed the likelihood of alternative fuels to power our car-crazy culture. Some dare to state that the future cannot possibly see transportation in the forms we are currently accustomed to, but for the most part, the media outlets assume that some techno-miracle is possible to transform our oil based society into one reliant on something other than fossil fuels to move us about in our personal machines.  Hybrids, plugins, biofuels are all possibilities for the future, but the infrastrucuture required to convert our fleet and fueling systems is a massive challenge, particularly in rural towns where the population barely justifies investment from energy providers when compared to larger cities and centres.

A town like Castlegar, and almost all of the rural towns of North America for that matter, must plan and begin to adapt in place before the combined curves of possible future technology advances and definite rising gas prices sweep past us, for placing any reliance on rapid distribution of saviour technologies to rural areas will leave us hanging onto expensive fuels and the combustion engine.

Businesses and organizations will change their practices as the price of gasoline increases, the Kalowsky companies, and others like them, will be around for years to come, probably selling more efficient vehicles than we imagine today, and keeping the old ones running, but our reliance on personal vehicles and the road infrastructure that supports them is likely to deminish as the price of fuel increases.

The Present Opportunities…

Castlegar is in the middle of considering an Integrated Community Sustainability Plan with a reasonable amount of community input into the process. Part of this process if forecasting a future condition for Castlegar, and working out how we can get there as smoothly as possible. It was identified in the early consultation that one of our biggest challenges is the automobile-centric layout and culture of Castlegar, and sometimes difficult public transportation network – how can we move from that condition to one of sustainability? This is a question that deserves serious attention as a community, if we want this to be a place where we want our children to thrive, a plan for the future needs to address this issue among others. Get involved in the Integrated Community Sustainability Plan and have your say on issues that will impact the future of Castlegar.


Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.

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