Guest comment: Hey Park Board, stay in your lane!

CityHallWatch has received this contribution from David Fine, a local filmmaker who also moderates the VanPoli Facebook group and is an active commentator on local politics, regarding the controversial Park Board vote on March 10, 2021 to implement a “temporary bike lane” again in Stanley Park until October 31 this year. David launched the “Keep Stanley Park open for all!” petition, which today sits at over 32,000 signatories.

Separately, we also have posted an opinion by Steve Bohus, entitled “Bike lane welcome on Park Drive in Stanley Park. Let’s move on.” 

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Hey Park Board, stay in your lane!
By David Fine

After two sessions at Park Board listening to residents views and discussing, a decision was rendered. Not about the contentious issue of another temporary bike lane in the park and the associated issues relating to access and the concerns of the restaurants, but about a small community garden. No, the request to have public input on plans for Stanley Park was rejected by the COPE/Green majority. They felt they had all the feedback they needed.

Park Board Commissioner Dave Demers called the public engagement “rock solid” based solely on the one survey of 11,000 which appears to support the bike lane plans, but the survey itself reveals flaws which give a context to this one source. The data from the survey confirms that 73% of respondents indicate they come to the park to run, walk and cycle, all able bodied activities. Now you can certainly drive to the park to do that too, but the survey also confirms that of those, 60% indicate they normally access the park on a bike and 47% drive.

The total is higher than 100% because some do both, but more of the respondents appear to be cyclists, and no surprise there because we know the Park Board set up kiosks in places mainly only cyclists and fit joggers could access. This does not invalidate the survey, but it is relevant when all views are taken into consideration, like the 32,000 name petition and even the latest Daily Hive survey (graph below) completed by over 2,500 people which is 70% against the bike lane. Not to mention almost every caller who spoke to the original motion at Park Board.

A closer look at the Park Board survey results:

My observations on the Park Board survey: COPE/Green Park Board majority insist the survey supports a temporary bike lane now, while the study is still taking place, but the majority specifically support a plan “in the future,” “with more planning” and “public engagement.”

Rock solid consultation?

None of these references are completely “rock solid”, as Demers says of the survey, but they all need to be considered and yet, Park Board Chair Camil Dumont and the other COPE/Green reps rely solely on the one survey and insist they are responding to public opinion while ignoring the above and refusing to allow the public to weigh in at a Park Board meeting.

Quote from Park Board Chair, Camil Dumont: “We need to reduce our dependency on cars and encourage cleaner modes of transportation.”

This is a park board majority so steeped in political dogma that they prioritize their greenwashing agenda at the expense of what they are really supposed to be doing, taking care of parks for all to enjoy. Disappointing also to see Park Board staff responding in lock step, literally telling us that this is less about a bike lane or access and more about an anti-car agenda.

Commissioner Dumont said: “The main driver of this is a realization that we need to de-centre the automobile, culturally and from our way of life.” The main driver!

Is it the Park Board’s remit to de-centre the automobile from our way of life?

The motion literally is, as written, about reducing access for people who need to, or wish to, arrive by car. Having said that, Park Board says that they intend this installation to be different:

Staff will work on a timeline for implementation that allows for stakeholder engagement, coordination with operational and emergency services, and full design and proper implementation.

The temporary bike path will not be the same as last year’s bike path in Stanley Park. Lessons learned from last year on accessibility, parking improvements, route configurations, and barrier options will all be studied and staff will work with stakeholders, fire and rescue services, and traffic management experts to make adjustments and improvements accordingly.

This is good news, but concerns remain about how that will play out, considering the incredibly poor implementation of the last temporary plan which closed key destinations to cars entirely, like Third Beach and Brockton Point (“73% of parking remained” is a disingenuous number considering the reality of how that was done) The fact is, the intended idea is to reduce car access and this is the same staff who will be tasked with doing better. I truly wish them well.

Third Beach when parking was closed. Hence, nearly empty beach.

Park Board promises to learn from last year. Will they?

Ex City Planner Sandy James said on PriceTags, “What is missing in this latest Park Board motion are the ABC’s-Accessibility, Businesses, and Congestion,” and that is absolutely true because this should be a foundation of any planning in the park. The idea is to serve as many people as possible, not focus on one mode at the intended exclusion of another.

Considering park configuration post-Covid is perhaps one of the most salient issues. There is much promotion around the stat that bike use increased 180%, at about 5,200 cyclists per day, but that was during an historic, unique time and even that increase in cycling volumes is relatively small compared to the normal visitor numbers, as Sandy James rightly points out, which are around 12 million annually, or over 32,000 per day. Not looking at the big picture is not only myopic, but incredibly irresponsible for commissioners tasked with overseeing our parks.

Park Board loses millions in parking revenue which goes straight into their operating budget

It is worth noting also that the Park Board saw a $3 million decline in parking revenue in 2020. That is money that would be directly used by the Board to fund park maintenance and even potentially fund upgrades to existing bike infrastructure, but that was lost. There was no shortage of desire for people to visit the park by car, even without tourists, but it was impossible when the road was closed and difficult when it was opened due to it being handled in such a confused and messy way with parking lots opened and closed and reconfigured on the fly.

I am loathe to wrap climate issues into this because the gains are so microscopic, if any, as to make it essentially irrelevant, but it could also be argued that closing access from the bridge and the associated added driving and congestion and more circling looking for parking in the park, contributes more to emissions, not less and so this undermines any attempt to address climate issues, no matter the degree of greenwashing. And in any case, as we look to transition to EVs, what will be the reason to restrict cars then?

Is this a car vs bike debate? It shouldn’t be

As regards the “ugly car vs bike debate,” it has to be said, objections to the plans are not about “car culture,” but people culture. People who need to, or wish to arrive by car, for many entirely justifiable reasons. Many people cannot get to the park any other way and so restricting car access means restricting access to those people. Myself, I am a cyclist and enjoy riding in the park, but I also love to come to the park in my car with beach gear, BBQ and family, including my 90 year old mom and my wife, a double lung transplant patient who is not up to cycling from Kits.

The petition I started, which has over 32,000 supporters, is clear to say that the issue is not about a bike lane, but about maintaining access for all, no matter their mode choice. I’m all for looking at any way we can improve the seawall route as well.

Stanley Park seawall in the sun

I want to say this as clearly as possible: If a bike route can be added in the park without reducing access for others, then let’s look at that, for sure, but when the stated goal of the motion is to reduce access, it’s clear that this is not about equity. I’m very keen to see the staff report on the longer term plans and whether this temporary plan will be permanent, but you’ll forgive me for feeling suspicious given the spin and misinformation spouted by the Park Board majority who, last time, had all the cones on standby while “listening” to public opinion.

Let’s share the park. Let’s make cycling safe and easy for all, but let’s not restrict access for others while doing so.

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2 thoughts on “Guest comment: Hey Park Board, stay in your lane!

  1. Dear Urbanitza. I may have missed it in what you sent, but a big upside of last summer’s provision/addition of the bike lane in the Park was that bikes were banned from the Seawall. That is a major component in the equation, and a major benefit for those who prefer walking – or so I’d say. Is Park Board proposing to replicate that? Did I miss it?

    Bill Jeffries bjeffries@telus.net

    >

  2. For Stanley Park to accommodate any increase in demand – whether it be cars, bikes or walking – will eventually require an increase in capacity. Unfortunately, this will also not go over well, since this means adding more hard surfaces to Stanley Park and the removal of trees to do so. Perhaps this will come in the form of a new, dedicated bikeway, one that doesn’t compete with pedestrians walking the Seawall. Or it could mean widening Park Drive, adding a shoulder or separated bike lane. As Vancouver’s population increases, particularly in the West End/Coal Harbour/Yaletown communities, so, too, will the need for active recreation. With so few parks in the area, this will primarily put pressure on Stanley Park to respond.

    That said, there couldn’t be a better time to experiment with how these future needs might best be met. While there could be a slight uptick in tourism this summer over 2020, it will be far from historic levels. The Alaska cruise season has been cancelled; and foreign visits will remain low so long as the Federal Government maintains testing and quarantine requirements. There’s little likelihood that Stanley Park will be seeing many tour buses this summer.

    Most forms of indoor activity will also remain limited, with both private gyms and community recreations centres at reduced capacity. Taken together, Stanley Park will likely see much of the same local demand that it experienced last year.

    It’s been documented that there were losses in parking revenue in Stanley Park last year, and that restaurants and attractions saw a drop in business. However, it’s only speculation that this was the result of road closures – there’s no demonstrable cause and effect – since tourism was also way down, and locals may have been tightening their belts in the face of job loss.

    Certainly, the needs of the physically challenged and emergency vehicles must be considered, and that the park businesses need support. If Park Board staff cannot come back with a plan which reasonably addresses each of these stakeholder needs, we might not see the dedicated bike lane at all.

    Necessity is the mother of invention, and if the talent and will are there to make it happen, I’m hoping we’ll all be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.

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