Op-Ed: Save Commercial Drive from bicycle highways

Jul 4 2016, 10:22 pm

Written by Nick Pogor, Executive Director of the Commercial Drive Business Society

While Vancouver has lots of beautiful, character-filled neighbourhoods I would argue that none have the unique mix of small businesses, family friendly atmosphere, and local entertainment of Commercial Drive. An important and historic street in Vancouver’s heritage, The Drive has come a long way in the last 50 years.

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Much like the rest of East Van, we’ve seen our share of ups and downs. These days, The Drive is a destination for many from across the Lower Mainland. No matter the activity, you won’t find a shortage of visitors to our neighbourhood who have travelled far and wide to experience The Drive.

Recently, businesses along The Drive have been working with the City of Vancouver to update the area’s transportation infrastructure. The dynamics of the city are changing and with that, the way we get around must adapt. Recently, however, the City has been aggressively pushing a strategy that we cannot support – the installation of permanent bicycle lanes on Commercial Drive itself.

For the record, businesses on The Drive support enhanced infrastructure for cyclists in Vancouver. Many of our business owners are cyclists themselves, as are our customers and our employees. We recognize that thanks to organizations like HUB and Mobi, cycling is on the rise.

In fact, the Commercial Drive Business Society supported the change in designation of Victoria Drive as “pedestrian first,” limiting vehicle speed and volume. What we cannot support, however, are permanent and blocked off lanes on an already narrow high street, with limited parking and no room for our vendors to make deliveries as is.

Businesses along Commercial Drive are concerned that permanent bicycle lanes will cause The Drive to go from a destination shopping and entertainment district to a transportation corridor that encourages cars to zip through. We are worried that our clients from across the Lower Mainland will stop coming, leading to a reduction in commercial activity, a loss of vital jobs, and ultimately, the end of one of Vancouver’s most historically and economically significant regions. And unlike downtown Vancouver, there are no parkades on The Drive that can serve as an alternative for drivers.

Many of our businesses are multi-generational, family-owned and one-of-a-kind, which means relocating to a different neighbourhood isn’t possible. Nor do we want to. We have lived, worked, and invested in The Drive, and it’s part of what makes us (and the area) tick.

What’s more, although we love The Drive, there are plenty of other issues with our neighbourhood that need civic attention. Commercial Drive has a homelessness issue, a safety and security issue, and desperately needs more mental health services for our residents, along with investments in waste management and recycling. These problems should have the City’s attention and tax dollars before the construction of bicycle highways.

There are sensible alternative solutions, though, to our transportation concerns. There are already two parallel streets adjacent to Commercial that feature cycling routes (Woodland and Lakeview Drives). Upgrading these would not have negative impacts on our businesses, and would come at a lower cost to taxpayers to install. These side streets would also offer safer biking options, especially to children and the elderly who live in the region.

We urge the City of Vancouver’s Transportation department to consider the investments that families have made along Commercial and not harm the businesses that help make the area unique. We ask you to consider alternatives to permanent bike lanes on Commercial Drive and not irreversibly turn our neighbourhood into a bike highway.

After all – it’s called “The Drive” for a reason.

Nick Pogor is the Executive Director of the Commercial Drive Business Society, which represents more than 650 business and property owners on Vancouver’s historic Commercial Drive.

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