Stanley Park's bike lane to remain in place until at least next summer

Nov 16 2021, 10:50 pm

The controversial temporary bike lane running along Stanley Park Drive is now expected to remain in place through the middle of Summer 2022 at the very least.

This follows a decision by Vancouver Park Board commissioners during a public meeting on Monday night, with commissioners voting 5-2 in their usual party lines.

A motion by Green Party commissioner Camil Dumont and COPE commissioner John Irwin called on Park Board staff to keep the temporary bike lane in place until the completion of the Stanley Park Mobility Study. As with previous decisions on the much-heated Stanley Park Drive bike lane issue, COPE and Green Party commissioners voted in support, while NPA commissioners were against.

“When is a temporary bike lane not a temporary bike lane? I guess at the Park Board. I think credibility is an important thing. When we say we’re going to do something; when we put something in that is going to be temporary, it should be temporary,” said NPA commissioner John Coupar.

Following the controversial design in 2020 that closed a substantial portion of the vehicle parking and access, commissioners in March 2021 approved the return of the temporary bike lane until at least October 2021.

The reinstatement of the bike lane was phased, with the final portion installed by the end of July 2021. Unlike the 2020 configuration, after receiving input from the public, businesses, and other stakeholders, Park Board staff replaced some of the traffic fixtures with sturdier concrete barriers, reopened all vehicle parking lots, made available all but 4% of the 2,300 vehicle parking stalls, and reopened the entrances and exits to the Stanley Park Causeway. Furthermore, vehicle access reopened at Brockton Point, and cyclists had the option of using the seawall pathway.

But the single-lane configuration for vehicles has attracted some criticism for the traffic congestion and barriers it has created, and as a contributing factor in the financial struggles of park businesses. During normalcy, vehicle parking in Stanley Park generates about $4 million annually to help cover maintenance and operational costs of the park.

Prior to yesterday’s decision, it was anticipated the bike lane would be dismantled sometime this month.

“I know it may be really hard to understand, and I get a lot of push back all the time when I say that we made it very difficult to drive in Stanley Park if you have issues, and leaving by the Causeway. Running into any traffic issues is devastating for some people. I’m glad the people around the table don’t have to deal with it everyday, but I deal with people can’t go to the park because it may be difficult, and we’ve changed the traffic,” said NPA commissioner Tricia Barker, referring to the experiences of her physical training clients who have conditions that are palliative in nature.

“I talked to a gentleman of a family today, and they don’t feel they can take their dad. I’m not against cyclists, but I am very much for people who really need our support, and really need us to think past. I don’t know what changing the bike lane in Stanley Park would do for the climate emergency, but what I’m talking about is some people who need us to say, ‘come on in.'”

With the decision, the bike lane occupying one of two roadway lanes of Stanley Park Drive will remain until at least the end of the Stanley Park Mobility Study, which was initiated by commissioners in June 2020 to study the long-term feasibility and options of permanently reducing vehicle traffic in the park.

Park Board staff will return to commissioners with an update on the mobility study in March 2022, and engage in a round of public consultation at that stage. Commissioners are scheduled to review and make a final decision on the mobility study’s findings and recommendations in July 2022, just ahead of the October 2022 civic election.

Earlier this fall spanning over the period of just under a month, Park Board staff conducted a public survey on the 2021 bike lane design. Over 1,200 survey responses were received, with about 75% of the respondents being cyclists.

Public opinion is essentially split on the idea of whether the bike lane is good thing, and whether it should return.

When asked whether they would like to see a separated bike lane become permanent on Stanley Park Drive with more improvements, 47% disagreed while 50% agreed.

There were similar response proportions on the idea of implementing a temporary bike lane every summer, with 51% disagreeing and 47% agreeing. Of those who disagreed, 6% indicated they want to see a permanent bike lane, not on a seasonal basis.

Furthermore, 49% disagree and 40% agree on a strategy that removes the temporary bike lane, and returns to pre-pandemic condition of two roadway lanes for vehicles.

Overall, 48% disliked and 46% liked not having a bike lane on the roadway, 45% equally disliked and liked the idea of a car-free park, and 66% disliked and 20% liked the idea of a separated bike lane on the roadway with the seawall closed to cyclists.

Since last year, commissioners who are in favour of the bike lane have shifted their rationale from physical distancing as a pandemic-time health safety measure to one of climate action, in their belief that bike lanes reducing vehicle traffic within the park would have a measurable impact on global climate change.

Dumont called this an “opportunity to show leadership on climate,” and suggested there would be minimal impacts to vehicles over the coming months given that traffic volumes will be down during the off-season.

Irwin asserted cycling volumes are not detrimentally impacted by cold and wet winter conditions.

In response to criticism by NPA commissioners over the lack of public consultation on the decision to extend the duration of the temporary bike lane, COPE commissioner Gwen Giesbrecht suggested the public will have an opportunity to weigh in on the mobility study’s permanent and final reconfigurations. But she also emphasized on her belief of a vehicle-lighter Stanley Park moving forward.

“In whatever way we can accommodate less vehicle traffic in Stanley Park and in our cities and on our roads, I think it’s becoming more and more critical that we, as elected community leaders… we’ve been elected looking at the previous changes, the movement of people through Stanley Park,” said Giesbrecht.

“It’s pretty clear that it’s a 50-50 split on what works, and what doesn’t, and who likes what. At some point, I think we just need to put ourselves on the line, and get less cars moving around.”

The Park Board is also in the process of reviving the approach of building a bike lane at Kitsilano Beach Park.

Stanley Park was briefly closed due to the storm’s impact over the last few days. The park reopened this morning, but the seawall between Third Beach and English Bay Beach remains closed while crews work to remove debris.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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