Businesses in Stanley Park are reacting to a motion by several Vancouver Park Board commissioners that calls for a study on new measures to permanently reduce car traffic in the sprawling 1,000-acre park.
While an online petition in recent weeks requests a permanent ban on private vehicles, the motion by some elected officials suggests exploring the idea of shutting down one of the two lanes of local roadways for vehicles, with the closed lane dedicated for cycling and pedestrian uses.
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Currently, as a measure for physical distancing, Stanley Park Drive is closed to cars for a one-way cycling loop around the park, and North Lagoon Drive is closed for a two-way cycling connector path.
Supporters of these changes argue that businesses at the park, in lieu of the typical vehicle traffic volumes, would benefit from an increase in the number of customers who bike to their locations, but this has been shot down by the business operators as unrealistic.
Stacy Chala with the Capilano Group, the company that operates the Prospect Point cafe and restaurant, and the Stanley Park Pavilion, told Daily Hive Urbanized that both of their park businesses “heavily rely on vehicle traffic” and that reduced vehicle traffic “would severely affect our businesses.”
She says the location of their flagship business at Prospect Point would particularly be impacted. Given the attraction’s remote location at the northernmost end of the park, it is a major challenge to sustain this business, even during periods of normalcy.
Their 2019 customer survey shows 87% arrived at Prospect Point by vehicle, while 100% of guests of special private events in the evenings arrived and departed by personal vehicle or a private shuttle bus.
They have also struggled with attracting and retaining staff, resorting to purchasing and operating their own employee shuttle between Stanley Park bus loop, Stanley Park Pavilion, and Prospect Point. This is a major added operating cost for them.
“If vehicular traffic were to be less or restricted, it would severely affect Prospect Point. Cycling or walking to this location is only for the very able-bodied,” said Chala, adding that public transit comes nowhere near this area of the park, and taxis are “notoriously shy of providing service to and from Stanley Park, especially deep within the park, like Prospect Point.”
Chala asserts that cycling traffic and a shuttle bus are “not an equivalent replacement for reduced car access,” and traffic congestion will occur all summer long for locals and visitors if Stanley Park Drive is reduced to one lane for vehicles.
“Cyclists may stop for a quick beverage, but they are not a driver of sales. If these changes are enacted, stakeholders within Stanley Park would have zero business in the wet and cold months. Stakeholders would find it impossible to sustain their businesses and would be forced to close,” she said.
The survey also indicated Prospect Point’s visitors included 33% from Vancouver, 14% from other areas of Metro Vancouver, and 53% from elsewhere as tourists, particularly the United States, Europe, and Asia.
The operator of The Teahouse, located at the western edge of the park near Third Beach, made similar comments expressing their concern over the suggested changes.
“Restricted car access in the park would definitely affect The Teahouse, we have already seen a large impact from the addition of paid parking,” said Michelle Lan with The Sequoia Company of Restaurants.
“All of the businesses in Stanley Park rely on vehicle access to the park as we are located in a destination that locals and tourists travel to from all over Metro Vancouver. A small subset ride bikes… Limiting vehicle access would create a barrier for everyone that does not live near the park.”
She says Vancouver’s climate only allows for a peak cycling season that lasts over the summer months. When it is wet and cold, over the majority of the year, the park sees far fewer cyclists and pedestrians to sustain the business, which makes car traffic paramount for their ability to keep their doors open and retain their clientele.
“Throughout the remainder of the year, the park is already not as busy and with limited vehicle access the amount of people in the park would diminish further,” said Lan.
She also emphasizes that a shuttle or bus would not be a suitable alternative or replacement, as it would be hard to accommodate larger groups and the start and end times of reservations. Weddings are a major business for The Teahouse, and they depend on vehicle access.
Just beyond the entrance into Stanley Park, the 120-year-old Vancouver Rowing Club (VRC) says it is urging the Park Board to consider the needs of recreational users, who travel with significant equipment and gear and come across from the Lower Mainland, which makes cycling or shuttle buses an unsuitable alternative for many.
“We hope that the Park Board will reach out to us and involve us in this process. We are certainly aligned with goals like improving access and transit to Stanley Park, and within Stanley Park. But we would have serious concerns if automobile access to the park was permanently stopped or significantly restricted,” said Darin Calderwood, president of the VRC.
“Access to the VRC and Stanley Park can already be challenging with congestion and parking issues and removing a traffic lane would make matters worse. This may lead to reduced membership, especially for youth, if it becomes more difficult to access our club and participate in our various sports and activities. In addition, we host many weddings and corporate events where car access is necessary.”
As for the Vancouver Aquarium, the largest business within the park, they have said they are still learning what the motion entails and “trust that the Park Board will consult with us as part of any feasibility study conducted.”
The aquarium sees over one million visitors annually, with 65% of their visitors being out-of-region tourists.
Privately operated businesses within the park employ approximately 1,000 people and contribute about $1.3 million in annual rent to the Park Board, with the restaurants paying a percentage of their revenue as rent.