Funicular amongst envisioned enhancements for White Rock waterfront revival

Nov 27 2019, 1:11 pm

White Rock has major aspirations for the future of its waterfront area, which is central to the city’s economy and cultural identity, and where its largest public events are held.

At the moment, the municipal government is seeking public feedback on its proposed White Rock Waterfront Enhancement Strategy, which will provide a practical framework over the next 10 to 20 years on how to “move forward and solidify the Waterfront’s role as one of the hearts and principal destinations in the City of White Rock and the Region.”

The study area stretches the entire waterfront area from the city’s eastern boundary to the western boundary, including the public realm of Marine Drive businesses and residences, and the beach area.

white rock waterfront

White Rock waterfront. (Shutterstock)

Some of the ideas improve access and connectivity to and from the waterfront and the surrounding areas, while others enhance and activate spaces for pedestrians and events.

Here is a rundown of the major key components of the strategy, according to planning report conducted by city staff in conjunction with contractor MVH Urban Planning & Design:

Funicular pedestrian mover for improved access

Over the interim, the Johnston Road corridor — an important central pedestrian spine to the waterfront — could see improved wayfinding and landscaping to create a safer and more clear pedestrian route.

Further improvements could be made over the short-to-medium term, such as a system of stairs and ramps down the slope south of Marine Drive, and a bridge over the railway tracks that ends in an elevator and stair tower, leading pedestrians down to the Waterfront Promenade.

white rock waterfront strategy

Improved pedestrian path on Johnston Road on the White Rock waterfront. (City of White Rock)

But over the longer, a pedestrian mover such as a funicular could be considered. An extensive feasibility analysis would be required.

“There are numerous examples of funicular connections including the funicular connecting the upper to lower town in Quebec City and the funicular at Montmartre in Paris,” reads the strategy.

“Each of these locations is a tourist destination with high ridership and a short steep slope without residential neighbours. These situations are precedents in technology but differ in site characteristics to make them viable and successful.”

More improvements to White Rock Pier

In addition to the recent completion of the first phase of post-storm restoration work on the White Rock Pier, and future restoration activities over the next two years that will completely replace the existing wooden structure with the new steel pile and precast concrete structure design standard, the city is considering other improvements that solidify the pier as both a local and regional destination.

White Rock Pier

White Rock Pier. (Shutterstock)

This could include wider berths and rest stops where vendor carts can be placed, effectively activating the pier. Other features potentially entail rest stops and viewing areas, including a major tower landmark at the very end of the pier.

“[The Pier’s] value as a historic landmark should not be underestimated,” reads the strategy. “Pier life is a fact of life for Santa Monica as it is for White Rock.”

white rock waterfront strategy

Concept for improving the White Rock Pier. (City of White Rock)

Redesign of Marine Drive into a pedestrian-oriented area

Interim measures for the Marine Drive retail and restaurant strip would refine parking costs, which are currently “perceived as too expensive or inconsistent and there should be parking pricing programs that promote business use.”

Parking lot improvements could potentially entail special overhead catenary street lighting that provides the area with a better sense of place, as well as all-weather cover and canopies, parking reconfiguration, and flex-space lighting.

white rock waterfront strategy

Concepts for improving parking and street spaces on Marine Drive on the White Rock Waterfront. (City of White Rock)

A widening of the Waterfront Promenade and the sidewalks of Marine Drive and other areas would allow for pedestrian flows and the creation of added space for special events. Such spaces would be further enhanced by street furniture, public art, and additional lighting.

Specifically, an East Beach Landing could provide a new unique gathering space on the Waterfront Promenade.

These spaces will be activated by more events programming, particularly in the winter and shoulder seasons when there is less foot traffic.

white rock waterfront strategy

Concepts for improving parking and street spaces on Marine Drive on the White Rock Waterfront. (City of White Rock)

white rock waterfront strategy

Concepts for improving parking and street spaces on Marine Drive on the White Rock Waterfront. (City of White Rock)

Closure of the waterfront railway

The active single-track railway line running along the length of the waterfront, parallel to Marine Drive and the beach areas, is currently a physical and visual barrier, and a hazard for the growing foot traffic. The city has documented at least five train-related fatalities in the area since the middle of the 1990s.

Lands south of Marine Drive, including the parking lots, are leased from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF).

white rock waterfront Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway BNSFR

The railway on the White Rock waterfront. (Shutterstock)

“The safety concerns, noise, and other issues continue, especially with the increase in traffic and pedestrian use of the waterfront,” reads the strategy.

“Recent railway crossing improvements and fencing are intended to improve safety, but the number of trains daily is increasing, and the railway is a main line for freight trains and Amtrak passenger rail. It is in this context that the work should continue with the longer term goal of railway relocation.”

But any possible relocation effort over the very long term is deemed to be a “major challenge” as it requires the cooperation of multiple parties and jurisdictions outside White Rock.

If a closure of the railway and relocation is possible, the waterfront railway could be converted into public spaces, trails, and pathways, like Vancouver’s recent conversion of the Arbutus railway corridor into a greenway.