Peter Ladner knows how to help restaurants and businesses in Stanley Park thrive in these disrupted times. He describes his idea in detail in this open letter to Nancy Stibbard, owner of the Prospect Point Café.
You may recall our conversation a couple of weeks ago. You and your management team were surveying the financial wreckage at your Prospect Point Café; I and my fellow pensioner cycling friends were commiserating with you at the top of the Stanley Park Hill. I was recalling my son and daughter-in-law’s similar fate of owning restaurants forced to close but the bills keep coming and the future looks bleak. You looked shaken, uncertain, but with time and curiosity enough to chat with us.
You and your team’s three vehicles were parked outside, and I imagined how, for you and your team, access to your restaurant without a car would just not be possible or practical. The same at Capilano Suspension Bridge.
You said your restaurant would have no hope if the tour buses couldn’t get there, and if cars were backed up in gridlock, which you predicted. You since joined up with 13 other Stanley Park businesses and associations to persuade the Vancouver Park Board—unsuccessfully- to reopen the park to two lanes of motorized traffic.
Your organization’s spokesperson, Nigel Malkin, then told News1130: “Accessibility to Prospect Point for anyone will basically be near zero… You’d have to park across the road…” Malkin, in case you haven’t picked this up by now, has a disturbing aversion to facts and cyclists. It’s not a good look to have a spokesperson who describes the 350,000 cyclists over the first 67 days of the lockdown as “near zero”. That’s around six times the number of cars that used to drive by during the same two months last year.
He also predicted, like you, contrary to traffic engineers’ data, “It’s inevitable you end up with severe traffic issues.” I am reminded of the old quip attributed to Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded.”
According to a CBC report, he foresees “a bicycle lane that’s a velodrome for beyond seasoned cyclists… It’s not being inclusive, this is not something where families and children are going to be able to ride around.”
Now that we’re stuck with the six-month bike lane trial and near zero foreign tourists, let me propose another approach: turn those fighting words into a warm embrace.
You have six months to seize an amazing opportunity that has just backed into you.
You sit atop what could be the next new tourist sensation in Metro Vancouver: the Stanley Park Hill.
Just as you learned how to milk the natural splendour of the Capilano Suspension Bridge to attract and please tourists, you could do the same here.
Think about it: this is a hill that’s a 15-minute bike ride from downtown, within 10 km of hundreds of thousands of people. It is just steep enough to be a big sweaty challenge for a lot of people, but easy enough that my five-year-old grandson goes up it with me on his clunky bike, without a rest, past the people pushing their bikes, and is bursting with pride and excitement at the top. Not to mention anticipation of the heart-thumping big downhill ahead.
People in cars don’t notice hills like this, but for cyclists, trust me, it’s a big deal.
This hill could be turned into the cycling equivalent of the Grouse Grind, only way more accessible. It fits into a very manageable 10 km cycling loop of the park. It weaves through the heart of the towering forests of Stanley Park, breaking out into the clifftop vistas of mountains, the Lion’s Gate Bridge, the entrance to our working harbour, views you know so well from your restaurant. It already has a public washroom where many people stop. (I’m including cyclists and hikers when I say people.)
So I am going to offer some gratuitous marketing advice. Now is the time to embrace the hundreds of thousands of cyclists that will be riding past your site. Welcome them, encourage them, love them. They are your new customers who just might save your business.
Here are my 12 off-the-cuff ideas for you and your fellow entrepreneurs to make the most of this COVID-released opportunity:
- Make The Stanley Park Hill Climb a thing. Get T-shirts made up saying “Stanley Park Hill Climb Finisher” with a picture of your restaurant and the bridge. The Ferguson Point Teahouse could do the same: their T-shirts could say “Stanley Park Teahouse Two-Wheel Club” on them, never forgetting “Via the Stanley Park Hill Climb”. The Stanley Park Brew Pub could label a “Stanley Park Hill Climb Lager” for people who “conquered The Hill” on their bikes. Just like the Grind, people’s Stanley Park Hill Climb times could become a badge of honour and cultural touchstone for locals and tourists alike.
- Faster cyclists will immediately start comparing times on their Strava accounts. (Going uphill means they can’t go too fast, but if separating speedy cyclists is a concern, push for them to have priority on the bike lane from, say, 6-9 am daily.) Maybe it could get to the point, like the Grouse Grind, where people who want can log in at the start and finish and have their times automatically tracked and ranked daily on a screen in the Prospect Point Cafe. Kids especially might like this. (Make sure you have a category for biggest family group.)
— Brendan Ladner (@BrendanLadner) April 26, 2020
My five-year-old grandson enjoying riding in the park. He lives nearby and has been doing complete circuits since soon after the park closed to motorized vehicles. He has been cycling for three months.
- Have everyone in the Stanley Park stakeholders association, and especially your employees, ride around the park and up the Stanley Park Hill so they can relate to their new cycling customers. Hire a cyclist to get advice on how to attract, retain and please passing cyclists. Or just ask them directly.
- Milk the finish line. Carve off a few parking spaces at the edge of the “finish line” at the top for a painted archway with ‘Stanley Park Hill Climb Finisher’ on it. Some people will find this kitschy; others will take it seriously and love it. People topping the hill on their bikes for the first time will take their picture under the arch, guaranteed, and send selfies promoting your restaurant around the world.
- Add some bicycle amenities at the top of the hill: a pump, a mobile bike repair service on busy days, a Mobi station so people could hike in, have lunch and ride back on a rented bike.
- Invite all the bike rental businesses within a two km radius of the park entrances (including on the North Shore) to join your Stanley Park stakeholders association. Work with them on package deals for park-and-ride guided tours steering cyclists to park restaurants. Work with them to ensure that the entire park bike gravel trail system is clearly marked with directions to restaurants and other park attractions, especially showing people where to hike up the trail from the seawall to your restaurant.
- Don’t overlook marketing the thrill of riding a bike over the Lion’s Gate bridge. A park-and-bike package from Park Royal (lots of free parking), guiding people over the bridge, stopping for lunch in the park, then back over the bridge, could become a thing to do.
- Post a camera on the causeway overpass pointing at the bridge (beside all the other commercial cameras taking traffic pictures) and figure out a way for people to order pictures of themselves riding south across the bridge. Have an order kiosk in the Prospect Point Café selling T-shirts with their pictures and the slogan: “I’ve been LionsGated”.
- Promote bike safety: push for signs clarifying cycling rules of the road along the bike lane: Keep right except to pass. Don’t swerve. One way only.
- Speaking of safety, recognize that cyclists/your customers don’t like being sprayed by poisonous gas microparticles on their way to your restaurant. Push for a ban on diesel vehicles, incentives for electric vehicles, and promote an electric bus shuttle around the park.
- Do the math: the more active cyclists there are in Vancouver and the more you promote the Stanley Park Hill Climb, the more potential customers you have. So it’s in your interest to promote cycling every way you can. Cross-promote with HUB cycling. Get your Stanley Park businesses included in their member discount program.
- Endear yourself to the cycling community by promoting the importance of being able to cycle through parks: call out the park board everywhere they blithely mix cyclists and pedestrians to the danger of both groups: along the seawall, in Kits Park and in Jericho.
I’m sure you can think of more and better ideas, but you probably get my drift.
I’m afraid I don’t see any other options for the next six months.
Sincerely, Peter Ladner
PS: And about those seniors who some seem to believe require full two-lane auto access to the park:
My friend Oleh, who lives near the Capilano Suspension Bridge and cycles four times around the park on Stanley Park Amigo Rides twice a week with fellow seniors. He’s waiting for a double knee replacement