The history of Stanley Park has been one of changing uses and adaptation throughout the 20th century. There used to be car free weekends and there were times when vehicular traffic was eliminated entirely in Stanley Park during certain hours of the day.
Vancouver is uniquely set up to encourage and welcome cycling not only for climate issues, but for physical and mental wellness. This should be a standard goal in all park organizations.
Cycling should be accessible to everyone no matter what their ability. Stanley Park offers a prime opportunity to create a landmark bike ride on Park Drive throughout the park, which could also free up the seawall for sidewalk users.
The temporary bike lane on Park Drive was implemented from June 22 to September 25 2020 as a response to the need to physically distance during the pandemic. On the seawall bike path there are several pinch points where the two meter separation necessary for physical distancing could not be attained. As people used Stanley Park for more biking and walking during the pandemic, the volume of users meant that more space was needed, and the separated bike lane on Park Drive was endorsed by Dr. Bonnie Henry, the Province’s Medical Health Officer.
This one lane closure of Park Drive for bikes was preceded by a complete closure for vehicles from April 8 to June 22 2020. This was a pandemic measure and cyclists enjoyed the use of Park Drive during this time.
It is troubling that the Parks Commissioners are not working together during the pandemic to provide a reasoned, rational and methodical approach on next steps. There’s been little thoughtful public process, and no inclusive engagement plan for cyclists, businesses, and vehicle drivers. That’s not hard to do, but it takes time and talent to ensure everyone is at the table.
The park board’s inexperience in handling these issues has turned into an exercise in political grandstanding, morphing into the ugly classic cars versus bikes debate.
Of course November 2022 is the next civic election. The Park Board which has a completely separate elected board and a completely separated budget from the City of Vancouver’s has always been the training ground for potential politicians trying to get onto Vancouver City Council.
Every other city in Canada has kiboshed park boards in favour of a much more comprehensive structure, folding parks into city services. That would enable the very talented Transportation staff at the City to take a much more in depth look at the road design and congestion issues in this teapot tempest.
Parks Commissioner Dumont has introduced a motion to close one lane of Park Drive for bicycles until the end of October this year. The motion ties in the Climate Emergency Action Plan, the need for physical distancing, and the fact that a motion was passed last June to study the long term feasibility of “reducing vehicle traffic” in Stanley Park. The motion sees a potential closure as “test” for a future permanent bike lane design.
What is missing in this latest Park Board motion are the ABC’s-Accessibility, Businesses, and Congestion. Last year 74 percent of the parking spots were still open while the bike lane was operational, but more work needed to be done for those with mobility challenges and restaurants who felt their access was restricted.
The Stanley Park businesses give a portion of their revenues back to the Park Board for the running of many activities associated with the park. The Park Board takes three to eight percent of revenues from the businesses and uses this for their own Park Board operations.
In Vancouver and in BC tourism is a major industry, and that is the primary market for the park’s businesses. A survey done for the Prospect Point Restaurant found that only 33 percent of their customers were from Vancouver, with 53 percent from outside Canada and the remainder from the region.
It has been a challenge for the businesses that cater to an international tourism market to nimbly flex into a local revenue model. They are just not set up to do it. This report on the AAA Carriage Rides in Stanley Park show that the Park Board was garnering 8 percent of gross revenue over one million dollars, and that ten years ago payments in the $50,000 range were annually being provided by the operator to the Parks Board.
The major road congestion contributor appears to be the horse and carriage operation which slows vehicular traffic down on Park Drive, a challenge if the road went to one lane for vehicular traffic. That could be accommodated by allowing the carriages to go on other roads within the park as a secret tour, by locating “bypass” lanes along the route or by amending the carriage contract to travel on Park Drive within certain times or days.
Certainly in the 21st century it makes sense to encourage cycling on Park Drive if it can be accommodated in a safe manner with minimal disruption to accessible parking and business areas. That means working with the existing businesses and producing a proper plan that minimizes impacts on existing businesses and ensuring that any conflict points with other users are directly and carefully addressed. This is the kind of plan the City’s Engineering department can produce inhouse, expertise the Park Board does not have.
Surveys undertaken by the Park Board show that there is a demand for more cycling in Stanley Park. When Park Drive was closed to vehicles from April to June 2020, cycling increased by 180 percent. Another survey presented to Park Board Commissioners in November 2020 had over 11,000 responses with 66 percent of respondents saying they wanted to have road space for cycling, and with 36 percent wanting no change. Sixty-eight percent said that the experience of Stanley Park was better with the Park Drive bicycle lane. A new data analysis of this survey was released late last week and can be accessed here.
I did several completely unscientific observational surveys of cycling on Park Drive on several days when the one biking lane was available. I was surprised at the diversity of the ages cycling, and also how complete families were cycling together, with everyone smiling. During a pandemic where opportunities to safely go into public space have been limited, it was a delightful thing to experience.
The bigger issues that the Park Board should be exploring are the ones that will determine whether there will be more access to cycling in Stanley Park. In the “After Times”, how can businesses continue to have parking and access for their international clientele? If a bike lane is implemented on Park Drive how will vehicular congestion bottlenecks be addressed in real time? Are there short cutting commuters accessing Park Drive, and should all Park Drive traffic be for the park only?
These questions come back to who Stanley Park is for.
If it is for the entire population of Vancouver and for international visitors, issues of accessibility, congestion, and ensuring thriving park businesses need to be part of the solution.
It’s only by drawing the question bigger that we can come back to looking at a properly designed cycleway on Park Drive as the 21st century adaptation for community wellness, health, and experience, broadening out the importance of physical activity and the proximity of this unique park asset in a changing city.