COVID Place making
July 7, 2020

Measuring Cycling to the Nearest Ten-thousandth

Let’s just repeat these numbers from the Daily Hive:

According to Green Party commissioner Dave Demers, Park Board staff estimate visitation within Stanley Park is up by 50% since May 1, and they have counted 350,000 cyclists over the last 67-day period.  …over the same period in 2019, there were about 60,000 vehicles in Stanley Park, which is a figure that includes high-occupancy cars and tour buses.

We are now measuring cycling counts in the hundreds of thousands, rounding off to the nearest ten-thousandth.  That, for anyone who remembers the early days of cycling infrastructure, when success would be measured in the hundreds, is boggling.  And not just in Stanley Park.  Here’s Point Grey Road this weekend:

Foreshortened shots can be deceptive, but anyone who was there would have realized that the traffic counts this weekend would also be measured in the closest thousandth – more, I expect, than anyone who opposed the transformation of PGR would have imagined.  Here’s a video from the same location on July 5:  Point Grey Road on a Sunday.

And yet, this quite astonishing growth really hasn’t changed the narrative for most of the media: it’s still a bikes-versus-cars dynamic, with a presumption that cars are in the majority and have right-of-way – another repeat of the same ol,’ same ol’ since the 1990s.  Except now we have horses to throw into the mix.

Stanley Park Horse Drawn Tours owner Gerry O’Neil has been operating in the park for decades — offering tourists a way to see the sites while riding in an open carriage.

His horses and carriages, with a top speed of five km/h, must now share the one lane dedicated to vehicle traffic, and that is causing problems….

“Ideally, scrap the trial and get all the stakeholders involved so we can all have our say and take into consideration everything that’s in the park,” he said.

Let’s see: several hundred carriage passengers, several thousand drivers, tens of thousands cyclists.  Should be an easy choice.

 

 

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Jeff Leigh of HUB reports:

My wife and I rode Stanley Park last Monday, and stopped in at the Prospect Point Café.  We spoke with the staff at the concession, who advised they had been very busy serving people on bikes through the weekend.

We typically do not stop at the top of the hill, but head right on down.  Now we have a reason to stop.

Jeff and his wife haven’t been alone.  Here’s the scene last Sunday:

Here’s the line-up just for ice cream:

Prospect Point Cafe was literally surrounded by bikes and riders – most of whom looked to be in the demographic that any restaurant would find rather attractive.  And since these were all Vancouver residents (no tourists, remember), they’re also the ones who, when out-of-town guests return, will be looking for a good place to take them, whether for ice cream or sit-down meals, whether by bike, car or bus.

Honestly, what it is going to take for businesses people to catch on?  Who can they turn to for advice?

Oh yeah, HUB.  Jeff again:

HUB Cycling is already working on promoting businesses in the park.

HUB has a program called Bike Friendly Business,  which has just the type of offerings that businesses new to dealing with people cycling can use, from Business Development services, to certification, to marketing to people who cycle.  If you have a business and want to talk, please reach out.

There are other HUB Cycling programs and events that can help businesses with marketing to people on bikes as well.  Bike to Shop comes up later in the summer.  Volunteers lead group rides to participating businesses, helping those new to transportation cycling learn how to bike to shops, restaurants, and so on.

It is important that businesses who believe their business is solely dependent on motor-vehicle traffic see that there is a whole community of people who cycle for transportation, and who spend money at local businesses.

 

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Metro Vancouver has updated their map of Regional and Municipal park washrooms: those available for public access (green) and those no longer accessible due to COVID-19 (red).

 

The map is very revealing of the absence of washrooms where they’re needed the most: downtown Vancouver.

Two recommendations: (1) a map showing washrooms in private spaces (hotels, malls, departments stores, etc). (2) More public washrooms everywhere – especially transit interchanges.

In fairness to TransLink, such washrooms are nightmares of maintenance, and very expensive propositions if they are to be supervised and continually cleaned. Perhaps time to change the law and allow for a small charge (common in Europe), payable through Compass, that would also allow free use for those eligible.

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Never say PT isn’t open to a range of points of view.  Here’s one by David* – who argues for #stanleyparkforall.  That is, keep the bikes on the seawall (crowding is only evidence of its popularity) and keep both lanes for cars (because of seniors, disabled, business, etc.).

Gotta say, it’s a well-done video.

So, what’s wrong with sharing the road with one lane for each?  David’s response: “we don’t know how it could impact traffic flow or emergency vehicle access”.  Reverse what you did, Parks Board, go back to the way it was – before March 2020 ever happened – and have a conversation.  A long conversation.

Well, David, now we will know how one lane each impacts traffic flow.  And my guess is, after seeing the results so far and by the end of summer, you’ll have to come up with another well-done video.

 

*Tell is more about yourself, and, while you’re at it, what you think those ‘improvements’ to the seawall would be to accommodate the (yes, literally) hundreds of thousands of bike trips being made on Park Drive as a result of the current configuration.

 

 

 

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*Mockup by Andrew Walsh

 

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.

Dear Nancy:

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.

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Friday, June 9th – just up from the Rowing Club on Park Drive.  Mid-afternoon.

This was what it was like, and won’t be anymore.  That’s okay, everything is changing in these times.

No matter how it turns out, the Spring of the Virus will be remembered as a mix of bliss and dread.  Understandably there’s a desire to return to normality – but at what price and how much of the bliss?

Like this:

 

On the afternoon of June 19th, the cars return, blinkers flashing, as they start to mix with cyclists who variously occupy the asphalt from curb to curb. The parking lots are not yet open.

Here’s a video a moment in the transition: Park Drive at Lumberman’s Arch – June 19th

The signs are up:

Cars rarely drive at 15 km.  Nor do a lot of cyclists when they’re pacing themselves around Park Drive.  Both want to go faster.  Cars like driving at 30 K or more.  Cyclists like a comfortable speed from 15 to 20 K, and more when racing.

Will the expected speed for cars stay at 15, when it probably won’t be for cyclists?   Will the Park Board have to enforce a differential speed limit for users on either side of the barrier?

By the end of June, there will be a new sensibility on Park Drive as the bikes all move over into one lane and the vehicles another – each with less space than they’re used to.  Meanwhile, down on the seawall, the same questions arise: accessibility for whom, and how?

I hope we’ll still see moments like this – a short video of Park Drive at Lumberman’s Arch, as a diverse group of road users wheel by.  Diverse not in ethnicity but in the various ways they wheel.

Diversity

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How many times will we go through this?

Hornby Bike Lane.  Burrard Bridge Bike Lanes (three times).  Point Grey Road.

Same arguments – Carmageddon and business catastrophe confidently predicted – and the same results: no serious negative consequences and a better, healthier city.  And once the temporary bike lanes are in, as Commissioner John Coupar noted, we don’t go back.

There’s an obvious reason for that which, oddly, he didn’t articulate: they worked.  They helped build the city we said we wanted.   (Which, if John has his way, will stop at the borders of our parks.)

Last night before the Board of Parks and Recreation Board, it was the same old debate with a twist.  For those who want to return to the way it was, it’s a fight now on the side of the marginalized, the people who, they say, need most of the asphalt in the park to provide access and parking – meaning by default full Motordom for all, forever.  Definitely what Lord Stanley had in mind.

But here’s the one piece of new information that came out that really is important, by way of Park Commissioner Dave Demers: Park Board staff estimate visitation within Stanley Park is up by 50 percent since May 1.  They have counted 350,000 cyclists over the last 67-day period, compared to about 60,000 vehicle trips in the same period last year, a quarter of which were thought to be using Park Drive as a shortcut to bypass the Causeway. Motor vehicles, in other words, were 17 percent of all trips with something involving wheels.

That increase is extraordinary.  And that’s without tourists in the mix.

But what those opposed to providing a separate lane on the drive seem to ignore is this, at least if they presume much of that increase can be accommodated on the seawall:

A shot from the late 1990s prior to the construction of the Seaside Greenway’s separated lanes and still the condition of some parts of the seawall around Stanley Park.

Inducing congestion on the seawall by trying to avoid vehicle congestion on the drive is going to have some unpleasant consequences.

I was wondering whether the NPA commissioners would have anything positive to say about the need to accommodate this desired growth in walking and cycling in a harmonious way.  But no.  The NPA has made a calculated decision to appeal for the support of people who work up a lather in condemnation of taking space from vehicles – people like Nigel Malkin, quoted here in a CBC story:

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“He is not anti-bike, he said.”

That’s NPA Park Commissioner John Coupar in today’s Sun. 

Problem is, he’s not pro-bike either.  And as a commissioner for the Board of Parks and Recreation, he’s been an effective opponent, now along with the other NPA park commissioner and the NPA board, of any change to the status quo, circa 1990, when the City (under an NPA Council) began to make this a more cycling-friendly city by building separated bikeways.  (Best example: the Seaside Bikeway).

For John, perhaps angling for another mayoral run, he’s leading a fight of his own manufacture: “the logical thing to do is to open up (Park Drive) just the way it was. If you are going to make changes in the future take your time, talk to everybody, make it public.” (Emphasis added, if ‘just the way it was’ was Stanley Park circa 1990.)

Consultation and process have served John and the Parks Board well in ensuring that no significant improvement in cycling in any of the parks has occurred since, well, 1990.  PT has documented that extensively.

For the NPA as a whole, an anti-bike-lane agenda, whether explicitly stated or dog-whistled, has not actually served them well; they haven’t won a mayoral election since 2008.  But even today, as they redrink their bathwater, the NPA board itself, not just the NPA park commissioners, has clearly decided the Park Drive closure to vehicles is the issue they want to brand themselves with.

This letter was circulated to their presumed supporters from the board president:

Dear Supporter,

We know Vancouverites are extremely proud of Stanley Park. However, access to the park for all is under attack! We are emerging from this pandemic and it is time to re-open Stanley Park for everyone.

That’s why the NPA has called for an emergency meeting on Thursday, June 18th at 6:30 pm to re-open the park in time for this Father’s Day weekend and for the first weekend of summer.

This is where we need you to come in. If you believe that Stanley Park must be reopened to vehicle traffic immediately please sign up to speak at the meeting here. The meeting is online via the Zoom video conference. We know that the Greens and COPE will have their vocal activists show up, so please consider joining us in fighting for access and inclusiveness for all in the park.

Sincerely,

David Mawhinney, President, Non-Partisan Association

I do have to admire their strategy to use the language of wokiness – ableism, ageism – to frame the fight as one on behalf of the disabled and seniors against the activists and Lycra-clad.  (Or people like me, for whom Stanley Park is our front yard.  Talk about privileged!)

It’s evident that this a political strategy – and a rather tacky one: proclaim your opponents in favour of something they are not (closure of the park to cars) and then double down on the exaggeration by not correcting the mis-statement when called on it.

Here’s Jeff Leigh, a spokesperson for HUB Cycling:

I have been talking to the media for several weeks now, telling them that I am happy to have a lane allocated for cycling in the park, and for automobiles and delivery vehicles to have a lane, and for people walking to have space to move on the seawall in these times of physical distancing. It is about space for all. Nothing selfish about it.

And their response is typically to post a headline that says something like “cyclists want vehicles banned from Stanley Park permanently” even when the article or interview that follows doesn’t call for that at all. It is tiring.

I’m sure the NPA know their motion won’t pass; it isn’t intended to.  It’s positioning, and it allows them, when staff report back with the modified reallocation (likely opening the park to cars in one lane) to proclaim victory, implying that the inevitable occurred only because of their opposition to something that wasn’t going to happen anyway.

They will appear relevant to their base, but only at the price of reaffirming their backward-looking commitment to a status quo that disappeared utterly when Vancouverites found that cycling was a perfect response to the pandemic: outdoors,

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I’m trying to figure out what NPA Parks Commissioners Barker and Coupar have in mind.

They want to “take immediate steps to reopen Stanley Park to its pre COVID19 transportation and access plan…”  And do it now, before next week.

Who knew there was a plan to keep Stanley Park in 1960s-style traffic design?  You know, Motordom.

I’m trying to figure out whether they actually intend the cyclists to go back to the seawall and the shared paths.  Since, not wanting to fight it out with the cars and buses on a shared Park Drive, many will be back on the seawall, sharing what had been used only for walking and running while all the bikes were up on the road.

So, is all the return to “sharing” really the outcome the NPA Commissioners want?  Given the likelihood of immediate conflict.

 

There have been months and months of flow-way style cycling in the park.   The peoples of Vancouver found a collective play space.  And this video is what it looked like last week:

Park Drive

 

Imagine a portion of those cyclists back on what have been walk-only paths.   Isn’t this a set-up for immediate conflict?

I doubt that’s really what the NPA commissioners want.

So what is?

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