Cycling
July 28, 2020

A fail-safe political safety net for Park Commissioner Coupar

 

An Open Letter to NPA Park Commissioner John Coupar, from Peter Ladner.

 

Peter Ladner:  John, I hear you’d like to be mayor. But as cyclists know, if you tilt too far to one side, you can fall over and crash. To borrow another cycling metaphor, it’s all about balance.

Now that you have gone out on a dangerous limb to oppose safe cycling and walking for all in Stanley Park, I want to propose a slam-dunk opportunity for you to show some balance.

As a former NPA politician myself, I learned, as I’m sure you have, that canny politicians figure out where the parade is headed, and then step out in front and “lead” it.

Be careful limiting yourself to support from people stuck in their cars.

No doubt you’ve heard that so many seniors and others have taken up e-biking that you can’t find one to buy these days. They describe e-bikes as “life-changing” (no more hills— ask Angus Reid!) as they add to the numbers of people who have already made cycling the most popular form of recreation in our fair city. The Cycling Lobby is working feverishly to get more kids riding safely to schools. Don’t make their parents your political enemies!

Also, bike shops are booming and can’t find enough employees. Jobs!  Economic development!  Caution: never be against those.

But before I share my win-win proposal with you, let me share a few thoughts about what you are calling “the Stanley Park transportation disaster”. At first I thought there might have been another storm that blew down hundreds of trees and blocked roads. Especially when I saw your colleague Tricia Barker describe the situation as “horrible” and “devastating”. And I saw your retweet of someone saying traffic changes have “spoiled our beautiful park.” This could cause a person to get worried.

Then I realized what you were actually talking about was the discovery of the park by more than 400,000 (by now) cyclists taking advantage of the new protected lane(s) through the park – even while it’s accessible for everyone else now that one lane has reopened for cars.

Granted, quick and easy access from the North Shore is closed and 30 percent of parking spaces are blocked, but that isn’t stopping people from the North Shore from accessing the park, or drivers from finding parking spaces.

You and Tricia Barker – and some of my (literally) old NPA colleagues – are urging people to sign a craftily-worded petition to “Keep Vancouver’s most beautiful park accessible to all.” Everyone wants that, so it’s easy to get people to sign (29,000 and counting so far: let’s get more!).

I regret to tell you I’m not signing because I think you might twist my signature into meaning I support restoring two lanes of car traffic. I said “crafty” because that is nowhere spelled out in the petition, just the ominous threat that keeping a protected bike lane “could mean limiting access for people who choose to, or must, access the park by car”. I’m afraid I’ve lost a little trust in you, so I’m leery.

But how lucky we are there is zero data to show that anyone has been limited in accessing the park, or restaurants (operating at 50 percent capacity), or available handicapped parking spaces!

If you have this data, share it please.

 

Yes, we could do better. One simple example: the bicycle bypass through the parking lot at Prospect Point Café could easily be shared with cars that could then use some of the now-closed parking spaces, without ever crossing a bike lane. Join me in supporting that!

Entrance to Prospect Point parking lot, with plenty of room for shared lane

I fear that you can only deny facts for so long before someone calls your bluff and your credibility disappears – and with it could go some votes!

I find it sad that you have embraced the fictions that seniors and disabled people are being denied access to the park, and that the park is (going to be) so congested that its restaurants will be ruined.

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Dan Fumano at The Sun nails it:

Although polling — and election results — consistently show most Vancouverites generally support spending on biking and walking infrastructure, many fiscal conservatives are quick to point to those areas when it’s time for financial belt-tightening.

This week’s staff presentation proposes continuing with the planned rehabilitation work on the Granville Street Bridge, including seismic upgrading, at a cost of $24 million, but reducing infrastructure spending on the Granville Street Bridge, Drake Street and Gastown.

And it’s not just Council that will be enticed to cut cycling infrastructure out of current plans.  Park Board too.

It’s been the NPA Park Commissioners’ strategy (John Coupar’s in particular) to prevent any serious bikeways through parks (Kits especially) through delay and deferment.  This fits their agenda perfectly.  Now the question is whether Council will adopt the strategy for the city as a whole.

We are at this remarkable moment when cycling use has increased dramatically as a consequence of the pandemic.  Trips are measured in the tens of thousands, even the hundreds of thousands.  Users are more diverse – in age, ethnicity, style and location – beyond hope and expectation.

But even at a time of a declared climate emergency, the same ol’ stereotypes and politics seem to prevail.  When even the disabled advocates insist that two lanes of Stanley Park are needed for cars, and parking spaces are the highest priority, when golf-course improvements get green checkmarks over greenways, it’s apparent that the need for advocacy, for political champions on elected boards, and for community support are as important as ever.

Actually, more important than ever.

 

 

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This has all the marks of astroturfing*.  Seen in the West End on Bute at Harwood.

There has to be a backstory here.  Who’s behind it, what is their goal?  (It’s not just about bike lanes.)

For those who think the Beach Avenue Flow Way is too popular and too necessary, that we can’t go back to “just the way it was”, prepare for a fight.

 

*Astroturfing is the practice of masking the sponsors of a message or organization to make it appear as though it originates from and is supported by grassroots participants.

 

 

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Gerry O’Neil is the well regarded horseman that has been offering horse drawn tours of Stanley Park for several decades. For $50.00 for an adult or $20.00 for a child you can take a one hour  tour around the park in a horse powered tram that can accommodate 26 people.

Of course Mr. O’Neil is also dealing with the current Covid Stanley Park provisions that have meant that only one lane of Park Drive is open for vehicular traffic, with the other lane dedicated for cyclists, separated by the traditional orange traffic cones.

While vehicular traffic in Stanley Park is supposed to go along Park Drive at  30 km/h per hour, it rarely is that slow as any park visitor can attest. And Mr. O’Neil’s carriage rides were for some reason dedicated to the vehicular lane as opposed to the  temporary cycling lane.  The average horse moves about 6 kilometers an hour at a walk, meaning that vehicular traffic stacked up behind Mr. O’Neil’s horse drawn trolley.

As Ben Miljure with CTV news reported Mr. ONeil is frustrated. ” As you can imagine, when you’ve got 30 0r 40 cars behind you waiting, there’s a level of stress that you’re hoping to get out of their way,”

While the one lane closure for cycling on Park Drive is temporary to alleviate overcrowding on the seawall during the pandemic, it is a surprise that the horse drawn trolleys were classified as vehicles as they have no motors. That is often the litmus test for whether a use belongs in the bike lane or not in many municipalities.

 

Take a look at Hyde Park in London where there is a generous walking lane beside a surprisingly wide bicycle lane. There the bike lane is shared with the Queen’s horses on their way to and from Buckingham Palace. Perhaps moving the horse drawn tram to the cycling lane  might be a temporary consideration during this unusual summer of short-term pandemic park modifications.

 

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The North Vancouver City News Facebook group exploded on Sunday with duelling petitions, one for and one against maintaining the City’s street closures for COVID generated bike and pedestrian traffic.

First came “Take our streets back. Remove the roadway barricades in North Vancouver.”  Currently at 157 signatures.

Then came “Keep the traffic calming signs up!” Which currently has… uh… one signature.

I’ll keep you posted as the battle continues!

 

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I have written often on the need for public washrooms, and why every city should have them close by transit stations, near public spaces, and along commercial streets. Every person needs to use them and it is what makes public space accessible for so many people.  Kids, seniors, everyone needs to use a washroom. And yet in North American culture public washrooms are often not thought of.  It’s been something that stores have been expected to provide as it’s  not even an afterthought in the public realm.

But what happens today in Covid times if you are using the sidewalk to move, cycling or using public transit? Where’s the closest washroom?

In walking the Seaside Greenway in south False Creek, I looked for a “new accessible washroom” that a 2016 Council report said was going to be built near or adjacent to that area’s Charleson Park. I couldn’t find it, even though that Council report had allocated $0.4 million dollars from City wide Development Cost Levies (DCLs) that was already assigned to Parks and Open Spaces.

When I asked a False Creek  strata council member where the new accessible washroom was, I heard all about the rustic fence for the dog park near the seawall, and the row of blue rental bikes installed in front of the School Green. The washroom was the “last straw”. And surprise! Apparently there was a “discussion” over location~”the engineers said one thing, the park board said something, the community said something else entirely and no, we don’t know where the $400,000 washroom is”.

An article in The Guardian by Libby Brooks discusses the impacts of lack of public toilet access. In the United Kingdom public toilet closure “is having a serious impact on wellbeing, limiting people’s capacity to exercise freely or visit loved ones, and creating a significant secondary public health risk as people have no option but to relieve themselves in the open, a Guardian survey and investigation has found.”

With many public buildings, bars and restaurants closed, the lack of public washrooms is curtailing where people can go by foot or cycle or public transit.

“For those with health conditions and disabilities that bring continence problems, the situation is even worse: some describe themselves as essentially housebound. Key workers and volunteers making lengthy round trips to deliver essentials are likewise affected.”

Opening public washrooms during Covid times in  Europe has resulted in two worries: the need to balance public safety with access to facilities and the lack of clear direction from government on how best to open and manage public washrooms.

In Canada, Paola Lorrigio in The Star discusses the fact that the lack of  public washrooms, once a barrier to the homeless, poor, racialized and disabled is now a barrier to everyone. In the first month of the pandemic truck drivers and transit drivers could no longer use washrooms in closed stores and businesses. And with the opening of economies, people will need to use public washrooms even though those in businesses may remain off-limits.

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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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One of the so-sad consequences of the pandemic is the loss of momentum immediately experienced by TransLink.  And not just with the reverse of the quite stunning increase in passengers. (Said CEO Kevin Desmand in September of 2019: ““If this trend continues … then over the four-year period from 2016 to 2019, we would have seen a 20% growth in overall ridership. It is pretty astonishing.”)

By March, an 80 percent drop.

But it’s not just in ridership where the momentum has been lost.  TransLink was in the process of delivering on its 10-year Plan, with significant increases in rolling stock, frequency, new routes and upgrades in its facilities. (Like this PT report on Joyce-Collingwood Station.)  Much is still going ahead, like the rolling out of the Rapidbus routes. But, on the North Shore, the R2 line literally started just as we all went into lock-down.  I took it shortly after it started – one of only two passengers for a good part of the trip (right).

Progress continues.  And one of the places where changes will be the most welcome is one of the most dismal transit exchanges in the system.  Dark, dank and polluted from diesel, it sits under the ICBC headquarters adjacent to Seabus at Lonsdale Quay.  Convenient but unpleasant.

Well, that’s changing – as these pictures from CNV Councillor Tony Valente reveal:

 

As Daily Scot would point out – a lot of grey.  But alleviated by LED lighting overhead:

Tony tells us that there’s more to come.  All it will need is a lot more passengers.

 

 

 

 

 

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