Climate Change
September 14, 2020

The NPA Co-opts Seniors and the Disabled for the Sake of Motordom

 

A report from Global News reporter Nadia Stewart, with a headline that distorts the story:

The protest had three dozen people – surely worth a qualified ‘some’ when the headline starts “Vancouverites upset.”  But that quibble doesn’t matter when judged against the absence of data and other points of view (like, say, comments from passing cyclists).  Importantly, the video story was supplemented in the online print version, where reporter Simon Little provided important information:

Vancouver Park Board manager Dave Hutch says about 93 per cent of Stanley Park Drive is open to vehicles, and that about 70 per cent of parking in the park remains open.

He said after talks with the city’s disability advisory committee, the board also added 10 new handicapped parking spaces.

“We’re seeing that the park and parking is nowhere near capacity this year. The busiest day was in mid August, we had 63 per cent capacity. We would expect about 90 per cent in August,” he told Global News.

Still, impact-wise, the protesters had the visuals and screen time.  There have been demanding that Park Drive be restored to two lanes for cars and have all the parking returned – in other words, back to the standards of mid-century Motordom.  That’s what we did in the post-war decades, and the roads of Stanley Park were designed accordingly: a transportation system where cars are given most of the space, there are no separated bike lanes (cars and bikes fight it out for priority), parking is provided in excess, and the seawall has to accommodate the crowding of all active transport users.

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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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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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One thing is proven without a doubt in this wide-ranging, deep political dive with Gord, Rob, and return guest George Affleck — these guys don’t know their Tolkien.

And while there was no cranky, right-wing guy in Middle Earth, there is a central character whose very rigid way of thinking begins to soften. If that seems to be the case with Affleck, it may be with the benefit of retrospect, especially with an eye to the performance of current council, and specifically in contrast to its predecessor.

That’s because Affleck’s behaviour while serving in opposition to Gregor Robertson’s Vision Vancouver juggernaut was largely the result of him seeing the majority votes walking into the council chamber every day, “knowing exactly what they were going to do”. Idealogical alignment can be like a wall; in the form of a political caucus, it’s a brick wall.

Contrast that with today; by Affleck’s count, there are just two parties in Vancouver Council, the NDP and the BC Liberals (and 1 or 2 predictably dogmatic, even irrelevant votes). So these decisions should be, well, decisive — consistently predictable and relatively quick. But, as he notes, “it’s 100% not working like that.”

Affleck talks about the splintering sound coming from the NPA corner. He talks choo-choo trains. And he talks bike lanes (remember, he’s not anti-bike lanes, just pro-process).

Lastly, Affleck makes a startling admission, perhaps revealing that aforementioned soft spot, one which may represent the rotting core of traditional NPA preservationist ideology — that the current political trend towards framing the decision-making process around community consultation (rather than incorporating and contextualizing it into decision-making) is a great way to give anti-growth, naysay perspectives platform and influence. And that it’s probably incorrect.

He sees it in West Vancouver, in White Rock, in Surrey, and even in PoCo. He sees pragmatism, he sees populism, and it seems he has a pretty clear view of the line to be drawn between the two.

Which leads to some interesting speculation on the nature of political campaigns of our not-too-distant future — those of Kennedy Stewart, the NPA and, yes, Affleck himself.

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In George Affleck’s world, the only thing worse than the politician who tries to please everyone is the politician who only focuses on the base.

So you can understand why the only thing to possibly vex him more than last council — in which he withstood endless punishment from a neo-leftie Vision Vancouver majority — could be this council, the least experienced in…possibly forever.

The two-time former NPA councillor, alongside friend of the podcast Rob McDowell, joins Gord to dissect the goings-on at City Hall. And if there’s one common theme, it’s that this NPA caucus is very, very different from past NPA caucuses.

No surprise — Vancouver’s favourite artisanal-partisanal political party apparently tends to shape and reshape itself every election cycle (at least according to this particular trio, who would know); the last reshaping led not only to Affleck stepping back, but resulted in a party unable to attract enough voters from the “mushy middle” to elect a mayor, and thus plunging the city into uneasy, unpredictable coalition territory.

So why *did* Affleck extract himself from the last campaign? Who’s shaping the NPA today? Is the 2022 election already looking like  slam dunk, or a problem….or both? And how many NPA councillors have an eye on the mayor’s chair. (Hint: all of them.)

Most importantly, what would he have done about the 420 coughuffle? (This is the discussion that earns us our first E for explicit content.)

We hope to have him back; in the meantime, you can hear more via his UnSpun podcast on The Orca media network with Jody Vance.

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If you follow Vancouver politics, you don’t need an intro to Melissa De Genova.

In just her second term as Vancouver councillor, De Genova suddenly has the second-longest tenure of anyone in council chambers, and has also become (surprisingly, to some) one of the more credible authorities on policy, staff relations, and council protocol. Maybe even one of the adults in the room.

Falling on the heels of three consecutive Vision Vancouver council majorities — in which De Genova was a favoured and frequent combatant — it all still seems so…off. De Genova? The voice of reason? Champion of affordable housing? Responsibly wielding the gavel…as deputy mayor?!?

Yes indeed. In this new era of Vancouver Council, black is white, up is down, and everything is slightly batshit crazy. Yet, MDG (as she’s affectionately and slightly obviously known, duh) is quite possibly the throwback NPA leader we’ve all been waiting for.

In this snappy interview, in which Gord is joined by friend of the podcast Rob McDowell of The Independents, MDG talks about the past, present and future of Vancouver’s political scene. What did she learn from her 5-term Park Board commissioner father? What coercive, even threatening, tactics did past Vision councillors use against her? What’s Kennedy doing right?

And most importantly, who’s having lunch?

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“We came within an eyelash of running the table.”

And he’s not wrong. Ken Sim, founder and CEO of homecare provider Nurse Next Door and bagel chain Rosemary Rocksalt, is just two months removed from having come within 957 votes of being the mayor of Vancouver. With five NPA Vancouver councillors, Sim would have led a majority, and thus the face of municipal (and perhaps regional) politics might look very different than it does today.

Having returned to regular family and business life, he goes deep with Gord in this revealing conversation. They discuss the day he got the call from NPA leadership, the big names he spoke to as he mulled his decision (and who finally convinced him to run), his experiences on the campaign trail, his thoughts about the downtown eastside, and what he believes are the major policy priorities for the city.

And more importantly — what does the future hold for Ken Sim?

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In the opening op-ed, Gord blends some historical context into the current debate over renovictions and the state of Vancouver’s mid-rise rental stock, in a profile of West End icon The Berkeley.

Then, a deep-dive interview with former diplomat — and independent council candidate in Vancouver’s recent election — Rob McDowell.  A professional adjudicator and mediator, Rob talks about his entry into the political world over three decades ago, his decision to run for council for a third time, first as an independent, and the challenges to come for the city’s divided leadership.

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