COVID Place making
July 23, 2020

Priorities in a Pandemic: Will We Cut Cycling Infrastructure?

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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No matter how many times the NPA lose elections when they include anti-cycling dog whistling, they just can’t stop themselves.  Here’s the latest from NPA Park Commissioner Tricia Barker:

It’s not hard to figure out the underlying assumptions:

  • Seniors don’t cycle.
  • Seniors are so effectively disabled, they are reliant on (and can afford) cars.
  • Seniors need to have Stanley Park returned to its car-dominant allocation of space – “For ALL TIME!”

The implications follow:

  • The interests of cyclists and seniors are opposed.
  • NPA Commissioners will justify their anti-cycling strategy as pro-senior.
  • Cyclists and walkers who reject a return to the status-quo are anti-senior.

The NPA have been successful at least in one respect: keeping any new cycling infrastructure built to the City standard out of parks. Other than those places (like the South Shore of False Creek) where the City shares jurisdiction and will design and pay for bikeway-standard improvements, there has been no other significant upgrades within parks.  As a result, the park experience has been worsening for everyone, particularly in the case of Kits and Jericho.

Here’s a Jericho Video which illustrates the lack of adequate space for walkers, cyclists and runners, squeezed together on an unpleasant surface, without separation or signage.

In the three months into the pandemic, the Park Board has done essentially one thing for cycling: limiting vehicle traffic in Stanley Park.  They have done nothing to address crowding in parks elsewhere, leaving it up to the City (thanks to NPA Councillor Lisa Dominato’s Open Streets motion) to do the heavy lifting.

But they have moved fast to open up the parking lots, and now seem determined to get Park Drive in Stanley Park returned to wide-open car use as soon as possible, presumably so that cars and bikes can fight it out for road space. Or even worse, try to squeeze the extraordinary increase in cycling back on to the seawall, making the experience worse for everyone.

But here’s the thing: no cycling advocate that I have heard has suggested that Park Drive not accommodate those with more limited mobility.  Indeed, it’s in the remarks from HUB Cycling member Jeff Leigh:

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Why isn’t there a Kits Flow Way – an allocation of street space that both takes the pressure off the overcrowded mixed-use paths through Hadden and Kits Park, and provides a designated, separated space to accommodate the dramatically increased amount of bike traffic in these days of the pandemic?  In other other words, a Kits equivalent of the Beach Flow Way.  (More discussion here.)

The answer I heard from City Hall insiders is that there really isn’t a need to have a traffic-calmed reallocation on parts of the adjacent streets because, with the pandemic and the closure of the parking lots in Kits and Hadden, there isn’t much traffic anyway.

Well, guess what.

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On Wednesday afternoon, I had a fun and enjoyable conversation with John Irwin, the COPE member of the Park Board.  I’ve known John since I was an NPA councillor and he was, sometimes, a sparring partner (though we agreed on cycling).  The fun when debating with John is, between him and me, who gets to finish their thoughts before being overtaken by the other.

John is on the ever-well-meaning Left – a COPE guy of long standing.  In elected office, his is the politics of conversation, consultation and collaboration – a strategy of re-action, always hoping for togetherness.  Great when it works.  Puts action off when it doesn’t.

Exhibit A: Providing for mobility in Kitsilano and Hadden Parks.

But this is the time of the virus – a moment when the previously un-doable gets done very quickly.  Exhibit B: the Beach Avenue flow way.

The necessity for change in Kits and Hadden Parks is inarguable: It’s unsafe because different users don’t have space to share, and they can’t social distance without it.  So each pisses the other off.

What, John, I asked, can be done this month to provide enough space for all the different users to walk, run and cycle while respecting each other?   While the Park Board has placed ‘champions for social distancing’ along the seawall and in parks, it hasn’t provided the space to do it properly.

Except along on Park Drive and Beach Avenue.  The Park Board, I’m told, took the initiative to both close Stanley Park to most vehicles and to provide connected space on Beach.  When I got a ‘process’ answer on the problem in Kitsilano (“We need to work with the City …” blah, blah), I pressed him on Beach: Will you turn it all back to the way it was before the virus?  Will the Beach flow way disappear and cyclists return to the seawall, in some cases jammed together like they are in Kits Park?

Finally, John was unequivocal:

“I will oppose, I will fight to prevent the removal of the lanes on Beach Avenue.”

After a summer or more of use, I doubt John will be alone in a fight to retain the flow way in some form.  My guess is that most Vancouverites, having accustomed themselves to a pleasant walking and cycling experience along Seaside (and hopefully other greenways in the city), will be supportive, even demanding, of this street-use reallocation.  Even on Kits Point.

 

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Cllr Lisa Dominato was interviewed on ‘NW’s Simi Sara show this morning, touching all the points on why slow streets made sense – health, safety, open space for higher density neighbourhoods, social distancing.

Simi: “Needs to get done.  Needs to get done fast.”

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A second city councillor weighs in:

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Jeff Leigh sends in a pic from a HUB Cycling member  – “Parks Board responded to the concerns about the blocked entrance at Kits Beach Park.  ”


 

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Likewise in Stanley Park, Dianna reports in:

It’s a work in progress, and this is the Parks Department’s latest effort to clarify which direction to ride. It’s a good change. In two loops, I saw only three cyclists riding the wrong way, two were nervously creeping down from Prospect Point, and the other looked defiant so maybe he was out for the scenery. Also, intersected with one bus and two landscaping trucks. No expensive SUVs today.

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Presumably, that they are obedient idiots.

The Board placed a log to prevent access to the Kits Beach parking lot off Arbutus Street – and then put up an unmissable sign to require cyclists to dismount and walk across a few hundred metres of empty asphalt.

Which no cyclist will do.  Ever.  Thereby reinforcing the meme that cyclists won’t obey laws.

So the Park Board thinks they’re idiots, no matter what they do.

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After a cycle from the West End to Jericho, the contrast between those parts of Seaside that allow for sufficient separation and distancing with those that don’t became more obvious than ever.  More than that, it’s evident that the status quo is unacceptable.

The City and Park Board cannot on one hand tell us to keep two to ten metres apart and then, on the other, not provide sufficient space and proper instructions.  It has led to mutual irritation among users. And, bottom line, in a pandemic it’s just not safe.

Some examples.  (Click title to get all images.)

Pandemic approved:

Seaside at Coal Harbour, April 11

 

Not pandemic approved:

Seaside near Second Beach, August 2018

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The Park Board is going to make better and safer use of the space it owns in Stanley Park:

Here’s the consequence:

Closing Stanley Park’s roads will reduce the daily number of people in the park and open up space for cyclists and pedestrians from the neighbourhood.

It won’t be just from “the neighbourhood.”  Expect Vancouverites (and those from the North Shore) to use the bikeway and greenway network to access Stanley Park too.  Indeed, recreational athletes already do.

Next step: the City can likewise reallocate road space to take pressure off the most popular (and too crowded) greenway paths.

Here’s a list of opportunities as compiled from Jeff Leigh with HUB Cycling.

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A new brewpub in the old Fish House has opened in Stanley Park, next to the main tennis courts:

Isn’t the bike on the logo, front and centre, a nice touch?  It’s what you’d expect for a destination away from any major road, in a park, for an active, outdoorsy culture.

So how do you cycle to Stanley Park Brewing?

Officially, you don’t.  Go to the website for the brewpub, and here’s what you find:

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Jeff Leigh, as always, provides some helpful background and perspective:

That path through Kits Beach park has been on the City inventory of bike paths for decades. Some Park Board commissioners have expressed on several occasions over the past few years that it isn’t actually a bike route now, since they didn’t vote for it and it is their jurisdiction, not the City’s. This is despite the fact that it is shown in the Vancouver City bylaw (with a drawn map) and in the City GIS database. That database is used to publish the City free bike maps. We pointed out to the Park Board commissioners and staff that they have in fact acknowledged it as their path in their Park Board meetings.

The oldest reference we were able to find that acknowledged it as a Park Board path was when Vancouver enacted the bicycle helmet bylaw, and wanted to include City facilities that were off-street. The City Council motion was in February 1998 (and was moved by councillor Gordon Price). Staff then made a list of all the paths, but City staff couldn’t make a bylaw for the city park paths since it was Park Board jurisdiction. Park Board staff prepared a report (April 1998) with a map of their paths, and Commissioners voted on it, in June 1998. It passed unanimously. That was in support of putting a helmet bylaw on Park paths per an attached staff report, not to declare some routes paths and some not, but it shows that at the time they considered it a formal bike path.

Park Board staff have more recently advised that they don’t consider the 1998 documentation to be significant in determining whether they consider that path to be a bike route or not. When stencils stating “No Cycling” were applied to the paved portion of the official path a few years back, and this was brought to their attention, Park Board staff removed the stencils. Now a few years later, they have applied them again.

All this matters in the push for improved walking and cycling facilities in Kits Beach Park because public perception can be different depending on where we are coming from, what our starting point is. Some claim that there is an effort to put a new path through the park, and remove green space. Others point out that there already is an official path, and the desire is actually to move the bike path farther away from the water, but still in the park, where it is less congested, and so return the waterfront path to people walking. By claiming that there is no path there now, Park Board staff effectively create more public pushback from special interest groups.

Just as the “To, Not Through” de facto policy for bikes routes in parks has never been officially voted on by the Park Board, so it seems is the very status of the AAA bike routes in parks like Kits, Vanier and Jericho.

So let’s ask them – and we’ll keep it simple: .
Should the AAA bike routes marked on the official City map above be removed?
. The fact that Parks and City may be studying them is not a sufficient answer; we want to know what each commissioner thinks their status is at the moment.   Do these AAA bike routes even ‘exist’? . PT will send an email to each commissioner, and we’ll report back here and find out where they stand. Read more »