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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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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Here’s a guest post from friend-of-the-blog Peter Ladner:

I recently got my most retweets ever, for agreeing with Patrick Condon and Scott Hein’s call in The Tyee to convert half the land in the City of Vancouver’s municipal golf courses into much-needed housing, and turn the other half into real parks.

Mmm, that warm feeling of people flooding in to agree with me! Like! Like! Like!

Then I read the pushback comments. Then I changed my mind.

I now agree with those who say we need to save the golf-course green space, that we have plenty of other space for more housing all over town in the single-family zones. I realized part of my enthusiasm for the golf course conversion was the prospect of converting those golf greens into more accessible and varied public parks.

I mention this because “changing minds” (advocacy, campaigning, rallying, persuading, writing op-eds, sloganeering…) is such a large part of what so many of us do these days. But it’s all push and no followup. Outing and celebrating our own mind changes is seldom practised. It’s not easy to do. But only we can do it.

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There’s nothing like listening to a gifted speaker riff on culture and politics; especially when the riffing is concise, with a judicious use of words, and an almost complete absence of hyperbole or bafflegab.

Sure, that sounds like Peter Ladner. But in this edition of Price Talks torch-passing, it also describes Vivienne Zhang, the successor to Ladner’s predecessor.

Zhang is a UBC grad, currently en route to the Paris Institute of Political Studies (‘Sciences Po‘) to begin her Masters in international security, with an eye to a future career in politics. Born in Beijing, with years spent between the Chinese Mainland and the Lower Mainland, Zhang has, over time, become very self-aware of the richness of her bicultural perspective — two ways of living, two political systems, two views on the role of the individual in society.

Ladner, also a UBC grad, can tell her a thing or two about politics on Canada’s west coast; the former journalist and co-founder of Business in Vancouver was at the forefront of municipal politics in the early 2000s as an NPA councillor and mayoral nominee, and has a brand name in local retail politics that’s literally on the map. Now a decade removed from political life, Ladner remains active in governance and policy as Chair of the Better Transit & Transportation Coalition, and past-Chair of the Board of the David Suzuki Foundation.

And, like the host of this podcast, Ladner also remains interested in the evolution of the liberal democratic model, the sustaining legacies of certain political and institutional norms, and of the collective (or perhaps majority) mindset of the new generation of leaders who will be in the thick of it. Zhang, for Ladner, is one of those emerging leaders to watch, to listen to.

Who does this generation trust? Are they integrated with the world they’re stepping into, or are they shaping it? Do they see problems with liberal democracy, and how are they dealing with it?

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