A motion to look at the possibility of limiting vehicle traffic in Stanley Park for the long term was approved 5-2 at Monday’s Vancouver Park Board meeting.
Amendments to the motion ensuring any long term changes would take accessibility issues into consideration were approved and discussed before the final vote.
Stanley Park Drive, which circumnavigates the 405-hectare park, was closed to cars on April 8, to better accommodate physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under the temporary scheme, cyclists are asked to use Stanley Park Drive, while the seawall is being held for pedestrians.
Motivated by that experience, COPE and Vancouver Green park commissioners proposed that staff investigate the long-term feasibility of cutting vehicle traffic in the park, “including, but not restricted to, reducing roadways to single lanes, while maintaining access to the park.”
The motion also asks staff to look at green transportation options to and throughout the park, to support park access for people with mobility challenges.
Navdeep Chhina, executive director of Hub Cycling, says it’s a conversation worth having.
“Before we go back to the old ways, we must take a pause and assess the ways forward,” said Chiina.
“It gives more access to people walking and cycling, instead of being forced into one narrow section of the whole par. It is a people-oriented choice right now, instead of a choice where we were more planning for cars.”
Chhina said data shows an estimated 200,000 cycling trips in the park since the road closure was put in place, showing a big demand.
“If we scale down to one lane for the cars, and reallocate some of that space to people cycling, so that people walking can have even more space by the seawall – how would that pan out?”
He said any change would need to follow in-depth consultations with the public and stakeholders, including businesses.
But the proposal has already sparked a backlash from people concerned a reduction in vehicle access will equate to a reduction in accessibility.
Non-Partisan Association (NPA) Park Commissioner Tricia Barker says she’s been bombarded by calls and emails from people who worry they won’t be able to fully access the park if road access is reduced.
“I just cant imagine what would happen, how many people it would hurt if people can’t have easy access to this park,” said Barker.
“This is Vancouver’s park. This isn’t the West End’s park, this is Vancouver’s park.”
Barker said seniors and people with disabilities will be the most impacted by such a change.
But she said the proposal could also hurt businesses, like the newly-renovated Prospect Point Bar & Grill, and put the brakes on events at popular gathering spots like the Brockton Oval.
“What we know is that seniors, you’re not able to walk the five kilometres if you want to go to Prospect Point, or go through the rose garden, it’s quite a trek. And if you can’t get on a bike, you don’t have any way to get into Stanley Park,” said Barker.
“We have a lot of places in the park that really rely on people getting to it, and just saying if you want to go to the aquarium, load your family into a shuttle and get to the aquarium that way, that’s going to change people’s mind about getting some place.”
Dueling petitions on either side of the issue have each attracted several hundred signatures.
The matter is slated to go to the park board on the evening of Monday, June 8.