Chaos erupts over Stanley Park bike lane at Vancouver Park Board meeting

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Park Board commissioner on why Monday night meeting descended into chaos'
Vancouver Park Board commissioner on why Monday night meeting descended into chaos
Monday night's park board meeting to discuss Stanley Park bike lanes went off the rails. Park board commissioner Tricia Barker joined Global News Morning to discuss the fallout of the chaotic meeting. – Jul 19, 2022

The contentious separated bike lane in Stanley Park will be back before the Vancouver Park Board, for a second straight evening Tuesday — after Monday’s meeting erupted into chaos.

On Monday, Park commissioners received an update on the Stanley Park Mobility Study, an initiative launched two years ago, with the aim of exploring how to reduce vehicle traffic in the park.

However, after the report was presented only three of the 44 members of the public registered to speak on how the rest of the study should proceed got to have their say before the meeting abruptly ended.

In a number of tense exchanges, Park Board Chair Camil Dumont warned fellow commissioners and members of the public repeatedly that the hearing was not about discussing the merits of the bike lane itself, but how the rest of the mobility study should proceed.

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The meeting then became out of control when the third public speaker accused staff of being ideologically motivated in their report, then refused to relinquish the podium when Dumont cut him off, instead accusing the chair of trying to silence him because he did not agree with his position.

After a brief recess, the hearing resumed with a visibly frustrated Dumont trying to restore order.

“We have members on our staff team and also commissioners who do not feel safe with the energy in the room right now,” said Dumont, before he was cut-off by yelling from those in attendance.

“Please, let me finish,” an exasperated Dumont continued before being cut-off again, adding “this is exactly exactly the type of interruption that is perpetuating that feeling”.

But the uproar continued, with the third speaker still standing at the podium and insisting he was being silenced, while another person could be heard yelling that the board is a disgrace to the city.

The meeting was then quickly adjourned.

It will pick back up at the fourth registered speaker at 6:30pm Tuesday.

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Last fall, commissioners voted to keep the separated bike lane, now in its third year, in place until the conclusion of the mobility study, expected early next year.

The idea of reducing vehicle traffic in the park has not been universally popular. Non-Partisan Association Park Commissioner Tricia Barker is among those who have maintained vocal opposition to the plan.

“There’s no reason to do it. Stanley Park worked really well before COVID. Everyone was here and enjoying themselves, and it was not broken,” she told Global News, Monday.

“So anyone talking about reducing vehicle traffic now, I think they should have come and enjoyed it back when it was the way it used to be.”

Barker says the current separated bike lane, which eliminated one of two vehicle lanes from the park, has been bad for businesses, increased congestion, and left seniors and people with mobility issues feeling unwelcome or unable to visit.

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Click to play video: 'Park Board asking for public input over mobility access in Stanley Park'
Park Board asking for public input over mobility access in Stanley Park

Vision Vancouver Park Commissioner John Irwin acknowledged the current bike lane hasn’t been without its problems, and said there was room to improve it going forward — but that he was hearing more support than opposition.

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“We’ve also heard that the park’s a lot quieter and that they’re able to go there and enjoy the ride with their family and not worry about it, and some people are writing us and saying they used to ride around the Seawall a lot, and then they found as more and more people did that it got too congested for riding comfortably, and they’ve come back to ride on the bike lane,” he said.

But he pointed to the latest wildfire burning near Lytton and the record heat wave currently roasting Europe as examples of why the city needs to take steps to fight climate change.

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“I think it’s incumbent on us to do all we can at the local level to help people make a shift towards sustainable modes,” he said.

Irwin said the answer to making the park more accessible and welcoming to people with mobility issues isn’t to increase vehicle traffic, but rather to add more disability parking spaces, or serve the park with electric shuttlebus service.

The actual document going before commissioners Monday won’t ask them to vote for or against the bike lane, but instead asks them to endorse seven guiding principles that would form the basis for the mobility study’s recommendations when its final report is delivered next year.

Those guiding principles include safety, accessibility, economic vitality, climate action and environmental issues, flexibility and resilience, connection to the transportation network and enhancing the park experience.

The report also provides some updated data collected as a part of the study.

Using location-based smartphone data, the report found 51 per cent of trips into the park were made by walking or rolling, 33 per cent were made by car, 15 per cent by bike and one per cent by transit.

Click to play video: 'Long weekend traffic sparks more Stanley Park bike lane controversy'
Long weekend traffic sparks more Stanley Park bike lane controversy

The report found there were 18 million trips into the park in 2021, more than the 17.1 million recorded in 2019, the last year before the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Nearly half (48 per cent) of trips into the park were made by about 160,000 locals who lived within 10 kilometres. However, the majority of the 9.5 million individuals who visited the park that year were out of town tourists, who only visited once, the report states.

It also found that those accessing the park by high-occupancy vehicles spent more money at businesses than people visiting by other modes. However, while people who walked or biked into the park spent less per trip, they were also more likely to visit more often and tended to spend a “moderate” amount over the course of a year.

The study also reports that vehicle traffic to Stanley Park has been decreasing since 2017, while the share of active modes of transportation have been increasing.

Sandy James, an independent city planner and editor with Viewpoint Vancouver, said that shift mirrors similar reductions in vehicle traffic in other premier parks around the world, including New York’s Central Park, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park and the Royal parks in London.

She said the challenge facing the park board is how to chart a vision for the future that embraces the growing interest in active mobility and emerging forms of micro mobility like e bikes and e scooters, while addressing economic and accessibility concerns.

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“Change is always hard, but you have to think in 30 years as we come into a densifying city,” she told CKNW’s The Jill Bennett Show.

“The big question for Stanley Park is how do we handle the number of tourists that want to come through for a one on one drive around the park to see it versus the access for local people?”

She said other global cities have been successful at making such changes incrementally.

If commissioners vote to accept the update Monday, staff will move forward with options and evaluation criteria to complete the mobility study, and bring formal recommendations back to the next park board, made up of commissioners elected on Oct. 15.

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