A coalition of businesses is urging the Vancouver Park Board to fully restore vehicle traffic to Stanley Park so struggling restaurants, shops and attractions can start taking in more customers.
Stanley Park Stakeholders — a group of 14 businesses and societies — signed a letter directed at the park board calling for the immediate opening of roadways and the removal of traffic calming concrete blocks. Members say they rely on vehicle traffic for their survival.
Among the signatories are representatives from the Teahouse, Ocean Wise, Stanley Park Brewing, and several tour companies.
“They’re all out of business,” said Nigel Malkin, a spokesperson for the coalition. “We need to stand up.”
The call comes ahead of an emergency meeting on Thursday where the park board will decide whether to open several traffic lanes that have been shut down since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. If approved, traffic would be restored as early as June 21.
The special motion was introduced by park commissioners Tricia Barker and John Coupar earlier this week.
Commissioner John Irwin says completely reopening the road flies in the face of a bigger threat to public health — a second wave of COVID-19.
“Everybody understandably wants to go back to one form of normal or quasi-normal, but are we really there yet?” he told CBC News.
Irwin is one of two commissioners who introduced a motion calling on staff to look at permanent traffic calming measures in Stanley Park, which the board voted in favour of earlier this month. Irwin says cycling traffic has risen substantially since roads were closed.
In early April, as the pandemic continued to ramp up in British Columbia and officials feared overcrowding issues around Stanley Park, the picturesque seawall was closed to cyclists.
Cyclists were diverted to Stanley Park Drive, which circles the park. That was in turn closed to all vehicle traffic, with exceptions for park board staff and some people accessing facilities like the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club.
Commissioners Irwin and Stuart Mackinnon subsequently introduced a motion to direct staff to look at permanent traffic calming measures that would reduce vehicle traffic on Stanley Park Drive to a single lane while adding a separated bike path.
The coalition claims stakeholders haven’t been consulted on the proposed changes, which they say would hamper accessibility for a number of groups, including seniors and people with disabilities.
“It’s going to go and put in a bicycle lane that’s a velodrome for beyond seasoned cyclists,” said Malkin. “It’s not being inclusive, this is not something where families and children are going to be able to ride around.”
The group also fears a reduction in parking would have a negative impact on businesses.
A permanent change?
Staff will brief the park board Thursday on the proposal to permanently reduce traffic in Stanley Park. Irwin emphasized that the park would still be accessible, noting that one-way vehicle traffic will still be permitted, and only a small portion of parking stalls would be lost.
The proposal would also consider introducing green bus service to the park. Irwin says the changes would dovetail with Vancouver’s climate targets.
“We have to start figuring out how to do behaviour changes to deal with [climate change], and one of those changes is to change the way we transport ourselves,” he said.
Advocates with HUB Cycling say the motion to immediately restore traffic in Stanley Park will throw a major wrench in long-term plans for a shared roadway.
“The motion appears to ignore that plan and push all the people on bikes to the seawall, where people are walking,” said Jeff Leigh, a HUB committee chair.
“The plan should be to create room for all groups in the park,” he added. “I think there’s lots of room for everybody.”