The Kitsilano neighbourhood’s claim to fame used to be that it was Vancouver’s version of Haight-Ashbury – the 1960s Canadian base for hippies, dope and the summer of love.
The summer of love is definitely a non-starter this year, as the usually placid residents of this neighbourhood on the ocean, with a stunning view of downtown, have engaged in one of the most divisive battles the city has seen in recent years.
It has pitted the rich against the rich, as well as creating splits among political allies and neighbours.
The issue: a greenway and bike lane.
The city’s proposal for 28 kilometres of greenway is intended to fill the last gap in a waterfront walking and cycling route that otherwise goes all the way around the downtown and out to Spanish Banks by the University of British Columbia.
It involves some separated bike lanes along the beach, widened sidewalks, improved parks, benches and, in one seven-block section, diversions that will hinder through traffic.
The 10,000 commuters who now use the road would be re-routed to Macdonald and 4th Avenue, a few blocks away.
More than 200 people have signed up to speak, pro and con, on the issue. Only the first 17 got heard on Tuesday, dozens more were to speak Thursday and likely next week – normally holiday time at city hall.
Neither side can appear to agree on anything: the number of injuries on the road; whether the city’s consultations were inclusive enough; what will happen to property values.
“I have lived most of my adult life in Kits. I can’t remember when any issue has so galvanized Kits residents,” said Bonnie Dakin (speaker No. 8), a teacher who fears that the road closing will encourage cars to cut through Kits to avoid the new congestion on Macdonald and 4th.
Pamela McColl, a writer and publisher who has been leading the pro-greenway, pro-closing side (speaker No. 16) saying it will make Point Grey Road safe, said it’s been more than galvanizing. She says the debate has taken an ugly turn.
One city staffer got spat on at a meeting. A couple of opponents have taken to simply yelling in the middle of public-information sessions, claiming the city process is useless – something that also happened at council Tuesday.
Peter Ladner, the former city councillor and mayoral candidate for Vancouver’s centre-right political party (No. 48), said the debate has become “very visceral.”
Among the opponents, “there’s a certain group of people who are used to having their way. They usually give orders, not take orders,” said Mr. Ladner, who comes from a distinguished Vancouver family that many would consider part of the elite.
Although one of Vancouver’s best-known billionaires, Lululemon founder Chip Wilson (No. 107), lives on Point Grey and supports the greenway, others nearby do not.
George Seslija, the managing director of 54th Avenue Capital Corp., is furious with the plan. He said it takes a road that needs to be shared by five groups of users and gives half the space to only one of them – cyclists.
He and his neighbours, who live on the blocks of Point Grey Road just east of the planned diversions, have been talking to city engineers for months about how they are supposed to get in and out of their driveways across both cyclist and car traffic.
“This proposal just makes it extremely unsafe.”