The proposed road closing that split Vancouver’s west side into two warring camps last summer and prompted a political backlash becomes reality on Saturday.
A seven-block section of Point Grey Road – known for its views of the ocean and some of the city’s most expensive houses – will be closed permanently to commuter traffic as of 7 a.m. on Jan. 18, eliminating it as one of the most attractive routes to the city’s western neighbourhoods and the University of B.C.
People who supported the closing as a way of making the road more safe are welcoming it. Others are curious about what the real impact will be. And opponents are angrily or resignedly awaiting the massive traffic pile-ups and complications they predicted during contentious public meetings last year.
“We’ve spoken with residents, and we know it’s a big change,” city transportation director Jerry Dobrovolny said on Wednesday. “But this will close a gap that exists in our seaside greenway and create a 28-kilometre greenway where there’s safety and comfort for people walking and cycling.”
Electronic signs have been in place for a couple of weeks throughout the west side warning about the impending change.
The Point Grey Road closing is part of a plan to create a new, separated bike route from Burrard Bridge to the west, but it was the most controversial piece.
Critics said it would mainly benefit the wealthy residents along Point Grey Road (although the less wealthy ones on the south side initiated the push to make the road safer) and that it would force thousands of cars onto new routes through the neighbourhood.
“I’m definitely expecting to see more traffic and congestion,” Macdonald Street resident Tomina de Jong said with a sigh on Wednesday.
In fact, traffic has gone down on Macdonald in recent months, partly because of construction at the south end of Burrard Bridge (also part of the greenway redesign).
Ms. de Jong, who worked as a city planner herself in past years, said the issue still generates anger and frustration among her neighbours.
“People here talk about it in terms of rallying to some other political party,” she said, admitting that there is no obvious alternative to the ruling Vision Vancouver.
The Kitsilano Chamber of Commerce voiced objections on behalf of the neighbourhood this week, saying the new traffic patterns will hurt business as congestion discourages commuters from stopping to shop.
“There’s been very little study done on what the real impacts will be,” executive director Cheryl Ziola said.
Her group is looking into whether it has grounds for a lawsuit because the three small parks along the restricted road were donated by private citizens. She said a case might be made if the road restriction prevents equal access for everyone.
The road restriction is expected to increase the volume of commuters on the four affected blocks of Macdonald to 17,000 cars a day from 10,000, Mr. Dobrovolny said. As well, the volume of traffic on Fourth Avenue west of Macdonald will likely go up to 20,000 a day. That’s the same as the current traffic volume east of Macdonald.
Drivers needing to access homes, beaches or facilities in the area can come in from the south or west.
Resident Richard Lowy said he is curious what the actual results will be for the whole neighbourhood. He had originally been in favour of keeping the road open, with more stop signs and speed bumps. But, given the choice between open or closed, he picked closed.
“It’s going to be much safer right off the start. I’ll be more comfortable when my mum is outside walking the dog.”
Mr. Lowy said he thinks the whole area will also benefit because the change will join two parks that are across the road from each other.
“So we’ll have a whole new beachfront. It will be a community gift.”