Vancouver will get a new bikeway along its popular western beaches, after an intense fight that split the residents along the route and resulted in five days of passionate debate at council.
In spite of many arguments that the route was a favour to cyclists over drivers, that it cost too much, that the closure of a seven-block stretch of Point Grey Road to all but local traffic would force thousands of cars to nearby roads, the Vision-dominated council said Monday night it was a change the city needs to make in order to gradually alter the way people travel.
“I think people are going to love this in the future,” said Councillor Heather Deal, who led the vote, adding several amendments that require staff to consult more with residents on additional improvements.
She said she was convinced by local residents and engineering analysis that the road was not safe and needed to be changed.
The new Seaside Greenway will add 28 kilometres to the city’s seawall pathways that go all around the downtown and out to Spanish Banks beach near the University of B.C.
It will create a bikeway, but will also include pedestrian improvements and additional park space.
The plan requires closing off seven blocks of Point Grey Road to the 10,000 commuters who use the narrow road to get to the University of B.C. and the western neighbourhoods, a practice that residents say has made it unlivable and dangerous.
Another significant but little-noticed change is that traffic coming off the south end of Burrard Bridge will be discouraged from continuing onto Cornwall and Point Grey Road and the beach areas. Construction will begin on this part of the plan in the fall.
Green Party Councillor Adriane Carr mainly supported the plan, although the two Non-Partisan Association councillors didn’t.
“If we are going to do something about climate change, we have to find different ways to travel around the city,” said Ms. Carr. “It really is about the shifting the mode from one [kind of travel] to another.”
She objected only to routing cyclists along a side street for part of the route, instead of Cornwall, but Vision councillors said that would be hard on local businesses and transit.
The two NPA councillors asked for the plan to be deferred until October and worked on more to improve it.
“We’ve divided this community and I think we need to bring them back together,” said Councillor George Affleck. He said if there was more work done on the plan, “hopefully it will get complete buy-in.”
In the heated arguments that people got into during the consultations and council meetings, opponents frequently accused engineers of not listening, of distorting statistics or of not taking everyone’s safety concerns into account.
But several councillors praised the hard work of staff, noting that one night transportation director Jerry Dobrovolny stood on a sidewalk after a meeting for hours answering questions.
In the end, staff got a round of applause from the last diehards who stayed to the end of Monday’s council meeting.
However, opponents left discouraged by the decision and process.
“This does not reflect the majority,” said Pat Greig, as the man accompanying her muttered about how disgraceful it all was. “It caters to a minority and panders to a cyclist community that flouts the law all the time.”
Supporters were quietly cheerful though.
“I think it will be wonderful,” said Pam McColl, a resident of Point Grey Road who initiated a community effort that saw 2,200 names gathered on a paper petition.
She was hugged by other supporters, congratulating her on the long battle.
“I think it will be a big improvement for the community. It’s change and it can be challenging and uncomfortable,” said Holly Foxcroft, another Kits resident.