July 28, 2020

A fail-safe political safety net for Park Commissioner Coupar


An Open Letter to NPA Park Commissioner John Coupar, from Peter Ladner.


Peter Ladner:  John, I hear you’d like to be mayor. But as cyclists know, if you tilt too far to one side, you can fall over and crash. To borrow another cycling metaphor, it’s all about balance.

Now that you have gone out on a dangerous limb to oppose safe cycling and walking for all in Stanley Park, I want to propose a slam-dunk opportunity for you to show some balance.

As a former NPA politician myself, I learned, as I’m sure you have, that canny politicians figure out where the parade is headed, and then step out in front and “lead” it.

Be careful limiting yourself to support from people stuck in their cars.

No doubt you’ve heard that so many seniors and others have taken up e-biking that you can’t find one to buy these days. They describe e-bikes as “life-changing” (no more hills— ask Angus Reid!) as they add to the numbers of people who have already made cycling the most popular form of recreation in our fair city. The Cycling Lobby is working feverishly to get more kids riding safely to schools. Don’t make their parents your political enemies!

Also, bike shops are booming and can’t find enough employees. Jobs!  Economic development!  Caution: never be against those.

But before I share my win-win proposal with you, let me share a few thoughts about what you are calling “the Stanley Park transportation disaster”. At first I thought there might have been another storm that blew down hundreds of trees and blocked roads. Especially when I saw your colleague Tricia Barker describe the situation as “horrible” and “devastating”. And I saw your retweet of someone saying traffic changes have “spoiled our beautiful park.” This could cause a person to get worried.

Then I realized what you were actually talking about was the discovery of the park by more than 400,000 (by now) cyclists taking advantage of the new protected lane(s) through the park – even while it’s accessible for everyone else now that one lane has reopened for cars.

Granted, quick and easy access from the North Shore is closed and 30 percent of parking spaces are blocked, but that isn’t stopping people from the North Shore from accessing the park, or drivers from finding parking spaces.

You and Tricia Barker – and some of my (literally) old NPA colleagues – are urging people to sign a craftily-worded petition to “Keep Vancouver’s most beautiful park accessible to all.” Everyone wants that, so it’s easy to get people to sign (29,000 and counting so far: let’s get more!).

I regret to tell you I’m not signing because I think you might twist my signature into meaning I support restoring two lanes of car traffic. I said “crafty” because that is nowhere spelled out in the petition, just the ominous threat that keeping a protected bike lane “could mean limiting access for people who choose to, or must, access the park by car”. I’m afraid I’ve lost a little trust in you, so I’m leery.

But how lucky we are there is zero data to show that anyone has been limited in accessing the park, or restaurants (operating at 50 percent capacity), or available handicapped parking spaces!

If you have this data, share it please.


Yes, we could do better. One simple example: the bicycle bypass through the parking lot at Prospect Point Café could easily be shared with cars that could then use some of the now-closed parking spaces, without ever crossing a bike lane. Join me in supporting that!

Entrance to Prospect Point parking lot, with plenty of room for shared lane

I fear that you can only deny facts for so long before someone calls your bluff and your credibility disappears – and with it could go some votes!

I find it sad that you have embraced the fictions that seniors and disabled people are being denied access to the park, and that the park is (going to be) so congested that its restaurants will be ruined. Honestly, do you not find it amazing that detouring tens of thousands of cyclists past her business’s front door, not COVID restrictions eliminating tour buses, not her refusal to embrace this new mother-lode of customers, is what makes Prospect Point owner Nancy Stibbard “very,very sad”.

What is very, very sad to me is hearing someone say their business may die because tens of thousands of new customers are now forced to go to it, but a few traditional customers may not be able to park their cars.

I have been past the Prospect Point Café several times since it reopened and have never seen the available parking spaces full.  Of course maybe the parking lots aren’t full because business owners are saying they’re too full, convincing car-bound customers not to come.

That is sad.

I have seen lineups of cyclists coming in to buy things. Cyclists outnumber car drivers by, maybe 10:1.  (I could be wrong.  It might be 20:1.)

A lawyer friend of mine (also a friend of Wally Oppal, who I see has suddenly become an expert on Stanley Park traffic flows), once warned me that launching a lawsuit (which Mr. Oppal has been rumoured to be part of) can backfire badly. You have to play up your victimhood.

In this case, instead of pivoting to serve and embrace cyclists, Stanley Park businesses and their allies are crying about lawsuits, gridlock, lack of parking, inaccessibility and even human rights violations.

You can’t cycle there unless you’re a “beyond seasoned cyclist”, warned poorly-chosen spokesperson Nigel Malkin: “This is not something where families and children are going to be able to ride around.”

Just between us, John, he’s wrong.

Last Friday I counted 68 duffer cyclists – families, children, seniors on e-bikes and others not wearing lycra or riding nice road bikes – peaking the hill at Prospect Point. This compares to 34 speedy people in lycra. That’s twice as many non-elite cyclists. A friend counted on another day and reports that he was passed by, or passed, 42 duffers compared to 15 people wearing lycra shorts. That’s almost three times as many non-elite cyclists who really like to stop and rest at the top of the hill.  I’ve written elsewhere about my five-year-old grandson regularly riding up the big hill with his mom.

Basically the anti-bike lobbyists are telling car-bound customers how terrible the park is so they’ll have a case for pushing aside cyclists to make room for tour buses that have disappeared!  Now that’s a recipe for business disaster.   As a seasoned business executive, John, you should be counselling these people, not Wally Oppal channelling his buddy Bruce Allen!

But I have digressed. A lot.


Here’s my plan for your redemption – not in Stanley Park but in Kitsilano. Tricia Barker can use this too, since you are both unflinching champions of safety and accessibility for seniors in our parks. (Me too, by the way!)

Here it is: Push for pedestrian safety in Kits Park by taking away the designated cycling routes that go along the crowded beachside path and through the parking lot, mixing dangerously with pedestrians up to Yew and along Cornwall. Dust off the engineering study that proposed a protected perimeter bike lane along Ogden, Arbutus and beside Cornwall.

As you know, this was named as a priority by your two successors as park board chair, so you can be seen as a Great Unifier. You will also, of course, be unifying support from seniors and everyone else who just wants to walk and cycle safely in our parks. Some cyclists may even overlook your Stanley Park “disaster” misstep. That’s a lot of votes!


In the unlikely event you don’t take me up on this, I’ve got a Plan B (politicians have to be flexible!):

Double Down! Renew your support for Kits Park as is, including the bike ride for families and seniors on their new e-bikes, weaving through cars backing up in the parking lot. Then designate this, the last remaining dangerous section of the Seaside Greenway, as a Heritage Alley.

It will inevitably be fixed, by a future park board or even, God willing, this one.  But you can get credit for celebrating a remembrance of how cyclists used to mix it up with pedestrians and parking cars, endangering both of them, before hundreds of thousands of cyclists became visible to all politicians.

Call it the Kits Parking Lot Pinball Parade, or maybe The Hadden Park Defence Militia’s Last Stand.

It may be worth a few votes.


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  1. I hear the sound of deaf ears snapping shut all over NPA-land, where the cars live.

    Meanwhile, the few remaining backroom masterminds are no doubt scrambling frantically to find a nasty-name for people on bikes that is at the same peurile level as “climate barbie”. If it emerges, I expect it will lead to as much success as the NPA’s anti-bike platforms in the past.

  2. Thank you for putting in the time and effort to lay out the problem and solutions for both parks.
    Maybe you could stand for election on the Parks Board in two years time.

  3. Nice to Peter Ladner willing to support business-killing decisions based on experiences derived from a time when our thriving international tourism has disappeared from the park. Not something I’d have expected from someone who once ran a business paper. I guess he’s happy to have them be SOL when visitors do return.

    But if we’re making permanent decisions based on a time when thousands have been put out of work or are working from home, let’s save ourselves some money and slash transit funding. Nobody’s riding it anyway, might as well use our observations over the last four months to make some permanent decisions. We can save billions and pull the plug on the Broadway Skytrain, after all students aren’t going to UBC any time soon.

  4. Clearly a bit of an echo chamber on this blog, but I don’t think I have read a more patronizing and insulting faux advice piece. Some key facts are plain false and certainly as regards the petition (which I wrote) his assertions are outright misrepresentations, but hey, that’s the way Peter roles, I guess.

  5. I’m at a loss to understand why anyone who’s actually been at Prospect Point in the last few months would think that a lack of cars is hurting business when it’s so obvious that the huge majority of the crowds that are up there came on bikes. And trust me, the cyclists who have pedaled their way up the hill are a lot more likely to stop for refreshments there than the folks who cruised up in a car.

    In a year where tourism has tanked, bicycles are the silver lining for Stanley Park businesses.

    1. They’re the only business for Stanley Park. Tourists have gone and anyone thinking of coming by car has received the message loud and clear from Parks Board and Council that they are not welcome.

      1. I think people driving are receiving that message from the businesses far more than from the Park Board itself, who have clearly accommodated vehicles. It is some businesses on the news regularly saying that cars can’t drive there. They are the architects of their own demise.

        1. Blaming the victim is never a good look. And tracking shows cyclists numbers to eb far velow the Parks Board estimates:

          “They say daily cyclist numbers only reached as high as 6,400 per day — far lower than the Park Board’s initial estimate of between 10,000 and 11,000 cyclists each day over the summer. The actual number of casual cyclists (leisure riders alone or in a group) and serious cyclists (experienced road cyclists with professional equipment) is far lower than anticipated.

          Cyclist volumes also reached a low of 209 on one of the days during the observation period — less than a tenth of the Park Board’s estimate of 2,500 cyclists on a slow day.

          Furthermore, they believe the number of actual cyclists is likely even lower, as they observed serious riders typically riding Stanley Park Drive’s looping route multiple times in a single day. Their estimated variance for the study is 5% to 10%, as all data was calculated manually.”

          1. I don’t think the restaurants are victims of people cycling, they are victims of the pandemic. They are looking to blame people cycling. As you say, not a good look.

            What they should do is come out with the stats on their business volume for all their restaurants, and show that, for example, their restaurant on Granville Island is at xx%, while their restaurant in Stanley Park is at yy%. Then figure out what to do about it, apart from blaming others.

            Even better, they should figure out how to market to a significant group of people riding, that instead they are trying to attack. Where are the promotions for box meals (a Bike Bento Box, if you will, in a carry bag), available for curbside pickup, for a picnic in the park? They only have a fraction of their usual indoor seats available due to physical distancing requirements. Why not provide meals for people to enjoy throughout the park? Something more than an ice cream cone? Why not have the Bike Valet provide bicycle parking, and promote it? So many opportunities missed.

      2. I have no doubt that is what some who choose to drive are hearing, but that’s not what’s being said. I understand that sharing is hard and motorists aren’t used to it.

  6. “In a year where tourism has tanked, bicycles are the silver lining for Stanley Park businesses.”

    Exactly. This morning, with a steady stream of people on bikes going around the park, I saw very few vehicles moving, 3 or 4. There were many empty parking spaces. But the shops at Prospect Point weren’t open yet around 10 am; they have an opportunity there.

    HUB Cycling will be holding the annual Bike to Shop event on August 17th to 29th. This is an opportunity for businesses to learn how to attract business from people cycling, and for people who cycle to show their support for local businesses. Business improvement associations participate, but in Stanley Park it would be up to the businesses there to reach out. I hope they do so.

    Details here: https://bikehub.ca/biketoshop

  7. How do we address the Horse-Drawn carriage tours with one lane of traffic? On CTV they showed a huge line of cars behind a slowly crawling carriage while cars who finally had enough dangerously pulled into the bike lane to pass knocking the traffic cones over.

  8. Why is that the horse drawn carriage must occupy the car lane instead of the bike lane.? Most cyclists are able to pass slowed or stopped vehicles, such as busses, without too much angst. Given the lower speeds of cars in the vehicle lane, compared with street traffic, passing as low carriage on a bike should not be a problem.

  9. It is up to Park Board staff to determine how to balance the interests of the horse drawn carriage, and private vehicles. So far, they have created multiple pull out zones so that drivers can overtake the carriage. Some drivers are not waiting, and are crossing into the bike lane. That is a ticketable offence. I think park board staff are trying, but the way some people are driving, they are creating a situation whereby drivers may be restricted from accessing the park again, and that would be a shame for those who need vehicle access.

    The horses don’t belong in the cycle lane. The lane narrows in several points such that the carriage could not pass. Overtaking the carriage (which is moving at walking speed, not cycling speed) would require vulnerable cyclists to pull out into the vehicle lane. The trouble is that vehicle drivers are often not respecting the speed limit. When vehicles had limited access to Park Drive, there was a 15 km/hr speed limit posted. That has been removed, and with the standard 30 km/hr limit, many vehicles are exceeding that.

    I wonder if the carriage route could be adjusted to use the internal roads and paths, and not Park Drive, except for access to their stop/start point.

  10. NPA Parks Board Commissioners John Coopar and Trish Barker have made heroic efforts to protect park access and usability for the majority of Vancouverites, but unfortunately they keep being outvoted by Green and Cope commissioners who seem to represent very narrow interests. Consequently, Vancouver parks are turning into disasters in terms of access and usability at a time when Vancouverites need access to clean healthy outdoor recreation more than ever.

    Gordon, The idea that John should fall into line with cope and the greens is frankly ridiculous. Greens and Cope may have their hearts in the right place, but their policies, IMO, are completely misguided.

    John and Trish, keep up the good work. Vancouver needs you more than ever.

  11. Although this post focuses on the position of the Park Board with respect to the completion of the Seaside Greenway in Kits Point, the responsibility is as much or more on the COV, particularly if the majority of the Greenway completion is on the peripheral streets of Arbutus and Ogden, with a logical addition of Chestnut. “Dust off the engineering study that proposed a protected perimeter bike lane along Ogden, Arbutus and beside Cornwall.”

    Since 2013, the separated jurisdiction of COV and Park Board has resulted in any resolution being kicked down the road. The temporary measures adopted by the COV to promote Active Transportation during Covid-19 are positive but inadequate during Normal; New Normal; and pending Denser than Normal.

    1. In the last round of planning and public meetings for a new/improved cycle lane alongside and through a portion of Kits Beach Park, park board staff recommended an option to commissioners, and asked for the endorsement of commissioners so that they could work collaboratively with Engineering staff on design, costing, and a detailed proposal, to be brought back to commissioners for approval. Commissioner Coupar used a procedure motion to block that vote. It wasn’t going to be a vote on putting a new bike lane in, it was a vote on having park board staff work with City Engineering staff.

      This also meant that all the people registered to speak, in attendance that night at the Park Board office, were told to go home because no speakers would be heard due to his motion during the meeting.

      So, the plan for the two departments to work together was dealt a strong blow. As was an opportunity for public input.

      It was a delaying tactic, and it worked.

  12. Post

    Guest – not fall in line. No, the opposite. Lead.

    The NPA has a great record in leading the way on, call it what you will – active transport, alternative transportation, priorizing walking and biking. From Campbell to Owen, from Sullivan and, yes, Ladner, the NPA has a pioneering place in Vancouver history. Coupar and Barker can continue that tradition if they choose.

    Specifically, they can tell us what would they do to encourage more walking and cycling, safe and accessible, as a first choice for many. A choice that accommodates the needs of seniors, the disabled, the driver, the horse-drawn cart.

    It can be done. The NPA were pretty good at it.

  13. Wednesday mid-afternoon I toured the park on 2 wheels with friends – relatively popular day. No business at Prospect Point – car or bike. Low car traffic – one truck clearly coming from the Rowing Club at a sedate speed with tools and a spar hanging out the back. Two delivery trucks. And a steady parade of nutbars. First one car averaging 60 kmh. Then another. Then another. And more – about 10 before I got to the hill climb to the bridge. Every single one of them had the revs high as if they were just waiting for a break to pass traffic that didn’t exist.

    Then two motorcycles at the turn up the hill to the bridge – a veritable rat-race – in 3rd gear before they were half-way up the hill and probably close to 100 kmh, one of them popping a wheelie. Shortly after Prospect Point Cafe, more rat-racers – mostly young guys in weird Japanese cars in a parade of a dozen or so, all of them doing at least 60 kmh and accelerating as they went out of sight.

    Remaining traffic was sedate.

    No real risk to anyone that I saw, but the park drive seems to be a magnet for idiots looking for somewhere to waste their time, and to come and try their hands at pretending they own the city. I don’t try this route much and won’t be back until it rains as it always leads into a morass of bike idiocy on Beach Ave.

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