At Viewpoint Vancouver we have followed some of the Park Board Commissioners’ continual hand wringing about the changing use of Stanley Park by people that may not necessarily want to drive to it.
Think of it: in Vancouver one of the great signatures has been the extension of the very walkable and bikeable seawall around Stanley Park to other areas of the downtown peninsula. Building the seawall has been part of the negotiated benefits from developers as new buildings lined the waterfront in the downtown.
It is fabulous to walk and bike this seawall ribbon along the waterfront.
You can now cycle along the downtown seawall from many parts of Vancouver, and that signature network is part of the city’s greenways system. And one of the great rides in any city is of course the counter clockwise bicycle ride through Stanley Park, either on the narrow bike lane, or on the designated “temporary” cycling lane on Park Drive through the park.
One of the aspects of densification in Vancouver is going to be about the use of the large parks. As the city attracts more people, how will those parks function? What will be the balance between local users who want park access for active recreation versus tourists and tour companies?
And in the 21st century the linkage between physical activity, walking and biking, and physical and mental health has been proven. Studies show that walking or sitting in nature for 20 minutes has a profound impact on wellbeing and mental health.
How do parks like Stanley Park and Queen Elizabeth Park respond to local needs for access to greenery and active transportation, when revenue models have been based upon large numbers of vehicle travellers accessing restaurants and attractions? Or should these large parks remain vehicle driver based attracting regional and tourist users instead of local people? Can those parks do both?
There’s a long history of rancour and disagreement about the use of Park Drive exclusively by different modes of transportation that goes back over a century. You can take a look at how the authority of the Park Board was first tested in court in 1905 over the Board’s right to tell automobiles where they can drive, and where they cannot.
History is sure to repeat itself with various challenges on the shared use of Park Drive. What everyone can agree on is how loved this park is, and how everyone wants to be able to use it. That goal should be achievable in allowing more active transportation use in the park. But some on Vancouver’s elected park board, the last one in Canada, appears to have an antiquated view of park use, and the Board needs to be updated or perhaps even abolished and morphed into integral city services. Not only would this be a cost saving, but parks could then be integrated directly into city operations, and be more productive.
After establishing the need for a mobility study in 2020, the Park Board is now considering the Initial Findings and Directions of the mobility study this week. You can take a look at the 94 page report here.
The report identifies that 51 percent of trips into Stanley Park are now by walking or rolling, 33 percent by vehicle, 15 percent by bike and 1 percent by transit. Of people surveyed 70 percent see reducing vehicular traffic as important to lessen emissions and noise, and want to share road space with other modes.
The study also addresses that touristic buses serving Stanley Park bring in more people who are spending the most money at businesses, while people walking and biking come more frequently but spend less.
That is also because the businesses in operation in the park cater to the tourist dollar or the more costly level of restaurant experience, instead of providing food and services to the more frequent park users.
There is also some interesting data on park visits: nearly half of visitors live within ten kilometers of the park, and are using it as their local park. With 9.5 million park visits in 2021, the rest of the visitors are tourists who visit only once a year.
This report recommends the acceptance of guiding principles for further research and making active transportation priorities in Stanley Park based upon the following:
1. Safety – To create a safer mobility environment, we will aim to reduce potential conflicts between diverse users, enhance user comfort through all times of the day, and maintain a network that supports access for emergency response.
2. Accessibility – We will prioritize the needs of users who face increased barriers accessing locations in the park and increase universal accessibility by design. We must recognize the diverse accessibility needs for persons with disabilities, with an awareness that multiple approaches will be required/need to be considered.
3. Economic Vitality – We will maintain economic vitality by recognizing the contributions of existing and future opportunities enabled by Stanley Park. We will also center the natural value of Stanley Park as a key contributor to the regional economy and explicitly consider the financial implications of proposed options on Park Board budgets and services.
4. Climate Action & Environmental Protection – By reducing private vehicle traffic, we can contribute to bold climate action and decrease carbon emissions, air and noise pollution, and water contamination. Lower demand for paved surface area can unlock potential to increase natural areas, sequester carbon, and safeguard Stanley Park’s core natural value.
5. A Flexible & Resilient System – To accommodate different levels of user activity over the course of a day, a week, a year, and into the future, the transportation network will be planned and designed for different uses and demand. With increased flexibility, the transportation network can better respond to changes in the Park as well as negative impacts such as storm surges and sea level rise into the future.
6. A Connected Transportation Network – We will evolve the existing transportation network into one that provides more direct routes, is more intuitive for users, and enables improved connection to the City’s transportation system. In particular, this will consider the need to support public transit operations. This future network – one that provides access for all – will require innovative ways to manage access.
7. Enhance Park Experience – The options will consider what people love and appreciate about Stanley Park, and how to enhance experiences leading up to the pandemic and beyond.
You can take a look at the meeting at this link. It will also be recorded.
This is an important report as it lays out the future use of Stanley Park as a local and tourist based place, but also looks at what active transportation and micro mobility infrastructure is needed in the future. In thirty years will the car still be king on Stanley Park’s Park Drive? Or will “sharing the road” involve other forms of micro mobility we have not even anticipated?