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What is the Stanley Park Mobility Study and why does it have Vancouver residents so divided?

Officials say something needs to be done to improve how people access and get around Vancouver's crown jewel park. But what, exactly?
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The Stanley Park Mobility Study has raised both issues and ideas from Vancouver residents, many of whom deem the road and temporary bike lane inaccessible. The topic caused the early recession of the July 18 park board open meeting.

Vancouver's biggest park has been a hot topic lately.

Stanley Park has become a popular destination for tourists and locals, yet the park's approximately 40-year-old transportation network isn't able to accommodate the changing crowds.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation is looking into ways to update the park that satisfies everyone, gathering opinions and ideas through the Stanley Park Mobility Study

"The Stanley Park Mobility Study is a long-term assessment of how people travel to and move through Vancouver’s biggest tourist attraction and an evaluation of options for the potential reduction of vehicle traffic while improving access and experience for all," explains a park board news release.

According to the news release, the study has found that:

  • Of the 18 million visitors in 2021, more people are walking, rolling or cycling to and through the park, while private vehicle traffic continues to decline over the past 40 years.
  • The current transportation network in the park is not set up to support the ever-increasing number of visitors to the park, or the changing ways people access and move through the park. 
  • The highest priority for those surveyed during the early engagement phase of the study is to ensure the park is accessible for everyone, particularly for people with mobility challenges 
  • 70 per cent of respondents to the survey see an opportunity to reduce vehicle traffic within the park, such as less noise and pollution, more space for other modes of transport, a safer network, potential to reallocate asphalt to other uses or green space, less congestion, and more opportunities for businesses. 
  • Other jurisdictions that have reduced vehicle traffic within destination parks have seen growth in visitor numbers.

Park Drive, which circles Stanley Park, was originally built in 1888 for "pleasure drives" around the park. Back then the local population was significantly smaller at 26,000 people. Since then, the Vancouver population has increased by a hundredfold to 2,600,000, yet mobility in the park has remained unchanged. 

"With over 18 million visits a year in 2021, a growing population and increasing tourism, changes are needed to ensure the park continues to thrive and provide great experiences for the next century," writes the [park board] in the news release. 

"The Stanley Park Mobility Study’s goal is to improve experience by exploring options that improve access to and movement around the park, while reducing private vehicle traffic. It is a high-level study investigating – not just the current temporary bike lane – but all options for movement within one of Canada’s most well-loved parks."

Still, the temporary bike lane remains a prominent point in discussions about the park's mobility.

The latest park board open meeting on July 18 to discuss the Stanley Park Mobility Study was recessed early after the third public speaker, out of 44 who signed up, took to the podium.

Some took the open meeting to share opinions on the park's bike lanes and climate change. Others who didn't get a chance to speak or attend the meeting took to social media. 

Issues with the bike lane in Stanley Park

Despite the open meeting encouraging public speakers to discuss issues and ideas other than those surrounding bike lanes, which many aren't satisfied with, the bike lanes were still a hot topic. 

The temporary bike lane installed last year to allow social distancing between cyclists and other park-goers has become a concern for various reasons. 

Some of these reasons were shared under the park board's Facebook post about the mobility study, which gathered over 100 comments. 

Many bring up the scenery, which attracts many leisurely cyclists, that is obstructed by orange cones and the steep forest detour. "They turned a nice flat scenic ride into riding through the trees then pushing your bike up a steep hill," Kevyn Stich chimed up in the comment section.

Lots of cyclists ditch the temporary bike lane because of it, opting for the original seawall route. "90 per cent of cyclists are on the original bike lane anyways," Stich added, to which another Facebook user agreed. "Totally, I never use that bike lane, I go round the seawall," commented Lindsay Pellegrino.

"During the rainy months there is actually no one using the bike lane, during our four months 'dry' summer I can count maybe five bikes using this lane, the majority of bikes are tourists and they use the old bike lane," added Christian Hamann, who also said that they work in Stanley Park. 

Others bring up accessibility issues that involve road-relying folks other than cyclists. 

"This lane goes against our handicap residents, first responders have a hard time getting into the park when an emergency and to top it all off is a eyesore those orange cones and concrete divided," Hamann added. 

The orange cones that come with the bike lane seem to be more of a nuisance than the actual lane, but one person suggested a solution. 

"Put the bike lanes inside on the left, so that handicapped and senior passengers can enjoy the view without being subjected to thousands of unsightly orange cones and markers that have destroyed a beautiful nature drive," commented Peter Grreat.

Vehicle access

While the study gravitates towards reducing private vehicle traffic in the park, many insist on keeping private vehicle access an available option for residents who rely on cars, such as families and handicapped individuals. 

"I have traditionally driven to the park as a day destination for my family with chairs, a cooler and a shade tent," replied Celeste Munger to Vancouver Is Awesome's tweet on the subject. "I wonder if there is a way to reconcile this sort of activity with the push to reduce/eliminate cars in the park?"

While the push towards reducing private vehicle traffic aligns with the study's findings and helps lessen impacts on the climate crisis, more cycling, rolling and walking to the park deems just as inaccessible to some residents. 

"Let's try to consider options that serve the majority of people, unless we want the park only accessible by local residents within walking and cycling distance," highlighted Nicole MacRae in the Facebook comment section.

"I am not willing to waste two hours sitting in traffic to move five kilometres... nor 'use my bike' with two small kids during the 80 per cent of the year it rains," commented Max Nev. "Hopefully, that park board has a subsidy for businesses in the park ready to go as it will hurt them just like it did when the city got rid of street parking to put more barely used bike lanes in."

Another resident suggested a possible solution: "I think there should be a free shuttle that continuously goes around through the park allowing people to get on or off at various stops," commented Wendy Hunter on Facebook. "This would help cut down on needing a car and be helpful for people."

It is anticipated that the final report and options will be presented to the park board in early 2023.