Battle for Beach Avenue? Bike lane debate back at Vancouver city council

28 Jul 2023 | Politics | 153 |
Battle for Beach Avenue? Bike lane debate back at Vancouver city council

The future of one of Vancouver’s most popular bikeways is in the spotlight, as the city looks at changing traffic patterns on Beach Avenue.

The eastbound half of the West End waterfront street from Stanley Park to Jervis Street was converted to a separated bike path during the COVID-19 pandemic, leaving the road open only to westbound vehicle traffic.

The route has remained in place since then and has surged in popularity among cyclists. On an average weekday it sees about 4,700 bike trips, climbing to 5,800 trips on a weekend day, according to city statistics.

The one-way nature of the street, however, prevents vehicles from exiting Stanley Park through the West End, forcing drivers to leave the park via Georgia Street.

That’s drawn some complaints of congestion at peak hours, which were in turn voiced by ABC Vancouver Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung at a Wednesday council meeting.

During a presentation from staff on capital projects, Kirby-Yung asked about the possibility of reopening the route to two-way car traffic, while maintaining a bike lane in some capacity.

“We also have a huge backup and people are saying, well, this is working against climate because you have all these cars backing up,” Kirby-Yung said.

Staff responded that the road could be reopened to two-way traffic and that an older bike path, off the road surface and which has now become a pedestrian path, could again be used for bikes. However, staff said there were “some concerns” whether that route could accommodate the volume of cyclists now using the expanded bikeway.

In an email, a City of Vancouver spokesperson confirmed Thursday that staff were “looking at reversing the one-way flow on Beach Ave/Morton between Stanley Park and Denman Street,” adding that a timeline “for implementing this change will be confirmed in the coming few weeks.”

Cycling advocates were quick to slam the prospect of any major changes to the Beach Avenue route.

“The Beach Avenue bikeway is by far the most popular and well used bike lane in the whole of Vancouver. It’s more highly used than the seawall bike path around Science World … it’s more highly used than the Burrard Bridge . Both of those are super well-used (but) this blows it out of the park, it’s just a huge success,” Lucy Maloney with Love the Lane told Global News.

Maloney said commuters and shoppers have come to rely on the Beach Avenue route, and that she feared any big changes to it would discourage people from using it as often.

She further argued that it was unrealistic for drivers accessing one of the city’s premier attractions during weekends in peak season to expect they wouldn’t face any congestion or delays, bike lane or no.

“It’s a huge mistake to put the convenience of drivers exiting Stanley Park at peak times a head of year-round cycling safety and encouraging active transport in our city,” Maloney said.

Vancouver housing and climate advocate Peter Waldkrich said the discussion about changes to the lane put the ABC council majority’s commitment to cycling and active transportation in question.

“Every time there has been an important vote on these important measures they have voted against them, against bike lanes or sometimes even to remove them,” he said.

“I think most Vancouverites don’t support that … especially since Vancouver used to be a leader when it came to active transportation and climate sustainability. In recent years other cities have leapfrogged us and taken bold action to support active transportation and micromobility.”

Waldkrich also questioned exactly how much congestion was actually occurring in the park, noting that no research or studies had been tabled.

The ABC majority on the city’s park board voted last year to remove the separated bike lane from Stanley Park, while the ABC majority on city council voted down a proposal for a separated lane on Broadway that was initially green-lit as a part of the Broadway Plan.

Kirby-Yung did not respond to a Global News interview request.

But speaking on CKNW’s The Jill Bennett Show Thursday, she said the Beach Avenue discussion had been mischaracterized.

“Nobody was suggesting that we rip out or cancel the Beach Avenue bike lane,” she said.

“The question was, is this the best configuration moving forward to support both bikes and to have a better exit from the park? It was a really good discussion. And what we heard from our transportation staff was that they were looking at a whole number of measures.”

Kirby-Yung said the key question was how to ensure bikes and cars could coexist in the area, and suggested a solution could be “dealing with” the part of Beach Avenue between Stanley Park and Denman Street “in terms of getting people out of the park.”

“That’s our job, to ask the questions around how do we alleviate some of the pressure points,” she said.

She added that the city is already engaged in a multi-year master planning process for the entire West End waterfront, which is anchored in making the area more pedestrian and bike friendly overall.

by Global News