Long-weekend traffic in Stanley Park tests new vehicle restrictions

The park board will leave the temporary traffic changes limiting cars to one lane around the park until at least the summer

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Visitors driving through Stanley Park during the first long weekend of tourism season found themselves slowly crawling along Stanley Park Drive, a two-lane road through the park that motorists now share with cyclists.

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Drivers flooded social media with reports of slow-moving traffic on a sunny Victoria Day on Monday, as well as detailing stalled lineups along Georgia Street leading to the main entrance into the park.

Last year, the city’s park board voted 5-2 to close off one lane of traffic on Stanley Park Drive, the main road that roughly borders the park, to allow cyclists to use the other lane, and changed other connecting roads to one-way traffic.

There was also plenty of support on social media for the extra space for cyclists as comments lined up as either pro- or anti-car, as they have since the park board restricted vehicle traffic and opened up more roads to non-motorized transportation.

But many were calling for a return to two lanes for cars, to allow those with mobility issues or large families planning a picnic to be able to use the park as easily as those who can walk or bike through its four square kilometres. Others posted opinions saying the park is better enjoyed on foot or bike rather than inside a polluting vehicle.

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“The last time the park was this busy was Family Day” in February,” said Vancouver park board commissioner Tricia Barker. “People (then) were lined up along Georgia Street and it was taking them one-and-a-half hours to get into the park.”

She and fellow commissioner John Coupar, who both voted against reducing vehicle traffic through the park, were predicting that “as the park got busier again, we’re going to see these huge lineups. Also, the problem is there is only one exit from the park. Being able to exit at English Bay took a lot of the cars that now have to be funnelled along a road next to Lost Lagoon and back to Georgia Street. It was a given that this was going to happen.”

Barker said she opposes restricting cars to one lane because “it turns Stanley Park into a local park” that only those living nearby can easily access. Others say transit makes it accessible to all.

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A car and a pair of cyclists in their lanes in Stanley Park on May 24, 2022.
A car and a pair of cyclists in their lanes in Stanley Park on May 24, 2022. Photo by Mike Bell /Mike Bell/PNG

Board chair Camil Dumont acknowledged it was a “very, very busy” weekend at Stanley Park. He said the park board hears from people who support the traffic change, as well as others who are “anti-bike.” The board is gathering data to ensure as many users as possible can access the park.

The Stanley Park mobility study is collecting data in part with the installation of five sensors that will be able to determine the number of visitors and how, when and where they travel in the park.

The data won’t be released until staff have had a chance to collect it throughout the summer and present findings in a report likely in the fall to the board and public, with recommendations on traffic patterns to ensure greatest accessibility, he said.

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The public will have a chance to provide input to the board in an open forum before a final decision about vehicle restrictions is made, said Dumont.

There are two ways to solve traffic problems in the park, through managing supply, which would mean the unlikely building of more roads, or managing demand, said UBC Prof. Robin Lindsey of the Sauder School of Business’s operations and logistics division.

An example of managing demand on some freeways is the use of metering, which controls the rate at which cars can enter a roadway, he said. That would not be effective for Stanley Park because it could cause congestion outside the park, such as lineups along Georgia Street or on the Lions Gate Bridge, he said.

Lindsey supports mobility or road pricing, which is used in many cities to reduce traffic in central areas by charging each vehicle a digital toll when they enter an area or travel a certain distance. But that is something that would be applied to a larger region, such as Metro Vancouver, and wouldn’t necessarily work for a specific location such as Stanley Park, which is a “special case.”

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“We wouldn’t want to use a hammer on a small nail,” he said.

Lindsey said a solution will likely involve a tradeoff between competing interests, and he wouldn’t advocate for one without knowing more about the different options.

But he said one solution might be to alternate between one lane of traffic on certain weekends and two lanes of traffic on others.

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