The province will soon release a two-phase plan aimed at preventing future accidents on the Stanley Park causeway like the one that killed a 61-year-old cyclist in May.
The specifics of the plan aren’t yet public, but park board Commissioner Constance Barnes said the first phase will be aimed at preventing future accidents. The second will look at the more difficult challenge of improving the flow of pedestrian and bicycle traffic in a city that has seen park advocates, drivers and cyclists pitted against each other.
“Our first priority is figuring out, ‘How do we prevent anybody from having a similar type of accident in the future?’” she said.
Barnes has been working with the B.C. Ministry of Transportation on its report, which will be presented at a park board meeting next month. She said she hopes the presentation will take place at the board’s Dec. 2 meeting, but the date hasn’t been finalized yet.
The May accident, in which the woman fell off the sidewalk and into the path of a bus, led cycling advocates to call for safety features found on other roads in Vancouver to be added to the causeway. But the city is not responsible for designing or building those features, since the road is owned by the province.
Options for improving safety
On land owned by the city, two safety measures for bike lanes are common. In tight spaces like the Burrard Bridge and the Hornby Street bike lane downtown, bicycles are protected from vehicules by a concrete barrier. In parks and more open spaces, bicycle and pedestrian paths are kept separate.
The Stanley Park causeway has neither of these features. Cyclists and pedestrians share the sidewalks on either side of the causeway’s three lanes of traffic.
Bicycles are restricted to travelling in the same direction as traffic on a given side of the road, but pedestrians can walk in either direction on either sidewalk.
Some accounts of the incident in May said the cyclist’s death may have been caused when she tried to pass some pedestrians on the sidewalk.
Regardless of the specific circumstances of the woman’s death, however, cyclists say they know the current configuration of the causeway is dangerous.
“It’s treacherous,” said Jeremy Wex, a part-time Vancouver resident who frequently rides his bicycle over the causeway to get to ferries in West Vancouver.
“They need a barrier between the cars and bikes, to start.”
After the May accident, HUB, a Vancouver-based cycling advocacy group, began a petition on change.org calling on the province and the park board to make the causeway safer. The organization also sent a letter to local and provincial officials outlining specific changes it believed should be made to the road.
The letter’s recommendations included installing barriers and separating bicycle and pedestrian paths among “long-term” improvements for the causeway. It also suggested constructing an alternate route for bicycles through Stanley Park to the Lions Gate Bridge.
The park board’s role
The city’s efforts to promote cycling as part of its Greenest City Initiative have often been met with opposition, most recently in Hadden and Kits Beach parks.
Some residents there see a proposed separated bike lane as unnecessarily damaging the parks’ environments and their ability to be used for other recreational purposes.
While no such opposition yet exists to bike-lane changes on the causeway, the road has a history of activism. In 2000, a plan to widen the causeway drew protests and lawsuits.
In June, roughly a month after the cycling death, Barnes brought a motion to the park board calling for the body to “do everything within its power to work with all levels of government to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists” on the causeway.
Non-Partisan Association commissioners John Coupar and Melissa De Genova opposed the motion, saying more information was needed about the accident before the board committed to making changes.
Coupar likened the situation to other fatal traffic accidents, which don’t typically elicit such an immediate response, he said.
“You don’t usually make major changes unless you have a report before you and you know the facts,” Coupar said. “This motion came forward very, very early after the unfortunate, tragic death.”
The appropriate process would have been to wait until the province had issued its report, something that would have been done with or without Barnes’ motion, he said, before taking any action at the park board level.
Barnes said she made the motion because of HUB’s petition and because she found the story of the woman’s death “devastating.” She said the motion was a way to get the province, the park board, the cycling community, and other stakeholders like local First Nations “to the table.”
“We’re stewards of Stanley Park,” she said of the park board. “I just wanted to make sure that we’re all on the same page going forward.”