The results from the closure of the Esplanade and Willows parking lot to drivers could impact more temporary changes to Oak Bay roads during the ongoing social shutdown.
The closures are only to cars and permit social distancing so that walking and cycling visitors can enjoy the park by using the roads to pass each other safely.
Oak Bay stands out in Greater Victoria for its regular closures of Oak Bay Avenue to turn the Village into a holiday festival for the Oak Bay Light Up, for its monthly summer night markets, and for the vintage car show.
The most recent changes also impact visitor numbers by discouraging visitors, en masse, who drive to Willows beach on long weekends, especially with the warm weather of late.
Oak Bay police patrolled by bike and by foot throughout the Easter weekend and confirmed the numbers were lower, said Deputy Chief Ray Bernoties.
“It was a good strategy to limit the public, we observed it publicly and it’s been highly effective,” Bernoties said. “We’re seeing beach users but not nearly the number we usually expect.”
Oak Bay’s Emergency Operations team is looking at other options such as Beach Drive and Oak Bay Village where there are pinch points such as narrow sidewalks, or no sidewalks, that make it difficult for people to pass each other without walking into the road, said Mayor Kevin Murdoch.
The issue will be included in a staff report expected on April 14. The report will look at other things, including some suggestions to deal with the 2020 budget that was set to be approved at an eight per cent increase but has since be delayed.
“People waiting for a few seconds for others to pass doesn’t justify a road closure [or partial closure],” Murdoch said. “We have to consider other factors, staff will have to set up barriers and monitor them, it’s not as simple as [closing half a road].”
Nearby, Victoria has closed the roads within Beacon Hill Park for cycling and walking and banned some parking on Dallas Road adjacent to that park. Vancouver did the same, though on a larger scale, by closing the roads in Stanley Park and Beach Avenue (which leads to it).
In Saanich, all roads remain open to auto traffic (except for those subject to construction) though the Swan Lake nature trail is now one way to promote safe-distancing.
However, there are much greater changes underway in U.S. cities where the epidemic has been handled poorly and transmission rates are extremely high. Last week Oaklands closed 74 miles of streets to encourage safe transit and social distancing while walking and cycling, as did Minneapolis and Boston.
“The overarching message is to use your trails, use your parks, but use the ones closest to you and to not overcrowd a specific area,” Bernoties said.