Pilot road closures in Beacon Hill Park are here to stay, although a key artery through the park is likely to be reopened to vehicle traffic.
A majority of Victoria councillors voted to adopt the changes, which have been in place since Aug. 2012, at a governance and priorities committee meeting Thursday. The decision still requires final approval at a later council meeting.
As a compromise to proponents of car access, Bridge Way will re-open as a one-way street with a partial parallel multi-use pathway. The road runs from Douglas Street and southeast through the park, and will continue to prevent shortcutting by drivers between James Bay and Fairfield.
Councillors clashed on the results of a public survey, in which 52 per cent of 1,500 respondents said they were unsupportive or very unsupportive of the pilot road closures through the park. An estimated 1 million people visit Beacon Hill Park each year.
“If people were to propose putting roads through East Sooke park, people would freak out, and rightfully so,” said Coun. Lisa Helps, who argued unsuccessfully to keep Bridge Way closed. “No matter which way you slice it, nobody can defend a position that says drive cars through a natural park area.”
Advocates of the road closures highlighted a safer park for children, pedestrians and cyclists, while opponents said the changes hindered elderly and disabled access.
In 2011, the city’s draft transportation plan recommended permanent road closures through the urban park’s core, but council backed down from that idea before agreeing to the pilot closures.
Coun. Ben Isitt said the public survey alone wasn’t enough to convince him that accommodating more vehicle traffic was necessary, and questioned why staff lumped non-resident feedback – many of whom would likely arrive to the park by vehicle – into the survey results.
“I’d rather err on the side of public safety,” he said. “The status quo in the park right now is a very substantial compromise (for vehicle traffic).”
Coun. Pam Madoff summed up the thoughts of the majority on council with her support of a scenic drive-through as an appropriate balance of interests for all park users.
“Why do we ask the question if we’re just looking for people who support a predisposed view that we take,” Madoff asked.
The 5-4 vote was supported by Madoff, Councillors Charlayne Thornton-Joe, Geoff Young, Chris Coleman and Mayor Dean Fortin.
James Bay Neighbourhood Association president Marg Gardiner said she was disappointed council didn’t make all of the pilot road closures permanent.
“I think that’s really quite typical of what we’ve seen from council,” she said. “I would like to see really forward-thinking decisions, and I think that this one may have skipped that notion, that’s just my personal opinion.”
Joan Katarski, Fairfield-Gonzales Community Association executive director, said she sympathized with the competing interests of park users.
“I know many seniors wanted to have this ability to drive through, because many don’t live near the park,” she said. “I think the city’s trying to do a balancing act of meeting the needs of all. There’s a great deal of passion for Beacon Hill Park on many levels.”
Staff estimate the permanent changes and new parking lot will cost $120,000, but council deferred spending approval to a later meeting.
View the staff report here.