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OPINION: Cars aren't part of Stanley Park's purpose

"Riding and walking through the park is a way to experience its majesty without bringing the city along."
stanley-park
The real value of Stanley Park is in exploring the natural splendour it offers, not driving a car to an 'attraction,' writes columnist Heather Drugge. File photo by Jennifer Gauthier/Vancouver Courier

By Heather Drugge

Growing up on the North Shore, we ventured across town occasionally.

Travelling in the back seat through Stanley Park toward Lions Gate Bridge was an encouraging sign we were on our way home. It seemed only natural that the Douglas firs and hemlocks that lined the causeway heralded our entrance to the North Shore, with snow-topped Ch'ich'iyúy Elxwíkn, the Twin Sisters, in the distance.

Stanley Park is symbolic for many people here on the North Shore as the link between the rest of the world and the emerald forest where we live. 

At the top of the hill across the footbridge on Coal Harbour, Lord Stanley invites us “to the use and enjoyment of people of all colours, creeds and customs for all time. ...” (Say, should that statue still be there? Should a British bloke welcome us to the park that is on unceded Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh land? Well, whatever, it’s a nice sentiment if you don’t consider the source.)

I mention the statue because I passed it often enough cycling from work downtown back home. As a daily commuter, I would occasionally take a break from the relentless noise of the causeway and dilly dally up the footbridge, past Lord Stanley, by Malkin Bowl, the arbutus garden, the petting zoo and then charge down Pipeline Road.

Rather than electing to ride on the roadway up the steep hill to the bridge entrance, I would deke across to the Hanson trail, a wide gravel path created to allow people in mobility assistance devices to access the real park. Named after Rick Hanson, this route suited me fine when it was light out and sometimes even in the dark when I wanted to feel the forest at night. There were the same two nesting ducks in a little pond that would appear in spring and disappear in summer. Once I saw a squirrel scolding an impassive porcupine lodged in a tall broadleaf maple. Banana slugs oozed along, oblivious. Birds. Magical quiet. 

This must surely be what Lord Stanley was offering to all: a place for a natural respite from city life. He wasn’t thinking about theatres, restaurants, aquariums, a zoo, or busloads of tourists. He wasn’t thinking about parking revenues or traffic management. He was thinking that people might want to visit the park to leave the city behind. (Though he might have been OK with the cricket pitch.) 

The real attraction of a park is not its “attractions.” 

Riding a bicycle in the park isn’t really about transportation per se, though a few of us use it occasionally to return from the city to the North Shore. It’s more about recreating, experiencing the natural environment. Riding and walking through the park is a way to experience its majesty without bringing the city along. If it were up to me, we would shut the park to motorized vehicle traffic. 

This does not need to be exclusionary. We can work out ways for people of all colours, creeds and customs to access Stanley Park’s leafy, beachy escapes. Electric tri-shaws can wheel the elderly, or people with disabilities or just people who choose that mode of travel. People with no accessibility challenges could take advantage of micro-mobility devices. We could build an electric shuttle service or an at-grade e-train to transport people to where they want to go. Or extend the existing public bus service throughout the park. Tourists could rent e-bikes, e-boards or e-scooters to replace the belching diesel buses. Living buses with multiple riders are super fun.

There are a million ways around traffic jams in X̱wáýx̱way-Stanley Park. Maintaining vehicle access is not one of them. 

Heather Drugge is a sustainable transportation advocate who has used her bike for transportation for 20 years. She’s looking at getting an e-bike and maybe a jetpack next. Northshoremoves@gmail.com.

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