Vancouver presses pause on Westside Bike Mobility project

Plans to remove parking along Columbia Street created controversy for the project

VANCOUVER — Following public outcry and two previous delays to solicit more community feedback, Vancouver city staff told council members on Monday that they are delaying implementation of a bike path along Columbia Street until sometime next year.

The Westside Bike Mobility Project would have removed parking spots along both sides of Columbia Street between Mill Plain and Fourth Plain in downtown Vancouver, and along one side of Columbia from Mill Plain to 6th Street.

Parking spots along Columbia Street would have been eliminated to make way for a bike path as part of a mobility project for the city of Vancouver. Photo by Chris Brown
Parking spots along Columbia Street would have been eliminated to make way for a bike path as part of a mobility project for the city of Vancouver. Photo by Chris Brown

Chad Eiken, the city’s community and economic developer, said they had met with a number of neighborhood groups, conducted two online surveys that received over 750 responses, and spent hours speaking with businesses and residents in the affected area. That feedback led to another round of deeper analysis into the potential impact removing those parking spaces would have, especially for people who have no alternative to on-street parking.

A C-TRAN bus is shown here on Columbia Street, where parking spots were due to be eliminated as part of a plan to add bike lanes along the corridor through downtown Vancouver. Photo by Chris Brown
A C-TRAN bus is shown here on Columbia Street, where parking spots were due to be eliminated as part of a plan to add bike lanes along the corridor through downtown Vancouver. Photo by Chris Brown

“It’s clear to us based on where we’re at in this process, that we need to do more work to build consensus around the design, and attempt to address the identified impacts,” Eiken told the council during a work session.

“We would like to take more time to create a community stakeholder group and spend a little bit more time, actually a lot more time, working with all of the various perspectives in this fairly complicated process,” Eiken added.

Complete streets creating complications

The bike mobility project is part of a larger plan to implement what has become known as Complete Streets, with the goal of making it easier and safer for people to get around via bike or on foot.

“Retrofitting an entire city to a whole new policy is not easy,” noted Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle, “and having had those discussions with other mayors we’re finding that across the nation.”

The retrofitting of Columbia Street represented what would be the first in a phased rollout of new lanes for bikes and pedestrians north and south through downtown Vancouver. The city also identified Daniels, Franklin, and Lincoln and Kaufman Avenues as eventual corridors to implement the bike paths and other safety improvements. At this point, only the Lincoln-Kaufman corridor could see similar impacts with on-street parking.

Under the revised implementation plan, the city would delay repaving of Columbia Street until sometime next year.

“What that would do is basically condense repaving of the entire Columbia corridor between 6th Street and 45th Street from three years to two years,” said Rebecca Kennedy, the city’s long range planning manager.

“We’ll continue to refine our public engagement processes around roadway retrofit projects,” she added. “They are challenging. They involve taking space from one thing and dedicating it to another. We acknowledge that it’s very challenging and that public involvement and engagement in that process is very important.”

This photo shows Mill Plain and Columbia Street in downtown Vancouver, where the city hopes to add new bike lanes to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Photo by Chris Brown
This photo shows Mill Plain and Columbia Street in downtown Vancouver, where the city hopes to add new bike lanes to make it safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. Photo by Chris Brown

The city still plans to replace some street curbs along the stretch to make them ADA compliant, and will look into other improvements that can be made to traffic speed and volume, something Councilor Laurie Lebowski said she would very much like to see.

“I live in the Lincoln Neighborhood,” said Lebowski. “I walk down Columbia probably daily. I’ve almost been run over on Columbia at five in the morning.”

While some members of the council said they would like to see repaving along Columbia Street go ahead this year, with whatever safety improvements could be implemented prior to completion of the Westside Bike Mobility Project, Kennedy said that would require eventually grinding to remove paint on the new asphalt, which could cause structural issues with the asphalt sooner than they would like.

Despite the extensive outreach, Council members Bart Hansen and Ty Stober pointed out that the city’s Parking Advisory Board had been left out of the process. Eiken took the blame for that.

“Any time we’re moving parking spaces, especially this many within their area of jurisdiction, they should really have a chance to give us their feedback,” he said. “That was something I didn’t catch and should have been part of that process.”

Eiken said the council will receive regular updates throughout the new community engagement process, with the hope of having a final plan in place so repaving on Columbia could begin sometime next Spring or Summer.

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