The City of Vancouver has agreed to hold off on further paving of Arbutus Greenway to allow time to consult on the best path forward.
Asphalt has already been laid down from 16th to about 32nd and the plan was to lay asphalt along the entire corridor. The asphalt was meant to be temporary while design plans for the greenway are worked out over the next year or two.
But critics, some of whom garden or regularly walk along the corridor, argued the public should have been consulted before paving started. They also questioned whether asphalt is an appropriate choice based on concerns about possible run-off problems, as well as the potential for accidents between pedestrians and cyclists or skateboarders speeding down the corridor. Others felt the asphalt changed the “rural ambience” of the route.
Jerry Dobrovolny, the city’s general manager of engineering, agreed to stop paving at 33rd and put a gravel, all-purpose path from 33rd to 41st and from 16th to 10th. He also plans to set up a consultative process to discuss overall plans for the interim greenway.
Dobrovolny told the Courier he’s fine stepping back and opening up the subject of the temporary path for discussion. He said the intent of the asphalt path was to allow more people to use more of the corridor so they can become familiar with the route and are better able to offer feedback during the Arbutus Greenway design process.
Asphalt was selected because it creates a smooth surface, which is good for a variety of users including those with mobility issues, those who use wheelchairs or who push strollers and those who ride bikes or skateboards.
Dobrovolny had hoped to finish the temporary pathway soon, but he said there’s not a "huge rush" and he’s prepared to delay the project to gather more feedback.
“We’ll do a bit of a pause now, hold some meetings and see what the feedback is,” he said. “Once we heard concerns in these specific areas, we were happy to respond to that.”
Dr. Mark Battersby, one of the critics of the asphalt, posted a video called “The Arbutus Greenway: Paving Paradise” on Aug. 3 to protest the asphalt pathway. It was set to Joni Mitchell’s "Big Yellow Taxi."
Battersby, a retired Capilano university professor, is a member of one of two groups that met with Dobrovolny Thursday to discuss concerns. He said he feels “great” about Dobrovolny’s decision.
“I’ve been locally active in residents’ associations on and off for many years and I must say this is one of the more satisfying and successful efforts. So I want to commend Jerry for both listening to our arguments and responding in an appropriate way. He treated us very respectfully,” Battersby said. “He was very patient in a tense meeting, then [he] called us late at night — he obviously checked with whomever he has to check with — and made a proposal that we could live with. So I think the city, and he, in particular, deserves commendation for that.”
Battersby said one of the problems with paving the entire route is it biases the upcoming Arbutus Greenway design process because it suggests the route will be paved to be a “bike racetrack.”
He maintains there should be a diverse set of models along the route that give the public various ideas about the different possibilities.
“[Dobrovolny] said he thought it was an experiment. But I said you only did one experiment, namely the asphalt, so let’s look at diverse possibilities and let people look at it and think about it when they think about what they want the greenway to look like,” Battersby said.
He added that some critics of the asphalt suspect it was chosen because of a strong influence from the bike lobby, and that many of those who are happy with the result are likely from that group. Battersby hopes a diverse group of people get involved in the upcoming consultation on the temporary pathway.
“We want to encourage citizens who are walkers, and who have children and dogs, to make sure they feel free to get involved in this consultation process. We don’t want to just leave it by default to organized groups and then you get a certain kind of bias from that,” he said, adding, “I want to make it clear — I’m not opposed to bikes and that they be properly and appropriately accommodated in the greenway. I just don’t think that should be the only reasonable use.”
Dobrovolny said a public meeting will be scheduled in the coming weeks so people with a variety of viewpoints, whether they be gardeners or people with mobility challenges, can talk about the issues.
“Whenever we have a challenge that has a variety of opinions and a variety of tradeoffs, it’s good to have [everyone] in a room together,” he said.
Kay Teschke, a UBC professor at the school of population and public health who’s done research on cycling, told the Courier she’d like to see a smooth path the entire route.
She recently walked along the corridor with her sister, a family doctor who often deals with people with mobility issues.
"When we got to those signs at the community gardens saying 'don’t put the pavement down,' she said, ‘Don’t people realize that seniors and people who are unsteady need a smooth surface to walk on.’ So many people need smooth surfaces beyond cyclists,” Teschke said.
She plans to take part in the consultation.
“It feels a bit like there are some people who’ve had access to [the corridor] for quite a while and maybe [they're] a little worried now that it’ll be accessible to more people — I’m not sure. Anyway, I just think this is a huge opportunity and it’s for the whole city. If parts of it are blocked off, then it means it’s kind of for an exclusive group and I would hate to see that happen."