Ocean Boulevard stays closed to traffic through summer

Colwood council has decided to keep a 400-metre section of Ocean Boulevard along Lagoon Beach closed until the end of September — even though the city’s own survey found 61 per cent of capital region residents want it open to traffic.

In a statement Wednesday, Colwood said the continued closure of the section will allow the city to explore its options on how the area can be used and improved.

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People can still get to the beach from either end of Ocean Boulevard, and park in all the usual areas on either side of the 400-metre closed-off stretch.

“Council is taking advantage of lower traffic volumes due to the pandemic and summer schedules to extend this temporary use of the area as a park, evaluate the impacts and plan for improvements,” said the statement.

Colwood Coun. Gordie Logan said the area is a park, but it has always been treated as a transportation route. Amid the pandemic, however, that has changed.

Traffic was limited along Ocean Boulevard after B.C. declared a state of emergency on March 18 in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The goal was to discourage large gatherings, maintain physical distancing and encourage people to stay closer to home.

“We’re seeing more people getting out of their cars and using this space. This whole COVID business has given us the chance to decide how to use the space and what improvements we can make to make it accessible for all abilities,” said Logan.

During the closure, the city says it will scope out options for improvements such as a multi-use trail from Lagoon Beach to Royal Beach, washroom facilities and “attractive and accessible park amenities.”

Alternatives will be presented for two lanes of traffic as well as single-lane traffic and temporary closures.

In April, with fewer people driving because of the pandemic, the city took the opportunity to repair the road surface, which involved surveying the area, improving drainage and getting the required approvals from the provincial Archaeology Branch.

In May, traffic and parking increased from the Lagoon Road end of the beach, and this month, the boulevard was opened to vehicle access from both sides of the lagoon, with a small closure about midway along.

“When we opened it up slowly and kept that one piece in the middle — the 400 metres — we saw the area getting busier, more animated. People were using the space more freely. They were spread out, able to social distance and having a good time on the road,” said Logan.

Last weekend, the municipality brought back food trucks, which attracted people to the area, he said. “The food trucks were in the 400-metre zone and people didn’t have to worry about their kids. To me, that’s what sealed the deal. People were able to use the space without fear and it was accessible.”

Residents were asked to complete an online survey by June 15 asking how they use Ocean Boulevard and Lagoon Beach and what they would like to see there in the future.

The results, presented to council Monday night, showed 86 per cent of respondents use the area as a destination for activities such as walking, bird watching, playing on the beach and parking to watch the ocean. The other 14 per cent said they drive through while commuting and doing errands.

Fifty-five per cent of Colwood residents favour keeping the road open to through traffic long term, while 45 per cent prefer some form of closure.

Close to 80 per cent of those who responded are aware of the importance of the area as a bird sanctuary. Fifty-five per cent are aware it is an archeological site.

In response to a survey question about desired amenities for the area, washrooms topped the list at 20 per cent. Trails and seating were next at 17 per cent, followed by no changes at 15 per cent.

Logan said the survey was extremely helpful in identifying what people want and need.

“Some of the things we’re considering are a direct result of the survey we did. But we’re taking some heat for [the road closure] from a vocal minority, for sure,” he said.

Council has agreed that the city should hire a landscape architect to give it an idea of how to enhance the area, said Logan.

If parking becomes an issue, it’s possible to make the 400-metres zone smaller, Logan said.

“The beach has been eroding for a few years now. We need to make the most of it while we can, before it’s gone.”

ldickson@timescolonist.com

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