Partial car ban at Beacon Hill; restrictions inside park, but more parking

Cars will be banned from some roads in Beacon Hill Park through the summer to provide more space for pedestrians during the COVID-19 outbreak.

But Victoria councillors have agreed to a compromise that will open up more parking lots as well as their access roads to accommodate seniors and people with mobility challenges.

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The decision followed public criticism of an earlier proposal that would have immediately banned cars from the park’s primary roads on a permanent basis.

Now, city staff will consult with accessibility groups and report back in the fall before council makes a final decision.

Mayor Lisa Helps said the changes strike a balance between allowing people to practise proper physical-distancing during the pandemic and permitting people of all ages and abilities to use the park.

“It’ll give us a sense for the summer to see what works and what doesn’t work,” she said.

“It will allow us to keep the measures that staff have already put in place, while opening up some parking lots.

“And it will allow people of all ages and abilities, including kids, including seniors, including people who use mobility devices who can’t safely [pass] each other on sidewalks right now, to use the park.”

The city moved last month to bar cars from the park on weekends and only permitted access to service and first-responder vehicles.

Council’s motion extends that to seven days a week, while opening parking lots at Heywood Way, Circle Drive and Nursery Road, as well as the main entrances to those lots.

Staff say the three lots are the easiest to access and have 325 stalls, representing about 80% of the available parking spaces in the park.

The new arrangement takes effect Saturday and will continue through the summer.

Coun. Jeremy Loveday said the change means there will be more parking available than there has been on recent weekends.

“So, in some ways, there’s actually a reopening to cars in this motion,” he said. “But it’s also making sure that there is enough space for pedestrians and that the park can be a safe place to walk and ride and roll and be, and that, I think, is an exciting opportunity for the summer.”

Loveday said he heard compelling arguments from people on both sides of the debate.

One person who uses a wheelchair welcomed the additional space in which to explore the park without having to worry about cars, while some seniors expressed concern that closing parking lots reduced their access at a time when they were looking forward to returning to Beacon Hill, he said.

Others spoke out against making permanent changes too quickly without consultation, Loveday said. “So this now says we’ll review this at the end of the summer, based on feedback from an accessibility lens as well as everyone else who has an opinion. And it turns out lots of people have an opinion.”

Coun. Geoff Young said council could have avoided the public backlash if the earlier motions had been crafted as precisely as the one that finally passed.

He supported the eventual compromise, but noted that Beacon Hill Park has suffered over the years from the incursion of roads and vehicles.

“We’ve covered a whole lot of the park with asphalt unnecessarily,” he said, pointing to places where streets have cut off sections of the park and created little-used pockets of land.

“When we allow that kind of access for vehicles, we essentially lose a lot of exactly what people come to Beacon Hill Park to experience.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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