Road to Beacon Hill summit to reopen to vehicles

People will once again be able to drive to the highest point in Beacon Hill Park, after Victoria councillors voted Thursday to ease a partial car ban and reopen the summit’s access road.

Council closed some of the park’s roads last May to provide more room for pedestrians, allowing them to practise physical distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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But seniors and people with disabilities complained that the ban prevented them from visiting the park’s summit and enjoying its ocean and mountain views.

Coun. Marianne Alto, who had opposed closing vehicle access to the hilltop in the first place, said the decision “caused grief for a variety of people for whom we usually try to provide accessibility and ease when enjoying the city’s offerings.”

She argued that reopening the summit access road while leaving some of the other roads closed strikes a balance between ensuring accessibility and making the park more pedestrian-friendly.

City officials said the Beacon Hill Loop to the summit will reopen on Saturday.

Arbutus Way, Bridge Way and Chestnut Row are the only park roads still closed to traffic, except for emergency and service vehicles.

Circle Drive, Heywood Way and Nursery Road remain open.

After the ban took effect, city staff surveyed accessibility groups and tracked letters from the public, most of which were critical of the road closures.

“The majority of people who opposed the vehicle access changes, in both the survey and correspondence, highlighted that the changes limited access for seniors and people with disabilities,” the report said.

Councillors said they were convinced by those arguments to reverse course and reopen Beacon Hill Loop.

“I’ve heard loud and clear what the top of the hill means to people and being able to access it – no matter how they transport themselves to the top ,” Coun. Jeremy Loveday said at a committee of the whole meeting.

Mayor Lisa Helps acknowledged that she was keen on the partial car ban over the summer, but was persuaded by the feedback.

“The most moving one was from a 96-year-old who wrote to me on a very regular basis, asking when he’d be able to drive up to the top with his coffee and look out over the ocean,” she said. “So if nothing changed my mind, that one certainly did.”

Ellen Tarshis, executive director of Community Living Victoria, applauded council’s move. “Their decision ensures that no one is excluded and accessibility for all, including people with mobility issues, is a priority.”

Roy Fletcher, who chairs the Friends of Beacon Hill Park, welcomed the reopening of Beacon Hill Loop as well, but says it never should have been closed in the first place.

“That’s where people go,” he said. “People who can’t walk up the hill, drive up, sit and just observe. There’s not a lot of people that go up there, but there are people.”

Fletcher disagrees with the other road closures as well. “That’s nonsense,” he said. “They should never have been closed either.”

lkines@timescolonist.com

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