A recent city survey on the Marine Drive lane closure earlier this year shows that White Rock residents and visitors are sharply divided on whether the measure was a good idea, or one worth repeating.
The survey results were presented to council at Monday night’s (Oct. 25) meeting by corporate administration director Tracey Arthur.
In May, council decided to close the westbound lane of Marine Drive, from West Beach to East Beach, as a measure to help restaurants and other businesses by adding extra outdoor seating and a wider pedestrian walkway, until the Provincial Health Officer permitted the premises to operate at 100 per cent indoor seating capacity again.
Put into effect on June 7, the controversial measure stayed in place until Aug. 12.
At the time, many said they appreciated the more mall-like atmosphere for strollers and diners, while others were alarmed at the increase of traffic on adjacent streets and the potential for delays of first responders in case of emergency. Some East Beach business owners told council they actually saw a decline in business and foot traffic.
Of 1,195 responses to the online survey at the city’s Talk White Rock web page, just over half (50.9 per cent) said they either agreed or strongly agreed with the lane closure decision, while some 43.2 per cent either disagreed or strongly disagreed.
Asked if they recommended council a lane closure in future, just under half (48.8 per cent) of those responding said they would recommend it, while 43.2 per cent said they would not and a further 4.8 per cent said they were unsure about it.
“I’m not surprised by the survey results,” Coun. Helen Fathers said. “Like most things in White Rock; trees and dogs, it was totally polarizing. You can only really go yes or no with it.”
She said, however, that “it was a good idea if it wasn’t for the safety aspect – that’s one thing that I couldn’t get through. If we were to rehash Marine Drive and start building (it) fresh, it would be much easier.”
Some 37.7 per cent of responders said they had visited the waterfront less frequently than usual during the measure, while only 22.2 per cent said they had visited more frequently.
Some 52.7 per cent of respondents said they were either comfortable, or very comfortable, with the barricades used to establish the lane closure while 36.9 per cent said they were either uncomfortable or very uncomfortable with them.
Among positive responses to the measure, some 634 respondents said they liked the increase in outside restaurant tables, while 536 liked the wider walking area on the north side of Marine Drive, and 474 welcomed the slower vehicle traffic.
Most disliked elements of the measure were ‘unattractive barricades (569 respondents), inconvenience to drivers on or near Marine Drive (496 respondents) and the inability to drive westbound (478 respondents); while of those responding, 443 said there was not enough participation by local businesses.
On this point Coun. Scott Kristjanson pressed administration to provide averages on how long it took businesses to be approved to participate in the measure, noting that he had heard that, on average, it was taking four weeks for the city approval of applications.
Chief administrative officer Guillermo Ferrero said that approval times varied widely depending on the size and nature of the business, but promised to supply council with more detailed averages.
Of the responses received, 62.4 per cent came from residents and 27.3 per cent came from visitors to the city. Some 92.6 of responses came from people who had visited the waterfront during the lane closure.
Of those responding, 1.8 per cent were business owners and 2.8 per cent were city employees.
Less than a quarter of responses came from residents of streets directly impacted by the closure, including Marine Drive, Marine Lane, Victoria Avenue, Columbia Avenue, Stayte Road, Maple Street and Vidal Street.