White Rock council and staff will continue to consult with the city’s BIA to look at ways to make a one-way closure of Marine Drive – or some alternative – workable during the current ban on inside dining.
That was the outcome of a sometimes testy special virtual meeting of council on safety measures for Marine Drive Monday (May 3), in which the lack of outdoor dining space for restaurants and cafés became the principal topic.
White Rock BIA executive director Alex Nixon was adamant that the problems faced by businesses on Marine Drive came down to a lack of table space, terming it “truly an existential issue for Marine Drive.”
At the same time, Coun. David Chesney was disturbed that his suggestion of the BIA developing a plan to market the businesses principally to White Rock residents had become a football after the BIA had publicly aired its concerns to news media.
“We do feel that there’s a lack of understanding or a misunderstanding about the challenges that White Rock eateries currently face,” Nixon noted in a report released last week and in a story published on Peace Arch News’ website.
“We did not bring these ideas forward because we enjoy writing letters,” the report reads. “We brought them forward because we consulted our members and researched possible solutions to the existential threat they are facing.”
Nixon told council Monday that BIA members were concerned that the city had, at its April 26 meeting, voted down a motion to close off one lane of Marine Drive to make it a one-way street.
The measure has been seen as a way to increase restaurant patio space, and also create a wider pedestrian walkway to avoid overcrowding.
Engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon had told council during that meeting that while the northern lane of Marine Drive could be closed, allowing only east-bound traffic along the waterfront, the move would present many challenges – and would require two weeks, at least, to put into effect.
“You would be looking at $30,000 to $40,000 just to set it up and get the proper barriers,” Gordon said.
Among the challenges, Gordon said, would be providing that the closed lane could still be opened to allow access to fire and police services and also delivery trucks for restaurants, which must unload goods from Marine Drive.
A single emergency incident on a one-lane Marine Drive would likely result in “gridlock,” he told council.
The one-way traffic would also result in considerable detours for local traffic which would put a further load on nearby streets such as Victoria Avenue, he warned.
Not the least of the problems, he said, would be ensuring that drivers understood the changes, which would mean extra signage and possibly assigning flag-people to direct traffic.
But, while city staff have said implementing the plan presented many challenges, Nixon – backed up by Primos Mexican Grill general manager Samantha McQuade – said business owners are confident they can mitigate the challenges to make the plan work.
Nixon noted that restaurants and cafés are currently down to three to 10 tables – some 15 to 30 per cent of previous traffic – and that many run the risk of not being able to survive.
Creating a lane closure would boost available space between 50 and 100 per cent, Nixon said.
“For many, that’s the difference between paying the lease or not,” he said. “We’ve looked at how to increase seating capacity, but the BIA has zero capacity to do that. The only ones who can do that are city council.”
Accusing the BIA of not being able to fulfil its marketing mandate, Chesney asked that a BIA report in response to his marketing suggestion be shared with council, receiving assurances from Nixon and Mayor Darryl Walker that this would happen.
“I am very disappointed at the tack you thought to take that White Rock council is choking off the business of White Rock,” Chesney told Nixon.
“Business owners are very concerned,” Nixon countered. “The challenge isn’t a marketing challenge – it’s a seating capacity challenge.”