White Rock council has voted to close the north lane of Marine Drive until the end of September, making the main waterfront route a temporary east-bound one-way.
The vote was a 6-1 split decision in council’s Monday (May 10) regular online meeting.
Coun. Scott Kristjanson’s motion, seconded by Coun. Helen Fathers, asked staff to work with the Fire Department, White Rock RCMP and the White Rock BIA to “make this happen” while mitigating risks of the measure.
The stretch of Marine Drive to be closed will be from Vidal Street on west beach to Maple Street on east beach.
The move, responding to a request from the White Rock BIA, is aimed at allowing waterfront restaurants more table space to offset a severe and continuing threat to the survival of the businesses as a result of provincial health orders banning inside dining.
Sole vote against came from Coun. David Chesney, who cited continuing concerns about emergency vehicles not being able to access the area, delaying response times.
“There are too many negatives against this,” he warned. “We’re operating on conjecture.”
Coun. Anthony Manning echoed Fathers’ statement that she had changed her mind about the proposal, given concerns about the survival of Marine Drive restaurants, and assurances that safety and other challenges can be mitigated.
“I still am concerned about access for first responders,” Manning said. “But I’m also concerned about the knock-on effects from a string of failed businesses.”
Coun. Christopher Trevelyan also commented the vote was “a tough call,” terming it a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation.
Although council had originally considered using the north lane as a pedestrian walkway, allowing restaurants to expand patio business onto the sidewalk, council decided Monday to endorse the BIA suggestion that the sidewalk would continue to be used by pedestrian traffic, allowing restaurants to use the north lane for extra table space instead.
Staff have been instructed to install temporary water-filled barriers – which engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon said would take around $50,000 to set up and around $40,000 per month to maintain – to close off the north lane as soon as possible.
Gordon told council that west-bound traffic – which can reach as high as 250 vehicles an hour in peak times – would be diverted down Columbia Avenue and Victoria Avenue, although he said he has concerns about pedestrian safety on Victoria Avenue.
“It’s quite narrow,” he said. “It’s not the kind of street you want to send a lot of traffic down.”
In the area of the hump, Marine Drive would have two lanes travelling east, with another lane on the north side of the road to allow for for resident parking, Gordon said.
Fire Chief Ed Wolfe said two lanes being open on the hump is one positive aspect of the plan, giving more room for larger emergency vehicles to maneuver, adding the current plan was probably the best that could be done under the circumstances.
“It doesn’t alleviate risk,” he noted. “It depends on circumstances and situations. Overall, council will have to make that decision on what level of risk is acceptable to them.”
He added that in looking at past numbers on responses to emergencies in the proposed closure area, from May to September, showed an average of 36 per year in that period, ranging from alarms and medical calls to structural fires.
White Rock RCMP detachment commander Staff Sgt. Kale Pauls said two lanes east-bound on the hump did raise some concerns about that stretch of Marine Drive turning into a late night ‘drag strip,’ but said he had no other major concerns about the plan from a policing standpoint.
The decision followed a delegation from BIA executive director Alex Nixon and Primo’s Mexican Grill manager and BIA vice-chair Samantha McQuade.
“An extra, even, five seats per restaurant would essentially cover their monthly rent,” Nixon said.
“When the public health order comes up for review, it certainly won’t allow 100 per cent indoor dining. It might be 50 or 25 per cent, although, frankly, I would be surprised (if it would be that much), given the way transmission works indoors. Businesses need to maximize their revenues now, before winter. Every restaurant is dealing with hours long waiting lists.”
Calling the one lane closure “the only option that we’ve found that can effectively expand seating for the businesses,” Nixon said he wished there was another one.
“I know how challenging it is to close down streets, particularly Marine Drive. I recognize it will cause aggravation and it will cost money. We’re looking at some short-term pain…to ensure long-term gain.”
McQuade echoed Nixon’s appreciation of the amount of work council and staff had done in studying the issue and discussing possibilities with the BIA.
“We’ve tried to come at this from every other possible angle, to try to find anything that would be less-intrusive to the city, as a way to help the businesses without putting in so much work and making such a difficult situation,” she said, noting that she believes that providing access for emergency vehicles and access for deliveries can be managed and that inconvenience to residents can be mitigated, with a proper traffic plan.
She also said that even if dining-in restrictions are lifted within two weeks it will still take restaurants a long time to regain lost ground, adding that keeping the closure until September would give the businesses a chance to recoup some of their losses.