White Rock council has taken a bold, almost radical, move in closing the westbound lane of Marine Drive for the summer months.
The move is being taken primarily to try to save local businesses (mostly restaurants) along Marine Drive. They are in even more peril than most restaurant and food service businesses in the province, because of the highly-seasonal nature of their business. Closure of the traffic lane will allow businesses to set up outdoor patio dining on a portion of the roadway.
The closure is to stay in effect until the end of September.
Last summer was difficult, and this year’s warm weather has already arrived – with in-person dining prohibited, due to health regulations.
While the regulations are scheduled to expire after the long weekend, it is quite likely they will be extended for at least a couple more weeks, given that COVID-19 case numbers are still high. Even if the restrictions end next week, it is almost certain that capacity inside restaurants will be quite limited, and many White Rock restaurants are quite small.
However, the lane closure comes with a significant number of challenges. The one that seems to have garnered the most attention from the public is the effect on emergency services.
Many people are concerned that police, fire and ambulance services will have difficulty making it to emergency calls, particularly at a busy time. Fire chief Ed Wolfe says that, on average, his department responds to about 36 emergency calls along Marine Drive each summer season.
The other major concern that has been raised is about detouring traffic. While there were suggestions that westbound traffic can use Victoria or Columbia Avenues, that is problematic. Both are residential streets and Victoria in particular is quite narrow. The effect on transit services along Marine Drive is also a problem.
The motion for the closure was passed 6-1, with only Coun. Dave Chesney opposed. His primary concern was the challenges in providing emergency services, and several other councillors also expressed concern about that topic.
It was a challenging decision, but council is to be commended for its willingness to tackle a thorny issue. Most politicians prefer to run away or endlessly delay such decisions.
The current edition of White Rock council is not afraid to make controversial decisions, and as Coun. Scott Kristjanson said on another hot topic, limiting high-rises in the town centre area, “They (the voters) can choose not to re-elect this council, and elect some other council that believes in higher buildings.”
Here’s hoping that the closure will not create the problems that some are fearing, and that restaurants and other service businesses along Marine Drive will survive the summer months. White Rock’s waterfront is such a unique place, and is so important to this region, that its businesses deserve a fighting chance.
Surrey council has made a few moves to assist restaurants, mainly by making it less expensive and bureaucratic to set up outdoor dining, but those moves are mild in comparison with what White Rock is proposing to do. In Surrey’s case, restaurants are scattered all over the city and very few face the unique challenges that White Rock businesses do.
Frank Bucholtz writes twice a month for Peace Arch News and at frankbucholtz.blogspot.ca