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A separated bike lane downtown on Dunsmuir Street.

In accordance with the city's Transportation 2040 Plan, activists push for a car-free street in Point Grey

The City of Vancouver’s director of transportation Jerry Dobrovolny has an explicit message for car drivers: your time is almost up.

We’re standing outside a Point Grey elementary school on a soggy day in mid-May (when you live in a temperate rainforest, April showers bring May showers), inside which a small army of city staffers buzzes around colourful posters aiming to persuade an unsure Point Grey bunch that closing a stretch of east-west connectors to through automobile traffic in their neighbourhood is a good idea.

“We heard loud and clear that people were concerned about traffic volumes, traffic speeds, they were concerned about safety along the corridor, they wanted to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists,” says Dobrovolny, alluding to the first phase of consultation on the Point Grey Road—Cornwall Avenue Corridor Active Transportation Project which kicked off at the start of the year. “That was one clear message we got: the status quo is not an option. You have to do something. And so this is our idea of what something looks like.”

The deluxe version of that “something” would close a picturesque stretch of Point Grey Road to through car traffic, forcing detours along 4th Ave, Broadway or another connector further south. Dobrovolny says 40 per cent of the soon-to-be-inconvenienced motorists are commuters between UBC and the North Shore, which, according to the Transportation 2040 Plan, are not the most important road users to keep happy in the city, well behind pedestrians, cyclists, transit vehicles and commercial fleets needed to keep the economy moving. And Cornwall is just the latest skirmish in an ongoing contest to move the city beyond the automobile.

“Looking at the big picture, we know we want to have a strong economy here, we know we want more jobs and more people and we have to be able to accommodate more trips,” Dobrovolny says, adding that having fewer less efficient vehicle trips (that might be you, lone private car occupant) has been an explicit city objective since 1997. “We know we can’t double the number of car trips in the city because the road network would just crumble,” he adds, before we head back to join the crowd inside the school.

I hear a good amount of support for the project. Those unsure about it worry about driveway access (which would be maintained) and parking in front of their houses (they might have to walk a bit further, that’s true), important questions, but “beyond the point of whether we should do this or not,” as Dobrovolny said.

I find author and former Non-Partisan Association city councillor Peter Ladner in full activism mode at one of the proposal sketches posted on the wall, trying to persuade fellow Point Greyers that moving past the private car is the smartest choice for the city and the earth—and hell, even for their own property values.

“The big, bustling, rich, commercial, forward-looking, thinking cities are all headed in the same direction,” Ladner says, hoping the city follows through with the most ambitious version of the plan, one that would completely erase Cornwall as an automobile thoroughfare. “Drivers are upset, but I wonder how much they’re really going to be inconvenienced, except in their minds.”

If any of that seems radical, consider that Vancouver is no stranger to traffic experiments: the late Art Phillips—thanks to whose mayoralty there are no freeways slicing through Vancouver—successfully played with traffic calming in the mid-70s in the city’s West End neighbourhood, as described here in good detail by urban planner Gordon Price, also director of Simon Fraser University’s City Program and advocate for Vancouver as a post-motordom city.

There are no hard budgets or timelines just yet, but if you must muse on potential costs, consider that the length of the separated bike lane along Hornby Street downtown cost $3.2 million, while two east-west left turn bays at Knight & 33rd Avenue cost $3.4 million.

The public has until June 10th to get comments to the city. Staff is hoping to get this on the council agenda in early July.