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VIEW: Reclaim Point Grey Road for the public good

[Editor's note: This is an op-ed from occasional Tyee contributor Mitchell Anderson. The Tyee clearly marks all opinion articles that appear on The Hook with the tag VIEW.]

The typically sleepy neighbourhood of Kitsilano has erupted into a firestorm of opposition to the proposed Point Grey Road bike route. Scores of wealthy residents have been crowding Vancouver city council meetings and demanding changes to the plan to divert traffic in favour of bike lanes and displace about 200 parking spaces on local streets.

If we are forced back to the drawing board to try to find a long-term solution to this thorny issue, lets not muck about -- as the British would say.

Point Grey Road is the lone outlier in an otherwise continuous stretch of public shorefront access that extends from Wreck Beach to Coal Harbour. This remarkable achievement in civic planning has resulted in 18 kilometres of almost uninterrupted public shorefront access and contributed to Vancouver consistently being ranked as one of the world's most livable cities.

Why not finish the job? The only stretch that remains in private hands is the 2.5 km of luxury homes along Point Grey Road. As a thought experiment, why not consider expropriating those properties, bulldozing the houses and converting that land into a park with seaside bike access? How would well-heeled local residents respond to that idea?

The precedent has certainly been set. When the province was pushing through the controversial South Fraser Perimeter Road, they demolished 93 homes along the highway route, and many local residents were forced from their homes through expropriation. In total, over five hundred properties were acquired for the $1.2 billion project, whether the owners wanted to leave or not.

Displaced residents in Surrey and Delta were no doubt assured that this difficult decision was made in the public interest and the demolition of their houses should be seen as a civic improvement. This was no doubt cold comfort to those forced from their homes to make way for container truck traffic, particularly since many felt this infrastructure was ill conceived and overpriced.

In contrast, Vancouver's beaches are enjoyed by hundreds of thousands of people each year. Visitors from around the world are drawn to our magnificent waterfront, injecting some $4 billion into local businesses each year. Is it right that a handful of property owners have exclusive access to such an important driver of the local economy?

Perhaps it's time to rectify this situation and reclaim this land for the public good in the interest of growing our economy. As they say, some eggs will be broken. Luxury homes on the so-called "Golden Mile" often list for more than $10 million. This stretch of Point Grey Road is also reportedly home to some of Vancouver's most prominent citizens including environmental crusader David Suzuki, former city counsellor Peter Ladner and Lululemon founder Chip Wilson -- whose home may be the most expensive in the city valued at $37.2 million.

I'm sure these leading members of community will understand the importance of progress and make way for improved bike access and park space. With those houses of the way, the difficult task of accommodating bike paths that will not hinder existing traffic and parking on Point Grey Road will be much easier.

Obviously this is not going to happen.

But the plight of the scores of people forced to make way for truck traffic in Surrey puts the rather shrill indignation of Kitsilano boomers into perspective.

It is rather ironic that the generation that fought "the man" back in the day now seems to feel the issue most deserving of their considerable experience, wealth and power is to rail against improved bicycle access in the greenest city in the world.

For the record, Peter Ladner and many others on this stretch of Point Grey Road have expressed their strong support for the bike lane proposal. I doubt Dr. Suzuki is going to be lying down in front of the bike lane construction vehicles either.

In a time when we are facing looming threats from climate change, species extinction and numerous abuses of human rights, is the most pressing crisis in the world for the hundreds of incensed Kitsilano residents really fighting against better bike lanes? As they said back in the sixties, "don't trust anyone over 30." I suppose we all get older. . .

Mitchell Anderson is a freelance writer based in Vancouver.

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