British Columbia

Cars to be banned from Stanley Park to encourage physical distancing

The Vancouver Park Board is banning cars from Stanley Park as a way to encourage physical distancing and keep community spread of COVID-19 low.

Seawall closed to cyclists to give foot traffic more space

Pedestrians walk along the seawall near English Bay in Vancouver on March 25. Stanley Park, around which the seawall runs, will be closed to vehicle traffic as of noon Wednesday in an effort to cut down on the amount of people visiting the park. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

UPDATE — April 10, 2020: The Vancouver Park Board said the seawall is now closed to cyclists to leave more room for pedestrians. Cyclists can still use Stanley Park Drive and Beach Avenue.

The Vancouver Park Board is banning cars from Stanley Park and encouraging cyclists to stay off the seawall in an effort to stop crowding within the immensely popular park.

Officials said the park will be closed to all vehicle traffic as of noon Wednesday. Cyclists are also now being asked to start using Stanley Park Drive, which will be entirely car-free, and avoid the waterfront path to put more space between themselves and pedestrians.

"Most people are trying their best ... but our job is to prevent people from getting sick," the board's general manager, Malcolm Bromley, said Tuesday.

"Social and physical distancing is working ... but we can't let up. And at the park board, we won't let up."

The board tried to reduce the amount of traffic going through the park by closing all of its parking lots on March 22. A statement said visitors have been driving to the park anyway and parking illegally on the side of the road, especially on sunny days.

The result has been a park still teeming with visitors, even though the public has been repeatedly asked to avoid crowds and maintain physical distancing.

A stretch of warm, dry weather hasn't helped.

A packed seawall is pictured at English Bay in Vancouver on March 20, two days before parking lots in all of the city's parks were shut down to deter crowds. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

The statement said new barriers will be put in place to block key access points to the park, with enforcement from park rangers and Vancouver police. Traffic signs before the entrance points from major roads will remind drivers that they cannot drive through the park. 

Roads through Stanley Park will remain open for emergency responders, parks staff and the No. 19 transit bus. Tenants will also have limited access. 

Bike traffic through the park will continue to flow in the normal one-way, counter-clockwise direction.

1,600 warnings issued

More than 25 staff have been assigned to crowded areas of the park to remind people to stay two metres apart from others to slow the spread of COVID-19. Bromley said employees have issued 1,600 warnings, to date, for people who aren't staying far enough away from others in public.

Parking lots at all beaches and parks in the city are currently closed. Board director Howard Normann said closing Stanley Park entirely at this stage is "highly unlikely," but the board will do what it has to do to follow heath officials' advice for keeping people safe.

"We don't want to have to take further action to keep people safe, but will do so if needed," said Normann.

Vancouver Park Board members, known as Champions, patrol English Bay in bright green vests on Monday to promote physical distancing. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

"We are asking people to leave their vehicles at home, visit Stanley Park if you are in the neighbourhood, cycle responsibly on [Stanley] Park Drive and interior roads, jog and run the seawall, but please, leave enough distance between yourself and others."

The board is encouraging people to avoid visiting the park at peak hours and on sunny days, when it is most crowded.

The park is one of the city's most renowned tourist attractions, drawing eight million visitors in a typical year. It's also a favoured escape for thousands of locals, with vast green space and the longest uninterrupted waterfront path in the world.