British Columbia

Tangled traffic as cars, bikes and horses forced to share the road in Stanley Park

With three modes of transportation now shoe-horned into a two lane road, frustration and tension is rising on Stanley Park Drive.

Owner of horse-drawn carriage business says more tweaks are needed to make the road safe for everyone

Lineup of cars drive behind a Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours carriage in Vancouver on Wednesday. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

The arithmetic on Stanley Park Drive isn't adding up to anyone's satisfaction these days after the decision late last month to squeeze three modes of transportation onto the two lane, one-way road.

The right lane of Park Drive is now reserved for cyclists as park officials try to respond to a huge increase in bicycle traffic that materialized when the road was closed to cars in April. 

Meanwhile cars and horse-drawn carriages are now left to share the left-hand lane, even though the horses travel at a maximum speed of five km/h in what is designated a 30 km/h zone.

Stanley Park Horse-Drawn Tours owner Gerry O'Neil says the new traffic pattern is leading to some uncomfortable moments on the road, as faster-moving cars end up stuck behind his horses.

Cars are seen illegally driving in the bike lane on Stanley Park Drive in order to pass the park's horse-drawn carriages. 0:51

Last week O'Neil shot video showing how frustrated drivers have taken to veering into the bike lane in order to overtake the carriages.

"We wanted to show the officials that they should be dealing with this," he said. "Park Board felt the need to tweak the traffic and I respect that, but we just need to all work together to make it work."

The Vancouver Humane Society has also waded into the debate, issuing a press release calling the horses "an accident waiting to happen" and calling for their removal. 

Cars, cyclists and a horse-drawn carriage try to share two lanes on Stanley Park Drive. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

"If the new traffic pattern gives much-needed access to the park to both motorists and cyclists, it would be a shame to scrap it because of one business putting public and animal safety at risk unnecessarily," said VHS spokesperson Peter Fricker.

O'Neil has operated in Stanley Park since 1981 and has another 20 years on his contract. He says he appreciates Fricker's concern, but disputes the notion that horses are the problem.

"The accident waiting to happen is not so much the horses, it's more the [competitive] cyclists in relation to the other cyclists — the moms and dads and kids," he said. 

"We've been doing this for 39 years and have a fantastic record. The park is a one-way street all the way around and it seems to me, and many others, that it is one of the safest places in any park or city in the world to base operations."

In a statement, Vancouver Park Board said it is working closely with businesses and stakeholders on a plan that includes provisions for pull-outs so horse carriages can let traffic pass by.

Gerry O'Neil has operated his tour business in Stanley Park since 1981 and still has another 20 years left on his contract. (Maggie MacPherson/CBC)

But O'Neil says to date, neither he nor 12 other park businesses he's talked to have been consulted or even contacted about a traffic management plan. He says he only learned about the changes by reading the minutes of Park Board meetings.

If anyone bothers to ask, he would suggest a back to the future solution: reopening all of Park Drive to cars and serious cyclists, while making the right hand lane a designated slow lane where the carriages can travel.

"Around the eastern side of the park which is the worst area and extremely busy, there's already a paved bike lane there ... between the road and the seawall," he said.

"Go back and promote that pathway and let the gran fondo-style cyclists on the road, because ...they don't mind to manage with the cars. Those that do mind are the kids, the beginners and the Mobi bikes."

In April, park officials shut down Stanley Park Drive to cars and designated it for bicycles only as part of the COVID-19 pandemic response.

At the same time cyclists were banned from the park's sea wall in order to give pedestrians more room to maintain physical distance.

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