Together, the two pieces of the Columbia Street repaving project mark the resurgence of Vancouver’s Westside Bike Mobility Project.
The project is familiar by name to many people who live and work along the corridor, though it’s likely been off their radar since the pre-pandemic era. The plan has been defunct since almost exactly a year ago when the city council gloomily voted to shelve the project due to budget uncertainty brought on by COVID-19.
The Westside Bike Mobility Project aims to make the city safer and more traversable for people who travel by means other than automobiles. It would establish three north-south routes of protected lanes for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as users of “micro-mobility units” such as electric scooters.
The controversy sprung from a tradeoff. To establish the lanes along Columbia Street, the city would need to remove approximately 400 street-parking spaces along the route. For residents of the historic and densely packed Hough, Carter Park and Lincoln neighborhoods — where garages and long driveways are few and far between — removal of street parking was an unpopular prospect. Businesses along the corridor also worried about how a lack of storefront parking would impact patron access.
It was a long fight, and dozens of residents have spoken for and against the plan since it was proposed in February 2019.
By the time it cropped back up on the agenda on Monday, just two members of the public had registered to testify.
Holly Williams, a resident of the adjacent Arnada neighborhood, said she was in favor of finally breaking ground on the bike lanes.
“After several years of study, design, public input and so forth, it’s really exciting to see this important safety project move forward,” Williams said.
Glen Yung, a Hough resident and city council candidate who spoke strongly against the Westside Bike Mobility Projects in prior public forums, offered a last word.
“I think all of you in this meeting are well aware of my thoughts on the project. I don’t think it was the right thing for the neighborhood,” Yung said.
Councilors had decided to move forward with the plan after lengthy debate in February 2020, citing Vancouver’s high vehicle vs. pedestrian and vehicle vs. cyclist collision rates.
“Ultimately, sacrifice is required,” Councilor Ty Stober said at the time. “Very tangible losses for few in exchange for very disbursed gains for many. It’s a very hard pill to swallow.”
Just three months later, the already approved project was forced back onto the chopping block. COVID-19 and a voter-approved initiative restricting car tab fees had stripped Vancouver’s transportation budget; the Columbia bike lanes were one of 10 transportation proposals ultimately pushed back by a year.
During those earlier debates and on Monday night, Hansen remained the only strong opponent of the plan on city council. He’s previously advocated for the city council to repave Columbia Street without changing its layout.