by Douglas Haddow | If you happened to be strolling along Kits Beach yesterday you may have been taken aback by the mob of retirees loitering outside the Boathouse, some with placards, all quite cranky.
The group, who’ve been getting an embarrassing amount of press these last few days, are up in arms about the city’s greenway plan, which would see bike lanes going through Hadden and Kits Beach Parks.
Though their median age appears to hover around 62, this budding protest movement is nonetheless quite media-savvy. They’ve set up not just Twitter and Facebook accounts, but have gone so far as to organize a Change.org petition as well, in which they humbly compare themselves to American civil rights activist Rosa Parks.
From what I can surmise from the various news items and blog posts written on this, Vancouver’s latest transit-related controversy, it seems that those who are opposed to the bike lanes are concerned that it will “permanently scar” their beloved neighbourhood pastoral.
Some choice anti-bike lane quotes from the many heated debates currently simmering online include: “A cycle plan designed by a psychopath” … “Socially and environmentally irresponsible.” … “Dangerous for all!” … “Vision runs Vancouver city like North Korea, full dictatorship!” … “Are you prepared to have your own child hurt?” … and from this person, who is apparently a local TV personality: “the Kits Beach bike path is complete insanity”.
Beyond all that shrill and frothy hyperbole is a very basic conflict of interests. Bike lane opponents feel they weren’t properly consulted and have made a concerted effort to portray the plan as destructive and irresponsible, arguing that it erodes green space and will be a grave threat to children, branding it as a dangerous and wasteful “bicycle superhighway”.
They also point out that millionaire real estate baron Harvey Hadden donated the land that would become Hadden Park under strict conditions that it be kept as close to its natural state (circa 1928) as possible.
The Park Board, on the other hand, says the plan is thirty years in the making, that park users were indeed consulted, that the agitators are misinforming the public, and that all considerations will be taken into account before a route is finalized.
To a pedestrian simpleton such as myself (I don’t ride a bike or frequent either of these parks, so I really don’t have a dog in this fight), the idea of connecting downtown to Spanish Banks through a series of bike lanes seems like a sensible plan. Or perhaps more accurately, a plan that is perfectly in line with our democratically-elected City Council’s mandate to make Vancouver the greenest city on the planet by 2020.
Now, perhaps I’m a racist, ageist bigot, but any time I see a protest group comprised primarily of well-heeled, silver-haired white people, I get the feeling that they are only out to chase people off their collective lawns, rather than, you know, actually doing something constructive with their spare time.
The Vancouver Sun’s Pete McMartin offers an interesting analysis of the conflict that supports that line of thought: “When half the city’s single-family residences are worth more than $1 million, and the other half is rising toward that benchmark, it hardens homeowners against change. Their stake is all that much greater. Why embrace change when you can’t be sure what it would do to your significant investment?”
While McMartin touches on an important note, this is a conflict that is more existential than economic in nature. The neighbourhood around Kits Beach is the most livable part of the most livable city in one of the most livable countries on Earth. Its residents live the most livable lives of all, and this is what it looks like when a demographic bloc reaches peak livability – their sense of privilege becomes so overvalued that even a minor incursion in the service of the greater good threatens to tear down their entire walled garden of reality. To me, it all just seems like a case of good intentions gone awry.
But who knows, maybe some of these protestors helped stop the freeway back in ’67 and this is just a bizarre epilogue to their otherwise illustrious careers in civil disobedience. Now wouldn’t that be something?