The Snug Cove Village Plan (SCVP) and Ferry Marshalling: A Common Sense approach

by David R. Hill, P.Eng., F.B.C.S., November 2012


Over the years, and especially recently, there has been a great deal of talk and discussion concerning the improvement of Snug Cove, with several consultant reports and a great deal of council time spent. It is generally agreed that improved ferry marshalling is a crucial element in any attempt to make the Cove more user friendly, attractive, and a better place to do business, but successive plans have continued to place ferry marshalling in and around Government Road, using the existing ageing ferry dock. In recent rounds of planning, by consultants James Tuer and, most recently, Tom Fletcher, our councils have ignored or even specifically excluded the possibility of moving the ferry marshalling to a new dock on the south side. The result has been that none of the planning has led to viable solutions that allow Snug Cove revitalisation and improved ferry marshalling. Ferry marshalling has been an ongoing issue for thirty years or more. The Fletcher plan varies the existing Government Road arrangement, but introduces some serious problems in the process: one-lane loading unless a reversing lane is used; one lane marshalling with escape requiring driving the wrong way in an uphill ⁄ off-loading lane (it also means traffic would have to double its loading speed to use two lanes near the dock); no left turn into shop areas for incoming vehicles and so on. The cost is estimated at ~$5.5 million.

There are a number of problems with using the main village street and its environs for ferry marshalling:

  1. Ferry traffic places major constraints on parking for visitors and locals who wish to shop and enjoy the amenities. Many residents currently avoid the Cove and instead shop during visits to the mainland;
  2. The cyclical ferry traffic flow is unpleasant, disruptive and dangerous for those using the Cove;
  3. Being committed to ferry marshalling and off-loading seriously detracts from the aesthetics of the Cove;
  4. The most common proposals involve encroaching on the north Crippen Park and/or the Old General Store environment, options that were strongly rejected in a November 2011 poll
  5. Unlike other ferry-dependent communities, we have only one dock—no emergency provision.

Being restricted, Mr. Tuer produced a set of four alternatives (Plans A, B, C and D). These comprised a number of elements that could be combined to create other variant plans. All revolved around Government Road and the north Crippen Park. This was my response explaining the defects of these plans. All of them involve disruption of the village, and continuing use of the existing dock—which is awkward and slow to enter as well as causing significant noise and ferry-wash disturbance to the neighbouring houses and docks. They perpetuate the “village-in-a-ferry-marshalling-yard” situation rather than establishing the much desired “village-in-a-park” goal. Furthermore, such plans perpetuate island reliance on just one dock (no emergency provision).

Figure 1: Ferry marshalling and parking outlined in red on an aerial view of Snug Cove village.
(click here for a resizable image in a new window.

By contrast, the south side proposal (Figure 1), detailed in what follows, removes ferry marshalling from the village centre entirely, allowing for untrammeled revitalisation and beautification, without the burden of ferry marshalling, whilst keeping the ferry and ample ferry parking nearby. The proposal also provides a second, modern ferry dock that can be designed for earthquake resistance, whilst keeping the old dock as a spare—a prudent strategy that is used up and down the coast. The old dock would only be used if the main dock were out of service in some serious way, and only on a temporary basis during repairs. Figure 1 sketches the location of a proposed south side ferry marshalling area in relation to Snug Cove and surroundings, leading to a new ferry dock positioned east of the point that sticks out opposite to the existing ferry dock (it is south-east of the existing dock, and nearer to Queen Charlotte Channel⁄Horseshoe Bay). Note that it:

  1. keeps well clear of the Bowfest grounds;
  2. is less far to walk from the lower Cove than much of the existing marshalling area;
  3. is similar to the walk from the Horseshoe Bay ticket office and car park to the Bowen marshalling area;
  4. avoids the north park and Government Road altogether; and
  5. keeps ferry traffic and marshalling separate from the village, but close.
Additionally, besides two lanes for loading and unloading, with ample space for likely future increases in traffic, a significant amount of new parking is made available adjacent to the Cove for commuters, for island residents, and for visitors alike (Figure 2). The parking is also handily adjacent to the Bowfest grounds, but screened from them by trees and vegetation, and a long way from Davies Creek. There is more than ample space for this marshalling area, as shown.

Snug Cove Revitalisation

The provision of ferry docking and marshalling is so crucial to the future development of Snug Cove—and to Bowen Island in general, including business opportunities, commuters, tourism, quality of life, amenity, and aesthetics—that a wrong decision is likely to cause irreparable harm to our future lifestyle, opportunities, security, and property values.

Ferry marshalling is the “elephant-in-the-room” as far as Snug Cove revitalisation is concerned. Just as Gibson’s Landing on the Sunshine Coast had to remove ferry marshalling from the village centre, out to Langdale, to avoid choking the village entirely, so Bowen needs to move ferry marshalling. We have the supreme advantage that the ferry on the south side would be within easy walking distance of all the village amenities and would actually allow significant extra local parking. The Bowfest grounds and marina boardwalk would become the attractive entrance to the village in sharp contrast to the various recent proposals, as may be seen in Figure 6, at the end.

The sketch plan of Figure 2 shows an expanded view of parking area (the “bulge” in Figure 1) capable of expansion up to 125 cars. As noted, the area is roughly 280 metres (a 3 or 4 minute walk) from the main lower Cove shops—via a level path that links to the existing board walk leading to Doc Morgan’s, The Snug, and other amenities in the village. For those who are mobility challenged the existing bus service would be making stops in the village on its regular runs to and from the ferry, but wheel chairs and strollers could reasonably travel the footpath, and a lot more easily than on some of the current village sidewalks, which can be quite rough and steep.

Figure 3 shows the arrangements at the entrance to the area from Dorman Road. Provision of a traffic circle (roundabout) at that intersection would ease any problems of different turns, with arrivals and departures.

The south side option offers minimal visual impact—low profile, mostly hidden, and well clear of the Bowfest Field. Figure 4 provides an artist’s sketch of its appearance from the north side. Well-informed experts and lay persons regard the south side option as the best long-term solution to the ferry marshalling requirements, which also solves many problems of Cove revitalisation. A September 2012 poll showed 55% support for the south side option. It uses largely derelict land adjacent to the sewage plant constructively. Furthermore, it provides proper access to a rejuvenated south park, and it allows for easy sun-deck level passenger loading and unloading from facilities that could be built on the bluff. There would be ample space for drop-off and turnaround. Why would we spend several million dollars on an inadequate temporary solution that would probably become permanent, and would compromise village planning indefinitely?

Figure 4

Emergency use

As noted, the dock itself should be constructed to meet modern seismic standards (as required for emergency use in the event of an earthquake), or for evacuation in case of a major island fire. The original dock can be kept for use in case the new dock were out of service for some reason in normal times. Most ferries on the coast provide such alternatives, but under all normal conditions, the Cove would be completely free of ferry traffic. Importantly, the shoreline ferry marshalling road deck should be a low-profile concrete deck supported on piers pinned into the bed-rock and cantilevered out from the rock near the point, rather than being built on a rock-pile infill. The concrete road deck solution would: be aesthetically more pleasing; provide enhanced habitat for marine creatures of various sorts; provide better earthquake survivability; and would not interfere with marine traffic, including floatplanes and dredgers.

Note that, using existing ferry facilities, the Queen of Capilano docking at the foot of Government Road can take 458 passengers and 85 vehicles each trip. In the summer, the population of Bowen can be up to 6,000 or more. At least 13 evacuation trips would be needed, even if everything went smoothly, taking far too long for public safety if there were a fire in an extreme fire hazard condition.Emergency evacuees would have to get to the Cove, mostly by vehicle—a thousand vehicles or more—creating chaos in the current restricted village area, with many vehicles being abandoned, and perhaps with fierce competition for the limited number of ferry slots. The south side option could handle the problem because a C-class ferry could dock and clear the island in four hours or so. The C-Class ferry and the south side space could handle around 1,500 passengers and 145 vehicles per trip and would not be reloading at the other end. (Note: the full 360 vehicle capacity could not be used with only one level for loading.)

Financing the south side

The main objection to the south side option has always been the cost. Mark Collins, BC Ferries’ Vice-President of Engineering and Terminal Construction, has put in writing (June 10th. 2011) that BC Ferry Services Incorporated (BCFSI) would not have problems financing it, given cost recovery—over a period—from fares. BCFSI typically spend about $130 million a year on such capital projects, with long-term cost recovery of a significant portion of the expense. Following the press release describing the advent of “Cost Containment” I wrote again to Mark Collins, who replied on August 25th 2011, as documented in the correspondence already referenced above, reconfirming that, with long-term cost recovery, nothing had changed.He reconfirmed again on June 14th 2012.

Even if the entire cost were put on ferry fares, with two per cent municipal financing, a modest fare surcharge would pay for it over a 25 year amortization period. This is estimated to be $1.50 for vehicles and 50¢ for passengers—that is worst case, i.e. if there were no other financing sources; but there are other potential sources of funding. Remember, the last few years have seen fare increases of $3.81 and $2.01, respectively, with little benefit. Basic vehicle trips across the new Port Mann bridge are $1.50.


Merchants in the Cove would benefit. At present Many residents currently avoid the Cove because of the congestion and lack of parking caused by the ferry operations. As for the patronage resulting from those waiting for the ferry, the distance from the south side marshalling to the main Cove area around the Snug is entirely comparable to the distance from many cars lining up the hill (4-800 meters), or, right by the ferry dock (around 200 meters). The distance from the south side is 280 metres of level walk from the beginning of the proposed marshalling area and the new parking area, with some extra distance for those at the end of the line—eminently comparable. Note that the distance from Horseshoe Bay ticket office to the HSB marshalling area for Bowen is around 4-500 metres, and a further 1-200 meters from the car park.

Instead of a “village-in-a-ferry-marshalling-yard” as at present, we should be able to aim at the much desired “village in a park” with ample parking, in a truly revitalised Snug Cove, without spending up to $5.5 million on a scheme that still keeps the ferry traffic and/or marshalling at least partly, if not wholly, in the village.

The south side option for the ferry dock removes the ferry wash problems and noise that currently plague the users of the Government dock (especially on the ferry side), the Dallas marina, and even the USSC marina. It also avoids the ferry crossing the path of incoming pleasure vessels—a marine hazard, and saves fuel, since manoevering is reduced and unloading/loading is quicker, allowing lower speed on the actual crossing.

The marshalling area

The south side plan provides five lanes: to allow unloading in two lanes; plus marshalling for loading in two lanes; while still allowing a lane for access to the turning area for vehicles. All traffic exiting the ferry dock and turning area would use the two off-loading lanes. In addition sidewalks for pedestrians are required and could represent an attractive water-side extension of the USSC Marina board-walk as part of the constructed road deck. Angle parking areas are also provided, with a sixth service lane to avoid interference with exiting traffic.

Around half the marshalling area would be on the constructed road deck. The remainder would enter the woods, south of the Bowfest grounds, and be largely hidden. The south side option avoids the problem presented by all proposed in-village schemes, even the recent proposals by James Turer and Tom Fletcher. Moreover, such schemes—other than straight Government Road schemes—may require marshalling personnel which means an ongoing daily operating cost with several shifts—an expensive necessity for such schemes. The south side allows self-marshalling—the ideal arrangement, as it is at present. This is one of several very important advantages of the South side proposal. Allowing an average of 6.5 metres per vehicle we arrive at a figure of roughly 246 passenger vehicle equivalents for the two lane marshalling area— roughly three times the current capacity. Figure 5 provides a segment of marine chart with the location of the marshalling area marked in red.

The road/turnaround deck is fitted in to conform to the actual topography of the shore. The area shown is big enough for local busses to stop, load and unload passengers, and turn around into the exit lanes, without impeding other traffic that is doing the same thing. Two figures each representing the relative size of our existing north-side dock that was used for turning cars and busses in the past, appear as a grey polygons superimposed on the turning area (Figure 1). There is room for various conveniences such as a shelter and toilets. Top deck passenger loading/unloading can be provided from the bluff, with paths and an elevator to the sidewalk level.

At the special council meeting on January 9th 2012, it was stated that the Island Sky ferry will replace the Queen of Capilano whilst the latter is being converted to LNG fuel some time soon. Originally scheduled for later this year it has now been delayed to 2014/15. The problem is that the Island Sky will be unable to keep to schedule reliably because of the extra time needed for docking, unloading, and loading at Bowen as a result of the less than ideal marshalling facilities. If it were put on a reduced schedule, the gain in capacity would be lost. This is the original reason we did not receive the Island Sky when it was completed, even though it was designed for Bowen, as documented in my correspondence with Mark Collins, already noted above. In his email of June 10th he stated:

“We also wish to clarify the reason the Island Sky is not deployed on the Bowen Island run is that the road network adjoining our terminal is simply not capable of delivering or absorbing the vessel's 120 car capacity within the scheduled turn-around time.”
The south side facilities would eliminate this problem as well.

Figure 5: A segment of marine chart with the location of the marshalling area marked in red.

A recent user poll conducted during the week of September 24th-30th 2012

Three hundred and eighty five flyers requesting completion of a survey were handed out to ferry users in the ferry line-up. With 121 responses, the survey results are considered to be accurate within ±9%, 19 times out of 20. The respondents were 92% Bowen Island residents, with 63% resident for ten years or more, and a further 18% resident for five to ten years (a total of 81% long-term residents). The respondents were also representative of different types of ferry users. There was an even spread of ferry usage types (a few times a month: 22%; once a week: 26%; several times a week: 30%; most working days: 20%) thus covering users of most types.

A statistically and numerically significant majority of the respondents put the south side proposal as their first choice for locating the ferry marshalling facilities (55% to relocate to the south side, 19% to keep the current arrangements, 15% to keep the existing dock but put the marshalling in the north park, and 11% to widen Government Road and use the existing dock). The full poll results are available here.


Why would we spend up to $5.5 million for north park and Government Road schemes—money we don’t have, ruining the Cove, and/or the North Park (both highly used and highly visible), when a better zero-capital-cost-to-Bowen solution exists. A solution that also meets our emergency needs, on the south side (where the “park” is less visible, less accessible as a park, and dotted with junk), and avoids the north park—which is really part of the village, and which residents overwhelmingly wish to preserve as shown by the poll in November 2011. The proposed terminal would actually enhance the south side. When Crippen Park was established, it was agreed that the park land to the East and South of Miller Road should be available for community purposes. This agreement expired after ten years—hardly surprising—but must now be resurrected.

This link provides indexed access correspondence and other material relevant to the south side proposasl and Snug Cove revitalisation.

This link provides access to some detailed information on the south side proposal that was written back in 2004 and recently revised.

And finally, this link accesses a copy of my letter to council on the topic of Snug Cove planning, written and sent to council February 26th. 2008. My views on planning derive from the seminal work on planning by Christopher Alexander and his colleagues at the “Center for Environmental Structure” at U. California, Berkeley and described in his iconic “A Pattern Language”.** Alexander and his colleagues wrote:

“We begin with that part of the language which defines a town or a community. These patterns can never be “designed” or “built” in one fell swoop—but patient piecemeal growth ... will, slowly and surely, over the years, make a community that has these global patterns in it.”

Figure 6: Approaching Snug Cove from the proposed new marshalling area

“Share the vision of a Snug Cove around a renamed Trunk road, freed from ferry traffic, winding gently through beautiful landscaping, blending village and park. See the south side of the road as a vibrant blend of commercial, retail and residential period designed buildings backing onto the revitalized orchard with its heritage cottages and the phoenix of the Mount Strahan Lodge. Meander along the trails on the north side through the park with its civic buildings, the refurbished Old General Store and the new Park Lane.”
(Snug Cove Action Plan 2001 which scheduled building the south side terminal starting in 2009, but this schedule was later nixed by the council.)

** Alexander, C. et al. “A Pattern Language”: Towns, Buildings, Construction” (O.U.P/ 1977, ISBN-13: 978-0195-0191-9-3)

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Page created January 2012

Last modified: Tue Nov 13 17:50:04 PST 2012