Ferry issues highest priority

David Hill, P.Eng.

(The Bowen Island Undercurrent, February 6th 2004, p10, 15: with permission)

For some time now I have attended meetings, discussed with councillors and others, and written to the "Undercurrent" on the topic of Cove planning. I have appreciated the current round of forums. Though the process has serious flaws, as noted by others, it has resulted in a useful information booklet and worthwhile discussions.

If you wish to renovate your home, and make it a more functional and pleasant place to live, it is pointless to discuss the colour of the wall paper, the type of floor covering, or the arrangement of the furniture if the roof is missing, the foundations need replacing, or if there is an elephant in the living room.

Until we have dealt with the foundational element, the ferry and its associated traffic, none of the wonderful (motherhood) guidelines and principles can be addressed in a thoughtful long-term manner. Any proposal will be distorted by the reality of: dealing with a increasing tidal flow of vehicular traffic; difficulties that merchants may have in receiving goods and attracting shoppers and tourists; parking; and the requirements for safety in the Cove.

Four plans are currently on the table:

  1. Further develop Government Road as a ferry marshalling yard;
  2. Carve a road (and possibly a ferry marshalling area and/or parking area) out of the parkland on the North side of the cove, with some variants involving one way traffic, either clockwise or anti-clockwise;
  3. Carve a lesser road out of the parkland and continue with ferry marshalling on a somewhat prettified Government road, quite likely with one-way arrangements as for (2), with extra parking on the level area near the sewage treatment plant on the South side of the Bowfest grounds, hidden in the trees; and
  4. Develop a new ferry terminal on the South side of the cove, with a low roadway a little above the existing foreshore (and not much above the high-water level) leading to a marshalling and car-parking area in the flat area by the existing sewage treatment plant, screened as in (3).

Three of these plans (1 through 3) involve continued use of Government Road for at least part of the ferry traffic handling. The first would widen it and, however much landscaping and parking was provided, would not "Create an aesthetically pleasing entry" or "Explore 'better' solutions for ferry marshalling and parking." Pedestrians would have to cross the blacktop equivalent of a six or seven lane divided highway, and the road would eat into the set-backs for existing structures. Options 2 and 3 would involve a road through existing parkland -- two or three lanes, and quite possibly blacktopped vehicle areas also in the parkland. Unlike the Stanley Park causeway, which is surrounded by a large urban park and is the only practical way to get to the Lion's Gate bridge, even a small road through the park would impinge massively on the limited rural park area.

The cost for one of schemes 1 through 3 has not been accurately estimated, except that there was the well-known McElhanney report which pegged them at around $2-3.5 million dollars. If some of the bells and whistles (kerbs, roundabouts, landscaping and so one) were dropped, the cost could perhaps be lowered, but any kind of North park road would put extra traffic on Miller Road, which would likely therefore require widening -- an additional cost.

The three schemes provide little benefit, other than mitigating the counterflow traffic and marshalling problems along Government Road, which would still be a conduit for ferry traffic. The social, ecological and monetary costs are significant.

The fourth, South-side ferry terminal, option has disadvantages too. The cost was estimated by BC Ferries to be around $10 million (no Virginia, not $24 million!). This was based on a BC Ferries walkaround with Doug Sinkinson some years back. Doug is now chairman of the Ferry Task Force.

Our local, very experienced Civil Engineer, Dai Roberts, who (amongst other achievements) managed the building of the Whistler Gondola in about a quarter of the time considered necessary by the French manufacturer, estimated the cost of the required structures for the South-side ferry terminal option at $6.5 million dollars in today's dollars -- roughly double the cost of the McElhanney schemes for Government Road and the park (which approximate options 1 through 3). The current Island revenue is over $3 million. How many people restrict their mortgage to only double their annual income? What are the payments on your means of transport?

In any case, a fifty cent surcharge on all ferry fares would pay the entire cost over roughly twelve years even at today's traffic volumes. There are also such sources of capital as Federal Government infrastructure payments. Even the golf group expects to raise $1 million without too much difficulty from voluntary contributions, and double the amount using grants. There are many ways of raising money other than increasing property taxes.

The other disadvantages, apart from cost are: GVRD seems opposed to the idea, and currently owns the land; BC Ferries have expressed somewhat negative views (but then they were negative about two-lane off-loading to start with); Islanders are rightly concerned about possible damage to the visual environment in the neighbourhood of the Cove, especially the Bowfest grounds; and merchants fear that tourist traffic would be diverted from the Cove area surrounding Government Road. Until I studied the issue, my own gut reaction was: "No way," to the South side, because of these sorts of concern, but on investigation I found they were illusory.

The advantages are quite significant. The scheme would solve once and for all the problems of: traffic in the Cove; parking; preservation of the parkland on the North side of Government Road (including the memorial grounds); and ferry delays due to difficulties docking "round the corner" on the existing ferry dock (which costs at least five minutes per round trip). In addition, the loading and unloading would: be further accelerated by properly designed facilities; free of Cove traffic interference; and keep the existing dock as an emergency dock, providing some basic service, in case the existing dock is damaged, or breaks. It could also be used for passenger-only, direct-to-downtown service.

Trees would be used to screen and enhance the marshalling/parking area set up on the bench area near the sewage plant, also screened, and the best trees in the area would be kept within the parking/marshalling area to provide extra shade and aesthetic landscaping along with planting beds of low-maintenance plants and shrubs. The natural aspect of the South side could be preserved, and additional habitat provided for inter-tidal shade loving creatures that thrive under docks.

The biggest problems may be the political/social issues. The merchant's have legitimate concerns about diversion of customers. It is a long walk from the ferry dock, along the road-way and parking area, around the head of the inlet, and into the village. People in vehicles could either park in the parking area, or drive around to other designated parking, for them there is really no problem. The distance would be about the same as walking to (say) The Snug from the existing ferry or from the parking area on the Northwest side of Dorman Road near the Village Bakery.

The problems would be greater for foot passengers, especially the young, the old, the ill and the disabled. But for normal healthy people who have chosen to come as foot passengers, the walk to the cove would be small price to pay for a traffic-free Cove -- it is less than 1000 feet -- a few minutes. Indeed, many such folk come to the Island precisely to enjoy such walks and hikes. Those who didn't want to walk very far would likely bring their vehicles.

For those requiring help or simply preferring not to walk, an improved bus service, starting at the ferry dock, that included stops at loctions in the Cove on its route from the ferry terminal to other parts of the Island would serve. Such a bus service could guarantee those lingering over their last cup of tea or market bargain hunt would be guaranteed to reach the departing ferry in time, and would be of value to Islanders too.

Where else would the foot traffic go, if not first to the Cove? It would be the closest walking destination, as well as more attractive without the traffic.

Let's work on this best solution for now, and see if we can overcome the hurdles. If we fail, we know what we are faced with, but at least we shall have tried. The South-side option offers a long term solution at only double the cost of other options, but with hope of external sources of funding. The net final cost may even be less. In the end, BC Ferries may even contribute. They were considering putting in a holding berth at Horshoe Bay at a cost of $4 million. Maybe there's an arrangement we can come to there. The GVRD can undoubtedly be brought around, if the council approach them with the right plan. If we end up owning a new ferry terminal, that itself could offer other significant advantages, including revenue, but these and other issues will have to be discussed in a follow-up article.

If we adopt a short term solution to start, it will become even more entrenched than the current scheme, and the Cove will always be dominated by ferry traffic needs. Keeping the elephant in the Cove will ensure we always run it as a zoo!

Page last updated 04-04-23