Court denies restaurateurs' bid for judicial review over Park Drive bike lane

Owners of the Teahouse, Stanley Park Pavilion and Prospect Point Bar and Grill took the Vancouver Park Board to court earlier this year over its decision to convert a Stanley Park roadway into a bike lane.

Park Drive, which loops through Vancouver's Stanley Park, was converted into a one- and two-lane bicycle route throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.City of Vancouver

A BC Supreme Court has denied a judicial review brought forward by a group of Stanley Park restaurateurs who challenged the City of Vancouver for its decision to convert a major park thoroughfare into a dedicated bike lane. 

The judgment, handed down earlier this week, pitted the owners of the Teahouse, Stanley Park Pavilion and Prospect Point Bar and Grill against the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. 

The group of restaurateurs had applied for a judicial review of a park board resolution to convert Park Drive, which circumnavigates Stanley Park, into a bicycle route. 

The restaurateurs argued that designating the route a permanent bike lane to reduce carbon emissions and appease a public opinion survey was carried out using “clear logical fallacies, such as circular reasoning, false dilemmas, unfounded generalizations or an absurd premise.”

Pandemic response to an evolving city

In her decision, Justice Sheila Tucker reviewed the evolution of Vancouver’s climate change policies leading up to the March 10 park board decision.

Starting in January 2019, the city declared a climate emergency and passed a number of resolutions to reduce emissions. City council would soon approve “big moves” to cut carbon emissions by transitioning away from gas-powered vehicles and moving toward a 2030 goal where two-thirds of all trips in the city were taken by foot, bicycle or transit. 

Then coronavirus hit. On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic, and within a week, B.C.’s provincial health officer followed suit. 

The park board responded by opening up the city in places where it could help people physical distance. On April 8, it barred vehicle traffic from Park Drive and converted it into a cycling path separate from the Stanley Park Seawall.  

By early summer, the park board launched a study to look at reducing car traffic inside Stanley Park on a permanent basis. In the motion, the park board said it had received comments from the public that fewer vehicles made visiting a more “park-like experience.” Turning the eastbound lane along Beach Avenue over to cyclists and pedestrians reduced traffic and access to Stanley Park even more, noted the motion.

A year later, the park board reopened one lane of traffic to motor vehicles, with the other remaining a cycling path. Meanwhile, a Stanley Park mobility study was underway, gauging public opinion on the one- and two-lane cycling paths. 

Of the nearly 11,000 respondents, 66 per cent said they wanted some of the road reserved for cyclists. A further 71 per cent said their experience was either better or no different with both lanes turned over to cyclists, and 51 per cent said the same about the one-lane cyclist regime. Only 36 per cent said they wanted Park Drive to remain a right-of-way for motor vehicle traffic. 

At one stage in the process, the park board received over 750 letters — including from the restaurateurs — ranging from passionately for and vehemently against the proposal to limit Park Drive to bike traffic. 

In submissions to the court, the restaurant owners rejected the Stanley Park survey, saying it was not a representative sample. 

Reducing emissions, public survey ‘not reasonable’

Incorporated under Ferguson Point Restaurants Inc. and Stanley Park Operations Ltd., the restaurant owners argued the park board went ahead with the bike lane based on the city’s need to reduce carbon emissions and the Stanley Park public survey results. Neither, said the petitioners, were reasonable bases for the decision. 

The park board, they added, acted under an “almost certainly false” assumption the bike lane would reduce carbon emissions. In fact, they told the court, the bike lane would lead to more congestion and idling of vehicles along Park Drive, while other park users would increase emissions by driving further to car-accessible parks. 

They also alleged that it was unreasonable to rely on the public survey results as they were flawed and inadequate. The owners said the park board failed to consider the negative effects on the bike lane, such as reduced access for people with mobility problems, small children and sporting clubs; reduced municipal revenue; increased pressure on other parks; and impacts on park businesses, such as their own.

But the judge found the restaurateurs' argument was an oversimplification: reducing carbon emissions and considering the results of a public survey merely “set the scene for the debate” that weighed a number of factors, from the impact of gas- and diesel-vehicle emissions on climate change to encouraging cycling for health and safety reasons. 

"The resolution is a small and exploratory component in a wide-ranging policy response to a social dilemma, not an operational solution to emission volumes," wrote Tucker.

She added: “A decision need not be flawless in order to be reasonable.”

The restaurant owners haven't exhausted their legal options yet. Last month, they launched a new lawsuit against the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, claiming numerous recent coyote attacks coupled with lane closures for vehicle traffic have driven customers away.