The one-way Marine Drive project was put to the test Sunday as thousands of people descended on White Rock’s beach to soak up the sun and celebrate Father’s Day.
The parkade was full, as were waterfront parking lots and restaurant patios as the temperature hit 28.6C, breaking a 83-year-old weather record.
Bumper-to-bumper traffic rolled eastward along Marine Drive throughout most of the day, however, vehicles seemed to move along the waterfront route with little delay. Even the side streets, which had been a point of concern for both councillors and residents, were less congested than expected.
City of White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker and Coun. Scott Kristjanson both visited the waterfront and side streets June 20 to observe traffic patterns.
“I was very, very pleased with it,” Walker said. “It’s a matter, from my perspective, of so far, so good. Each new day or new week we look to see how it’s going. My hope is that people are getting used to it and finding alternate routes to go there.”
Walker said one of his key concerns was congestion on Victoria and Columbia Avenues. Both residential roads were expected to see an increase in traffic due to detour routes.
“I would say there may have been a bit more traffic, but I didn’t find them a lot of an inconvenience,” Walker said, adding that he doesn’t routinely travel those roads.
Kristjanson was also concerned about Columbia and Victoria, and drove the routes three times at different points of the day to monitor the flow.
He said the only place where there was “minor” congestion was at the bottom of Victoria Avenue near the Vidal Street intersection.
“We’ve heard stories of all this congestion and stuff, I didn’t see any of it,” Kristjanson said.
Kristjanson said, in his experience, Marine Drive traffic was moving faster on Sunday than it did as a two-way route. Last year, he said it took him about 30 minutes to travel east to west on a busy summer day.
“(Father’s Day), I was able to drive it, it took about 15 minutes, maybe less,” Kristjanson said. “Once you get past the hump, it flows like crazy.”
Victoria Avenue residents Christie and Sean Graham, who earlier this month presented council with an 88-signature petition against the one-way project, said the traffic on side streets wasn’t as bad as they thought it was going to be.
“Our greatest fear, which is why we did the petition in the first place, was that it was going to be bumper-to-bumper traffic on our streets, namely Victoria,” Sean said. “Is there a noticeable increase in traffic? Yes. Is it more than normal? Yes. Is it bumper-to-bumper? No. Is it busier on Columbia? Absolutely.”
Sean described the traffic as “tolerable,” and Christie said they’re holding their breath.
What was “disappointing,” Kristjanson said, was that only a few restaurants were able to take advantage of the extra patio space offered to them on Father’s Day.
The extra patio space is subject to a permitting process involving both the City of White Rock and the BC Liquor Distribution Branch.
As of Monday, the city approved permits for seven restaurants and is reviewing applications for 10 more establishments. In addition, three more applications are expected.
“We just have to somehow accelerate these approvals to get them going,” Kristjanson said.
Asked if the hold up was on the city’s end, Kristjanson said it’s “half and half.”
“The city is doing a great job saying, you know what, we’ve got to be safe. There’s pre-approval, building inspector and engineering inspector. When it’s all said and done, you know it’s going to be safe to go there,” Kristjanson said.
Walker said the city’s actively working through the permits and has 1-1.5 FTE staff working on them.
“We’re not sitting on them,” Walker said.
In addition, Walker said, the time it takes to approve a patio depends on where the restaurant is located. Restaurants along East Beach, which have an even surface, will have fewer requirements than a patio built on a slope.
“We have to do it in a safe way,” Walker said.
Walker complimented city staff, specifically director of engineering Jim Gordon and director of planning Carl Isaak for planning for “what-if” scenarios.
“I think they’ve gone that far and have done a very good job with it, along with our fire chief and detachment commander. I think they’ve really looked a good ways ahead.”
White Rock Business Improvement Association executive director Alex Nixon said the sunny Father’s Day was a money-maker for waterfront restaurants.
He said one business owner told him they were “dumbfounded” by how good their sales where, which were in excess of 50 per cent better than their best day ever.
“They were very, very happy about it,” Nixon said.
Another business manager told Nixon that Saturday and Sunday were their two best days since the beginning of COVID-19.
“One-way Marine Drive challenges have caught me by surprise because they were not what I expected,” Nixon said, adding he thought traffic would have been more of a concern.
“And I’m not trying to minimize what residents are feeling, rather I thought it was going to be a lot worse. It actually flowed well on Marine Drive from what I’ve seen,” Nixon said.
Unexpected business challenges, Nixon said, have been a staff shortage and patio permitting process.