Commercial Drive. Little Italy. The Drive. It’s a neighbourhood that goes by many names and is loved for its culture, food, vibrancy, art, and music.
But behind the spaghetti, gelato and craft beer, there is division. And it’s an extremely “Vancouver” type of division: the debate over bike lanes.
For anyone who has tried to ride their bicycle down The Drive, you’ll know it’s a bit of a harrowing experience.
The great bike lane debate
Alex Thumm from Streets for Everyone says their group is advocating for safer bike lanes along Commercial, which would make the road easier to navigate and more accessible for cyclists.
“We hear from people on both sides. People who for whom it’s just not worth the risk and they just avoid Commercial Drive or regularly would be biking, but end up taking some other way that is less convenient.”
But the other side of the argument, coming from The Commercial Drive Business Society, says added bike lanes on the drive would create “high speed bike highways.” They say any added lanes would reduce street parking and loading spaces, cut down on customers and ultimately result in job and revenue losses.
Thumm says it doesn’t have to be one or the other.
“There doesn’t have to be a net loss of parking. In terms of driver wellbeing, there are people who are biking on [Commercial Drive] and that doesn’t exactly make driving more stress free or relaxed for driver right? And studies have shown that even if you have fewer traffic lanes because of a bike lane that traffic flow improves.”
The city of Vancouver has said they are looking at Commercial Drive as a possible target for proposed bike lanes in the future, but no plans have been set in stone.
Grandview-Woodland revitalization project
Changes that are set in stone on The Drive will take place around the Grandview-Woodland area. It’s a massive plan to revitalize the neighbourhood around the Commercial-
Broadway SkyTrain station, and last week, the city voted to move forward with the 30-year plan.
“To build new rental housing, get as much affordability as we can. Pressure the Provincial and Federal Governments to contribute and make sure we’re getting as much family housing as we can. That’s always been so important in this neighbourhood.”
The move was announced by Mayor Gregor Robertson, who also acknowledged that it’s been a contentious project.
“It’s been a really long process, at times it’s been divisive. The great strength I think in the great strength in Grandview-Woodlands is that it is a really inclusive and welcoming neighbourhood. It’s been that way for generations, and it needs to continue.”
The plan calls for more than 7,000 new homes of all types to accommodate growth of up to 10,000 people. Some are worried this development will drive away people who can’t afford to live in in the area.
Residents wary of development and fearing ‘demoviction’
Dorothy Baker with the Grandview Woodlands Area Council says she worries many people will get ‘demovicted.’
“These are people that, their lives for the last few decades have been in this neighbourhood. Their doctors are here, their social circles are here, their support circles are here…and to move them out of this neighbourhood…it’s heart-wrenching to see. We’ve had people at our meetings in tears they’re so frightened.”
However the city promises that affordability will be top of mind when building this development.
They’ve also included the Kettle Boffo project in the plans, which will provide 30 units of social housing and a renewed drop-in center for the mentally ill.
It seems like Commercial Drive is changing whether residents embrace that change or not.
But no matter how many towers are built, or how many cyclists zip around the streets of Commercial, you can still find that group of older Italian men gossiping outside of their coffee shop, the group that plays the guitar and bongo drums in the park, the tourists enjoying the beautiful patios.
It’s that special ‘je ne sais quoi’ that makes Commercial Drive one of the best neighbourhoods in the city.