The March closure of Ocean Boulevard to discourage large influxes of people and prevent the spread of COVID-19 generated a community conversation about the best use of the road. To capture the significant amount of feedback, both for and against the closure, the City provided a feedback form so that information could be organized and presented to Council.
The response was overwhelming, showing that people from around the region value Colwood's waterfront areas as a destination.
Less than half (1692) of the 3807 responses were from Colwood residents. The majority of people who provided input were from other municipalities. Among Colwood residents, just over 50% were in favour of through traffic.
Input showed that 86% of respondents from throughout the Capital Region use Ocean Boulevard in Colwood as a destination to enjoy the beach, bird sanctuary, views and activities the area offers. (Read more about some of the unique aspects of the Lagoon area.)
At their meeting on June 22, 2020, Colwood Council considered public input along with many other factors and resolved that a 400 metre section of Ocean Boulevard midway along the Lagoon Beach in Colwood will remain closed until September as the City initiates a project to create conceptual designs for a 4.4 km multi-use trail from the Lagoon Beach to Royal Beach and other waterfront public realm enhancements.
Can vehicles now access the Lagoon Beach?
Yes. Vehicles can access the beach from either end of Ocean Boulevard and park in all the usual areas on either side of the 400 metre closure.
Council is taking advantage of lower traffic volumes due to the pandemic and summer schedules to extend this temporary use of the area as a park, monitor impacts and plan for improvements.
During the closure, the City will scope out a project to develop concepts for transportation and public realm enhancements along Ocean Boulevard in consultation with stakeholders. A series of conceptual options will be developed for improvements like a multi-use trail from the Lagoon Beach to Royal Beach, as well as washroom facilities and attractive and accessible park amenities. Alternatives will be presented for two lanes of traffic as well as single lane and temporal closure.
Why has traffic been limited on Ocean Boulevard recently?
When the global pandemic was announced at the end of March, vehicle traffic was limited along the beach to discourage large influxes of people, prevent the spread of disease and reinforce the Provincial Health Officer’s direction to maintain physical distance and recreate close to home.
During April, the City took the opportunity to repair the road surface, which involved surveying the area, implementing drainage improvements, obtaining the required approvals from the Archaeology Branch and others, and completing the repair work.
In May, vehicle and parking access increased from the Lagoon Road end of the beach. In June, the boulevard was opened to vehicle access from both sides of the Lagoon, with a small closure about midway along.
We acknowledge this temporary change may affect people's regular routes and routines and very much appreciate your interest in understanding the rationale.
How was the community engaged?
The closure generated a significant amount of feedback from the community, both for and against limiting vehicles. Families, pedestrians, cyclists and people with mobility challenges enjoyed having safe access to the area without vehicle traffic; others expressed frustration at not being able to drive through while enjoying the view.
To open the community conversation to as many Ocean Boulevard users as possible, the City provided a feedback form to collect and report on input. Nearly 4,000 responses were received from people throughout the Capital Region.
Community input is one important factor among many that Council must consider. This feedback opportunity falls under CONSULT on the IAP2 spectrum of engagement, meaning Council will "listen, acknowledge citizen concerns, and provide feedback on how their input influenced Council's decision." (When does the City Collaborate with or Empower citizens? This requires much more time and involvement on the part of participants, usually as part of a committee or task force. Some recent examples include the Waterfront Committee, Heritage Committee, Economic Recovery Roundtables, Urban Forest Task Force and the OCP Steering Committee.)
Other factors Council must consider include, but are not limited to, traffic data, environmental considerations, Official Community Plan goals, and input from first responders and other key stakeholders.
Respondents were asked how they use the area now, and whether they favour through traffic or some form of closure, either permanent or temporal.
The majority of respondents (86%) report using Ocean Boulevard as a destination to enjoy the beach, views and activities the area offers. 14% report using the area as a drive through route for errands or on their commute.
About half (55%) of Colwood residents favour keeping the road open to through traffic long term, while the other half (45%) prefer some form of closure. When responses from people throughout the region are included, those who favour through traffic rises to 61%.
What other factors were considered?
This community conversation ties into other City initiatives and cannot be considered in isolation. Other factors Council must consider include, but are not limited to, traffic data, environmental considerations including migratory bird counts and input from first responders and other key stakeholders.
Colwood's Official Community Plan positions Colwood as a vibrant seaside community with a focus on public realm improvements to protect and enhance the waterfront. Over the coming months the City will develop concepts for a multi-use trail from the Lagoon Beach to Royal Beach, as well as washroom facilities and other park amenities. These concepts will be presented with two lanes of traffic, as well as single lane and limited closure alternatives for consideration.
Projects are underway to enhance Colwood’s public infrastructure and provide more transportation choices. New initiatives to monitor traffic congestion will complement traffic modeling and expand the City's ability to make data-driven transportation decisions. Improvements to roads, intersections, crosswalks, sidewalks, cycling, trail connections, transit and public spaces are in progress as outlined in the five-year Financial Plan. The Fire Department and RCMP are involved on an ongoing basis. The City will seek to collaborate with First Nations on planning for the future of the area. And the impact of various activities on the bird sanctuary and natural areas must also be evaluated.
More information about community input can be found in this June 22 report to Council.
Sandra Russell, Communications Manager