News / Vancouver

Arbutus Corridor 'paradise' should be paved, says wheelchair user

A decision to halt paving work on the disused rail line in response to residents’ concerns irks others who say the path should be accessible to all

A file photo of the Arbutus rail line. The rail ties have now been removed, but paving work was halted after some residents complained. Now cyclists and wheelchair users say the delay means they are not able to use the corridor.

Jennifer Gauthier/For Metro

A file photo of the Arbutus rail line. The rail ties have now been removed, but paving work was halted after some residents complained. Now cyclists and wheelchair users say the delay means they are not able to use the corridor.

When one group of Vancouver residents spoke out against “paving paradise,” the city listened and halted its plan to put an asphalt path on the Arbutus Corridor.

But that decision has irked other Vancouverites who are now speaking up in support of paving the former rail line, which the city envisions as a transportation corridor for cyclists, pedestrians and, in the future, a streetcar.

“Accessibility should be a given and my feeling was that that was the plan,” said Gabrielle Peters.

The West End resident uses a wheelchair and has gotten her front wheels stuck in the tracks where they cross the sidewalk on Arbutus Street, an area she’s happy has since been paved over. She was looking forward to exploring more of the Arbutus Corridor on the paved path.

“The longer term design of that area is as a transportation corridor, not as a park or as an extension of someone’s back yard,” said Adrian Crook, who lives in Yaletown and hoped to bike on the path with his young children. Both Crook and Peters have written to the city asking for the paving to continue, arguing that the corridor is for the enjoyment of all city residents, not just those who live near it.

Canadian Pacific Railway had tussled with the City of Vancouver for over a decade about the value and use of the corridor, and the CPR had raised the ire of residents when it began ripping out community gardens near the tracks in 2015. This March the city purchased the Arbutus Corridor from the CPR for $55 million.

It was the CPR’s responsibility to take out the rails, and the city then planned to pave the path temporarily while community consultations for the long-term plan happened over one to two years, said Jerry Dobrovolny, general manager of engineering for the city. The CPR took much less time than expected to do their work, which is why Dobrovolny says he was willing to suspend the paving work until the city can consult with the community. Public meetings will be scheduled within the next few weeks.

Vancouver residents who regularly use the Arbutus Greenway made this video, arguing an asphalt path amounts to "paving paradise." But from wheelchair user Gabrielle Peters' point of view: "it wasn't a paradise - it was a railway track."

Mark Battersby, a Kitsilano resident who protested the paving, said his group was mainly against the project because it was proceeding without consultation. He is concerned that plants like blackberry bushes were being cut back and the berries made inaccessible, and that cyclists would go too fast on the paved path.

People can still enjoy parts of the path, Dobrovolny said: crushed rock has been put down from 41st Avenue to 33rd and from 16th to 10th, while 33rd to 16th has been paved. Most users should be able to navigate the crushed rock path, although it’s not the highest standard for accessibility. 

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