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Opinion: Personal vehicle stigma thrives at Squamish muni hall

Although the District’s ongoing program to curb the proliferation of cars and trucks has a solid theoretical foundation, bearing in mind the conditions on the ground, it has all the earmarks of a flawed strategy and should be re-evaluated.
Justin PagetSquamish
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It is no secret this community is up to its armpits in residential development and off-the-charts population growth.

In the face of those unprecedented changes, the District of Squamish is on a well-documented crusade to stymie the use of personal vehicles.

But, to what degree is that a realistic strategy?                                                                                                                         

Last September, during a committee of the whole meeting, one of the topics for discussion was a significant housing development proposed for the Cleveland-Bailey Avenue junction.

During that exchange, Coun. Chris Pettingill said he wanted the number of parking spaces considerably reduced and “a lot more expectation and clarity that this is not a place for people with lots of cars. You come here without a car if you want to live here.” Coun. Pettingill’s blunt assessment of who should or shouldn’t live in the new enclave betrayed a whiff of elitism that counters the District’s welcoming branding initiative.

However, it did echo the prevailing party line at muni hall. The Community Climate Action Plan, which was officially passed by Council in 2020, presents a framework for “Six Big Moves” in the areas of housing, transportation, and waste management. One of those half dozen initiatives is the “Shift beyond the car.”  And the most recent iteration of the Official Community Plan states by 2040 there will be “efficient options for regional travel and commuters can rely less on cars…Pedestrians and cyclists can travel through a network of accessible trails, sidewalks, and bike routes.”

As well, the Squamish Multi-modal Transportation Plan projects a target of 63% single occupancy vehicles in town by 2031, a reduction of 22% from 2016 levels. Theoretically, limiting the number of cars reduces greenhouse gas emissions, leads to fewer parking problems, less congestion on downtown streets, and coincidentally, fewer fender benders. But applying the theory where the rubber meets the road will be a tricky proposition. We know the distance between neighbourhoods in Squamish is significant.

Walking, cycling or public transit are the weapons of choice to fight climate change in an ideal world. But under less-than-ideal conditions, they are, for the most part, inconvenient, if not prohibitive, options.

Shopping for groceries, attending a medical appointment, heading to Squamish Hospital for lab work, or getting kids to school, daycare, or sports venues on public transit can be challenging, especially when public transit is at a standstill because of the protracted strike. And getting those tasks accomplished on a bike or on foot is essentially a non-starter for many residents.                                        

But distance is only half of the equation. So-called “weather events” are the other 50%.

This town is no stranger to the four horsemen of the climate change apocalypse: the Heat Dome, the Polar Vortex, the Atmospheric River, and the Weather Bomb. As much as that quartet of monikers redlines the needle on the meteorological hyperbole meter, we have more than our weather doom and gloom share.

Under those circumstances, the convenience of a personal vehicle trumps riding a bike, walking or shuffling around waiting for a bus if and when that option becomes available.

And to make a go of it in Squamish, many couples rely on two incomes.

As a rule, both wage earners require their own vehicles to get to work somewhere up or down the highway.                                        

Despite that reality, the personal vehicle taboo has been baked into the proposed Diamond Head Development at the eastern end of Finch Drive. This project calls for a reduction of 60 parking stalls from the standard zoning bylaw.

Typically, many folks without a designated parking space will likely forego the public transit, cycling or walking options. Instead, they will access their vehicles stationed somewhere nearby.

That scenario is already well-established throughout the community; most side streets have become de-facto overflow vehicle parking zones. As a quick reference, the north side of Bailey Avenue, just west of Save-on-Foods, is now an unofficial parking lot for residents of adjacent neighbourhoods.                                                                                                                 
Given those circumstances, although the District’s ongoing program to curb the proliferation of cars and trucks has a solid theoretical foundation, bearing in mind the conditions on the ground, it has all the earmarks of a flawed strategy and should be re-evaluated.

Helmut Manzl is a long-time Squamish resident and political columnist published twice a month in The Squamish Chief.


Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly referenced Whole Foods. In fact, it is Save-on-Foods.

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