Safety concerns surrounding the parking lot at Cathedral Grove failed to manifest into a big turnout at a pair of mid-Island open houses last week.
However, the input of those who did attend has provided some validation, according to the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure deputy regional director for the South Coast Region.
“People definitely agree that there is a safety concern,” Janelle Staite said. “Folks who are traveling on the corridor said, ‘Yup, I’ve experienced that myself first hand,’ so I think it was validation that, yes, there is a concern out there, and yes, there is a need to do something.”
Approximately 530 pedestrians cross Highway 4 at Cathedral Grove every two hours during summer days, walking in front of the thousands of vehicles traveling through the grove daily, according to B.C. government stats.
That fact was among the information on display at a Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure open house in Parksville on Thursday, Nov. 22, to discuss solutions for the area. An open house was also held the day before in Port Alberni.
Approximately 50 people attended the Port Alberni meeting, while approximately 20 visited the Parksville one (MOTI staff were expecting more, they said).
However, some have been sounding the alarm for years already.
“It’s an accident waiting to happen,” said Gillian Mead-Robins in a 2016 Alberni Valley News story. Her family has owned a cabin at Cameron Lake since the 1920s.
“It’s too crowded on the side of the road, kids jump out of the car, people back up into the oncoming highway to take pictures of trees… it’s deathly dangerous,” she said in the story.
At the time, MOTI was touting its signage and reduced speed for the area. But now it is willing to say those changes haven’t been enough, and the ministry is prepared to listen.
“We’ve identified the fact that there has been a concern out here and we’ve made some improvements, but now we recognize that the concern still persists,” said Staite.
MOTI info boards note some of the same issues pointed at by people like Mead-Robins: people walking along the highway and in vehicle lanes, parking that’s over-capacity, people parking in no-parking zones leaving some of their vehicle jutting into traffic, and illegal maneuvers by motorists to access the park. Complicating the process is the public’s love of the park and its desire not to impact its trees.
Based on feedback from the Port Alberni meeting, Staite noted ideas such as “the idea of pedestrian separation be it a tunnel, be it a pedestrian overpass; making sure it was accessible because there is such a range of folks that visit the park.
“The idea of more parking was generated in terms of different ideas be it parking lots, be it parking areas where you shuttle people in, or there is a new trail network where you walk to the park, wider shoulders to again be able to get people off the highway,” said Staite.
One suggestion made at the Parksville meeting was the use of a logging road not far to the west of the grove, which could be used for parking. Then, people could either be shuttled into the grove, or a trail network could be connected from there.
Use of a logging road for parking was another suggestion pointed out by Mead-Robins two years ago.
Staite said she can’t say how long it will take for a solution to be implemented, but said the ministry would first seek more input from the public once it has a selection of options which notes the level of ecological impact each option would have on the area.
“It gives the opportunity to, again, cycle back to the public and say, with this option, here is the impact that comes with it, and here are the benefits that come with it,” she said.
The two open houses kick off the ministry’s Pedestrian and Traffic Safety Study for Cathedral Grove, with staff emphasizing that they have no preferred ideas yet, and are currently looking for public input on concerns and solutions.
The public can get info and continue to provide feedback online via engage.gov.bc.ca/cathedralgrove, by calling 250-751-3126, or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feedback will be taken until Jan. 4 of next year.