The West Shore parks and rec board had a rare experience for its monthly public meeting – a full house of the public. Cyclists came out in force Thursday night to press for the reopening of the velodrome.

Parks and rec to explore reopening JDF velodrome

Cyclists have a faint hope of regaining access to the closed Juan de Fuca velodrome after a committee was struck with the sole mandate of “getting cyclists back on the track.”

Scores of cyclists and supporters packed a West Shore Parks and Recreation board meeting Thursday night to press their case that the velodrome should reopen, a message that found sympathy among a number of board members.

“It’s three years now since we’ve lost the velodrome. The sport has grown. It’s amazing what’s happened in the cycling community,” said Metchosin Coun. Jo Mitchell. “After three years things change. It’s time for another look at the issue.”

The cyclist lobby was reinvigorated after Metchosin and Highlands wrote letters of support to WSPR, backing the Greater Victoria Velodrome Association’s five-year plan to open the track this year for racing and cycling development programs.

The board didn’t go as far as advocating the GVVA’s ideas, but it did pass Mitchell’s suggestion to form a committee to examine what obstacles need removing to get cyclists on the track. The GVVA has a seat on that committee.

“If we had this many people show up to council, we’d take heed,” noted View Royal Coun. Heidi Rast, surveying the crowd. “With this number of people calling for the facility to open, keeping it closed won’t make the problem go away.”

“We need to strike a committee and move forward before this whole issue destroys the board,” agreed View Royal Coun. David Screech. “These polarized, entrenched, dug in positions are getting us nowhere.”

The WSPR board closed the 1994 Commonwealth Games velodrome in August 2008 after Aon Risk Control Services reported the fraying and damaged infield turf was a serious legal liability. The report recommended fencing off the entire velodrome facility until the turf was removed or replaced.

That came in the wake of a controversial plan to turn the velodrome into an all-weather turf field, after an earlier plan to build an indoor cycling track came to nothing. Since then, Langford has struck out on its own and built two all-weather fields.

Various plans floated by WSPR board members, owner municipalities and cyclists have fired often acrimonious debate over the future of the velodrome site. It was a “discussion which was adversarial to a point of poisoning the board,” noted board chair Les Bjola. “The entire issue as destroyed the camaraderie that has existed on this board.”

At one point, the WSPR board had offered the GVVA a contract to run the velodrome, but the cyclists had to come up with $50,000 and commit to raising hundreds of thousands to replace the infield turf. As GVVA president Chris Anstey pointed out, that level of funding was far beyond its means.

The future of the velodrome site, and all recreational facilities on the 108-acre WSPR property in Colwood, are being hashed out in a 20-year capital spending plan currently in the works, with a first draft expected this April. The board has a standing motion that the velodrome issue be shelved until that plan is completed.

Cyclists were ecstatic the board was swayed to crack open what has been a toxic egg, but WSPR administrator Linda Barnes cautioned the audience: “This is not a black and white issue. I wish it was, or it would have been resolved by now.”

The GVVA argues its insurance underwriter has no problem insuring GVVA members on the velodrome, despite warnings in the Aon report. Barnes said that’s a discussion that needs to involve WSPR’s insurance provider, the GVVA and its insurance provider.

“It’s not as simple as getting insurance and opening the velodrome,” Barnes said.

Even with insurance, the key logistical problem remains –– how can cyclists be allowed into the velodrome site while keeping the public safe and out of the infield? A number of WSPR board members have expressed fears that if the Aon report is ignored and someone is injured in the infield, the publicly-owned recreation facility would be wide open to lawsuits.

Removing the turf from the infield would also cost a considerable amount of money, and it remains unclear if that would resolve the liability problem. Barnes said there is no question the turf is unsafe for use by sports teams.

“Is it unsafe to walk on with a bike? I don’t know. What we’ve said is that it’s not a playable surface,” she said. “How do we keep the public off and keep kids from running out onto the turf if we open it for cyclists? Those are the kind of questions we’ve got to solve before we open it even for the short term.”

The velodrome committee, by any measure, is a positive opportunity for board members and the GVVA to layout facts and issues, and to clear the air, Barnes said. “It allows a conversation not fraught with rhetoric,” she said. “I’m looking forward to the discussion. I’d be delighted to have this solved.”

Anstey, with the GVVA, reckons it’s possible to set up fencing in the infield in such a way to provide a safe staging area for bikes and riders. Volunteers could have the velodrome ready to roll in a short time, and for little money, he said.

“I’m very pleased we are moving forward as a group,” Anstey said. “I think there is a good chance we’ll get somewhere. It rests on how they define the velodrome – if it means fixing the infield for soccer, it’s not going to happen. The money isn’t there.”

Langford, Colwood mull washing hands of velodrome

One of the velodrome committee’s tasks is to explore if Highlands, View Royal and Metchosin are prepared to fund replacing or removing the velodrome infield – without Langford and Colwood.

Colwood Mayor Dave Saunders successfully put the motion forward, noting one of the top priorities for his city and Langford is building two new high schools.

“If we put money into fields, it is going into high school (fields),” Saunders told the board. “Any money in the future will be going toward those fields. It won’t be going here.”

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