Longtime residents of White Rock can be forgiven if they’ve been feeling a sense of deja vu as the city moves to turn Marine Drive into a one-way street.
It has, in fact, happened before.
And though many of the details have been lost to time – the exact date, for starters – those who were involved in the decision back in 1982 do remember one thing clearly: it was an unmitigated disaster.
In fact, the project was so poorly received that it was scrapped after about 24 hours.
Though the idea was well-intended – “It was put in place primarily because there was a lot of rowdyism in those days that was happening along Marine Drive,” said Gordon Hogg, who was on city council at the time – it was a prime example of a good idea with unintended consequences, which included complaints from hillside residents who couldn’t get their vehicles out of their driveways because the normally sleepy residential streets had become so congested as a result of the re-routed traffic.
“The mayor, Tom Kirstein, was away – he was on his honeymoon at the time, I think – and I was acting mayor, and I do recall receiving a number of phone calls over a short period of time. Mostly from people on Victoria Avenue,” Hogg said, noting that the endeavour was driven by the Marine Drive Merchants Association.
Similar, but different
While there are some similarities between then and now – a push to help beachfront business, most notably – White Rock Coun. Scott Kristjanson, who put forward the current one-way motion for Marine, is confident that the plan will go much more smoothly this time.
“Definitely, if you don’t do it right, it’s going to be a problem. When I made this motion I said, ‘You know what? It’s a tricky situation and there are a lot of complexities to it, but we trust staff to work with the RCMP, the fire department, the BIA and residents to come up with a solution that works best for everybody,” he said.
“I think it’s completely possible to do this. I’ve seen options that will work and that I hope (staff) will (implement) because if it’s not done well, it is going to be a one-day thing that’s disappointing.”
Kristjanson added that he was unaware of the 1982 initiative until told of it by a Peace Arch News reporter, and questioned why staff and council at the time would simply give up after a single day of complaints.
“I’d love to talk to them about why they gave up after one day. That’s not how I go. We’ve had a number of emails – people with concerns. And we want to embrace those concerns,” he said.
“The phone calls – even the angry ones – are gifts of information. When staff produced this plan, there were 20 issues they raised. Some people might think, ‘Oh, 20 issues, that means we can’t do it.’ But to me that’s not proper thinking.
“How you solve problems is you look at those 20 issues and you say, yes they’re issues, but they’re also just constraints on a solution. It just narrows down (possible) solutions, that’s all. You address each one individually… until you find your answer.”
Reigning-in the ‘rowdies’
Hogg, who took over the mayor’s chair in 1984, told PAN that during the spring of ’82 a number of possible solutions were, in fact, pitched, and some even briefly put into action – everything from a one-way experiment to closing Marine Drive to traffic entirely. He also recalled a few weekends during which traffic was temporarily diverted off Marine Drive near the Hump at East Beach.
He also noted that prior to the city building the promenade and eliminating parking on the north-side of the street in the mid-1980s, Marine Drive was not exactly the family-friendly place is it today.
“In talking with a planner, I asked him, ‘How do we manage this? How do we give more access to the restaurants and also give this (area) back to the community?”’ Hogg explained.
“The rowdies were not willing to be as rowdy when there were suddenly a whole bunch of people around holding them accountable. You wouldn’t be blasting your music or drinking in your car.”
Newspaper articles at the time – from both the Peace Arch News and the now-defunct The Columbian – detail the rowdy behaviour which Hogg mentioned, with headlines such as “88 booze seizures” (Peace Arch News, June 23, 1982), as well as the city’s attempts to fix the issue (“White Rock problems tackled” (The Columbian, May 15, 1982).
Neither Hogg nor longtime City of White Rock parks and recreation manager Doug Stone could remember if the infamous day involved a full closure of Marine, or involved making it a one-way; news stories of the day detail plans for both.
“I wish I could tell you, but I honestly can’t remember,” said Stone.
The date of that single day is also up for debate, with Stone remembering that it happened in July, with others suggesting it was a month or so earlier. A May 5 article in PAN – “City to try Marine Drive partial closure” – notes that the idea was put forth by the Marine Drive task force, of which Stone was chair and Hogg was council liaison.
‘Same issues, multiplied’
Regardless of the extent to which the road was closed in 1982, Stone predicted that the same issues will arise again – only multiplied – once the city’s one-way plan takes root.
“The volume of traffic on a busy weekend today is probably twice the amount it would have been back then,” he said.
Neither Hogg nor Stone could recall anyone – engineers, firefighters or police officers – who recommended that the one-way closure go forward back in 1982.
“The city engineers said, ‘Absolutely do not do this’ because of the effects it would have on the residential neighbourhoods,” Stone said. “The impact on Victoria (Avenue) was particularly chaotic – cars gridlocked from top to bottom.”
‘Persistence and problem solving’
Hogg said he relayed his memories of the ’82 closure to White Rock Mayor Darryl Walker, while Stone said he’s passed on his thoughts to staff as well.
Kristjanson said he expects there will issues that arise, but “the trick is to just roll with it, and deal with it.” He also remained steadfast in his belief that the problems of 1982 do not automatically mean the current plan is destined to fail.
“There were a lot of people over the years who tried to make airplanes work – Leonardo da Vinci was a pretty smart guy and he failed at it, but then some guys called the Wright Brothers came along and figured it out eventually. It’s more about persistence and trying to solve problems.”