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Letter: Burnaby businesses opposing bus lane will 'roll back decades of progress'

This letter writer says Burnaby Heights businesses don't own the public roads in front of their shops and urges council to approve the Purple Line bus lane along Hastings Street.
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Antons Pasta on a weekend evening.

The Editor:

Re: Burnaby Heights businesses say proposed bus route will take away their parking (Nov. 8, 2023)

October 3, 2015, was the last time I wrote about the Hastings Street bus lanes. Since then, our community has evolved, driven by the Council's commitment to a sustainable transportation plan aiming for 75 per cent Active Mobility by 2050. Yet, we again face attempts by the Burnaby Heights Merchants Association (BHMA) to roll back decades of progress.

While our council has made commendable strides in sustainable development, recently reducing parking standards in transit-served areas, the BHMA's derogatory stance on peak-hour HOV bus lanes demands we forsake this Active Mobility goal for corporate interests.

The BHMA has consistently advanced unverified assertions that businesses in the Heights suffer due to transit on Hastings Street. They argue that businesses are harmed by providing affordable and timely transit that serves students, the elderly, and those with limited means. The BHMA seeks sympathy for the many major corporations along Hastings, which profit from inflated grocery costs, exorbitant banking fees, high gasoline prices, and sending profits to U.S. based franchise operations, all of whom can comfortably afford high rents in this rapidly densifying neighbourhood.

Moreover, if business owners own the land where their establishments are situated, we should not lament as these landowners have seen significant increases in land value due to Council's decision to transform Hastings into a mixed-use commercial residential area. Over the past 27 years since the HOV lanes were introduced, numerous commercial-residential buildings have sprung up along Hastings. It is unreasonable to apply the BHMA's unproven financial losses to these new businesses who understood the situation when negotiating rents or purchasing commercial strata units.

And how about that customer line-up in front of the iconic Anton’s Pasta Bar, which routinely starts during rush hour when no street parking is available. I suppose after a great and huge meal at this favourite restaurant, a good walk is actually a good thing.

What the BHMA has never publicly admitted is the significant benefit bestowed upon merchants by the Province of British Columbia, in the form of free off-site parking, long maintained by Burnaby taxpayers. Notably, no other municipality in B.C. has received such a gift of free parking to offset a major public transportation investment.

Eight off-street parking lots containing 200 stalls were purchased and constructed as part of the HOV project. This translates to roughly 1,500 meters of continuous parking length, and excluding intersections is equivalent to about the distance from Boundary Road to Beta Avenue. Let’s be clear – those merchants along Hastings without on-site parking enjoy 100% free off-set parking during either the morning or afternoon rush hour.

Instead of bemoaning the need for Burnaby to aggressively pursue sustainable development, how about the BHMA encouraging faster redevelopment so more legitimate uses of public rights-of-way can happen? This, in turn, will alleviate whatever parking concerns may exist with these new projects providing the necessary off-street parking as required in the Zoning Bylaw. But let's be serious, with thousands more moving to Hastings, and Active Mobility as the core strategy for all future development, maybe we should just ignore the backward-looking BHMA.

Case in point – the BHMA continues the fallacy that public parking on public lands on Hastings somehow magically belongs to the fronting merchants. The streets of Burnaby belong to all taxpayers, and it is the duty of Burnaby Council to best determine how this asset can serve the greatest good. Moving more people by transit strikes me as a far more important priority than storing chunks of metal on a major thoroughfare that impedes through traffic and transit operations.

And we must not be fooled by BHMA's suggestion that all is needed is corner bulges to make Bus Rapid Transit work. This approach would force all buses into the general-purpose lanes, and in turn, protect the street parking for merchants who already have free off-setting parking nearby. In addition, Hastings will always remain a vital connection between Vancouver, SFU, and the Tri-Cities, so let's recognize that if BHMA gets its way, then every other community could say to TransLink, "Take your buses somewhere else."

Let's not forget the Province of British Columbia has tabled legislation for debate to require municipalities to increase density along bus routes and transit hubs. Burnaby is well ahead with its plan for Hastings, and the idea of diverting to Boundary lacks the very basic urban development and transportation planning sense. Plus, Hastings is part of TransLink's Major Road Network that doesn't just serve those very few customers who will bypass the Heights if parking isn't a few steps away. Yes, trade-offs are necessary, including scheduling medical appointments for our infirmed neighbors to avoid either rush hour, but we are not inventing the wheel here so solutions can be found with cooperation rather than the confrontation promoted by the BHMA.

In conclusion, given what is at stake, I am confident that Council will make the right decision for the next 50, 100, and even 200 years, as the current development track takes us toward a more sustainable future. We will see if Council can withstand the BHMA's apparent disregard for sustainable development, the Housing Crisis, the Climate Emergency, and other pressing community needs in comparison to the incessant demand for readily available parallel parking.

- Joe Sulmona, Burnaby