David Reid of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff speaks to members of the public during a public info session at the Friendship Centre on Wednesday, Nov. 21. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

David Reid of Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure staff speaks to members of the public during a public info session at the Friendship Centre on Wednesday, Nov. 21. ELENA RARDON PHOTO

Provincial dialogue begins over Cathedral Grove traffic

Transportation ministry holds open houses asking for suggestions

Port Alberni residents who missed a public open house last week will still have a chance to provide input on the traffic and pedestrian problems at Cathedral Grove.

Located in MacMillan Provincial Park, Cathedral Grove has become a local, national and international attraction, but its popularity has also led to issues surrounding pedestrian safety and parking along the highway.

An open house at the Friendship Centre on Wednesday, Nov. 21 provided an opportunity for members of the public to chat with employees from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure. A number of storyboards and posters walked through the safety concerns that have already been raised to the Ministry.

“This is an opportunity to start having that dialogue,” said Janelle Staite, regional deputy director with the Ministry, on Wednesday. “For tonight, we’re not bringing solutions. We’re looking for feedback from the public.”

Those who missed the session last week can still engage online via http://engage.gov.bc.ca/cathedralgrove. Visitors can view storyboards from the open houses, sign up for project updates and provide feedback through a questionnaire that asks a number of specific questions. Feedback will be accepted until Jan. 4. Comments or questions can also be submitted to the project team by calling 250-751-3126 or emailing cathedralgrove@gov.bc.ca.

Following this feedback will be an engagement summary report in Spring 2019, said Staite.

“The intent is to work really collaboratively to understand how we address the concerns of the park while also preserving the park,” said Staite.

Cathedral Grove sees about half a million visitors per year, said Staite. There are currently about 50 parking spots available.

“The actual demand for [parking] exceeds that by about double,” said Staite. “Parking is a key concern.” Other concerns include pedestrians crossing the road unpredictably, congestion and cars attempting unsafe turns.

“We want to close that potential safety concern that could turn into a crash,” said Staite.

Linh Tran was one of a few Alberni District Secondary School students attending the public session on Wednesday. Although Tran is still a learner driver, she has already had to maneuver through the Grove during peak season.

“The parking lot and pedestrians crossing the road are the biggest issues that I consider,” she said, adding that she was happy to see a public event addressing some of these concerns.

Port Alberni resident Sandy McRuer pointed out that the problem is growing and getting worse every year.

“People are going to have to make some concessions somehow,” he said. “It’s going to grow, whether you like it or not.”

He suggested adding more messaging for pedestrians as a short-term plan. “There’s lots of messaging to drivers already,” he said. “But not a lot for pedestrians.”

A few more ideas were heard throughout the night: many suggested keeping a separation between pedestrians and traffic, either with barriers or an underpass or overpass. One person suggested adding a traffic light. Others recommended building another road entirely—possibly an extension of the highway from Horne Lake to Cherry Creek.

In the meantime, the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure will continue listening to ideas, before sharing initial safety concepts with the public.

“This really is just an early stage,” said Staite. “There [are] a number of different ideas that have been out there. We want to see what ideas resonate and what ideas are concerning.”

elena.rardon@albernivalleynews.com