Public wants more parking, pedestrian overpass at Cathedral Grove

Karly Blats, November 28, 2018

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation is currently collecting public input on how to make Cathedral Grove safer for pedestrians. (Karly Blats photo)

Port Alberni, BC — 

The public had the opportunity to weigh in on traffic and safety concerns for Cathedral Grove through a series of open houses hosted by the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI).

The ministry didn’t bring any proposed solutions to the meetings in regards to the safety or traffic concerns for the popular tourist attraction, but they said the open houses are step one in the process of  addressing the public’s concerns.

Cathedral Grove, also known as MacMillan Park, rests on the edge of Nuu-chah-nulth territory along Highway 4 and attracts approximately 500,000 national and international visitors annually. As the park’s popularity continues to grow, so too have issues surrounding pedestrian safety and parking alongside the highway. The main concern heard at the Port Alberni open house on Nov. 21, that saw 45 people take part, was how to get pedestrians safely from one side of the highway to the other.

Janelle Staite, deputy regional director for South Coast Region highways, said ideas for pedestrian crossing could include a tunnel or overpass. 

“Another common theme was talking about the need for more parking and there was a range of ideas on what that looks like,” Staite said. “Whether that was a parking lot or whether that’s widening shoulders over a longer distance to allow people to park adjacent to the highway…definitely an acknowledgement of the fact that there is a need for more parking and a need to explore how that might be possible.”

During summer days, thousands of vehicles travel through Cathedral Grove, with approximately 530 pedestrians crossing Highway 4 every two hours, according to B.C. government stats.

Staite said in the last five years, there hasn’t been any pedestrian collisions at Cathedral Grove.

“We recognize the risk is out there…that presents an opportunity here to make some improvements and really mitigate that risk and potential of collisions,” Staite said.  

In previous years, the ministry has attempted to lessen the potential of accidents by reducing the speed limit to 50 kilometres per hour through the grove, as well as adding two speed reader boards along the approaches to the park to remind drivers to slow down. 

Between the two public engagement sessions, one in Port Alberni and one in Parksville, and an online survey available until Jan. 4, the MoTI will gather all public feedback and release a summary report by next spring. 

“[The report] will really say what are the key themes that we heard throughout this engagement period, and that’s really going to help position us to figure out what are our next steps moving forward and how does this project continue to unfold,” Staite said. 

Staite said the ministry is not exploring the option of an alternative highway out of Port Alberni at this time.

“The ministry has actually explored the idea of an alternate route from Highway 19 to the Alberni Valley a number of times, I think most recently in 2016,” Staite said. 

She said business case studies indicate it makes more sense for the ministry to continue to invest in Highway 4 rather than an alternate route.

The public can still give their feedback on Cathedral Grove safety and traffic concerns by completing an online survey at https://engage.gov.bc.ca/cathedralgrove/ until Jan. 4.