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Letter: Don’t pave over Rainbow Park’s ‘legendary vibe’

"We should be prioritizing green space, swimming, and safety at the waterfront, not a transportation corridor or 'promenade.'"
whistler rainbow park dock
The existing dock at Whistler's Rainbow Park.

The RMOW has announced new “upgrades” to Rainbow Park, and while I welcome those that will improve amenities and access, others will unfortunately pave sections of the grassy waterfront, all the while closing the park for an entire spring, summer, and fall. [Editor’s Note: While the exact timeline is yet to be determined, the RMOW said the park closure will likely span this spring to the fall, or the fall until spring 2024.)

In particular, the “upgrades” include relocating and widening the Valley Trail so that it obstructs the lake itself:

“The path will move east around the volleyball courts and extend alongside the beach, functioning as a waterfront promenade, connecting in a loop to the new food truck plaza near the park’s main entrance.”

Find more info in the Jan. 26 Pique article, “Whistler’s Rainbow Park to close for construction later this year.”

Taking into consideration the longstanding use of Rainbow Park for families, sunbathers, and swimmers, it would seem to be a fundamental change to the park’s design and heritage to put in a paved “promenade” that hinders access to, and obstructs views of, the lake. It is also unclear why park-goers would desire a “paved loop” through the middle of the park’s greenspace and waterfront—a major redesign that would attract hectic, and not peaceful, energy and behaviours. I oppose the current design because it creates a paved, “widened” loop through the park that fundamentally alters the nature of the park, turning the peaceful waterfront into a paved transportation corridor.

While I understand the need to improve access to the lake (and new pier), I believe this could be done with a horseshoe design that would address access without turning Rainbow Park waterfront into a “promenade” for human traffic. Putting in a “paved oval” when we already have issues with speed issues on the Valley Trail with e-bikes, cyclists, and other e-vehicles will only encourage high-velocity traffic directly in front of the waterfront, where young children are playing and where swimmers are entering/exiting the lake.

In short, this is also a safety concern, and a similar proposed redesign at Kits Beach was successfully opposed by the local community on similar grounds. We ask then why the RMOW would want to so drastically alter the park’s legendary vibe, paving over its grassy areas while compromising waterfront safety, all for the sake of a “promenade”?

Further, if this major redesign goes through, the majestic views of the mountains from your sunbathing towel will now be blocked by a “promenade” of human torsos and cyclists. The widened Valley Trail will also run through the peaceful grove of small trees that many use for shade and sunbathing towels. This is one of the more special places at any park in Whistler, especially at sunset, which is why I call upon the RMOW not to simply “pave it over.” We need to rethink this.

This redesign also makes the same mistakes Vancouver was about to make in the 1960s, when it considered putting an elevated highway and interchange through the downtown waterfront. This sparked massive public protest, drawing from the inspiration of Jane Jacobs’ opposition to the Spadina Expressway in Toronto, that thankfully saved the city from being turned into the kind of concrete jungle that L.A. and Seattle became. Yet this is what RMOW is about to do to Rainbow Park: put a paved road right through the waterfront. Hem-in park-goers with pavement.

In short, paving the park is a planning style that ought to be challenged, just as it has been elsewhere. We should be prioritizing green space, swimming, and safety at the waterfront, not a transportation corridor or “promenade.” Waterfront access can be had with a horseshoe design that provides paved access to the new pier, without creating a paved oval through the park.

So while I (and many others!!) thank RMOW for upgrading the actual facilities, including improving the dog-park fencing, park access and parking (the new pier and parking are great!), as well as improving the volleyball courts, I simply ask: please do not ruin the beautiful waterfront of Rainbow Park with a paved-oval promenade. Please do not pave the park.

Thank you, RMOW. I feel that a horseshoe redesign will satisfy the needs for access, beach drainage, and other needs, while also respecting the heritage, vibe, and primary uses of the park by the Whistler community.

If you feel as I do, please make your voice heard by signing the petition, “Please Don’t Pave Rainbow Park,” which I plan to present to council at a future Q&A.

tobias c. van Veen // Whistler

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