Cathedral Grove in MacMillan Provincial Park and the surrounding stretch of highway will see new pedestrian and vehicle safety improvements as soon as this summer.
Adding vehicle and pedestrian safety measures to the popular tourist attraction, on the edge of Nuu-chah-nulth territory and along Highway 4, has been a topic of discussion for the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure (MoTI) since before the pandemic. In 2019, the ministry held several engagement sessions in neighbouring communities to hear from the public about what they envisioned to improve the area.
Safety measures will now begin this summer after being put on hold throughout the pandemic when the area was closed to the public.
Roughly 500,000 visitors from around the world come to Cathedral Grove to view the old-growth giant Douglas Firs, and this year with COVID restrictions easing, traffic along the corridor is expected to increase.
After working with First Nations, local government, and the Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce, the provincial government will be implementing a number of additional safety improvements in the next month.
Improvements will include installing median pickets to physically restrict left turn movements, which are already prohibited through signage. Four new “no U-turn signs” will be installed, two in each direction. New 50 km/hr signs will be installed on both the east and west approaches to the 50 km/hr zone and temporary rumble strips – spring installation, fall removal – will be installed to warn drivers of the reduced speed zone and congested area. ‘Bump’ signage will also be installed at the location to warm drivers of the rumble strip.
The ministry says work will begin on June 20 and is expected to be complete by June 30.
“The ministry continues to explore long-term safety improvement options for the Highway 4 corridor through MacMillan Provincial Park, working with the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy as well as local stakeholders,” states the MoTI in an emailed statement. “BC Parks will continue to support the ministry by providing guidance laid out through its governing legislation – the Park Act – and input gathered from public engagement sessions will be considered as the province moves forward.”
Josie Osborn, MLA for Mid Island Pacific Rim, said safety at Cathedral Grove is one of the issues that she hears the most from constituents.
“I know just how deeply people really care about pedestrian vehicle safety,” she said. “Over and over the message has been strong about the need for safety, but also people are concerned about not impacting the park and maintaining those values as well.”
Osborne hopes to see long-term improvements to the area that will keep people safe and protect the trees.
“There have been conversations with the MoTI, First Nations and local governments and I think there’s still room for us to come together to look for a longer-term improvement,” Osborne said. “The park is a really important place for people to be able to stop. It’s one of the most accessible groves of old growth forests that we have on Vancouver Island. It’s really important to be able to see that and experience that, but at the same time, as we all know, it’s a very narrow piece of highway and people need to stay safe.”
Safety ideas that came from the public through the consultation sessions varied from short-term safety improvements like improved signage, traffic calming and enforcement, to more medium to long-term measures, including pedestrian overpass ideas, various improvements to the parking area, additional parking capacity and bypass options.
“The safest thing for all pedestrians to do is just stay on the north or south side of the park and enjoy the trails on those sides and get back in their car and continue on their way,” Osborne said. “I think these short-term solutions are going to add to visibility and increase awareness.”