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Who turns people away from a half-full parking lot?

Not only was it no accident, but Ada Slivinski discovers it's actually policy to turn drivers away from lots, even when there's plenty of room. Why?
Buntzen Lake
Buntzen Lake

Entertaining some out-of-town guests last long weekend, we decided to head to Buntzen Lake – a BC Hydro Reservoir in Port Moody – for the day. Just as we turned off the highway, we saw light-up signs: “Buntzen Lake Parking Full.” We were sure we could find another parking spot nearby or that someone would leave and free up a space, so we persevered.

At the lot entrance, we were turned around by a woman in a reflective vest standing in front of the closed gate. The lot was full, she reiterated; we had to keep driving.

Nearby school and church lots were clearly marked with signs to deter beachgoers, and when we pulled into a corner store parking lot for a minute to decide where to go, a woman peeked out from the window and snapped photos of our vehicle.

Eventually, it was local residents who came through. An entrepreneurial group of young men had put a sign on the main road advertising day parking, $15 per car. As we pulled in, they kindly directed us, waving us into an available spot. They even handed our kids (by this point pretty cranky after all the driving) a couple of freezies. They accepted payment by cash or e-transfer, and they must have made a decent amount of money that day.

It wasn’t until we walked the 2 kilometers or so down to the beach that we realized the main lot wasn’t full at all.

In fact, it wasn’t even half full.

We asked staff why so many people were still being turned around, and were told this policy was put in place to avoid congestion on roads leading down to the lake that run mostly through residential areas.

The official policy, found on BC Hydro websites, states: “The gate remains closed until enough spaces are available to handle visitor capacity for the rest of the day. Parking lots may have a number of spaces available while the gates are still closed. Other non-BC Hydro regional parks in the Lower Mainland have similar policies.”

The idea for electronic reader boards near Ioco Road came from then-mayor of Belcarra, Ralph Drew. He told local media it would give people enough time to turn around, and that he was the one who pushed for measures to shut down the “zoo” as he called it, that was Bedwell Bay Road.

Obviously an overly congested road is a safety issue if emergency vehicles need to get through and a nuisance for residents – but there has to be a better way than turning cars around from a half-empty lot. Not only that, there’s a way for the City or BC Hydro to profit.

They could sell tickets online for a parking spot, having beachgoers reserve their spots and then scan in when they arrive.

After all, a staff member is standing there anyway.

“Customers” are coming. It’s a shame not to cash in or at the very least make it possible for more people to enjoy the space.

Ada Slivinski is the Founder & Principal of Jam PR, a boutique agency focused on helping small businesses get big exposure. You can reach her at [email protected]