Cambie Story: Disrupted Routines and Rising Home Costs

Jan Harding has lived at Eight Oaks Coop for seven years, long enough to develop routines shopping along Cambie. She used to walk her dogs, Theo and Zoe, on the other side of Cambie where it is a little quieter. During the construction, that would have entailed a major detour to cross the street outside her door. "As you can see, I'm a little bit disabled," she told two reporters on a Saturday afternoon.

Jan's wooden cane reflects the elegance of her black leather coat and two tone leather shoes. When the detour was to 16th, it was an inconvenience. "At one point we had to go to East King Edward. It got to a point when I wasn't doing that anymore."

Jan lives on the west side of Cambie Street. Dotted with schools, parks and soccer fields, it's an area used heavily by the residents from streets to Cambie's east. For parents of school-aged children, the construction of the RAV line has created many disruptions, and the biggest difficulty has often been the most basic one: just crossing the street.

"The routes changed almost daily," said Laura, a mother of two living on 22nd, east of Cambie. Edith Cavell Elementary, the school her children attend, didn't change any school activities, but Laura notes it wasn't always easy to get there for them.

John Penhall, a self employed filmmaker and the father of a young girl named Olivia, agreed. "You never knew which street to cross Cambie on from day to day."

Olivia attends L'Ecole Bilingue Elementary which, along with her mother's house, is west of Cambie. Crossing Cambie is still a gamble. A trip of a few blocks can take anywhere from 7 to 20 minutes, John said, and this makes school mornings stressful.

The frustration of not knowing where to cross from one day to the next was the same for Rob McGarry, father of Annabelle, 4, and Conor, 6. McGarry lives on Quebec Street.

Getting the kids to soccer, for instance, instance is always a rush, he said. Things are better now that the city has responded to concerns about child safety by creating highly-visible walking routes along Cambie and in the alleys behind businesses, he added.

For many people living near Cambie, the ever-shifting routes and difficult crossings has changed their shopping patterns. John started shopping on Main. Jan found that her disability made walking to do her shopping too hard, under these conditions. Driving was just as bad, and she also said she has found it easier to go elsewhere. She does her shopping on Marine Drive.

Rob has cut down on visits to Cambie Street favorites like Trixi's, saying that the noise and congestion were too much to deal with. Laura has continued to shop on Cambie. "It just takes longer and is way more aggravating," she said.

Driving in the neighbourhood can be just as aggravating, local residents reported. Constant re-routing meant drivers would find themselves stuck in blind alleys. Rob described having to reverse several blocks to get out of the maze of construction fences. He added, however, that the worst of the traffic chaos has passed.

"The congestion has moved north. The work that was most inconvenient is done." Although he's still concerned about the impact of the construction on businesses, he said he feels that things are returning to normal for the residents.

Gurpreet also sees a brighter future for the Cambie area. Living at 50th and Main, she only comes into this neighbourhood to take her son to soccer. As he ran around in his black and red jersey, kicking up gravel, Gurpreet was all smiles. Working at St. Paul's, her car has been broken into twice in the past 4 months, she said. "I'm looking forward to the RAV line. It will make it easier for me to get around."

Not everyone shares Gupreet's optimism. Jan is skeptical about the ridership forecasts for the RAV line, she said.

"Are airport travelers really going to take 3 pieces of luggage on the train?"

She sees a neighbourhood changing quickly, she said, and not for the better. "A lot of the businesses have closed." Jan swung her red-black hair out of the way as we waited for Zoe to finish her doggy business. "Middle-class and working-class people can't buy here anymore. The RAV line makes the neighbourhood more desirable, and people are priced out." World War II-era stucco homes have sold for as much as $950, 000 recently, she noted. Condo developments along Cambie, sold at $160, 000 a unit five years ago, are now worth over $350, 000 after completion. Jan's co-op, which is on land leased from the city, may be threatened if the city finds the land has become too "valuable" for this use.

Still, there is a sense that order is returning. The new asphalt on Cambie Street has people back out and reclaiming their neighbourhood.

"Cambie is a nice street to browse on," said John. He said he was looking forward to traffic returning to Cambie, bringing much needed support for the businesses that have made it this far. "I think it will come back," he said.

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