Pedestrianizing spaces in downtown (and elsewhere!)

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As noted last week, Council members unanimously supported the motion to have staff identify, accelerate, and pilot shared street and partial or complete road closures to create or enable new boulevards, community spaces, placemaking initiatives, and green spaces.

I want to emphasize that this was a unanimous vote, as was the Council decision last year to continue the pedestrianization of Government Street.

We are building on work of previous Councils and Staff, who pedestrianized other spaces, such as Fernwood Square, Bastion Square, and Centennial Square. 

After last week’s motion passed, I reached out to the Downtown Residents Association (I am Council’s Downtown Liaison) to see if they had ideas for spaces downtown. I received some great ideas – more in the nature of brainstorming ideas from individuals rather than a position or recommendations from an organization.

Here is a distillation (note that there is a range of views, as there is in any group):

  • Broad Street where it is already pedestrianized between Fort and Broughton – add landscaping, trees, plants. Make bollards more interesting and lift some of the asphalt or at least add planter boxes.
  • There are already enough closed off streets in downtown, which with the one way streets make it difficult to navigate for businesses.
  • Close a small portion of Meares Street between the proposed Jawl building (now a parking lot) and the Mosaic Building. It’s a perfect site for a small street closure.
  • Animate existing car-free spaces, specifically Victoria’s unique/spooky/awesome alleys, including Commercial alley, Boomerang Court, and Helmcken alley. There are lots of ways to do this – see HCMA study: https://hcma.ca/project/more-awesome-now/.  
  • Consider food carts, art displays, extended patios, anything to animate these underutilized places.
  • There is an existing alleyway network in the downtown crying out for some imagination and a bit of funding. This concept has been looked at and studied since the 90’s and there is a lot of great existing proposal material out there (but not online!) that was never funded. It could be one of the country’s great pedestrian networks.
  • The Odeon alley/walkway between Johnson and Yates could do with lighting and some additional care to make it feel safer. 
  • Many of the alleyways are under-utilized, most suffering from a lack of retail storefronts to really draw people in. If we look at the city’s more successful plazas and alleys, Fan Tan Alley, Market Square, and Bastion Square, they have life because of the businesses that occupy them (alongside the aesthetic, but that’s secondary).
  • More ideas to animate a space: cleaning it up, adding seating, letting businesses in (e.g. food carts), adding art pieces, holding events, etc. These alleys have the double benefit of being away from residential uses. Having food trucks tucked away in the square behind the BC museum makes them harder to find.
  • The Broad St plaza is now affected by the work on the basement of the Yarrow building; having the sidewalk on one side fenced off is an impediment. 
  • Herald outside Jam could work, but that end of the block needs more of the lively retail that makes pedestrian plazas pleasant. 
  • There’s Jam and Union Pacific, but both already have their own outdoor spaces. Though the traffic disruption would be just about nothing, it’s unclear whether it would be successful.
  • For successful plazas, look for places that are already lively with foot traffic, ground oriented retail, cafes, bars, and clubs, and then pedestrianize those, e.g.:
    • The other half of Broad Street (View to Pandora). It’s not really that useful for car transport, and already has pedestrian improvements that can be built on. People already treat this as if people walking have the right of way half the time. [I will just add here that the 1960’s plan for Centennial Square was to make Broad a pedestrian walkway connecting it to Bastion Square. DT.]  
    • Perhaps Fisgard between Government and Store. Obviously allowances for delivery vehicles are needed. Parking currently is low turnover and isn’t serving large numbers of customers of the businesses. The community groups there should be spoken with first. It’s one of our city’s most beautiful streets; without the parking, and with some more trees and street furniture, it could be even greater.
    • Yates below Government. Already a lot of nightlife there, connects into the alleys and Bastion Square well. Late at night with people coming out of clubs and bars there have been near misses by drivers driving quickly toward Wharf, so there’s a public safety element as well. Access to the parkade is a challenge.

Many thanks to the Downtown Residents Association for providing these initial ideas. It’s great food for thought for our excellent staff, who I expect are receiving lots of input and also looking at the potential to apply good practices from elsewhere. 

If you have any ideas, please send them directly to staff, eng@victoria.ca, and feel free to cc me if you wish.