Granville Street in downtown could be pedestrian-only on weekends this summer

May 12 2021, 12:44 am

Temporarily repurposing the core of Granville Street in downtown Vancouver for a pedestrian-only public space could help bring more people back into the city centre and help support businesses.

A new motion by independent city councillor Sarah Kirby-Yung calls for the pilot project of designating the two city blocks of Granville Street between Smithe Street and Helmcken Street — the Granville Entertainment District (GED) — into a promenade that prioritizes space for pedestrians, restaurant patios, and activations.

The Granville Street Promenade would remove all buses and cars from the street on Friday nights, Saturdays, and Sundays over the course of this summer. TransLink buses would be relocated to Seymour and Howe streets throughout the closure periods.

If approved, this project will be led by the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association (DVBIA), which will activate the closed segment of roadway with “commons-style public seating and decor,” designated areas for local musicians to perform in partnership with TransLink’s Busker Program and Music BC, and potential local artist displays.

The DVBIA will also explore possible activations between Smithe Street and West Pender Street, as this segment of Granville Street to the north is already limited to buses and taxis.

Kirby-Yung writes that the Granville Street Promenade would build on the 2020 success of the nine pop-up plazas created across the city by BIAs and the municipality.

granville entertainment district granville street vancouver

Granville Entertainment District looking south from near Nelson Street. (Kenneth Chan/Daily Hive)

The GED has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic; according to a recent count by the DVBIA, Granville Street and the 300-900 block of Robson Street saw visits drop by 37% from June to December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. This does not include the immense decline in foot traffic from office employees temporarily working from home.

The cluster of entertainment venue businesses in the GED are also likely to be amongst the last businesses to be able to fully reopen as the pandemic begins to wane.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on Vancouver’s restaurant and hospitality sector, particularly on Granville Street being among the first closed and anticipated to be among the last to reopen due to public health orders,” reads the motion.

“The responsiveness demonstrated by the City of Vancouver to adapt quickly to support small business and residents has been a lifeline and demonstrated what a positive economic and social impact the City can have when we are more creative with public space.”

In addition to providing a safe social space for a second consecutive summer without major events, the promenade’s activation would also serve the purpose of supporting local musicians and artists who have lost income opportunities.

Kirby-Yung says some examples of pedestrian-primary streets in other cities include Toronto’s King Street Transit Priority Corridor and Montreal’s Sainte-Catherine Street, which is shut down to vehicle traffic in the spring and summer for entertainment and activations.

City council will deliberate on the motion next week.

Prior to the pandemic, the GED’s vehicle traffic, including buses, were occasionally diverted to adjacent streets to help support nightlife and crowd control. The longest diversion of buses from the GED occurred in the years leading up to the Olympics for the construction of the Canada Line and the redesign of Granville Street.

The findings from this year’s pilot project would be used for potentially continuing similar initiatives in the GED annually.

City staff also have plans on conducting a planning process for revitalizing and maximizing the GED as a cultural and entertainment destination.

The DVBIA recently outlined their own long-term GED vision of permanently widening sidewalks for more pedestrian and patio spaces, catalyzing commercial redevelopments, and designating a “restaurant row” from policies that encourage a dense cluster of restaurant businesses.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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