Vancouver City Council has unanimously approved a motion on Wednesday calling for the municipal government to explore options to improve the safety and street design of the Granville Entertainment District in downtown Vancouver.
According to Vancouver Police, crime levels in the Central Business District are the highest in 15 years, with about 10,000 incidents recorded in the past year, including about 300 fights, 140 assaults, and two dozen sexual assaults within the Granville Strip.
The motion comes just weeks after 23-year-old Cabana Lounge employee Kalwinder Thind was killed while attempting to intervene in a fight that broke outside the nightclub.
“When did Granville Street become such a crappy, horrible, unsafe, and chaotic place? I’ve lived in downtown for pretty much 30 years in that area, and it has always been pretty crappy I must say, although I’ve had a lot of fun there as well,” said Non-Partisan Association councillor George Affleck.
“I think the turning point was when the movie theatres closed down on Granville Street and moved off the street, and we lost a whole type of personality on the street with kids coming down there in a positive way, and that was about 20 years ago.”
Affleck’s motion, seconded by fellow councillor Hector Bremner, included a call for the re-installation of CCTV surveillance cameras on the bar and nightclub strip. With the motion’s passing, City staff will return to City Council with a proposal that includes a budget and timeline for the installation of cameras by June 2018.
City manager Sadhu Johnston said the cameras that were in place for the 2010 Winter Olympics have since been dismantled, and that such a program would require the purchase of cameras and other associated infrastructure.
There would also need to be considerations for privacy and civil liberties, which was emphasized as an important matter by Vision Vancouver councillor Raymond Louie throughout the debate on the motion.
But Affleck argued there needs to be some “flexibility” to provide police with the resources they need to do their jobs.
Bremner added that the Granville Strip’s unique position as a special event zone with bars and entertainment venues necessitated special event space support such as cameras.
“During the 2011 Stanley Cup riot, how many criminals, looters, and rioters were caught? How many violent assaulters were caught thanks to the availability of police being able to use resources from social media, people taking pictures, and CCTV cameras installed by the City or private property owners?” said Bremner. “They use those to hold those into account and protect the civil liberties of all. I firmly believe this area is unique.”
As well, the approved motion also called on staff to re-examine the design of the street, such as the removal of on-street parking stalls located on Granville Street’s sidewalks south of Nelson Street to allow for more outdoor patios. The presence of patios could improve the safety of the street by adding surveillance from patrons.
The motion proposes to relocate the buses that currently run on Granville Street to Seymour Street and Howe Street to open the possibility of street closures for festivals and special events.
“We’ve had several designs of the street over the past 40 years, none of them seem to work. I think Granville from Drake to Hastings is not a particularly good street,” said Affleck.
“There’s been many moments when Granville Street has been hurt by decisions by City Council and by decisions in an organic way by retailers. But I think we’ve made decisions that have made the street unsafe, ugly, badly designed, and with the wrong kinds of vendors and the wrong way to have transportation infrastructure.”
He says there are many decisions City Council can make to improve the safety and perception of the street, which could be a catalyst for the organic improvement of the street by businesses.
Longer bar and nightclub hours beyond the current 3 am closure time to stagger egress and reduce violence will also be explored.
As well, Affleck wants the City to work with the provincial government, TransLink, taxi companies, and other organizations to improve transportation options on the strip. The provincial government plans to enact ride share legislation this fall, and TransLink is currently in the process of studying the feasibility of later night transit on weekends.
Last year, a plan to implement a ban on late-entry into Granville Street’s bars and nightclubs – essentially a closure of the establishments at 2 am – was suspended in favour of further consultation with businesses and stakeholders.