Uncertain future for Banff pedestrian zone after vehicle-friendly petition validated

Click to play video: 'Parks Canada prepares for wildfire season amidst dismal snowpack'
Parks Canada prepares for wildfire season amidst dismal snowpack
A large fire guard is being cleared along the boundary between Yoho and Banff National Parks. As Jayme Doll reports, Parks Canada is hoping it will act as a buffer in the event of a wildfire. – Feb 1, 2024

Editor’s Note: The original version of this story, and its headline, incorrectly indicated that Banff’s pedestrian zone decision had been overturned. It has since been corrected. We regret the error.

The decision to turn a section of Banff Avenue into a pedestrian zone from May long weekend until Thanksgiving long weekend every year will undergo another council vote after a petition opposing the move was declared valid.

The Town of Banff confirmed Monday that the petition received March 1, which looked to overturn Banff town council’s January decision, met all the requirements outlined in Alberta’s Municipal Government Act.

Town staff will prepare a bylaw to rescind the pedestrian zone decision for council consideration at its May 13 meeting. Within 30 days of the first reading of the bylaw, Banff town council must decide if they want to pass the new bylaw that would overturn the pedestrian zone or put the decision to a vote of the electorate (Banff residents who are Canadian citizens and at least 18 years old)  within 90 days of the bylaw’s first reading. Council could also decide to pass all three readings on May 13.

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In January, the Town of Banff decided to permanently fund the pedestrian zone project as part of its annual operating budget, despite Parks Canada raising concerns about the commercialization of public space.

Salman Rasheed, Banff National Park’s superintendent, said at the time he supports pedestrian-friendly spaces but raised concerns about the permanent and ongoing expansion of the patios, which he said is contrary to laws that ensure the national park is protected.

Some residents have also raised concerns because it moves traffic through their neighbourhoods and could block off an exit route in a potential wildfire evacuation.

However, tourism officials said the vehicle-free zone, which stretches two blocks from Wolf Street to Buffalo Street, has been extremely popular with upward of 30,000 pedestrians visiting it each day during the summer season.

The pedestrian zone began as a pilot project in 2020 as an attempt to ensure physical distancing could be observed in the town during the initial heights of the COVID-19 pandemic.

— with files from The Canadian Press.

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