A Vancouver city councillor wants to explore the idea of closing select streets — including the Granville strip — to vehicle traffic to set up patio spaces and help businesses recover from COVID-19.
“I think it’s a huge opportunity to be bolder with our use of public space,” Coun. Sarah Kirby-Yung told CKNW’s The Jill Bennett Show.
Kirby-Yung’s proposal comes as the city enters a second year of its Temporary Expiated Patio Permit program, which authorized sidewalk and curbside patios as a way to help restaurants stay afloat amid COVID-19 restrictions.
She said those patios have been a lifeline for restaurants and breweries but that the city could be thinking bigger, and has floated the idea of closing the Granville Entertainment District to cars to create a “pedestrian promenade.”
Kirby-Yung acknowledges the Granville strip idea would require conversations with TransLink about potentially re-routing buses, but that she believes there is an appetite to be flexible if it helps small business.
“It could be a closure throughout the entire summer or it could be after the morning bus traffic goes through and pedestrian-first for the afternoons, evenings and weekends, because I think that there’s such a huge appetite for people to get outside,” she said.
“You could have a stage for musicians to perform who are starved to have the opportunity to perform in front of people, you could have farmer’s markets, craft markets, people sitting at tables outside enjoying takeaway from local restaurants — so I think it could be phenomenal and a real destination in the summer.”
Charles Gauthier, president and CEO of the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, said he’s interested in exploring the idea, so long as the city consults with stakeholders in the area.
“We’re still going to be in a post-pandemic recovery and anything we can do to support the businesses on Granville Street, especially the restaurants that do require the outdoor dining, that’s critical right now. We do see patios there, but we can see a lot more outdoor patios if we can do this,” he said.
“It does reintroduce customers to what new offerings there might be the street … especially in a pandemic, they haven’t been downtown for over a year, so this would be a great opportunity to bring people back.”
If the idea is approved and is a success, Kirby-Yung envisions potentially expanding it to other parts of the city.
“If a pilot went well to sort of pop up closures, that could happen more for sort of weekend use, for example, in specific neighbourhoods,” she said.
It’s not the first time transforming the Granville strip into a pedestrian-priority area has been floated.
Most recently, the idea of opening the street to live music and dining was proposed along with the installation of CCTV cameras and late night transit as a way to make the entertainment district safer, after a nightclub worker was fatally stabbed in 2018.
Kirby-Yung hopes to bring the idea before council on May 18.