Banff Avenue is once again closing to vehicle traffic for the spring and summer seasons, as the mountain town prepares to welcome an influx of visitors for a second pandemic tourism season.
In a tweet Thursday, the Town of Banff said the closure goes into effect on Friday, an extension from last year’s street closure, which started on June 12.
Vehicles will be detoured around the 100, 200 and part of the 300 blocks of the downtown core of the town.
The town said any restaurants or retailers that have already been granted permission to extend their storefronts onto the street can set up their outdoor space as early as Friday.
The closure was introduced last year as a way to allow visitors to maintain two-metres distance from others, while enjoying the popular tourist attraction. This year, the interior traffic lanes won’t be used by retailers or restaurants, as a way to give visitors more space.
“In 2021, Banff is expected to experience visitation volumes higher than in 2020. While it is unclear what the requirements for social distancing will be in the summer of 2021, it is believed that a pedestrian zone will be an attraction for visitors regardless of COVID,” the town said.
“If these assumptions prove correct, it is fair to assume that pedestrian volumes in the downtown will be as high in 2021 as they were in 2020, if not higher.”
Pedestrian zone logistics and amenities will start being put in place over the next days and weeks, with officials advising people that full planters and ramp platforms will take extra time.
Cyclists are allowed to ride within the pedestrian zone, however, the town said signs will be up advising riders to yield to those on foot, and maintain a “dead slow” speed. Transit will also be allowed in the zone.
Other 2021 changes
Banff is also making changes to Caribou Street and the structures retailers and restaurants can set up as part of their outdoor expansion.
The town is flipping the configuration of Caribou Street this year, putting restaurant patios adjacent to buildings and along sidewalks, allowing for the middle of the street to be a walking lane.
“Given the conflicts observed between passing pedestrians and restaurant queues on this street in 2020, it is believed that this will create a more effective pedestrian environment in the centre of the street and still allow Caribou restaurants a similar amount of space for outdoor seating.”
Restaurants are not allowed to use event tents as part of their outdoor setup, but can use umbrellas for sun and weather protection.
As a way to try to decrease traffic congestion in the downtown core, where visitors also now have to pay for parking, the town is encouraging visitors to take advantage of free parking options just outside the downtown.
Parking is free for nine hours in areas like the train station parking lot, and the free shuttle from that lot into the downtown will be coming back for the 2021 season.
There will also be bike rental options in the lot, bike servicing and repair benches, as well as bike lock-up “bike valet” service on Banff Avenue.
COVID-19 surge in the mountains
Banff and the surrounding area has seen a spike in COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, which prompted the Alberta government to change its vaccination rollout plan to bring more immunizations to residents of the area.
Alberta’s first shipments of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be directed to Banff — as well as the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which has also seen case numbers rise out of control recently.
Premier Jason Kenney said chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw advised an acceleration of getting shots in arms would help officials get control of the outbreaks.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available to people in the two regions ages 30 and older.