Cultural plazas, pedestrian improvements planned for Government Street redesign

Cultural plazas, pedestrian improvements planned for Government Street redesign

The City of Victoria is planning a redesign of Government Street, and is seeking public input on the plans.

Following the first round of engagement, the city put together a draft concept design for the street, and are now seeking feedback on the concept.

“Community members shared what they value most about Government Street and what they would like to see improved,” said Mayor Lisa Helps in a statement. “Making Government Street a people-priority street is a key action of the City’s Strategic Plan and now it’s time to tell us what you think – what have we got right, what have we missed?”

Helps says Government Street is one of the most iconic places in Victoria, but the streetscape hasn’t changed in over 50 years.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine Government Street for the future,” Helps said.

“We want this plan to support downtown businesses for the long-term by building on the success of the Build Back Victoria program, create more accessible and welcoming public spaces, and work with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations to tell a more complete history of this land through cultural interpretation and economic development opportunities.”

Changes to the street include cultural plazas between Humboldt and Courtney, and another at the Pandora intersection.

The city says the goal of these plazas is to act as gateways to the street.

Jeff Bray, executive director of the Downtown Victoria Business Association, says he is very excited about the cultural plazas.

“We certainly think some of the ideas like the plazas at the north end and south end are quite exciting and and we think that could really be something quite iconic for downtown,” Bray said. “Our focus is making sure that whatever goes forward for Government Street, works for the public but also works for the businesses that are operating on Government Street. They pay the property taxes, the pay among the highest rents in the city.”

The plaza at Humboldt and Courtney is proposed to be a Lekwungen cultural plaza and landmark to recognize the Lekwungen people.

The design calls for Indigenous public art, a cultural pavilion, and public seating among other additions to the area.

At the Pandora intersection, the goal is to create a new plaza for Chinatown.

The design for this plaza includes furnishings and features that complement Chinatown, and accessible seating.

From Courtney to Yates, a timed car free zone will be created, with expanded sidewalks and a reduced travel lane for all modes of travel including horse-drawn carriages, pedi-cabs and bikes.

Bray says he would like to see a vehicle lane being maintained at all hours, with possibility for some shorter closure periods.

“The DVBA’s position has always been that while we have no issues with making Government Street pedestrian priority, we always want to see one lane of traffic being available to get people from James Bay and south Fairfield and through downtown into the northern part of downtown like Chinatown, or Lower Johnson,” Bray says, noting that if streets close to vehicles it will make it more difficult for deliveries, or limit access to taxis or food delivery services.

The plan also calls for the Government Street features to be expanded to Pandora, with two-way vehicle traffic from Yates to Pandora. This section includes wider sidewalks, areas for parking and unloading, and replacing ageing trees that the city says are reaching the end of their lives.

Bray says replacing the trees is something the DVBA is supportive of, and its members indicated this is a priority.

“We have these old trees that looked great 20 years ago and the cement castings, but they’re very large, they block off most of the view of the street and they actually take away a lot of the sidewalk space for pedestrians,” Bray said. “So we’d like to see those removed and replaced with smaller trees that fit better into the sidewalk and allow for more space on the actual sidewalks.”

The city is seeking public feedback on its website until March 20. Additionally, there will be, virtual information sessions on March 9 from 12 to 1 p.m. and 6 to 7 p.m.

This story has been updated with comments from Jeff Bray.

Laura BroughamLaura Brougham

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